CIA killings in Afghanistan spotlight Jordan as key US intelligence partner
The death of Jordanian Army Capt. Sharif Ali bin Zeid alongside American CIA operatives in Afghanistan – and the fact that the attacker was a Jordanian double agent – has forced the US-Jordanian partnership into the open.
The suicide bombing that killed seven CIA operatives and one Jordanian intelligence official in Afghanistan last week has shed new light on some of the partnerships the United States has come to rely on in its shadow war against Al Qaeda.Skip to next paragraph
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Although Jordan has been involved in supporting operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, it has worked to keep its involvement secret due to the unpopularity of both wars among most Arabs. But the death of Jordanian Army Capt. Sharif Ali bin Zeid, a distant relative of Jordan’s King Abdullah II, alongside American CIA operatives, and the fact that the attacker was a Jordanian double agent, has forced at least a small part of this partnership into the open.
So far, the reaction among Jordanians has been muted, but that may be in large part due to what US and Jordanian security analysts say are increasingly obvious shared security concerns between the US and its Arab allies. Jordan, in particular, has many of the same enemies as the US – and it would be significantly more challenging for the US to penetrate groups like Al Qaeda without the aid of regional intelligence services.
"For the most part, it’s very difficult to use guys from Yale by the name of Chip to infiltrate these [Islamic terrorist] groups,” says Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence at STRATFOR, a global intelligence company. “What you really need are people who not only have the physical characteristics, but also an understanding of the customs and the mindset to really recruit those sources and run them efficiently.”
How CIA works with Jordan
To obtain this level of local knowledge, the CIA has a long history of turning to local intelligence agencies and providing them with funding and access to technology in exchange for access to human sources.
Most notably, in 2006, Jordanian intelligence officials provided the US military with critical background intelligence that led American forces to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Mr. Zarqawi was killed by an airstrike north of Baghdad in June of that year. Prior to 9/11, the largest CIA station in the world was in Jordan.
In this recent attack on the CIA in Afghanistan, the suspected bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was a Jordanian informant who CIA and Jordanian intelligence officials hoped would lead them to Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri.