Rise to Peace blog

Looking Back: Al-Qaeda’s Unexpected Attack Against the Central Intelligence Agency

For a decade, an elite team of military and intelligence agents operated in secret around the world with one clear intention: to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. As the investigation into Bin Laden’s whereabouts progressed, it came to a critical and unexpected conclusion. The so-called “informant” assisting the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials was an Al-Qaeda ally.

Due to this, Al-Qaeda achieved possibly its greatest success ever against the CIA and its Jordanian partner service on December 30, 2009. Seven CIA officers and one Jordanian officer were killed when a triple agent blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman, a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan.

So, who is the suicide bomber? He was a Palestinian whose parents had fled Beersheva during the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, eventually settling in Kuwait. They became refugees once more in 1991 when the Kuwaiti administration evacuated the Palestinian community following Kuwait’s liberation from the Iraqis by an American-led coalition. Humam Khalil al-Balawi grew up in Jordan before moving to Istanbul, Turkey, to pursue his medical degree and marry a Turkish woman. When he returned to Jordan, he found a job bringing medical aid to the needy in the enormous Marka refugee camp.

The CIA agents working on this case were made to assume that the Jordanian doctor had entered Al-Qaeda as a double agent when he provided a video claiming that he had met Al-Qaeda’s senior leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. But the truth is, he was a devoted follower of the Al-Qaeda ideology. It was all for show.

Jennifer Matthews, a mother of three and a desk-bound analyst, was the base leader in Khost. She was one of the agency’s top Al-Qaeda analysts, having spent years monitoring the most sought terrorist, Osama bin Laden, but Matthews was thought to lack field experience. In 1989, Matthews decided to join the CIA and was full of potential. A Capitol Hill employee who met Matthews overseas described her as “self-assured” and “able to blend into the atmosphere.”

The Error of the Operation

According to Matthews and other CIA officials, the doctor should be made to feel welcome and not searched. CIA officers formed a circle-like position to meet the “informant,” as seen in Zero Dark Thirty.

Furthermore, the Jordanian doctor was not stopped and searched before being taken to the facility. As al-Bawali stepped out of the car, he detonated his shrapnel-filled bomb in front of Matthews, Elizabeth Hanson, Scott Michael Roberson, Harold Brown Jr., Dane Clark Paresi, and Jeremy Wis, who were among those killed, in addition to Darren LaBonte.  It was also reported that several additional CIA officers were critically injured.

In a letter to CIA personnel in 2009, Barack Obama wrote that their deceased colleagues hailed from a “long line of patriots” who had already helped keep the country safe despite severe dangers. At that moment, President Obama recognized that the CIA had been put to the test “like never before,” since the 9/11 attacks.

Since the bombing of the CIA station in Beirut in 1983, the Camp Chapman attack has been regarded as the agency’s second-deadliest incident. In the Beirut incident, seventeen employees were killed. To summarize the issue, security standards failed because their treatment of al-Bawali was overly gentle.

The CIA officers used a desperate tactic in which they were deceived by false intelligence to obtain information. Again, the fact that they are stationed in a high-risk area serves as a reminder that, no matter how strong or poor their intelligence leads are, they must always put safety first.

Life of the CIA Agents

Jennifer Matthews worked as an analyst for the first seven years of her tenure at the CIA. Matthews was among those who digested intelligence delivered by someone else in the area and then examined what the CIA had acquired from it. She proceeded to the CIA’s counter-terrorist center in the mid-1990s, where she monitored al-Qaeda in a section of the agency that would see its prominence rise after the World Trade Center attack.

Scott Roberson was born on July 3, 1970, in Akron, Ohio, and relocated with his family to Tolland, Connecticut, where he promptly became an active member of the community. Roberson’s travels took him to a variety of countries and states, but regardless of where he was stationed, he was committed to serving his country and society. Working as a detective for the Atlanta Police Department, training police officers for the United Nations mission in Kosovo, safeguarding individuals working throughout Iraq and Afghanistan, and working as an officer for the CIA were among his professional responsibilities.

Darren Labonte served as a law enforcement officer in Libertyville, Illinois, and as a U.S. Marshal. According to his family, he achieved a leadership and shooting award at the FBI Institute in Quantico, Virginia, according to the FBI, and then went to the FBI’s New York district office. The CIA recruited him, and he withdrew from the Bureau in late 2006, moving to Washington, D.C. with his wife. His father was wary of the CIA, but his son always pursued his own path.

Elizabeth Hanson went through the CIA’s basic training at “The Farm” and was among a group of tech-savvy officers employed after 9/11. According to the book, Hanson was spirited as the CIA transitioned from a covert operation to one focused on tracking information on the web, over the broadcast media, or through advanced covert eavesdropping.

Harrold Brown Jr. was a former member of the United States military. He served in the Army as an intelligence officer and as a CIA case officer. When Harold was in town, he was the type of parent who always arrived at Mass when his kids were singing and smiling with delight at how much they could accomplish.

Dane Clark Paresi grew up in Portland and is a former Army Sergeant Major. Paresi matriculated from Marshall High School in Portland in 1982 and enlisted in the Army two days later, undergoing basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey. As per family members, joining the Army and the CIA was a childhood dream come true.

Jeremy Wise was a former SEAL with eight years of experience who was assisting Operation Enduring Freedom with Xe Services. He completed Westside Christian School in El Dorado, Arkansas, and graduated from Hendrix University in Conway, Arkansas. He was a member of Virginia Beach’s Trinity Church.

The CIA Memorial Wall

“In commemoration of those members of the Central Intelligence Agency who gave their lives in the service of their country.” The Memorial Wall may be seen on the north wall of the lobby of the original headquarters building. The 137 stars on this wall serve as a silent, simple memorial to those CIA officers who have given their lives in the line of duty. The Memorial Wall was commissioned by the CIA Fine Arts Commission in May 1973 and sculpted by Harold Vogel in July 1974.

According to the CIA, “personnel who die while serving their country in the field of intelligence are honored on the Memorial Wall posthumously.” Death can happen anywhere, even in foreign fields and the United States. “Death may occur in the foreign field or in the United States. Death must be of an inspirational or heroic character while in the performance of duty; or as the result of an act of terrorism while in the performance of duty; or as an act of premeditated violence targeted against an employee, motivated solely by that employee’s Agency affiliation; or in the performance of duty while serving in areas of hostilities or other exceptionally hazardous conditions where the death is a direct result of such hostilities or hazards.”

CIA station agents work in both favorable and adversarial nations. When apprehended by an unfriendly nation, a CIA field operative acting clandestinely is typically regarded as a spy and is susceptible to imprisonment, prosecution, and even severe punishment. To not only nurture informants but also escape capture, a CIA spy must be skilled at integrating what the agency refers to as “people and street smarts.” CIA field agents have been imprisoned, tortured, and even executed in hostile territories or countries.

After all, it’s tough to work in a fast-paced workplace while maintaining the highest priority on the goal, which is to ensure people’s safety and security. The Camp Chapman incident served as a stark reminder to the general public that the CIA, and other intelligence officers from throughout the world, have a difficult job. People may think their jobs are “awesome,” but they are putting their lives on the line to give actionable intelligence in the best interests of their countries.


Kristian Rivera, Counterterrorism Research Fellow

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