I have no grand insights to offer but this is too awful and too … astounding, really, to be relegated to Headlines. These people were the tip of the American spear against jihadist kingpins in the Afghan/Pakistani border region, the innermost circle in a big Venn diagram that starts with the CIA, proceeds to the units tasked with finding intel on AQ, and ends with the elite charged with building the target list for drone operators. In one split second, that last circle was practically erased.
If you thought the biggest security breach of the past week was Flight 253, think again.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed that the bombing was carried out by a CIA operative who switched sides and offered to help the Taliban. The Associated Press quoted a commander from the Pakistan Taliban, Qari Hussain, who claimed the attack was in retaliation for the CIA’s drone attacks aimed at Taliban leaders across the border in Pakistan. The drone strikes have succeeded in killing several top Taliban commanders, including chief Baitullah Mehsud…
ABC News has learned that the bomber was invited into the heavily guarded camp as a possible informant, but wasn’t searched.
The bomber, who was dressed in an Afghan military uniform, was escorted to the gym for a meeting with a senior CIA debriefer, according to intelligence sources familiar with the incident. When the bomber was brought into the gym he blew himself up, killing seven and seriously injuring an additional six officers who had gathered there to wait for him.
Needless to say, it was almost certainly an inside job:
Several former intelligence officials described the attack in Afghanistan as
“devastating” to the agency. A number of the officers killed had been counterterrorism operatives since before the 9/11 attacks. The base played a critical role in the CIA’s significant operations in the country, including helping with drone attacks and informant networks in Pakistan…
According to a military official who works on Afghan issues, Chapman has grown substantially in recent months and is a base for both military and intelligence operations. Because of its size, the officer said, the suicide bomber likely penetrated multiple layers of security before detonating the explosives…
Forward operating bases typically house hundreds of soldiers, and Afghan forces and private contractors also often live on such bases. But CIA outposts on these bases are usually small—no more than 15 or maybe 20 people, so 13 casualties is likely a majority of the CIA base personnel, said one former agency official.
Among the dead: The CIA’s base chief, a mother of three. My suspicion with sophisticated Taliban operations like this always runs to jihadbot elements in Pakistan’s intel agency, but corruption among Afghan security is a fact of life and the Journal says the base’s mission was an open secret among Afghan locals. It’s possible — and actually way more disturbing — to think that this was totally freelanced, with Afghan “allies” inside the base either bought off or coopted by the Taliban to look the other way at security checkpoints. The question is, why now? They’ve had every incentive to hit the base over the past eight years. It’d be interesting to know how many attacks have been attempted over time or whether some sort of change was made recently to security that might have invited an attempt.
I’ll leave you on a positive note: The revenge has already begun.
Update: Maybe it wasn’t an inside job after all. Maybe the bomber was simply so trusted by base security that they waved him through — unbeknownst to them, as a newly minted Taliban double agent.
The informant was a Pakistani and a member of the Wazir tribe from the Pakistani tribal area North Waziristan, according to the same source. The base security director, an Afghan named Arghawan, would pick up the informant at the Ghulam Khan border crossing and drive him about two hours into Forward Operating Base Chapman, from where the CIA operates.
Because he was with Arghawan, the informant was not searched, the source says. Arghawan also died in the attack…
At least 13 officers gathered in the base’s gym to talk with the informant, suggesting he was highly valued. His prior visits to the base and his ability to get so close to so many officers also suggests that he had already provided the agency with valuable intelligence that had proven successful, former intelligence officials say…
“The Soviet Union during the Cold War, the Cubans during the Cold War were able to run double agents against the CIA very successfully,” says Clarke. “But for a non-nation state to be able to do this — for the Haqqani network of the Taliban to be able to do this — represents a huge increase in the sophistication of the enemy.”
Yeah, no kidding. Until now, I figured the punishment for anyone caught by the Taliban assisting the CIA was beheading, not reprogramming. I wonder if they made the guy do it by threatening to kill his family or if they really did flip him. Just like I wonder how much bad info the CIA’s getting right now from other informants who have gone bad.
As for the mystery of why the Taliban hit the base now instead of eight years ago, the Journal has the answer. Turns out this was their own version of a strike on one of the enemy’s big fish:
“We attacked on that particular day because we knew the woman who was leading the team” was there, the commander said.