US admits failure to vet CIA bomber
CIA director acknowledges "shortcomings" in how agency dealt with informer who killed seven agents at Afghanistan base.
Last Modified: 20 Oct 2010 04:22 GMT
The CIA has admitted to weaknesses that allowed suicide bomber al-Balawi to enter a US base in Afghanistan

The United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has acknowledged "missteps" and "shortcomings" that allowed a would-be informant to enter a US base in Afghanistan and blow himself up on December 30, killing seven CIA officers.

Suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi tricked the CIA into believing he could be a useful tool in the battle against al-Qaeda, and was invited inside a well-fortified US compound in Khost province in southeast Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.

Leon Panetta, the CIA director, cited mistakes by the agency revealed in the investigation, notably the CIA's failure to properly vet Balawi, who made a suicide video released after his death calling for more attacks against US targets.

"He had confirmed access within extremist circles, making a covert relationship with him - if he was acting in good faith - potentially very productive," Panetta said in note to agency employees.

"But he had not rejected his terrorist roots. He was, in fact, a brutal murderer."

Security lapses

Panetta said there had also been critical security lapses and communication breakdowns in the agency's handling of Balawi.

The mistakes included failing to act on warnings about the assailant, a double-agent from Jordanian intelligence, or take security precautions that may have prevented the second most deadly attack in agency history, according to an internal investigation.

"The Jordanians raised concerns about Balawi," a US intelligence official said. "Those concerns were weighed against the information he had already provided, and his potential to lead us to the most senior figures in al-Qaeda."

Panetta suggested the shortcomings within the agency were too broad to isolate blame.

"These missteps occurred because of shortcomings across several agency components in areas including communications, documentation and management oversight," Panetta said.

"Responsibility cannot be assigned to any particular individual or group."

Panetta said he had approved 23 actions to prevent a repeat of the incident, including tightened security procedures and creating a counter-intelligence vetting cell that would focus on "high-risk/high-gain" informants, like Balawi.

'Dangerous people'

He noted that counterterrorism work still required working with "dangerous people in situations involving a high degree of ambiguity and risk."

Al-Balawi managed to kill five CIA staff, including the base chief, and two CIA security contractors, as well as a Jordanian intelligence officer and Afghan driver who had brought him to the base in Khost. Six other officers were wounded.

The double agent was being brought to the  base to be "assessed" as to whether he was as close as he claimed to his target, al-Qaida's Ayman al-Zawahiri, Panetta said.

At the base, intelligence officials planned to give al-Balawi training in "tools of tradecraft" and how to communicate al-Zawahiri's location back to his handlers.

However, as security officers approached to search Balawi as he got out of his car, the Jordanian got out of the opposite door and detonated his bomb.

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