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CIA officer failed to warn bosses before Afghan base attack

WASHINGTON — A CIA officer was warned that a man who claimed to be an al-Qaida turncoat might be plotting an ambush, weeks before he exploded a hidden bomb inside an agency base in Afghanistan in December, killing nine people and himself, an internal investigation has found.

The warning, from a Jordanian intelligence officer, was never passed along, one of a chain of lapses that ultimately allowed the double agent to penetrate the CIA's secret base in Khost, Afghanistan, CIA director Leon Panetta said Tuesday. Panetta provided an overview of the agency's still-classified report, which he said points to multiple failures but stops short of recommending disciplinary measures against any individuals.

Standard precautions used in dealing with informants — including proper vetting — were relaxed amid an eagerness by CIA officers to meet Humam al-Balawi, a Jordanian physician who promised he could deliver al-Qaida's No. 2 commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Panetta said.

"There was a systemic breakdown with regard to the kind of judgment and scrutiny that should have been applied here," Panetta said in reviewing the key findings with reporters in the agency's McLean, Va., headquarters.

The CIA director said he had ordered nearly two dozen changes in agency procedures, ranging from tightened security to an enhanced role for counterintelligence specialists tasked with weeding out double agents. But Panetta said the investigation did not assign blame or recommend discipline to any single individual, concluding instead that the deaths were the result of multiple failures that cut across departments.

The investigation was conducted by a task force of 14 veteran officers, many of them from the CIA's counterintelligence division. A separate review by former U.S. diplomat Thomas Pickering and former Department of Homeland Security intelligence chief Charles Allen concurred with the agency's findings, Panetta said.

The Dec. 30 bombing was the deadliest single incident for the CIA in 25 years, claiming the lives of five CIA officers and two contractors, as well as a Jordanian intelligence officer and an Afghan driver. All were killed when Balawi was permitted to enter the CIA's Khost base on the promise that he could lead them to Zawahiri.

According to Panetta's account, a Jordanian officer had approached one of his CIA counterparts in Amman, Jordan, to share his doubts about Balawi's trustworthiness, but the information wasn't passed along.

CIA officer failed to warn bosses before Afghan base attack 10/19/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 19, 2010 11:49pm]
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