Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity
Posted at 1:10 PM ET, 03/22/2010

Ex-spies still agitated over CIA's Afghan losses

By Jeff Stein

Nearly three months after an al-Qaeda double agent obliterated an important CIA team in Afghanistan, veteran spies remain agitated over the incident and the agency’s seeming inability to fix longtime operational flaws.

The latest eruption over the Dec. 30 incident that killed seven CIA officers and contractors in a powerful suicide fireball comes from Robert Baer, the former clandestine operations officer who has been pillorying his former employer in books, articles and television interviews since shortly the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But other agency veterans have been weighing in as well, and increasingly, on the record.

Writing in the April issue of GQ magazine, Baer depicts a spy agency where "the operatives' sun started to set" in the 1990s and never recovered.

So it was that the spy agency sent an analyst to do an operative's work in Khost, in desolate southeast Afghanistan, last year. Traditionally, the CIA's station chiefs, or top agency officer in a country, and its base chiefs, deployed in outlying offices, were veteran case officers, or seasoned spy handlers.

But under a series of CIA directors starting in the mid-1990s, that began to change. Career intelligence analysts, like John O. Brennan, now President Obama's deputy national security adviser for homeland security and counterterrorism, who was station chief in Saudi Arabia from 1996 to 1999, were increasingly deployed to field positions.

And Khost was the badlands. The base chief's lack of operational experience, lethally mixed with a lack of rigorous supervision from senior officials from CIA headquarters on down, got her killed, Baer and others think.

"She was 45 years old and a divorced mother of three. She'd spent the vast majority of her career at a desk in Northern Virginia, where she studied al-Qaeda for more than a decade," writes Baer. (The Washington Post has not revealed her name at the request of the CIA.)

Baer adds:

"Michael Scheuer, her first boss in Alec Station, the CIA unit that tracked bin Laden, told me she had attended the operative's basic training course at the Farm, the agency's training facility, and that he considered her a good, smart officer. Another officer who knew her told me that despite her training at the Farm, she was always slotted to be a reports officer, someone who edits reports coming in from the field. She was never intended to meet and debrief informants."

Critics like Baer were not suggesting that the slain woman was anything less than a dedicated and first-rate analyst, who had spent years refining her understanding of al-Qaeda.

To the contrary, they said, CIA officials were to blame for giving her an operational assignment for which she was out of her depth.

On Friday, CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said that "the agency continues to take a close, exacting look at the Khost attack. This organization learns both from its successes and its setbacks."

"It’s strange, though," he added, "to see people—in some cases people who left here many years ago—posing as experts on operational tradecraft in the Afghan war zones."

In an interview with The Washington Post published Sunday, CIA Director Leon Panetta said the attack was prompted by the administration's pursuit of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. "You can't just conduct the kind of aggressive operations we are conducting against the enemy and not expect that they are not going to try to retaliate," he said.

But a seasoned operative would have punched holes in her plan to bring Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi -- a Jordanian doctor who persuaded the CIA he could penetrate the top circles of al-Qaeda -- to the agency's base in Khost, counters Charles Faddis, a career operative who retired in 2008.

As it turned out, Balawi had been dispatched by al-Qaeda in Pakistan. When he was picked up by an agency security team, he stepped into the car wearing a suicide vest of explosives. They failed to pat him down -- another inexplicable lapse.

"It's not like we haven't picked up bad guys in bad parts of town before," said Faddis.

"The most inexplicable error was to have met Balawi by committee," writes Baer, whose exploits were dramatized in the George Clooney movie Syriana. "Informants should always be met one-on-one. Always."

A case officer would have never permitted such lapses, Faddis says.

"You have security guys to bring the guy in. They’re shooters, and God bless ‘em, they know how to shoot,” Faddis said in an interview. “But it’s the tradecraft that keeps you alive. And for that you need an experienced case officer in charge."

“A case officer is a god," Faddis added. "If he sniffs the air and says something doesn’t feel right and he calls the operation off, that’s it, it’s off. In this case, there wasn’t a serious case officer in charge."

Instead, desperate for a chance to get close to Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, agency officials from Khost up through Kabul to CIA headquarters in Langley -- at least a half dozen operations officials, at minimum -- failed to bullet-proof a pick-up plan that to veterans was as absurd then as it looks now.

And that's not counting the original sin of accepting Balawi as a real spy in the first place. The longtime anti-American doctor was served up by the Jordanian intelligence service, which claimed they had flipped him after a short stay in their custody.

The CIA bit -- hard.

Instead of eyeing Balawi like a Siamese cat might, toying with its prize, said one CIA veteran who asked not to be identified, it pounced on him like a happy golden retriever.

