It has undeniably been the talk of the town here in Amman, to say nothing of the local virtual spheres; an interesting contrast to the local mainstream media that has remained relatively hush-hush about the death of Sharif Ali bin Zaid. Initial reports suggested that eight people had died in a suicide attack, which was deemed the worst attack on US intelligence in over 25 years (or since Hizballah attacked the Beirut’s US embassy in ’83) ; but that number suddenly became seven. It seemed to take little time before a Jordanian connection was made, and reports surfaced that Captain Ali bin Zaid – a distant member of the royal family given his designation of “sharif” – had been the eight victim of the attack. Buried in Jordan on January 2nd, in a funeral attended by HM King Abdullah and HM Queen Rania, the story seemed to go bust locally, with his mission being deemed a “humanitarian” one by the press and then put to rest quite literally. End of story.
It took less than 48 hours later for more information to emerge that the suicide bomber was Jordanian. In Amman, everyone seemed to have seen this piece of information scrawl across the screen of an Al Jazeera news ticker. Al Jazeera’s information was coming from a Taliban spokesperson, and this news was, naturally, quickly denied by the Jordanian government, which, naturally, spoke too soon.
The suicide bomber who killed seven CIA operatives in Afghanistan last week was a Jordanian informant who lured intelligence officers into a trap by promising new information about al-Qaeda’s top leadership, former U.S. government officials said Monday. The attacker, a physician-turned-mole, had been recruited to infiltrate al-Qaeda’s senior circles and had gained the trust of his CIA and Jordanian handlers with a stream of useful intelligence leads, according to two former senior officials briefed on the agency’s internal investigation. His track record as an informant apparently allowed him to enter a key CIA post without a thorough search, the sources said.
The bomber, identified as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was standing just outside an agency building on the base Wednesday when he exploded a bomb hidden under his clothes, killing the seven Americans along with a Jordanian officer who had been assigned to work with him. Six CIA operatives were wounded. [source]
Apparently, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, was a 36-year old doctor from Zarqa. Of course it didn’t take long for the international media to remember that Zarqa was the hometown of Musab Zarqawi. Remember him?
Interestingly enough, Balawi was “turned” after being arrested in 2007 for his activities on an extremist website that was being monitored by authorities. Balawi became an administrator of the site where he operated under the screen name of Abu Dujana al-Khorasani. Moreover, he was also a Jordanian blogger who according to sources, had a Maktoob-hosted blog that seems to still be accessible but seems to have had its archives flushed.
According to sources, Balawi was a trusted informant despite his extremist tendencies, which were probably the same tendencies the CIA and Jordan’s General Intelligence Department (GID) were using to their advantage when they used him as an informant with Al Queda’s circles. It is however astonishing that both the CIA and GID, despite the notoriety of both intelligence entities in their field, were duped by this one man they had working for them, who turns out was a triple agent. It is very likely that Jordan will be given its share of the blame for its responsibility in arresting, turning and bringing Balawi to the attention of the CIA in the first place. But, even more embarrassing for Jordan is it’s CIA connection, which while relatively well-known before, has now been put out in the public sphere for all to see – especially the Arab street. The Jordanian government will likely go on as if nothing ever happened, believing that Jordanians have no access to information, but being that we live in the information age where practically every Jordanian household has Al Jazeera and a million other channels, this is one piece of information that isn’t going to be kept quiet.
This is, of course, a subject that the state considers to be the very definition of a “red line”. I assume most journalists will be avoiding the issue like the plague, lest they be charged with the notoriously overused “attempting to harm the state’s relations” charge. However, the problem with such a charge, at least this time around, is that it seems the GID has done a pretty good job of doing the “harming” all by itself. It is the very definition of shooting oneself in the foot.
The repercussions are akin to opening Pandora’s Box. Jordan has lost tremendous face and what little political capital it had in a region where pretty much every country has a CIA connection they keep quite. Moreover, they have given both Al Queda as well as Jordanians with extremist tendencies, a hero – a martyr to admire. Before the 2005 bombings in Amman, Jordanians were somewhat split on their views of Zarqawi – who was seen by some as a man fighting Americans invading Arab lands, and by others as a man killing innocent people and instigating sectarian strife in Iraq. After the bombings, the perceptions seemed to shift more so towards the latter, although not completely. Yes, even after the bombings in Amman, many did conclude that Jordan gets what it pays for, i.e. by being perceived as a close ally of the US, it is deemed a supporter of its policies and thus a legitimate target by extremist forces. This perceptions has continued to exist to this day.
However, Balawi’s story will only serve to solidify that perception further, taking it to unprecedented heights, where he will undoubtedly be perceived by the Jordanian public as a man who managed to deal an enormous blow to one of the most despised entities in the world, the CIA (from a Jordanian perspective) – to say nothing of Jordanian intelligence (who do not enjoy much love either) who were caught red handed working with the CIA. Not only will Balawi serve as the ultimate poster boy for extremist factions within Jordanian society and beyond it, but he will have empowered groups that look to the Jordanian state as a legitimate target. And as seen on November 9th, 2005, it is innocent citizens who tend to pay the highest price.
With all this in mind, with this mess that the GID has helped create, a mess that has damaged our country’s reputation locally, regionally and globally – is it even conceivable that any Jordanian would be held accountable for talking about this issue out loud? For debating it? For questioning it?
Unfortunately, the answer that question is a resounding ‘yes’.
Nevertheless, if one is to take anything away from this story as it continues to unfold, it is the fact that Jordan must not only be forthright with its citizens – now more than ever – but that it is also perhaps time to re-examine the costs and benefits of any relationship the state has with the CIA. Naturally, there are elements to such stories we, the greater public, are not privy to, but that is the very point here: being kept in the dark. While national security is a delicate subject, the public has the right to know what is being done in the name of their security and well-being. They have the right to know the cost it comes with. They have a right to question it. Especially with the knowledge that there is much more at stake than mere security when it comes to the GID’s CIA connection. Massive US-driven economic aid to Jordan is just one of the many things that come with a hefty price tag.
The Jordanian public should be made aware of the cost.
And for that matter, so should the Jordanian state.
The former does not require revealing massive state secrets but rather providing necessary information to the public. While the latter is a self-examination I doubt the state is even capable of at this point.