Did Pakistani Spies Help CIA Bomber?

Afghan spy officials tell The Daily Beast’s Gerald Posner that the chemical fingerprint of the bomb that killed seven CIA agents matches the kind produced by Pakistani intelligence.

01.07.10 1:42 AM ET

Early evidence in the December 30 bombing that killed seven CIA agents suggests a link to Pakistan, two senior Afghan sources, including an official at their spy agency, told The Daily Beast. The pair said that U.S. has already taken a chemical fingerprint of the bomb used by a Jordanian double agent in the attack, and that it matches an explosive type used by their Pakistan equivalents, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI.

The bomb’s provenance was an immediate concern after the attack, which took place in a remote base in eastern Afghanistan called Camp Chapman, because of its compact power. Most suicide attacks involve a bulky vest or belt. “It is not possible that the Jordanian double agent received that type of explosive without the help of ISI,” a senior government aide to President Hamid Karzai told me. “The problem is that CIA trusted a Jordanian but not the Afghan operatives we offer to them. If the U.S. forces recruit, they must recruit Afghans who do not have family members in Pakistan.”

“The CIA has a policy usually not to trust anyone,” says Mahmoud Karzai, the president’s brother. “But when they do they trust someone, it is often the enemy, as obvious from the case of the CIA deaths.”

The CIA declined comment on the accusation of a possible ISI role. The U.S. embassy in Pakistan had no comment. Multiple attempts over two days to obtain a comment from Pakistani officials were unsuccessful.

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The Afghan and Pakistani spy agencies have a tense relationship, due to the latter’s intricate ties to Taliban leaders. Amrollah Salih, Afghanistan’s spymaster, has publicly accused Pakistani spooks of helping Taliban militants carry out suicide attacks inside Afghanistan, and also protecting the Taliban’s supreme leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, within its borders.

Several officials at the Afghan spy agency, the National Intelligence Directorate, also leveled criticism at the CIA for allowing the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, easy access into Camp Chapman.

They say that the bomber had been invited there because he had offered “urgent information” that would help to quickly track down Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's right-hand man. “We know that he got the interest of the CIA by claiming he had very recently met with al-Zawahiri,” one senior official told me.

An American intelligence official confirmed an ABC News report that the bomber had indeed been to Camp Chapman at least once before. Since the bomber was familiar to the agents there, and was vouched for by his Jordanian intelligence handler who accompanied him, he passed through the first three checkpoints without being subjected to a metal detector, pat down or body search. When he reached his meeting spot, guards were told to leave the area.

“The CIA has a policy usually not to trust anyone,” says Mahmoud Karzai, a leading Afghan businessman who is the president’s brother. “But when they do they trust someone, it is often the enemy, as obvious from the case of the CIA deaths. If they do have to trust someone to work with, it will be best to cooperate with prominent respected Afghan leaders in the area that the U.S. forces work. This will assure us of one thing: that everyone knows the identity of the respected leader who makes the introduction of the individuals to the U.S. forces. That Afghan leader will then be held personally accountable if anything goes wrong. If the CIA has to trust someone to work with, it should be those people who are trusted by the community of the Afghans. It is the only way to make progress in this conflict.”

The criticism of the CIA comes only days after America's deputy chief of military intelligence in Afghanistan issued a damning indictment of the work of U.S. spy agencies, calling them “marginally relevant,” and saying they were often “clueless” and “out of touch” when it came to dealing with Afghans.

Major General Michael Flynn, with his chief adviser, Captain Matt Pottinger, said in the report, issued by a defense-related think tank, that U.S. spies were ineffective because they were “ignorant of local economics and landowners, hazy about who the powerbrokers are and how they might be influenced... and disengaged from people in the best position to find answers.” Flynn also castigated the intelligence operatives as “a culture that is emphatic about secrecy but regrettably less concerned about mission effectiveness.”

At CIA’s Langley headquarters, the Flynn report caused considerable private consternation. One intelligence official told The Daily Beast, “Presumably, the people involved with this paper are doing more than writing for think tanks, they’re out on the ground trying to fix the problems they’ve identified in their own organization. In case someone forgot, there’s a war going on.”

The Afghan charges of ISI involvement in the deadly attack comes at a bad time for America’s putative ally, Pakistan. Only three weeks ago, Pakistan rebuffed a personal request from President Obama to target strongholds of 29-year-old Sirajuddin Haqqani, the son of a legendary mujahideen commander of the 1980s, now considered a major facilitator and supporter of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The proposal was first outlined in a letter from Obama to Pakistan’s President Zardari. It was hand-delivered by General Jim Jones, Obama’s national security adviser. General David Petraeus, the senior U.S. military commander, followed up with a personal meeting with General Ashfaq Kayani, chief of the Pakistani military. Yet despite all the arm-twisting, and a $5 million reward on Haqqani’s head by the U.S., the Pakistanis said no. A senior Pakistani security official told The Times of London that any confrontation with Haqqani could create more problems for the overstretched Pakistani Army. “We have drawn a red line and would not accept any cross-border strikes by U.S. forces.”

On December 30, the day of the attack on the CIA post, Afghan and international military forces seized several Taliban and Haqqani commanders near Khost, not far from Base Chapman, where the CIA officers planned to meet the Jordanian double agent. That led to initial speculation that the Haqqani network was behind the CIA attack, a view that some in American intelligence still hold. A Haqqani link would not exclude an ISI role in making the bomb. Jalaluddin Haqqani, Sirajuddin’s father, had extensive ties to Pakistani, U.S., and Saudi intelligence agencies. A senior U.S. intelligence analyst told The Daily Beast that the Haqqanis have worked with Pakistan’s ISI for more than 20 years.

Regardless, Washington remains clearly unhappy with Pakistan’s refusal to help capture or kill Haqqani. Pakistan has “a long way to go” to fulfill its side of the bargain, Vice President Joe Biden recently told reporters. “Are they doing enough? No.”

Gerald Posner is The Daily Beast's chief investigative reporter. He's the award-winning author of 10 investigative nonfiction bestsellers, on topics ranging from political assassinations, to Nazi war criminals, to 9/11, to terrorism. His latest book, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach, was published in October. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, the author Trisha Posner.