'Systemic' CIA failures blamed for deadly attack on Afghan base

The deadly suicide bombing at a remote CIA base in Afghanistan last December was the result of "systemic failures", including basic security lapses and ignoring a prior warning from Jordanian intelligence that the bomber might be an al-Q'aida double agent.

This was the harsh verdict of Leon Panetta, the agency's director as he presented the results of an internal investigation of the attack in which seven CIA officers were killed – the deadliest such incident since the 1983 bombing of the US Embassy in Beirut, in which 17 agency operatives died.

But no individuals, not even the CIA officer in Amman who failed to pass on the warning from a Jordanian counterpart, are being singled out for censure. Instead, Mr Panetta announced a series of internal CIA changes, including tighter security procedures, a new advisory board to improve agent training for combat zones, and the establishment of an analytic team to identify double agents.

The refusal to make scapegoats reflects the fact that several of the individuals who made mistakes were themselves killed or badly wounded in the attack. Mr Panetta said only that "judgements were clouded" by the desire to capture a top al-Q'aida target, and that "if anything, all of us bear some responsibility." In fact the bomber, a Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, managed to make his way to the heart of the base at Khost because he promised to lead them to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Q'aida's second in command.

The mission was considered so important that President Obama had received a personal briefing. Because Balawi was considered such a high-value and trustworthy source, he was not subjected to standard security procedures, and was met on his arrival by a large group of CIA officers.

In addition to the seven agency operatives, a Jordanian intelligence officer and an Afghan driver were killed, and six other CIA personnel were injured when Balawi detonated his vest stuffed with explosives. The blast would have been deadlier still had not Balawi's car stood between him and other Americans.

Balawi had been brought to the base to establish whether he was as close to al-Zawahiri as he claimed. The plan was for him to be trained in "tools of tradecraft" – most notably how to communicate the al-Q'aida leader's location back to the CIA. Consumed by the prospect of getting to the closest lieutenant of Osama bin Laden, Balawi's handlers brushed aside the warnings.

But the disaster, intelligence specialists here say, also suggests that despite every effort at reform, some CIA failings revealed by the 11 September attacks have still not been eliminated, including a lack of experienced personnel, and a tangled chain of command that saw different divisions of the agency competing to control the operation.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Ashdown Group: Automated Tester / Test Analyst - .Net / SQL - Cheshire

£32000 per annum + pension, healthcare & 23 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A gro...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot