U.S. Spy Agencies Remain Vulnerable

Tuesday, 12 Jan 2010 01:24 PM

By Arnaud de Borchgrave

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The Jordanian "triple" agent bomber whose suicide killed seven CIA agents in Afghanistan Dec. 30 was a physician and self-avowed jihadist whose virulent anti-Americanism was well-known in the capital city of Amman. Homam Khalil Abu Mallal al-Balawi, 33, "moderated" a Yemen-based, radical Islamic forum (Hisbah.net) on which he said his "ultimate dream in life is to die a martyr" in the jihad, or holy war, against the United States and Israel. On Sept. 26, 2009, he vowed to avenge the killing of innocent women and children in Gaza.

Preaching about jihad, Balawi said on Hisbah.net, was not enough and that the time had come to practice what he preached. Married with two small children, Balawi was "one of the key al-Qaida spokesmen," according to Mohammed Abu Rumman, a Jordanian analyst of pro-al-Qaida Web sites. "He was always calling for jihad against America and Israel," he said.

Jihadist Web sites say Balawi's action was revenge for CIA drone attacks in Pakistan's tribal areas that killed Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in August 2009. Benazir Bhutto e-mailed this reporter five days before her return to Pakistan on Oct. 19, 2007, that Mehsud had ordered her assassination. Three hours after her arrival in Karachi, she narrowly escaped a bomb blast on her parade route back to her hometown. Bhutto was killed by a second bomb two months later. Balawi, believed by both Jordanian and American intelligence to be a "valuable asset," has now appeared on the Internet with Mehsud's cousin and successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, in a video filmed before his suicide mission.

Over recent decades, the CIA has spent several hundred million dollars developing Jordan's General Intelligence Directorate. Al-Qaida Web sites described the intelligence coup as an "epic breakthrough" in penetrating both U.S. and Jordanian intelligence. Balawi was escorted to the fatal meeting by a Jordanian intelligence officer who was also killed in the explosion. He was a member of the royal family. King Abdullah II and a score of royals attended the funeral. The Jordanians led the CIA to expect precise information on the whereabouts of Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian doctor who is al-Qaida's second in command.

It was the biggest CIA disaster since April 18, 1983, when a Hezbollah suicide truck driver detonated 2,000 pounds of explosives in front of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, killing 63, wounding 120 and wiping out the entire CIA station, including the agency's top Middle East analyst and regional director, Robert C. Ames, and the station chief. Six months later two more Hezbollah trucks exploded killing 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers; President Reagan then ordered a U.S. military withdrawal from Lebanon.

Former CIA field operatives, loath to critique the lack of tradecraft at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, did just that. Balawi got out of his vehicle and walked into the base with one hand in his pocket, which should have aroused immediate alarm. But it wasn't until he was surrounded by CIA officers that they decided to pat him down. The concealed hand then triggered the suicide vest bomb under his clothes.

Khost was a key anti-terror CIA facility that coordinated pilotless drone strikes against al-Qaida and the Taliban a few miles away in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It was also a center for recruiting and debriefing informants. Drone strikes have killed almost 700 since Aug. 28, 2009, and have exacerbated already inflamed anti-U.S. sentiments throughout Pakistan. President Asif Ali Zardari says drones are radicalizing more people to side with the Taliban. Offstage, however, drones have the support of the Pakistani High Command.

Balawi had been arrested as an al-Qaida sympathizer in Jordan and was then recruited by GID, long a closer partner of the CIA. In the 1970s King Hussein was receiving $4 million a year from the CIA, the conduit chosen by the king to fund the vest-pocket war that had broken out between South Yemen, a pro-Soviet Marxist state, and pro-Western North Yemen.

It was a costly blunder for America's IC. The 17-agency Intelligence Community (including the 2,000-strong Director of National Intelligence) and the Defense Intelligence Agency — with its Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard intelligence components — now number 200,000 and spend $80 billion a year. For budgetary purposes, they are regrouped into three principal categories:
  • The National Foreign Intelligence Program, which includes the CIA; the FBI's foreign counterintelligence and intelligence activities; the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research; the Department of Energy Office of Intelligence; the Treasury Department's Office of Intelligence Support. Also funded in part by NFIP are the National Reconnaissance Office for designing, building and deploying spy satellites, and the National Security Agency, which monitors, collects and deciphers worldwide electronic and cyber intel, known as SIGINT; the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, whose mission is to make high-resolution digital maps for military operations; and the Defense Intelligence Agency for defense-wide intelligence.
  • Joint Military Intelligence Program and Tactical Intelligence and Related Activities that fund a wide variety of highly secret military activities.
  • The National Counter-terrorism Center, which sorts through and analyzes almost 10,000 reports in each 120-hour shift, from HUMINT (human intelligence) to satellite and other electronic sources, and matches the information against terrorist watch and no-fly lists of more than half a million names. NASA's global collections also flow into the Center.

NCTC received the CIA intelligence about the would-be Nigerian terrorist caught on Christmas Day in Detroit, after his father told the CIA at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria he was alarmed about his son's extreme views and that he was in Yemen. But the dots — among millions of dots — didn't immediately connect to the British dots that revoked the same Nigerian's visa. The glitch was in the transliteration of non-English names.

In the decade since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Intelligence Community, including payments to contractors such as SAIC, Boeing and BAE, has spent close to $1 trillion. But no amount of taxpayer money can repair the self-inflicted damage done at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Afghanistan. John le Carre's George Smiley, we never were. James Bond? Not since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.


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