In Fine Print

Attack shows risk of infiltration in Afghanistan

By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Last week in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber got into one of the CIA's most important intelligence-gathering outposts without being thoroughly searched. The deadly incident highlights the risk of infiltration of U.S. facilities and military in Afghanistan as local troops partner with American and coalition forces, and as local contractors are hired to provide security at U.S. forward operating bases.

There hasn't been enough public attention on the security failures that led to the attack, which killed seven CIA officers and wounded six other people at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost. Sources told The Washington Post on Monday that the bomber was a trusted Jordanian informant who set a trap for the officers, promising to give them intelligence at a meeting.

Pakistani and Afghan Taliban groups have claimed credit for the bombing.

Asked last week whether contracted Afghan guards provided security for the Chapman base, CIA spokesmen said they could not answer while the attack was under investigation.

Two items related to this caught my eye Sunday.

One was a solicitation for contractors to bid on providing security guards to the U.S. Army's Forward Operating Base Tillman, in Afghanistan's Paktika province, less than two miles from the Pakistan border. The base -- named for Army Sgt. Pat Tillman, the former football player, who was killed by friendly fire in 2004 -- houses both U.S. and Afghan soldiers, and is considered a tripwire for Taliban infiltrators. During a visit to the base in 2007, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke of how the Americans and Afghans "rely on each other; they patrol together; and I think there is a sense of being in it together."

The second item was titled "The Inherent Dangers of Working By, With and Through," and was written by "JD," a blogger in the active military whose writings appear on the al Sahwa site, which analyzes intelligence and irregular warfare. JD served in Iraq and partnered with Kurdish soldiers in Mosul. His blog post warned about serving with and training local troops: "There is an inherent danger for our soldiers who conduct this vital mission, and I think looking at the patterns of previous attacks on our advisors can help us develop ways to mitigate this risk."

JD analyzed four insider attacks between 2007 and 2009, while he was serving in northern Iraq. He wrote that in three attacks, the U.S. or coalition troops were relaxing, without their body armor on. The attackers were low-ranking Iraqi soldiers, and all were Sunni. He also noted the November shooting deaths of five British soldiers and the wounding of six others by a rogue Afghan national police officer in Helmand province. It also took place while soldiers were relaxing on a rooftop without their body armor.

"Our soldiers cannot avoid the dangerous job of partnering with host nation security forces, but there are some measures they can take to reduce their risk," JD wrote. He recommended keeping body armor on, designating an area inside joint-use bases where only U.S. forces can relax, and making sure new recruits are vetted as much as possible.

Vetting is also a key issue in the solicitation for contract security guards who, sometimes with U.S. soldiers and sometimes alone, are to search all vehicles and personnel entering or leaving Forward Operating Base Tillman.

However, the contractor is to "make reasonable efforts to screen all management, supervisory and security personnel prior to employment," according to the solicitation. The contractor must provide proof that potential hirees meet requirements to the U.S. Army's contracting officer, who determines if the background and screening checks are adequate.

One requirement is that all potential security guards give biometric data, including fingerprints and a retinal eye scan, which are placed in the Biometrics Automated Toolset System (BATS), a database that is used in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It includes work records and whether someone has been detained or wanted for illegal activities.

The White House recognizes the infiltration problem. John O. Brennan, the former CIA officer who is now assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, put it this way Sunday on ABC News's "This Week": "We have to take those risks. We have to do it prudently, and that's why we have to learn from the attack . . . against the [CIA] base in Khost."

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