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“It seemed strange,” she said. “I never met Zarqawi. I was thinking about him 24/7. It wasn’t pleasant after a while.”

A U.S. airstrike ultimately killed Zarqawi, but the search for the thug yielded much more.

Zarqawi was even too vicious for bin Laden, who protested his mass killings of Muslims, and al Qaeda dispatched an emissary, Hassan Ghul, to convey the leader’s concerns.

The U.S. captured Ghul, who at a black site told of a special courier to bin Laden. The CIA later learned the messenger’s name, and he led hunters to bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The “get bin Laden” obsession lured the CIA into a costly mistake. Jordanian intelligence said it turned a rabid pro-al Qaeda blogger into a double agent who might be able to penetrate the group in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas.

Humam Balawi, a physician, traveled to Pakistan and disappeared for six months. He later emerged with news — that he had information about al Qaeda’s No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahri. He wanted to meet with the CIA in Afghanistan at its base in Khost, the window into Pakistan from where the agency collected intelligence and waged its drone war on extremists.

The CIA gave Balawi special access. On his way in a sedan, he videotaped the suicide vest strapped to his body, saying: “This is the switch to kill as much as I can.”

CIA officers lined up to greet him. He stepped out of the car and detonated the suicide bomb. Seven CIA operatives died, including the station chief, Jennifer Matthews, a 45-year-old mother of three.

When Ms. Bakos heard of the death of the officer who had hunted bin Laden for as long as anyone else at the CIA, “I was shocked,” she said. “She was taken out by bin Laden.”