Always protect the source.
Rule one when you attend CIA case officer training. Always protect the source – they teach it – and as a field operatives (case officers) we live it.
As a graduate of “the Farm” and having spent the better part of my 30-year career in the intelligence community conducting and directing agent operations, I am appalled at the White House failures to protect a critical source of Pakistani Dr. Shakil Afridi – the man, who as a clandestine operative of the United States, was able to provide the key information to verify the location of Usama bin Laden.
Information that we now know was key and necessary to launch the May 2, 2011 raid that resulted in justice being brought to Usama bin Laden.
Our inability to protect Dr. Afridi has been egregious failure, both moral and strategic.
I have been there – I have looked into the eyes of another human being – and convinced him that putting his life in danger for the United States was the right thing to do – and if he did so the US would do everything in its power to protect him – and his family.
It is a sacred commitment not only between two men – but between the agent and the government of the United States…we have, as the United States, failed Dr. Afridi.
During the Cold War, as now, we depended on “inside assets” or “spys” to tell us what was really going on.
Signals Intelligence (i.e. wiretapping) and Imagery Intelligence (pictures and video) will only provide so much information – to get inside of hard targets – such as the Al Qaeda networks – or in this case, a walled compound that was impervious to all other forms of intelligence collection – you need a human being with nerves of steel and determination – someone willing to put his life and the life of those he loves – on line for what he believes to be right.
Dr. Afridi did what he thought was right – to help us locate an enemy who has not only hurt the US by his role in the 9/11 attacks, but who has also helped radicalize (and destabilize) Pakistan -- in my view, he was a patriot.
How are we to move forward now? What foreign national will trust CIA or DoD case officers with their life and the well-being of their family? It is indeed, doubtful.
The White House has done nothing to try to prevent the Pakistani government’s prosecution of him for his support to the US and even less now to take action to rescue Dr. Afridi – the State Department has remained silent both in public and private circles.
This is not simply about the life of one man – this is about our nation’s ability to seek and recruit foreign nationals who will put their lives on the line to help us.
We have not only failed Dr. Afridi, we have failed to keep our word to him -- and to our own principles and ability to conduct real intelligence collection.
We need “insiders” within foreign countries and terrorist networks to work for the CIA and DOD – to provide us with critical information – this is critical for our continued success in preventing attacks against the U.S. and our interests. But through the White House failure in this case it has jeopardized our ability, as intelligence officers, to do our job – to obtain through foreign individuals protected information…in other words, the White House has done severe damage to our ability to spy.
The failure to protect this man is based on an obtuse political equation – to not hold the Pakistani government accountable for its own failure to find bin Laden and the other remaining senior Al Qaeda leaders – but at the same time take credit for its “foreign policy brilliance” to the domestic US audience.
Dr. Afridi has become a victim of his own success, and a victim of the current administration’s larger failure to understand or manage the Pakistani relationship
Because the White House has fail to grasp why Pakistan, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other Islamic jihadist fight against the West and us, they are incapable of formulating/executing effective strategy to defeat enemies of US national security – the Dr. Afridi affair is but one more example that illustrates the larger foreign policy failure that is occurring right before our eyes.
And yet the current White House has sought to have it both ways on the bin Laden raid.
As revealed in recent reporting, the White House opened the door to Hollywood – providing critical, some would argue classified information to Kathyrn Bigelow and her film making team – on the bin Laden raid while completely ignoring the plight of Dr. Alfridi -- one of the real heroes of the bin Laden Raid. And at the same time ignoring its real responsibilities to protect and defend the very process of intelligence collection that produced the key information that resulted in the raid’s success.
We, as Americans, need to recognize the Obama administration’s duality of message: Their reckless disregard for the protection and safety of the man who played what is now known to be the pivotal role in the verification of the location of Usama bin Laden – and the intelligence system that produced it compared to their blind political ambition.
This episode has hurt both CIA and DoD’s ability to conduct foreign intelligence collection. What foreign national would be crazy enough to do anything to support the cause of fighting terrorism if they fear their own survival by helping us?
National security should be sacred – not only non-partisan, but non-political…this administration has failed…and jeopardized the security of the American people by causing damage to our brave intelligence professionals and their ability to produce real, actionable information to detect and prevent future attacks against the United States.
Lt. Col. Tony Shaffer (ret.) is a CIA trained former senior intelligence officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Operation "Dark Heart: Spycraft an Special Operations on the Frontlines of Afghanistan - And The Path to Victory." His latest book is The Last Line. He is a senior fellow with both the London Center for Policy Research and the Center for Advanced Defense Studies. The opinions reflected here are those solely of Lt. Col. Shaffer -- and are not the opinion of the London Center for Policy Research (LCPR), the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (CADS) or of any other group or organization with which Lt. Col. Shaffer is affiliated.