- The Washington Times - Friday, January 1, 2010

The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA employees and wounded six more at a remote outpost in southeastern Afghanistan had been invited onto the base and had not been searched, two former U.S. officials have told the Associated Press.

A former senior intelligence official said the man was being courted as an informant and that it was the first time he had been brought inside the camp.

The official said a senior and experienced CIA debriefer came from Kabul for the meeting, suggesting that the purpose of the meeting was to gain intelligence.

The former intelligence officials and another former official with knowledge of the attack spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

The CIA would not confirm the details, and said they were still gathering evidence.

“It’s far too early to draw conclusions about something that happened just yesterday,” said spokesman George Little.

A separate U.S. official suggested the bomber may have set off the explosives as he was about to be searched.

The Associated Press has learned that one of the CIA operatives killed was the chief of the agency’s post in Afghanistan’s southeastern Khost province.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta said in a message to agency staff that the casualties sustained in Wednesday’s strike at Forward Operating Base Chapman were the result of a terrorist attack. The Taliban took responsibility for the bombing.

Initial reports indicated that eight American civilians had been killed. There was no explanation for the discrepancy in Mr. Panetta’s message, which was released by the CIA in an unusual step a day after one of the deadliest attacks on the agency in its history.

“Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism,” Mr. Panetta said. “We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives - a safer America.”

No further information about the victims would be released, the CIA director said, “due to the sensitivity of their mission and other ongoing operations.”

Separately, former CIA officials said an agent who ran the agency’s base in Khost was among those killed by the attacker, who detonated a bomb-laden vest inside the compound.

The former officials said the Khost chief was the mother of three.

As base chief she would have directed and coordinated CIA operations and intelligence gathering in the province, a hotbed of Taliban and insurgent activity because of its proximity to Pakistan’s lawless tribal region, they said.

Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement that an Afghan National Army officer wearing a suicide vest entered the base and blew himself up inside the gym. A U.S. official briefed on the blast also said it took place in the gym.

Forward Operating Base Chapman used to be a military facility, but was later turned into a CIA base, according to a U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.

Wednesday’s attack was the single deadliest for Americans in Afghanistan since eight soldiers were killed in an insurgent attack on a base in the east on Oct. 3.

Only four known CIA operatives have been killed in Afghanistan since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S.

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