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WSJ: The Meaning of al Qaeda's Double Agent

January 7, 2010

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In this Wall Street Journal article, Reuel Marc Gerecht discusses how terrorists are demonstrating counterintelligence ability that the CIA may have underestimated.

The recent death in Afghanistan of seven American counterterrorist officers, one Jordanian intelligence operative, and one exploding al Qaeda double agent ought to give us cause to reflect on the real capabilities of the Central Intelligence Agency and al Qaeda.

The report card isn't good. America's systemic intelligence problems were partially on display in the bombing at the CIA's Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province. Worse, al Qaeda showed skill that had been lacking in many of its operations. In response, President Barack Obama will likely be obliged to adopt counterterrorist methods that could make his administration as tough as his predecessor's.

Professionally, one has to admire the skill of suicide bomber Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi's handlers. This operation could well have been months-if not longer-in the making, and neither the Jordanian intelligence service (GID), which supplied the double agent to the CIA, nor Langley apparently had any serious suspicion that al-Balawi still had the soul and will of a jihadist.

That is an impressive feat. The Hashemite monarchy imprisons lots of Islamic militants, and the GID has the responsibility to interrogate them. The dead Jordanian official, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, reportedly a member of the royal family, may not have been a down-and-dirty case officer with considerable hands-on contact with militants, but al-Balawi surely passed through some kind of intensive screening process with the GID. Yet the GID and the CIA got played, and al Qaeda has revealed that it is capable of running sophisticated clandestine operations with sustained deception.

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