On Dec. 30, 2009, I was serving as a station chief in Central Eurasia when I received word of the tragic suicide terrorist attack against my CIA colleagues Jennifer Matthews, Scott Roberson, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown, Dane Paresi, and Jeremy Wise. The ambassador at my post along with many of my other embassy colleagues expressed their heartfelt condolences over our losses.
Matthews, who was serving as chief of Base Khost at Camp Chapman, was one of the CIA’s foremost experts on al Qaeda. She and her team were meeting with Humam al Balawi, a jihadi website writer whom the Jordanian Intelligence Service (GID) had recruited as a source.
GID Officer Captain Sharif Ali bin Zeid, who was al-Balawi’s handler, was also killed in the attack.
The CIA planned a risky personal meeting because al Balawi purportedly had protected information on Osama bin Laden’s deputy, senior al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The late Charles Krauthammer emphasized the importance of a robust, forward presence to detect and prevent threats from being visited on our shores. Sept. 11 demonstrated how terrorists plotting from ungoverned space, especially in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region where Matthews and her team were serving in harm’s way, could reach our homeland in spite of the geographic separation, which once gave us a unique measure of security.
Al Qaeda and Tehrik-i-Taliban, the Pakistani branch of the Taliban, claimed responsibility for turning al-Balawi into a lethal double agent.
During the Cold War, the CIA and KGB engaged in fierce competition. A KGB double agent feeding false information might, in a worst-case scenario, result in a CIA officer being declared persona non grata from the country where that officer was serving. But terrorist double agents threaten the lives of their CIA handlers.
I lost friends and colleagues in the years I served at CIA, but the December 2009 incident in Afghanistan’s Khost Province was the single most lethal attack since the Beirut Embassy bombing in 1983. Every morning on the way into work at CIA headquarters, I would greet the security officer, think of Matthews and her team, and look over at the stars on the wall commemorating our fallen heroes.
In the evening, I would do the same thing. There was never anything that weighed more heavily on our conscience than the safety of our officers on the front lines, serving in harm’s way.
While serving overseas in war zones, my colleagues and I would talk about how nothing was worth being separated from those whom we love the most. But our mission to detect and preempt threats to our national security was as close as we could possibly find to justification for being apart from them while risking our personal safety.
When I returned home from an overseas tour of duty in 2010, I found so many of my colleagues echoing my first reaction to the attack on our colleagues in Khost.
On the day of the attack, there was no more important place on the planet for CIA than Khost. We should have been there. We could have helped.
My next overseas assignment was serving as a station chief in South Asia, in the same region where Matthews and her brave team of heroes had served.
I made a point of reading Matthews’ extraordinarily insightful analysis, including what she so presciently wrote about al Qaeda’s looming threat before 9/11. One of the dedicated officers who joined me in that assignment had served with Matthews in Khost in a senior position.
We honor our fallen colleagues by carrying on with the mission.
That is why on Dec. 30, I remember our brave Khost Base patriots who gave their lives in service to a grateful nation, “far from home,” as then-CIA Director Leon Panetta said, “doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism.”
Their legacy continues to inspire those who follow in their footsteps, to keep on standing the watch so that our fellow citizens can live in peace and security.
⦁ Daniel N. Hoffman is a retired clandestine services officer and former chief of station with the Central Intelligence Agency. His combined 30 years of government service included high-level overseas and domestic positions at the CIA. He has been a Fox News contributor since May 2018. Follow him on Twitter @DanielHoffmanDC.
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