Obama pays tribute to CIA officers killed in suicide blast in Afghanistan

By Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post staff writer
Saturday, February 6, 2010

President Obama paid tribute Friday to the seven CIA officers killed in December by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, calling them patriots who "served in the shadows" and gave their lives to protect their country.

At a memorial service at CIA headquarters in Langley, Obama addressed more than 1,000 agency workers, along with members of Congress and relatives of those killed in the Dec. 30 attack. The White House released a transcript of his remarks from the service, which was closed to the news media.

The seven CIA employees and a Jordanian intelligence officer were killed when a suicide bomber posing as an al-Qaeda informant set off explosives at a tightly secured CIA base in the Afghan province of Khost. The attacker, a Jordanian doctor identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, had won the confidence of CIA officials by providing credible leads about al-Qaeda.

"They served in secrecy, but today every American can see their legacy," Obama said. "For the record of their service -- and of this generation of intelligence professionals -- is written all around us. It's written in the extremists who no longer threaten our country -- because you eliminated them. It's written in the attacks that never occurred -- because you thwarted them. And it's written in the Americans, across this country and around the world, who are alive today -- because you saved them."

Obama said the fallen CIA officers had made invaluable contributions to the nation's security. Their base was at the heart of a covert program overseeing strikes by the agency's remote-controlled aircraft along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, officials have said.

"There, at the remote outpost, they were bound by a common spirit," Obama said. "They heard their country's call and answered it. They served in the shadows and took pride in it. They were doing their job, and they loved it. They saw the danger and accepted it. They knew that the price of freedom is high and, in an awful instant, they paid that price."

The president also saluted the grieving CIA officers for their work, which by its nature often goes unknown by the wider public. He told them: "Let their sacrifice be a summons. To carry on their work. To complete this mission. To win this war, and to keep our country safe."

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