No firings over failure to detect suicide bomber

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The Independent US

Despite glaring security blunders, no US intelligence officials will be fired or disciplined for failing to prevent a 2009 suicide bombing in Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees in one of the deadliest attacks in the agency's history.

CIA director Leon Panetta said separate internal reviews concluded that critical warnings about the Jordanian double agent who set off the explosion inside an Afghan base were not shared with other officials, security measures on the base were insufficient and it was unclear who was in charge of the operation.

A patchwork system had left no one in charge of rigorously checking the double agent's background and loyalties before he was taken to the base.

Mr Panetta told reporters that the agency would undergo structural changes, including tightening security procedures, setting up a war advisory board to train agents better in combat zones and creating an analytic team to ferret out double agents.

Still, Mr Panetta said he would not fire or take other disciplinary action against field officers and headquarters officials who oversaw the double agent, Humam Khalil al Balawi, in the months before he set off the explosion in Khost on December 30, 2009.

Some changes, such as full-scale searches of all agents who visit an American compound, already have been implemented, Mr Panetta said.

"Responsibility cannot be assigned to any particular individual or group," he said, a phrase he repeated in a statement to CIA employees.

Mr Panetta acknowledged that a "systemic breakdown" had occurred but said the "task force did not place blame on any individual or group.

"If anything, all of us bear some responsibility ... and all of us have to fix it," he said.

The six-month internal review by CIA officials, as well as a second independent review by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired CIA analyst Charles Allen, concluded that the combined agency failures allowed the al-Qa'ida double agent to enter the CIA base at Khost.

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

Balawi was being brought to the CIA's base to be "assessed" whether he was as close as he claimed to his militant target, al-Qa'ida number two Ayman al Zawahiri, Mr Panetta said.

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

Mr Panetta said Balawi's "handler," a Jordanian intelligence officer trusted by the Americans, had vouched for him, and Balawi already had proven to the Americans that he had solid connections to al-Qa'ida.

Intelligence officials said Balawi had appeared to prove himself by describing al-Qa'ida practices known only to the agency and by verifying some high-value militant targets who were killed in Predator drone unmanned aircraft strikes.