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US intelligence so poor operatives 'feel like fortune-tellers'

A top US spy chief has heavily criticised counter-terrorism intelligence, saying his forces were "so starved" of accurate intelligence "many say their jobs feel more like fortune telling."


AFP - US counter-terrorism efforts in Afghanistan were under intense scrutiny Tuesday after an Al-Qaeda double agent killed seven CIA officers and a top military spy chief slammed intelligence failings in the country.

Major General Michael Flynn, the top NATO and US military intelligence chief in Afghanistan, said US-led forces in Afghanistan were "so starved" of accurate intelligence "many say their jobs feel more like fortune telling."

His scathing criticism comes as the Central Intelligence Agency investigates last week's attack at a base in Khost, eastern Afghanistan, in which seven US agents and a Jordanian officer were killed.

Jihadist websites boasted Tuesday the suicide bomber was an Al-Qaeda double agent who tricked Western intelligence services for months before turning on his handlers.

Jordanian intelligence services had brought him to eastern Afghanistan hoping he would help hunt down elusive Al-Qaeda number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the websites and Western intelligence agents cited by US media said.

But instead he blew himself up at Forward Operating Base Chapman, killing eight including his Jordanian handler, a top intelligence officer and member of the royal family.

The deaths of the seven agents marked the CIA's worst single loss of life since the bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983.

Flynn said radical changes were needed in Afghanistan to help an intelligence-gathering operation which "still finds itself unable to answer fundamental questions about the environment in which we operate and the people we are trying to protect and persuade."

"US intelligence officers and analysts can do little but shrug in response to high-level decision-makers seeking the knowledge, analysis and information they need to wage a successful counterinsurgency," said Flynn's report, released by a Washington think-tank.

A failure to understand who the local Afghan powerbrokers are and ignorance of local economics and landowners had contributed to "hazy" knowledge, said the report on the website of the Center for a New American Security.

Flynn, who has a long career in intelligence gathering including tours in Iraq, acknowledged the report co-authored by advisor Marine Captain Matt Pottinger and Paul Batchelor of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was unconventional.

Released Monday, the report will raise eyebrows in Washington and among allies as the US ramps up the war against a deadly Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan.

The Khost attack is a blow to CIA services wiping out years of intelligence work in the notoriously complex Afghan conflict, riven by tribal and religious rivalries.

Both jihadist websites and Western intelligence agents cited by US network NBC News identified the bomber as Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi alias Abu Dujana al-Khorasani.

Balawi was arrested in late 2007 and recruited as a double agent by the Jordanian intelligence services but in reality continued to work for Al-Qaeda, they said.

"The bomber allegedly was sent by Ayman Zawahiri himself to conduct the attack and claimed he had information on Zawahiri," Bruce Riedel, a former CIA officer, told AFP, adding that the information had not been unconfirmed.

Balawi ran a blog, on which he posted calls for jihad, but persuaded the Jordanians it was just a cover.

"He spent months traveling between Afghanistan and Pakistan and fed the Americans the information that the Mujahedeen wanted them to receive," the Ana Muslim ("I am a Muslim" in Arabic) website boasted.

Balawi was taken to the CIA base in Khost because he claimed to have urgent information about Zawahiri, the website said.

He then pretended to detail plans for a mooted operation on a piece of paper and asked the agents to gather round to look before blowing himself up, the website said.

NBC News said his handler in Afghanistan, a captain in the Jordanian intelligence services identified by the Jordanian state news agency Petra as Ali bin Zeid, was killed in the attack along with seven CIA officers.

The report has not been confirmed in Jordan, although King Abdullah II, Queen Rania and virtually the whole royal family turned up at his funeral.

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