Did a "triple agent" kill eight CIA agents in Afghanistan?

And how can we trust the spooks to protect us if they can't protect themselves?

And how can we trust the spooks to protect us if they can't protect themselves?{C}


A week after the deadly CIA bombing at Forward Operating Base Chapman in the Khost Province, evidence continues to trickle in about the attacker, Jordanian informant Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, but questions continue to linger about how such a high-profile attack was able to be carried out.

Seven CIA employees died and another six were injured in what was the deadliest single attack on the CIA since 1983 -- when eight of the agency's employees were believed to be among the dead after Islamist militants bombed the US marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 Americans.

Al-Balawi, the "triple agent" said to be behind the 30 December blast, was a Jordanian doctor and former Islamist militant whom the authorities believed they had turned against al-Qaeda. Reports suggest the CIA considered him their best lead on al-Qaeda in years. The result? Al-Balawi wasn't even given a "rudimentary security screening" upon arriving at the Khost base last week. As Time's Joe Klein writes:

. . . this suicide bomber, a Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was the CIA's worst ever security breach. In an era when grandmothers are routinely screened at airports, al-Balawi was whisked into Forward Operating Base Chapman, the CIA headquarters for the drone war against al-Qaeda, without so much as a pat-down. He was then ushered into a meeting with 13 CIA operatives and his Jordanian handler.

He then blew himself up.

Hmm. The same spooks and security guys who want to introduce body scanners and racial profiling at airports, to secure our skies, can't even secure their own military base in the middle of a war zone. Ironic, huh?

NOTE: My column in this week's magazine on the so-called Underwear Bomber and our (excessive and inflated) fear of terrorism can be read here.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.