The Jordanian triple agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was acting for a wide-ranging al Qaeda conspiracy when he murdered seven CIA officers and a fellow-Jordanian intelligence officer at their Khost base inAfghanistan on December 30. This is the conclusion ofDEBKA-Net-Weekly's intelligence sources.
The jihadists aimed not just to kill US covert agents, but to outdo American intelligence capabilities and show their own to be superior. The CIA was duped for an entire year into believing that al-Balawi was its own successful penetration agent against Taliban and al-Qaeda – and only a short step from reaching al Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri – only to discover too late it had fallen victim to a long-sighted, sophisticated exercise in duplicity.
The dead agents included the CIA base chief, a mother of three and al-Qaeda specialist late of the Alec Station, the agency unit dedicated to finding Osama bin Laden.
The US intelligence agency reacted predictably by playing down its own failings and so demonstrating how little had been learned since 9/11.
In the Washington Post of Sunday, Jan. 10, Central Intelligence Director Leon Panetta denied claims that his officers' deaths had been made possible by the agency's "poor tradecraft" in failing to search al-Balawi. He was about to be frisked by security personnel, some distance from CIA agents, when he detonated his explosives, Panetta said and continued the argument: "This was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset," he wrote, "even one who had provided information that we could verify independently. It is never …that simple, and no one ignored the hazards."
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources note that if all seven agents had not gathered around al-Balawi before he underwent a search, they would not have died when he blew himself up.
Al Qaeda-Taliban cash in on operation for PR gains
The explanations coming from Amman were just as lame.
Jordan's General Intelligence Department (GID) leaked stories denying they had known al Balawi had ever served al Qaeda and claiming the Americans had recruited him. This was a transparent attempt by the royal government to pass the buck for the heavy American losses to US intelligence and clean up its own image in the eyes of al Qaeda and other Muslims as a UScollaborator in the war on Islamic terror.
Al Qaeda and its close partner the Taliban used their targets' embarrassment to press ahead with their drive to savage the CIA's operational credibility. This drive was long in the planning and meticulous in conception. There were two plots – one for the Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day 2009, followed five days later by the Khost suicide attack.
The two operations were to be followed by a publicity campaign to demonstrate that both terrorist groups were running rings around US intelligence even while working out of hideouts under constant threat from US drones and Pakistani troops.
On Saturday, January 9, this al Qaeda-Taliban campaign was unveiled by a video clip which landed with an unpleasant thud from the Arabic al Jazeera TV. It consisted of a message relayed beyond the grave by al-Balawi, recorded a few days before he blew himself up in Khost. Attired in the robes of a Taliban fighter, seated alongside Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Meshoud, he declared that his forthcoming strike against CIA leaders would avenge the death of the late Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud killed by a US drone in August 2009.
How did Taliban get hold of Balawi's post mortem snapshot?
He made it clear that al Qaeda and Taliban are on the offensive and would retaliate for every one of their commanders hit by the primary US weapon inAfghanistan and Pakistan, the drone. Therefore, notwithstanding the US troop surge, the initiative stayed in their hands.
The video made three additional points:
1. When Al-Balawi was filmed asserting: "We will never forget the blood of our Emir Baitullah Mehsud, God’s mercy on him. To retaliate for his death in the United States and outside the United States will remain an obligation on all emigrants who were harbored by Beitullah Mehsud," he was saying his massacre of CIA agents in Khost was only one stage in the general offensive that would reach across to US soil.
US intelligence and the administration have never treated similar threats as real hazards. It might be time to starting taking them seriously, say DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror experts. Last year, al Qaeda-Taliban achieved the murder of 13 American servicemen and a police officer at the Fort Hood base inTexas by US Major Hasan Nidal. Abdulmutallab came dangerously close to blowing up an American airliner, and al-Balawi was not prevented from blowing up a key CIA unit inside its Afghan base.