A U.S. official familiar with the operation defended the agency's handling of Balawi. "You have to strike a balance between your own safety and showing a measure—a measure—of respect for a source thought capable of unlocking some key doors. There was no rush or over-eagerness," the official maintained.

Back in 2002, a senior CIA official named Margaret Henoch fought vainly within the agency to derail its embrace of another bad source, the notorious "Curveball," an Iraqi exile who claimed Saddam Hussein possessed mobile biological weapons vans. That and other phony intelligence vetted by top CIA officials laid the foundation for the Bush administration's invasion of Iraq.

The CIA should have learned something from that, Henoch says.

"(I)t hasn't been fixed," Henoch said last week on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU-FM radio.

"I don't think they fixed the who-does-the-vetting" of potential spies, she added. "I think there are too many people who don't understand the basics of operational issues doing analytic work. I have a dear friend who was in the D.I. [directorate of intelligence] who says that a lot of the people over there don't understand they're in an intelligence agency instead of at a university."

According to multiple intelligence sources, no single, disinterested unit exists to vet the bona fides of potential recruits and challenge managers about the suitability of their targets.

"It's done by each branch or division manager," said one former CIA case officer, echoing others.

“It’s not being done the right way and there’s not enough of it," echoed Faddis, who among other assignments in a 25-year career led a CIA team into northern Iraq before the 2003 invasion. "I agree 100 per cent that it’s not being done, or not being done the right way."

Operational oversight was not helped by a switch at Kabul Station just prior to the Khost meeting. The outgoing CIA station chief, who had direct responsibility for the Khost base, was a former Army enlisted man dubbed "Spec-4" -- a low rank -- by case officers who held a dim view of his intelligence savvy. The man, whose name is not being revealed by The Post, has since been appointed chief of the CIA's Special Activities Division, responsible for special covert and paramilitary operations, a well-informed source said.

The CIA refused to confirm the assignment, but a U.S. official who demanded anonymity to discuss the outgoing station chief defended him.

“You’re talking about a very seasoned operations officer and a proven senior leader," the official said.  "He’s had multiple tours overseas in a range of difficult environments.  He’s no stranger to the collection of intelligence in battlefield settings, and he’s been decorated for valor.... His service in the early 1980s as an enlisted member of the Special Forces only added to his understanding of how things actually function on the ground."

Paradoxically, one of the key officials in the chain of command, the chief of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, has a reputation for being a stickler for details. (His name is being withheld from publication at CIA request.)

“He would have had a whole lot of conversations about what was to be done," said Faddis, who was head of the CTC's terrorist weapons of mass destruction unit when he retired two years ago. He called the CTC chief "very competent."

"He has no use for middle managers of any kind," added Faddis. "It’s his strength and his weakness …He reads all the cable traffic, and if you work for him, you’re supposed to, too. Woe to you if you don’t.”

“I would have thought that he would have been down on the weeds on this thing, if only because there wasn’t a case officer in charge” of the Khost base, Faddis added.

Because that’s his style?


In another irony, Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Dianne Feinstein of California, demanded that Panetta retain career operations officer Stephen R. Kappes as his deputy because of his experience in clandestine matters.

At the top, at least, this was the CIA's A-Team.

Amid searing criticism after the disaster, Panetta wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post saying the grievous losses in Khost were the cost of doing business in a bad part of the world.

"We have found no consolation ... in public commentary suggesting that those who gave their lives somehow brought it upon themselves because of 'poor tradecraft,'" Panetta wrote. "That's like saying Marines who die in a firefight brought it upon themselves because they have poor war-fighting skills."

No, say many CIA veterans, unanimously. it's saying Marines can die because of poor leadership.

Panetta's remarks, which were intended to cool the anger over Khost, only incensed old hands, some of whom thought someone in the organization should pay at least a small price for the deaths of their colleagues on the bitter plains of Khost.

But none expected it.

“I heard reference to some a review of some kind, but that’s all," Faddis said, "Nobody thinks heads are going to roll."

Baer said it was "tempting" to think the CIA was beyond repair, emphasizing that the country needs a first-rate intelligence service, however daunting a task that has proven to be.

"The United States still needs a civilian intelligence agency. (The military cannot be trusted to oversee all intelligence-gathering on its own.)," he wrote for GQ. "But the CIA—and especially the directorate of operations—It must be stripped down to its studs and rebuilt with a renewed sense of mission and purpose."

"It should start by getting the amateurs out of the field," Baer added. "And then it should impose professional standards of training and experience—the kind it upheld with great success in the past. If it doesn't, we're going to see a lot more Khosts."

CIA spokesman Gimigliano dismissed the complaints of Baer and other ex-operatives. "They don’t have all the facts of this case, yet they criticize those who were on the front lines on December 30th, including some whose lives were taken."

