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}

From antiwar.com:

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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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