2. To finally take these threats seriously, Barack Obama would have to amend the goals of the Afghanistan policy he formulated only last month.
This policy hinges on foregoing victory over the Taliban and lowering the war's sights to weakening the Afghan insurgents and confining them to a few areas in the country in order to keep al-Qaeda from returning to its former influence and strongholds.
Afghanistan surge strategy no longer valid
The base assumptions behind this strategy are no longer valid. Weakening the Taliban, which has not happened so far, would not remove the terrorist hazards facing US forces in Afghanistan and the US homeland. Indeed the last three episodes have exacerbated those hazards, which explains why Obama administration spokespersons have so little to say about the al Balawi tape.
3. The tape ominously includes a post-mortem shot of the triple agent lying dead among his American victims. Who took the photo? How did it reach Taliban hands? It appears that the suicide killer was not the only covert Taliban agent at the CIA base. There must have been at least one more, the photographer.
Three days later, the Taliban and al-Qaeda threw their next provocation in the face of US intelligence: Monday, January 11, al Qaeda's Foraqn (meaning “Rescue”) Web site published what it called “The Complete Writings of "aka Abu Dujina" – the nom de guerre of Khalil al-Balawi.
This extraordinary collection, published in the suicide bomber's memory, is made up of 45 articles penned by al-Balawi from 2005 until his demise at the CIA base in Khost.
It shows how long he prepared for his life's bloody finale.
The al-Qaeda-sanctioned collected works of the Khost suicide bomber
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's terror experts have read the material and found eight essays worthy of note:
The lead article consists of fulsome praise for Omar al-Baghdadi, head of al Qaeda's Iraqi wing, whose demise is still not known to US commanders for a fact.
It was published to show that al-Balawi was already fighting Americans in Iraq as early as 2005. DEBKA-Net-Weekly No. 428 of Jan. 8 was the first world publication to break the story of al-Balawi's active Iraqi past and the fact that US and Jordanian intelligence knew about it (“What Went Wrong with the Plan to Kill Ayman al-Zawahiri?”).
- The analysis of an Ayman al-Zawahri tape about the Uighur struggle inChina was meant to show al-Balawi's wide-ranging interests and involvement in the most remote corners of the world.
- Another article about Zawahri discusses his “Electric Shock Treatment” strategy, which consists of inflicting attacks for shaking up the West with the force of an electric shock.
- Al-Qaeda in the service of the national awakening of Native Americans.
- A detailed analysis of various American defense systems in and aroundBaghdad. This article is designed to underline al-Balawi's deep involvement in the war in Iraq.
- "Chatter on al-Qaeda, and on whether its commanders are wise men or fools”, captions an article written to prove there is no dividing line between al Qaeda and Taliban commanders and fighters.
- "An urgent missive to Hollywood” is a long and detailed treatise explaining why the film industry is a key source of heresy in the world.
More bits and pieces of information emerged from the essay collection, e.g. the triple agent went in and out of Iraq through Jordan to fight in Anbar, Tikrit, Mosul and Diyala.
He carried a passport issued by the "Islamic State of Iraq," the entity al Qaeda's late Iraq commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi proclaimed in 2005.
According to his passport, his mother was "The Supreme Shura Council of al Qaeda" (whose word is law on religious and operational matters); his father's name was "Al Qaeda" and his age was listed as "4" – meaning he was born in 2005 the year he joined al Qaeda.
Fragmentary references to the Balawi videotape appeared in the US, but his collected essays ran into total blackout. Even the think tanks and research institutions, which normally rush to be first out with new materials on or by al-Qaeda, refrained from mentioning the essays by a single word.
This is perhaps because the essays are even more revealing than the video tape about the depth of the damage the Jordanian suicide bomber wrought to USintelligence. His writings are an admission that he duped US intelligence not just in 2009 but for five years.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly sources report: The Al Qaeda-Taliban jihad against the CIA and its reputation is far from over. More revelations are to be expected.