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Double Agentry: How Not to Spy by Your Al Qaeda Friends

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First, it has been a while since I last blogged on HuffPost so I am sorry about that--new job, new house, and a new dog (i.e., 80 pounds of thundering love).

I recently wrote a post on my good friend Eric Martin's blog Obsidian Wings. I think that it would be a positive addition to the discussion here as well. Best wishes to all for a happy, prosperous and peaceful New Year.

In Mark Mazetti's most recent article on the suicide bombing that killed CIA agents in Afghanistan, "U.S. Saw a Path to Qaeda Chiefs Before Bombing," he offers this interesting tidbit, which is worth considering:

Mr. Balawi proved to be one of the oddest double agents in the history of espionage, choosing to kill his American contacts at their first meeting, rather than establish regular communication to glean what the C.I.A. did -- and did not -- know about Al Qaeda and then report back to the network's leaders.

That did make me think about what sort of threat AQ really poses.

These guys... are idiots. Bear with me a moment.

The greatest double agent in history was, in my opinion, Mr. Juan Pujol. Mr. Pujol was a nobody in 1939 Spain. He held a grudge against both the Nazis and the Soviets, due to the butchery that was the Spanish Civil War. Consequently, he aspired to become a spy for Great Britain when World War II began. As a completely untrained spy, he calmly went to the British embassy in Madrid and offered his services. What Mr. Pujol did not know was that, in intelligence terms, he was the least likely person to be recruited for spying--a "walk-in." The British rejected him.

Juan was far from dismayed. Instead, he offered his services to the Germans in hopes of building up information that then he could then present to the British, who would surely hire him at that point. The Germans, who operated one of the most efficient spy networks in Europe under the protection of Franco, quickly recruited him. However, Juan was presented with a real dilemma. He told the Germans that he traveled to the UK on a constant basis and could provide shipping and other information to them. He did not, and did not know how to get himself to the UK to gather such information.

So he lied. A lot. And the Germans believed his lies in their entirety. You see, Juan Pujol was a natural storyteller, one of those people who could not only lie convincingly but could create a believable story from his own imagination. Pujol's "spy network" soon reached dizzying proportions--from disgruntled sailors in Glascow to an American sergeant in England. All were invented. When he again approached the British in 1942, they were both stunned and elated. The Germans believed everything he told them, paying him a hefty sum in "traveling expenses" and for bribes. Pujol was an Allied patriot--he reported the money and turned it over to his British handlers.

For Pujol, his big day came with that of many others in Western Europe in the 1940s--June 6,1944. D-Day was Pujol's greatest victory. Because of him, and the British and American intelligence officers in the UK who were fooling the Germans, the Nazis believed that nearly 75 Allied divisions were in Great Britain. These 'extra' divisions resulted in Hitler demanding the defense of the Pas de Calais until July, 1944. Even as Allied troops liberated Paris, Hitler and his generals refused to pull troops off of the defense of potential invasion sites, from Norway to Spain.

For his reward, Juan Pujol was given the Iron Cross, First Class, by the Nazis. And was awarded the MBE by the British Government. He kept his secret until the 1980's, when the story of a spy called GARBO was finally told.

What does this have to do with the death of CIA agents by a suicide mole?

Everything. Juan Pujol was the perfect double agent. He kept his side informed, planted disinformation in the minds of his enemies, and literally shortened World War II by nothing more than creating an imaginary spy network. Al Qaeda, in stark contrast, decided to go through all the effort to get an agent into the American intelligence network, place that agent in a trusted position, and then...have him blow himself up.

That fact alone demonstrates the complete incompetence of not only the American ability to vett potential agents, but of Al Qaeda to plan and run a complex intelligence operation. Instead of having an 'inside man' to pass information to the terrorist group, they had their one guy on the inside blow up a bunch of co-workers. Imagine that you work for a software corporation that wants to get someone on the inside of Microsoft. They recruit and train you, get Microsoft to hire you. Instead of having you steal the code to the next version of Windows...they have you steal a couple of boxes of printer paper from the mailroom. You are caught and fired. But hey, Microsoft is really scared now, aren't they?

While it is obvious that the CIA needs to work on how it recruits its assets, it also needs to consider the amateurish approach that AQ took in this situation.

Imagine what the impact would have been had the bomber waited to do his deed for a high profile visit by General Petaeus, CIA Director Panetta, or even President Obama on a visit to the troops. Or if they had just quietly watched all the actions the Americans were taking for years before they were finally discovered.

Then again, maybe the CIA would have given him a medal by that point.