Feature

The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick

Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, has written “a riveting tale” about how the CIA was double-crossed by an Al-Qaeda mole.

(Doubleday, $27)

Joby Warrick’s “spellbinding” new work offers “the stuff of a summer thriller,” said Michael Smerconish in The Philadelphia Inquirer. If only the tragic events that the book details hadn’t actually transpired at a remote CIA outpost in Khost, Afghanistan, on Dec. 31, 2009. On that day, a Jordanian doctor, Humam al-Balawi, who had been working as a double operative for American intelligence, passed three U.S. security checkpoints before detonating an explosive vest, killing nine people, including four high-ranking CIA agents. Warrick, a Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter, has dug deep to answer questions about how al-Balawi, who performed the bombing at the behest of al Qaida, was able to double-cross his CIA minders.

Call it a “clash between high expectations and deceit,” said Joshua Sinai in The Washington Times. Both Jordan’s intelligence service and the CIA, Warrick argues, too quickly put their trust in al-Balawi, who’d come to the attention of the U.S. National Security Agency through virulent statements he’d posted on jihadist websites. Under harsh interrogation, al-Balawi renounced his extremist beliefs and began spilling information about jihad­ist networks and their funding. Soon, he was recruited for a mission into Pakistan to locate al Qaida leaders, particularly Ayman al-Zawahiri. The plan backfired spectacularly.

By piecing together what happened when al-Balawi crossed into Pakistan, Warrick “manages to break some news,” said Adam Goldman in the Associated Press. Taliban members the author interviewed told him they’d handed al-Balawi over to a Taliban chief, Baitullah Mehsud, and that al-Balawi instantly offered Mehsud his services. After Mehsud was killed by the CIA, al-Balawi was passed on to al Qaida’s then No. 3, Mustafa al-Yazid, who sent him on his Khost suicide mission. “If there’s a hero in this bloody tale,” it’s the CIA officer who warned fellow operatives that al-Balawi was “too good to be true.” Though Warrick stops short of assigning blame elsewhere, he has spun “a riveting tale” about a stunning defeat in America’s ongoing war on terror.

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