Such criticism, the spokesman said, is "disgraceful."

Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

By Jeff Stein  | March 22, 2010; 1:10 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence  | Tags:  Alec Station, CIA, Charles Faddis, Dianne Feinstein, GQ, George Clooney, John Brennan, Khost, Leon Panetta, Margaret Henoch, Michael Scheuer, Obama, Paul Gimigliano, Robert Baer, Stephen R. Kappes, Syriana  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: About Jeff Stein
Next: CIA official's rape case headed to June trial


No sympathies for the CIA. They have devolved, on their own, into a Federal check dispensary.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Posted by: tjhall1 | March 22, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

For such a short piece, I consider this smartly written and wish that a Colbert or Daily Show would take on this topic in an extended 10 minute piece, not for laughs of course, but to explore what the TV news media never does.

Posted by: bbcrock | March 22, 2010 3:36 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: rkersh | March 22, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

i assume baer was one of the the middle eastern experts who advised president ghw bush well in advance of saddam's intended invasion of kuwait so that it could have been prevented. oh maybe that was someone else's responsibility as well.

Posted by: george32 | March 22, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

the demise of the cia as the premier intelligence agency in the world began with jfk and his fellow travellers in the 60s

Posted by: pofinpa | March 22, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

CIA spokesman Gimigliano dismissed the complaints of Baer and other ex-operatives. "They don’t have all the facts of this case, yet they criticize those who were on the front lines on December 30th, including some whose lives were taken."

Such criticism, the spokesman said, is "disgraceful."

What is disgraceful is losing the lives of more of these agents because no one asked the tough questions. Perhaps Gimiligliano is lessconcerned about the lives of agents as he is about preventing the publication of CIA failures.

Posted by: lostinthemiddle | March 22, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse

"It’s strange, though," he added, "to see people—in some cases people who left here many years ago—posing as experts on operational tradecraft in the Afghan war zones."


I have to agree, here -- everything is as it seems, right?

No wonder the world thinks we're stupid.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 22, 2010 4:26 PM | Report abuse

Just like a lot of other government agaencies. Over the years they get watered down by bureaucrats and career people afraid to step outside the box. You lose your edge. We see it all throughout our government.

Posted by: VaBroker | March 22, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Nice to see the reporter here taking pains to protect the identities of agents. Not very long ago the Post's Bob Novak happily disclosed the name of an agent- when it served the White House occupants' purposes.

Posted by: hairguy01 | March 22, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

On 10 February, the UK Court of Appeal ordered the release of a summary of documents revealing that US agents had tortured Binyam Mohamed while he was held in Pakistan in 2002, and that the British government knew about it. Foreign secretary David Miliband had tried to suppress this summary for 18 months. MI5’s involvement in Mohamed’s case is now being investigated by the Metropolitan Police, and on 19 February it was revealed that the Met is now investigating claims that Shaker Aamer was tortured in US custody in Afghanistan, while British agents were present.

The British Government, successive Scottish Governments and the police have systematically stonewalled demands for a serious investigation into the use of British (and Scottish) airports in connection with extraordinary rendition.

Shaker Aamer is still being held in solitary confinement at Guantánamo Bay, although there are no charges against him and he has been cleared for release. He is being denied his freedom because the British and US governments are afraid of the stories he might tell.

Afghanistan remains under the occupation of US-led forces. Prisoners are still being held under abusive conditions at Bagram, without even being told why they are detained or given a fair chance to argue for release. The names of the 645 prisoners held at Bagram (as of 22 September 2009) were released by the US in January 2010, but the US did not state the circumstances of their capture, nor did it state whether the prisoners were all captured in Afghanistan or had been transferred from other countries. An ongoing project by Andy Worthington aims at uncovering the background of these prisoners.

Posted by: coiaorguk | March 22, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

Jeff, good reporting, stay on the issues that need to be addressed. Kudos!

Posted by: whocares666 | March 22, 2010 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Wish the Post would pay greater attention to editorial review before posting articles. While the content is good, the grammar and writing could use some help. You know it's bad when even a cursory read quickly identifies multiple mistakes.....

Posted by: saschadc | March 22, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Why would they have put an inexperienced female in charge of such a critical location.

Posted by: mark0004 | March 22, 2010 5:00 PM | Report abuse

Why would they have put an inexperienced female in charge of such a critical location.


I dunno. Call Baer. He seems to know.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 22, 2010 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Baer was on Colbert.

Posted by: geebee1 | March 22, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Fascinating article. Bob Baer is a national treasure. I hope the CIA is working on these issues--in public it seems just to be playing CYA. Baer's argument for making the agency tougher and more professional deserves wide attention.

