WASHINGTON (AP) - The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA
employees at a remote outpost in southeastern Afghanistan had been
invited onto the base and had not been searched, two former U.S.
officials told The Associated Press on Thursday
A former senior intelligence official says the man was being
courted as an informant and that it was the first time he had been
brought inside the camp. An experienced CIA debriefer came from
Kabul for the meeting, suggesting that the purpose was to gain
intelligence, the official said.
The former intelligence official and another former official
with knowledge of the attack spoke on condition of anonymity
because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
The CIA would not confirm the details, and said it was still
gathering evidence on the incident.
"It's far too early to draw conclusions about something that
happened just yesterday," said spokesman George Little.
A separate U.S. official suggested the bomber may have set off
the explosives as he was about to be searched.
The bombing on Wednesday dealt a blow to the tight-knit spy
agency. Among those killed was the chief of the CIA post, whom
former officials identified as a mother of three. Six more agency
personnel were wounded in what was considered the most lethal
attack for the CIA since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001 and
possibly even since the 1983 embassy bombing in Beirut.
It also was the single deadliest attack for Americans in
Afghanistan since eight soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack
on a base in the east on Oct. 3.
President Barack Obama and CIA Director Leon Panetta were joined
by several leading lawmakers on Thursday in praising agency
employees for their work.
"Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the
enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country
from terrorism," Panetta said in a statement confirming the
deaths. "We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them
and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause
to which they dedicated their lives - a safer America."
In a letter to CIA employees, Obama said their fallen colleagues
came from a "long line of patriots" who had helped to keep the
nation safe despite grave risks.
Obama acknowledged that the spy agency has been tested "as
never before" since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, who chairs the House committee
that oversees intelligence, said he had met with members of the CIA
team in a recent visit to Afghanistan. Reyes said the nation owes
them "a great debt."
"They will forever be in my mind," he said.
The CIA did not release information about the victims, citing
the sensitivity of their mission and other ongoing operations.
According to one former agency employee, the death toll
represents a significant portion of the CIA's clandestine force in
the region, but is unlikely to cripple the agency because so many
of its employees have experience in Afghanistan.
"The bench is deeper in Afghanistan than it is anywhere in the
world," the former employee said.
The bigger question for CIA operations will probably be whether
the agency moves to tighten safety rules for its employees, the
former employee said.
The incident occurred at a former military base on the edge of
Khost city, the capital of Khost province which borders Pakistan
and is a Taliban stronghold.
The Taliban claimed responsibility.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that an
Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the
base and blew himself up inside the gym. A U.S. official briefed on
the blast also said it took place in the gym.
Forward Operating Base Chapman used to be a military facility
base but was later turned into a CIA base, according to a U.S.
official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not
authorized to speak publicly.
Only four known CIA operatives have been killed in Afghanistan
since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the U.S.
CIA officer Micheal "Mike" Spann was killed in a prison
uprising in November 2001. An agency officer died in a training
exercise in 2003, and two contractors operating out of a CIA base
in Shkin district of Paktika province were killed the same year.
Adam Goldman reported from New York. Associated Press writers
Matthew Lee and Anne Flaherty contributed to this report.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)