Anatomy of a Double-Cross

By Hosenball, Sami Yousafzai Mark; Demir, Adem | Newsweek, January 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

Anatomy of a Double-Cross

Hosenball, Sami Yousafzai Mark, Demir, Adem, Newsweek

How a Jordanian jihadist turned CIA operative--and back again.

At the CIA training facility in Virginia known as "The Farm," one of the standard courses is called "High Threat Meetings." All aspiring case officers spend the three-week class learning how to arrange a get-together with potentially dangerous informants. When meeting with such agents, "security is everything," recalls one graduate. "I remember being told very forcefully, 'It doesn't matter what you might get from an informant if you wind up dead.'a" There are very rigorous protocols for such meetings, says another former agent who once taught the course: all informants should be searched carefully, the rendezvous location should be staked out ahead of time, and when the mole arrives, only one or two CIA officers should be present. "The protocol is for a case officer to meet an informant one-on-one, or maybe -two--always, always, always," adds Robert Baer, a former CIA officer who spent years tracking terrorists in the Mideast. "The one thing you never do is meet an informant with a committee."

A committee of at least nine CIA officers and contractors was on hand to meet Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi at CIA Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, on Dec. 30. Why the operatives apparently broke a fundamental rule of CIA -trade-craft is unclear. Perhaps they were giddy with anticipation. Balawi had suggested he might be able to deliver something that every CIA officer desperately wants in order to protect the United States and advance their careers: the location of Al Qaeda's second-in-command, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The meeting was considered so important that intelligence officials had informed the White House about it in advance, according to a U.S. counterterrorism officer briefed on the matter. According to two current U.S. intelligence officials, who would not be named discussing sensitive information, security officers were preparing to frisk Balawi after he arrived inside the base. As Balawi stepped from the vehicle, he had a hand in his pocket, according to this account. Someone asked him to remove it, and that's when the bomb exploded, killing five CIA operatives and two contractors, and wounding others.

This has been a season for intelligence fiascoes. Only days before the Balawi bombing, 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab managed to buy an airline ticket to the United States with cash, conceal a bomb in his underwear, and nearly blow up Northwest Flight 253 as it was approaching Detroit on Christmas Day. In that case, many key bits of intelligence were in hand--including a warning by Abdulmutallab's father that his son had come under the influence of extremists in Yemen--but U.S. intel agencies were unable to connect the dots in time. Within the same week, the senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, coauthored a refreshingly candid and very public report that said, among other things, that the "U.S. intelligence community is only marginally relevant to the overall strategy" in Afghanistan. (Among his views: there's too much emphasis on intel for killing bad guys, and not nearly enough on information to help soldiers understand what's really going on in the society.)

Given all the tens of billions of dollars the United States spends on intelligence activities every year, and the high--profile reforms that were enacted after 9/11, a lot of people--including President Obama--were questioning why we can't do better at spying on enemies and analyzing threats.

The Balawi case raises a further question: how good is Al Qaeda at infiltrating our national-security agencies? That's been a fear in intelligence circles at least since 2003, when two Arabic translators working at Guantanamo were arrested on suspicion of terrorist sympathies. (One linguist pleaded guilty to minor charges of insubordination and mishandling secret information; charges against the other were all dropped. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Anatomy of a Double-Cross


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.