Posted by: scientist1 | March 22, 2010 5:24 PM | Report abuse

Baer's argument for making the agency tougher and more professional deserves wide attention.
Hah! A Russian plant, no doubt!

(I'm kidding...)

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 22, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

We live in a time when managers are assigned to supervise areas where they do not have experience. This becomes apparent when one works in the corporate world. This kind of policy can have disasterous results. This is apparently what happened with the CIA in Afganistan.
Too often experience is not valued in favor of a manager who may be bright enough and will play the corporate game telling their superiors what they want to hear, following orders from above.
One wonders if bringing this the supervisor's idea to bring in Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi or if it came from a higher up. As Baer said seasoned agent probably would have questioned this idea and would have taken precautions. A seasoned agent also might have questioned the idea of bringing a source into the base and talking to several operatives. This guy then would have been able to point out the operatives involved if no other damage was done.
In my mind I hear someone saying "don't insult this guy by patting him down."
The operatives should not soley be blamed for their own deaths but someone or several someones made a string of bad decisions. Those decisions had tragic effects. The CIA needs to review their policies and get appropriate people in the supervisory positions not just the ones who play a good corporate game.

Posted by: OhMy | March 22, 2010 5:37 PM | Report abuse

All of this may be true. But the dependence on Baer as a source is getting very long in the tooth. The dude was all over the place on the "failure" of the Dubai hit (if that is what it was). Who the hell knows what happended in Dubai ---if you believe the dopey police chief in Dubai we are up to 100's of "secret agents" killing a Hamas arms dealer in a hotel room. That, of course, is the point: nobody has any idea, whatsoever,as to what really happened, who did it (Mossad yes I know, those zany Jews etc. maybe; however, others may have done it who the hell knows) and why. A *perfect* operation. Result? Baer, gets press talking about its failure. The guy is not that bright or that good...and he is no longer in the agency.

Basta with the Baer as the "expert" on all things CIA...he is a great fit for an on set adviser to television show, NCIS.


Posted by: agrossman2 | March 22, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

As a point of detail, a reports officer is a person in the CIA's Directorate of Operations who takes material coming in from the field and edits it into formal intelligence reports (FIRDBs, FIRKs, TDFIRDBs and the like) which then get disseminated to actual analysts in the Directorate of Intelligence and elsewhere int the intelligence community. Those reports are used, or not, in producing final intelligence product that gets sent to the consumers in the White House, State Department, DOD, etc.

Posted by: TexLex | March 22, 2010 5:57 PM | Report abuse


Slow Burn: The Rise and Bitter Fall of American Intelligence in Vietnam by Orrin Deforest and David Chanoff (Hardcover - Apr. 1990)

Seems like much of it is still true. Too many playing games and too few who know what to do and actually are disciplined to follow the rules and check the files.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | March 22, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

The CIA is very happy to use its drones to kill others so it should not be surprised that those who it routinely attacks will return the favor.

The operation was bungled. Put all the frosting on it and you still cannot explain how the CIA put itself in the position to be blown up by a double agent. I suggest the bottom line is the CIA fell down in not preventing 9/11 or in being unable to know whether Osama is dead or alive, and if alive, in being unable to bring about his capture.

It wasn't the woman, or the Specialist 4, or Dianne Feinstein whose husband makes a ton of money off these wars, its the organization itself. It's too long in the tooth.

Posted by: llyonnoc | March 22, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

US asked for it and US got it as far as CIA’s Afghan losses are concerned.

Let us not forget that former Pakistani ISI director General Mahmoud Ahmed was in Washington on the day of 9/11 attacks meeting with George Tenet, then the head of CIA. Now this is the same General who had instructed Omar Sheikh, a British-born Islamist militant to wire $100,000 a year before the 9/11 attacks from Dubai to Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker of 9/11 attacks in his Florida bank account. Mohammed Atta used that money to get flight training for himself and his cohorts, living expenses and purchase the airline tickets on the day of the 9/11 attacks.

CIA has close links with Pakistani ISI who has close links with Al Qaeda and Taliban.

So these agitation by CIA agents is nothing more than crocodile tears especially when Hillary Clinton says that Pakistan has been in her heart every night!

Posted by: simplesimon33 | March 22, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

The manner and mindset in which the CIA approached the handling of this purported agent is essentially no different than the poor officer survival skills far too many police officers demonstrate out there on the street.

Posted by: john_bruckner | March 22, 2010 6:55 PM | Report abuse

". . .Baer said it was "tempting" to think the CIA was beyond repair, emphasizing that the country needs a first-rate intelligence service,. . ." implying that the Afghan tragedy proves the CIA needs repairing and under the right 'repairs' another tragedy would be impossible.
Ohh! You didn't say another tragedy would be impossible?
Exactly, what kind of repairs are these ,again?
No organization is perfect. Not the current one nor Mr. Bauer's proposed one.

