A senior CIA officer whose operational misjudgment contributed to one of the deadliest days in CIA history was recently assigned to a post with the New York City police department as a result of his mistakes, according to current and former officials.
According to two former officials, the posting marks the most significant sanction handed out for the December 2009 suicide bombing by an al Qaeda double agent at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan that killed seven CIA employees, and acts as an unofficial punishment for the officer's role in the operation. The CIA officer had been one of several high-ranking officials who approved the meeting at which the double agent detonated his bomb.
"The agency sent him to New York for Khost as punishment," said a former senior official briefed on the assignment.
The officer's assignment also comes despite previous statements that the agency found no individual at fault for the attack. Two CIA officers and a Jordanian spy directly involved in working with the double agent were killed. The officer transferred to New York is the lowest ranking of the officers involved in the planning and supervision of the operation.
The CIA official declined a request for an interview. ABC News is withholding his name at the request of the CIA, because his identity is classified as he remains undercover.
The NYPD did not respond to several requests for comment. The CIA refused to comment on the record.
The move highlights how the CIA acts to discipline its most experienced employees for operational mistakes by sidelining them, denying them further foreign postings or senior headquarters slots. The move is seen by many intelligence veterans as punishment because in the CIA foreign postings are considered plum assignments, as are positions within management at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
The officer had been the CIA station chief in Jordan, where the double agent was first recruited by Jordanian intelligence. He had also served previously as the CIA's station chief in Pakistan and Poland, and as chief of the Counter Proliferation Division, the CIA arm that focuses on thwarting nuclear weapons.
The bombing took place on December 30, 2009 at a CIA base called Camp Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. To meet with the CIA handlers, the Jordanian double agent was allowed through three layers of base security without being searched. He hid a suicide vest under his clothing, which he detonated after more than a dozen CIA officers and security personnel assembled inside the base. In addition to the seven CIA employees and the double agent, a Jordanian intelligence officer and an Afghan driver were killed.
According to the current and former officials, the officer was reassigned to New York for a year rather than given any formal administrative punishment.
"This senior officer's assignment is part of a program that gives him an opportunity to observe the best practices, leadership lessons, and management methodology of a large organization also involved in the fight against terrorism," said a U.S. official familiar with the assignment. "Let's face it, this assignment provides a senior officer a unique management experience that fits his background. And, it's in New York City. Trying to call this great opportunity a punishment is completely missing the point."
The posting came after former CIA director and now defense secretary Leon Panetta announced in October 2010 that an internal agency review had found that "responsibility cannot be assigned to any particular individual" for the deadly attack.
A U.S. official described the officer's role in New York as "management training." The intelligence officer already has a civilian rank equivalent to a two-star general and has managed two large stations and a division that employs hundreds.
"It's a non-job," said another former senior official who consults with the NYPD. "It was a job created for him. He was trying to get a senior assignment and they wouldn't give it to him. It was a punishment for not passing the warnings about Balawi back to [CIA] headquarters."