- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the wake of the Dec. 30 terrorist bombing in Khost, Afghanistan, the pundits have criticized what they have identified as a failure of tradecraft. In the view of these commentators, CIA officers and contractors erred in setting up a meeting with a suicide bomber, erred in not conducting a more complete search earlier and erred in gathering the team to meet a potentially promising asset.

One of these Monday morning quarterbacks, for example, said in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 2, “If you don’t follow tradecraft rules, this is what happens.” Another commentator, whose principal qualification is that he wrote a best-selling work of espionage fiction, told National Public Radio that the attack on Dec. 30 sprang from “the kind of sloppiness, while you understand the motive, that ended up getting people killed.”

The problem is that these commentators simply don’t understand a critical fact of intelligence collection in combat zones today: It is an incredibly dangerous and dirty business. No amount of tradecraft, security screening or care can render it completely safe unless we also want to render it ineffective.

At the end of the day, there always will be a meeting between agency officers trying to persuade a one-time terrorist to risk his life - and that of his family - by providing information to CIA officers. Sometimes officers take on added risk in order to engender trust in a high-value asset.

The officers who died in Khost made judgments, and, yes, took risks. They did so knowing that the worst could happen, and they did it anyway because we as a nation are relying on them to defeat terrorists who are plotting against the United States. Perhaps the commentators, in warm and safe offices in Washington, don’t agree with those risks.

Unlike the anonymous sources and the media talking heads, I think the right response here is not to blame the victims. Instead, we should pray for them and their families, and we should be thankful that they were willing to take the risks that few would take to collect the critical intelligence that is so vital to the safety and security of our nation.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes, Texas Democrat, is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

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