Posted by: gsgs | March 22, 2010 7:27 PM | Report abuse

This is another example of "political correctness". The women in charge was a desk jockey.Learnt what she knew fom a computer,and NEVER should have been given the job that she was NOT trained for. 'burning the bra' does NOT mean putting women into jobs they cannot do.
go suck a lemon all you lib women.

Posted by: captgrumpy | March 22, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

How many heads of intelligence agencies are real intelligence officers? The problems in the field today don't require managers to fix them -- they require experienced intelligence officers with the skills and knowledge to apply the proper tradecraft, not analysts or desk officers playing at CoS.

Posted by: Apostrophe | March 22, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Well, the hatred of America and ranting of the Reds on this commentary board is expected and pretty much ranks up there with the spiel of a drunk in a bar. But here is something to think about:

The operational side of CIA has never sat comfortably with elements of the American public. In fact one of our Sec of War in the 1930's even famously said, "Gentlemen do not read other gentlemens' mail."

But to accept this proposition is naive and dangerous for any world power. America needs a way to gather human intelligence; it needs a way to project power without going to war. Sorry Reds...that happens to be a fact of wring your hands and tear your hear...won't do any good.

What has happened to the CIA though goes back before Doetch. It goes back as far as the Church Committee and Admiral Turner. It recalls the Senate authorizing the Contras one year, de-authorizing them the next, authorizing them again the third year. It goes back to the contradictory signals coming from the US Congress and the demonization of the CIA for political purposes for policies directed by the White House. RFK and JFK authorized the attempts on Castro in 1961-62..CIA took the fall.

But the problems for the Directorate of Operations, now NCS, the clandestine wing of CIA really began with Gates and his creation and exhaultation of a reports super corps which began to lord it over the operations officers and which now has inserted itself into the intel gathering process to the extent is censors reports it doesn't agree with. This corps, if it existed in 1941, and received a report of Japanese carriers north of Ohau on 6 Dec 1941, would "non-dissem" the report because they didn't believe it or didn't have other evidence. They have become heavy handed censors, inserting opinion rather than reporting what an agent says.

And it continued and intensified after the Woman's lawsuit in the early 1990's which had led to a blatant quota system in the CIA. Now 1/3 of all promotees no matter to what rank, must be women, regardless of qualifications otherwise a Federal court will overturn it based only/only on pure numbers. This is at the heart of why an inexprienced woman, never in a leadership position, who never served abroad in any difficult post, never ran an agent, never dealt with the US Military, was appointed to head the most militarialy sensitive and difficult post in Eastern Afghanistan.

Frankly the people who approved that assignment, chopped on it for reasons of sexual preference not ability, competence, or experience, need to be fired. The political correctness of the Agency needs to be reversed and promotion by merit rather than racial or sexual quotas needs to be reinstated. To do otherwise is to risk the future and safety of the USA.

Posted by: wjc1va | March 22, 2010 7:42 PM | Report abuse

Criticism is good, especially when dealing with critical situations and missions.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 22, 2010 7:56 PM | Report abuse

Oh right, anyone who criticizes the CIA is guilty of "Hatred of America" and is a either a "Red" or a drunk ranting in a bar. What a moron....this is America, clod, and we have every right to criticize the CIA. That would be the CIA who runs drugs into our country, the CIA who, against our own laws TORTURES, the CIA runs drug experiments on our own people, the CIA that lies and covers up their hit squads just as any Latin American or mid east dictator. This particular debacle smacks of predetermined intent, something the CIA does routinely in order to bring about a desired circumstance. Who knows if it wasn't this outpost that was sending out false information to the intelligence community and had to be "cleaned" up...Who knows what the CIA does? Even those in congress and perhaps all the way the the head of the CIA, the President, the Security Council, nobody knows what they do but they have in the past been instrumental in "destabilizing" countries in teaching others how to torture, murder and "disappear" people. They did this at the "School of the America's". While the CIA has undoubtedly done some good there is no question that they have been responsible for much immoral, illegal and just downright monstrous including wiping out entire villages of people in Nicerague dressed as Sandinista's in order to foment hatred towards the Sandinista's....what's to stop them from doing the same thing in Afghanistan or Iraq? Bombing the Sunni's to blame the Shiite's then bombing the Shiite's to blame the Sunni's in order to keep the war going, to keep the money flowing to the Military Industrial Complex and hence to their own coffers...War is a racket, or so Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler, USMC, America's most Decorated Soldier states with many examples in his book of the same name, even more relevant today as it was nearly 70 years ago. Aside from the Republican Party the CIA may be the single most culpable organization in causing hatred for America in the rest of the world.

