Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I have a disclosure to make. Last week, a fellow former editor told me that she would bet that I didn't do my own typing. True enough, I told her. "You should teach your amanuensis the difference between 'its' and 'it's,' " she said. For those in the U.K. who expect my blogs to be posted punctually by Tuesday morning, my apologies. I am grateful for no. 3 amanuensis, who stepped into the breach during the temporary absence of my regular helper and her alternate.

Many of us have been rather shocked at the recent bombing that killed five CIA operatives and two contractors, and wounded others. I don't usually discuss contemporary issues, preferring to write about various matters that have little time value, and I like to indulge in nostalgia and my early days. This is an exception.

When I "went down (i.e. graduated)" from Lincoln College, Oxford, in 1952, a year or two past the arrival there of David Cornwell, better known by his pen name of "John Le Carré,"I had read every one of his published books. They are well written, but often seem to take a sour look at life: most of his leading characters do not survive. From The Spy Who Came in from the Cold onward, there is much about the life of the secret agent. This includes a discussion of "tradecraft," or how to be an effective secret agent. I believe that the works of John Le Carré should be required reading for any CIA operatives in the field. Just today, I have been reading an article in the January 18 issue of Newsweek. The three writers would probably agree with my suggestion, or with equivalent training. Here is an extract from that article:

"There are very rigorous protocols for such meetings...all informants should be searched carefully, the rendezvous location should be staked out ahead of time, and when the mole arrives, only one or two CIA officers should be present."

Human Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi has been described as a "double agent," but probably should be considered a triple agent. He was a Jordanian Jihadist, who was apparently caught by the Jordanians and "turned" to be an agent for its allies, and an informative for the CIA. Little did any of his employers realize that he had reverted to the opposition. He should not have been allowed inside the base without being searched. Instead of this, he was able to enter the base and approach the operatives with a hand in his pocket. When he was asked to remove his hand from the pocket, he detonated the bomb.

Surely, it was dangerous for an informant to meet his contacts at the base. One can imagine that the enemy knows the location of the base, and can observe those who enter and leave it. If only he had met no more than two CIA folk at a "safe house," it would have been much safer for him, had he stayed loyal to his Jordanian and CIA masters.

Were those who employed him totally ignorant of tradecraft?

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