Posted by: Watcher1 | March 22, 2010 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Armchair quarterbacks.

Posted by: vmax02rider | March 22, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

"Thinning of the Herd"

See, what did I tell you earlier. This station chief whined her way into an operational assignment, to meet a quota, and folks that knew she was unqualified figured why not. Let her auger in. She wanted it so bad. Somehow I don't think they miss her.

And please don't tell me folks didn't know she was really really out of her league. This was one of the toughest duty stations you could find.

The other big problem, was that the good doctor was flipped by the Jordanians threatening his family. Not exactly a willing traitor -- in fact no intention of being a traitor at all.

So forget about anyone at CIA taking a hit on this one.

Hope this clarifies things for the spooks reading these posts.

Posted by: oracle2world | March 22, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

He cAn't ReaD EnGlisH (outside of the superficialities, and even that is a stretch. No poet here...

Maybe it's because you're a drunken Red.

(Which, of course, you are.)

Make it a trifecta and come out of the closet -- admit to the world you are, in fact, a drunken Red who is also a homosexual.

See? Feel better?

Pssst... Bigfoot is mad, mad, mad we're in his house...But we're not leaving.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 22, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse

wjc1va, you're correct. When Janine Brookner settled her lawsuit, all hell broke loose later....

george32, Baer spoke Arabic, unlike you. And Anthony Lake was responsible for kicking Baer out of the CIA from a fake Iranian fax...

I laughed when liberal Democrats applied for CIA jobs...

Posted by: Rockvillers | March 22, 2010 10:20 PM | Report abuse

How odd the CIA would publicly wash their laundry in public this way? Are they really so inwardly embroiled?

One wonders how many times they have accepted their Jordanian ally's claims of having turned someone, especially as it most certainly was done through torture or other criminal coercion (threats to family, for instance). I suppose they have been successful in the past, and with moral sense so blunted, are looking for scapegoats when the policy so amply failed them.

That the U.S. should work closely with Jordanian intel, which is so compromised by repeated torturing of prisoners, in foreign postings outside of Jordan, is what the big story should be.

After all the torture done in the Middle East and Afghanistan, by the U.S. and British, and by their allies, from Jordan to Uzbekistan, from Dubai to Kabul, one should not wonder why claims of "terrorism" fall so flat in that part of the world.

Glad to see you back with "Spy Talk," Jeff. And at the Post. Congrats.

Posted by: Valtin | March 23, 2010 2:28 AM | Report abuse

VERY well done piece, Jeff-and the criticisms of former CIA case officers mirrors almost exactly what I've said about this terrible and inexplicable event-it's as the CIA has COMPLETELY lost its way-did the Milan fiasco not tell the Agency that something is seriously, seriously wrong with its tradecraft? And how could ANYONE forget "those who cure you, will also kill you" huh?

Utterly a dinosaur, trapped in the tar pits of Langley, is the CIA these days.

Posted by: Spring_Rain | March 23, 2010 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Jeff Stein, WaPost: "Critics like Baer were not suggesting that the slain woman was anything less than a dedicated and first-rate analyst, who had spent years refining her understanding of al-Qaeda."

There was a period in the 1990s in which there was a very large disconnect between analysts and operatives in the field because of security compartmenting. Was Khost an attempt to have field analysts on the scene with operatives? There is nothing wrong with a multi-experienced team process; they are routinely used to solve problems in the business and IT worlds. In those environments, it is also clear what the chain of command is. At what point in any decision process does the operative/analyst/techie team consensus shift to command responsibility? Note Mao Tse-tung : “Uncertainty interferes with even the best-laid plans, but its effect can be overcome to some extent by flexible planning and the readiness to change plans frequently according to developing circumstances. 'Planning must change with the movement (flow or change) of the war and vary in degree according to the scale of the war. “. Should an analyst have been in command at that point in time?

Posted by: arjay1 | March 23, 2010 7:54 AM | Report abuse

A good plan violently executed today beats a perfect plan next week. Good enough is often all you can hope for. Perfection is the mother of all screw ups. We can be like them, so don't fear the reaper.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 23, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

Let the desk jocks duke it out over this one, so long as "Mitch Rapp" can roam free.

Posted by: spooky2 | March 23, 2010 8:34 AM | Report abuse

People screw up and get killed all the time.

Posted by: blasmaic | March 23, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

I am still agitated over Afghan human suffering and death at the direction of the cia.Plus:

The fbi/cia/mossad assassins pose the most serious threat threat to Humanity.



Posted by: gsosbee1 | March 23, 2010 9:50 AM | Report abuse

One of the best, objective reporting pieces I have read in a long while. Thanks Jeff Stein, and thanks WP for having Spy Talk in the Post.
Hope there are more.
I would add that from what I've heard, the senior operatives did like Panetta having their back on other matters and were not entirely against his "they were brave heroes serving their nation, we took a hit, but we're still out there" public take on the incident.

And one thing the article neglects is that the Jordanians, a very good intelligence service, were also suckered.
Which of course reminds me that Iraq wasn't a "CIA intelligence failure". It was Saddam doing something so stupid that it fell completely outside the template of what not just the US, but also Russia, Jordan's, Egypt's, Turkey's, Britain, France, and China's intelligence services conclusions. A best resonable estimate, on why they had Republican Guard sources and electronics and sources within Saddam's inner circles all vouching that they had heard directly at meetings from Saddam or from a senior general that Iraq maintained a stockpile. Every nation thought he had them, otherwise, it was suicidal for him to continue to bluff at the 11th hour. It was like watching two players go all in while you had nothing in your hand and electing to go all in yourself out of some insane pride and get wiped out..

Posted by: ChrisFord1 | March 23, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

It might have started with gutting the OD, but peaked when Valerie Plame was called a CIA spy by the Bush administration. Repeat lies enough times and desk jocks get promoted to station chief. Ex-spies should fume, current spies should fear for their lives. These men and women risk their lives everyday under extremely difficult circumstances, with no friends or families. They deserve better leadership

Posted by: biotech98 | March 23, 2010 10:38 AM | Report abuse

the humiliated cia mother of three was an arrogant nuisance while loitering in the very dangerous land of allah. the dead hag is now part of opperation oblivion.

good riddance to bad rubbish and vive le terror

Posted by: therapy | March 23, 2010 10:41 AM | Report abuse

It appears that what both the Jordanians and CIA missed was the "physch"---they were played by their source; and it's a play they should have spotted.

The article says it's because an analyst versus a field officer was the leader. I would say it's because an analyst was in charge. Why else a. not search the informant and b. allow 8 people to stand within the not searched person's lethal distance.

Posted by: mil1 | March 23, 2010 10:51 AM | Report abuse

A dosse of reality and a little privacy are nice. A charted course gets you to where you need to be faster and safer. A bunch of them are in uncharted territory looking down the barrel at large loses with no legends. Media is helpful or hurtful, it's not uncharted and the chart looks better today. Keep us Posted.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 23, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

I know nothing other than what I read in papers and on the web...never been to the graveyard of empires...but this analysis of what happened in Khost seems really partial.

Isn't Khost at the center of the world's largest heroin production center and major drug trade routes, and isn't corruption endemic, with the majority of those present somehow effected by it?

I guess it's possible that billions of dollars in product passing through this area had nothing whatsoever to do with a crack reporting officer getting blown up, but somehow I doubt it.

Posted by: inojk | March 23, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Since the CIA under Carter started it all off to lure the Soviet Union into occupation and use a country as cannon fodder I guess that makes us cannon fodder too. But who would be trying to get attention in internet postings than someone offering themselves as bait.

Posted by: Wildthing1 | March 23, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

I believe this one word can sum up this situation and how to avoid it in the future...


Posted by: charle211 | March 23, 2010 1:31 PM | Report abuse

This reads very much like ten-year-old soundly based articles decrying the performance of the FBI pre-9/11 under the leadership of Louis J Freeh, a remarkable crackpot who in his retirement speech as director thanked his three-year-old son for letting him take the job. The kid was unborn; unconceived; when Freeh took office.

Freeh's greatest triumph was extracting ever-increasing sums from Congress, and wasting most of them. His greatest failure was his policy of keeping the then-president of the United States under years of criminal investigation for perceived offenses, most of them fictional. A great gift to America's enemies. On his watch, the long-famed FBI laboratories lost their credibility, in a climate marked by internal bullying bureau agents struggled with office computers inferior to devices they had in their own homes for their kids' schoolwork, and al-Qaeda rejoiced in Freeh's public announcement in 1998 that the bureau couldn't be up to speed against terrorism until fiscal 2005.

In an unprecedented tide, a number of agents wrote and published books attacking Freeh's conduct in office. Some described it as illegal.

Freeh himself wrote a self-glorying and untrustworthy autobiography and today goes out to address community meetings carrying a few cartons of unsold copies, available for sale. He autographs them for citizens who turn up to hear his message that all that went wrong to America in the Freeh years was that Clinton was a low dog and Congress consistently betrayed the noble director. This latter observation at least is certainly untrue: Congress was open-handed, Freeh was just wasting the money.

The dream world of Louis J Freeh is available for a few bucks from online used-book vendors. Ten cents would be too much for anybody seeking accurate guidance to how the Freeh FBI was and was not protecting America from enemies foreign and domestic. Deep in the former director's mind is the fancy that everybody was out of step except our Louis.

Much the same today at the CIA?
I assume he has an excellent pension, and likes being addressed by strangers as Director.

Posted by: kunino | March 23, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

Elizabeth Hanson, Danny Pearl, had both figured out what, and were betrayed by who?

Posted by: inojk | March 23, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Rockvillers | March 24, 2010 12:24 AM | Report abuse

Don't CIA field agents learn to make bomb vests in explosive classes? That is what i heard on NPR the other day.

Khost was a seminar gone wrong.

There is no other plausible reason to have 10-15 personnel exposed as they were.

Other than to expose them to death.

Posted by: forestbloggod | March 24, 2010 3:19 AM | Report abuse

Some of what the old-timers are saying is true; however, some of it is antiquated. I will tell you exactly what is wrong with the community.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the agency failed to incorporate traditional techniques with newer methodologies and a revised intelligence mission. The senior people retired and the community snubbed their middle managers.

Middle Management was obliterated and recruitment of junior analysts took precident. Senior personnel either left or failed to pass on their experience and knowledge because the old ways were discounted by new Senior leadership as being ineffective to combat terrorism. This is asymmetrical and the old ways needed to be adapted to combat the enemy. They were not. They were forgotten and a junior set of analysts took over, with no guidance, no middle management, no operational experience. You are now left with people who THINK they know how to operate overseas and their training is theoretical. They are eager, they are smart, but they lack experience. That said, the old timers make mistakes in thinking you can combat a fundamentalist like you charm an old school foreign intelligence officer. You needed a cross pollination of old and new. That was my generation. I have watched as people throughout the community who tell me they wrote their Master's thesis on 9-11 and are promoted to management positions, with neither field nor practical intel management experience outside the class room.

Senior managers are threatened by middle aged intel officers and snub them still, perpetuating the gap. Juniors are promoted to positions they should not be in, they age a bit and are sent overseas as a promotion effort. They are either ineffective (and I can tell you stories of military personnel having it out with agents who are so green, they are left in the middle of the desert to teach them a life lesson) or just plain incompetent.

The community needs to stop snubbing it's experienced professionals. They need to better cooperate amongst themselves to meet mission goals and agree on common goals (which they don't). They need to recognize each other's security clearances instead of wasting tax payer dollars on re-clearing cleared, experienced professionals, delaying important experienced people from assuming important positions in the community. I can't tell you how many people have left the community because one agency... shall remain nameless... does not recognize other agencies' clearances. Waste of time, money and effort.

Your experience is walking out the door; your potential is walking out the door and you are left with juniors who appear to be getting their butts handed to them because they are in over their heads!

Yes, it is dangerous, but it is more dangerous with no on the job training monitored by experienced professionals to provide some segue from old to new.

It's been twenty years and the community still hasn't gotten it right!

Posted by: etriscari | March 24, 2010 10:08 AM | Report abuse

An HR problem in the middle of a turf battle in the middle of several never-ending wars mired in deadly corruption.

Guess I'll go flip burgers.

Posted by: inojk | March 24, 2010 10:34 AM | Report abuse

Glad to see you're back Jeff..

Posted by: MathiasV | March 25, 2010 4:50 AM | Report abuse

It seems we have an abundance of armchair quarterbacks. The bottom line is, due to the nature of the work, the known facts are not complete. None of the people interviewed were in that room that day. It's easy to criticize these agents from thousands of miles away, post mortem. I am personally thankful for the CIA and our military for protecting us every day. These agents were heroes that should be honored.

Posted by: shelot | March 25, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

These heroes knew the dangers of running spies in the hinterlands of Afghanistan. It is sad, and of course they could have handled things differently and perhaps still be alive. That said, they are there on the ground making the tough judgment calls. We should mourn the loss of these heroes and try not to listen to jokers like Bob Baer. Mr. Baer clearly enjoys the lime light more than being a true intelligence professional. History shows that only the losers right tell-all books. Any self-respecting CIA officer would likely take their stories to the grave instead of trying to prop themselves up.

It is tiresome to read these comments about what people have heard on TV or read in the newspaper about running spies and working in a war zone. Perhaps we should acknowledge that we don't understand the issues like the folks living it, and stop trying to suggest solutions about issues we don't comprehend. Perhaps, next time I'm at the doctor's office I will give him advice on how to treat me because I read an article about it...

Posted by: mestizo888 | March 25, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company