The role of the officer within NYPD has come under scrutiny in recent months. The CIA announced last month that its Inspector General was conducting an inquiry into the relationship between the CIA and the NYPD's Intelligence Division, which was created in response to the 9/11 attacks. The IG investigation was announced after a series of AP articles revealed that the Intelligence Division had developed several programs to gather intelligence about Muslim communities in New York.
The unit is led by a former senior CIA official, David Cohen, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for intelligence. According to two former intelligence officials, Cohen has privately acknowledged that the CIA official was sent to New York as a punitive assignment because of the disaster in Afghanistan.
The senior official penalized for the Khost bombing is the second CIA official to embed with the NYPD. In the years after 9/11, CIA veteran Lawrence Sanchez worked as a liaison between the CIA and the NYPD. However, Sanchez had the title of assistant commissioner for intelligence and oversaw significant portions of the division's operations. The current post has no supervisory authority, according to a former intelligence official.
New York City lawmakers recently pressed police commissioner Raymond Kelly about the CIA officer's role at the NYPD, concerned the CIA might be too active in police investigations. Kelly told council members that the officer did not have access to "any of our investigative files," but that he did supply "technical information" to police officers.
In fact, officials have failed to agree on what exactly the senior CIA officer does for the NYPD. Historically, the CIA station chief in New York has been the liaison between the intelligence agency and the police department. The current station chief in New York is a veteran of counter-terrorism operations.
The officer stands out among his new colleagues in New York because of his long overseas and counter-terrorism experience. But in his most recent position prior to New York, station chief in Jordan, he made the deadly mistake of approving a meeting with a supposed al Qaeda "mole" who turned out to be an al Qaeda double agent.
The agent, a Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, had been recruited by Jordan's intelligence agency. He told the Jordanians he was willing to work for the CIA as a mole in al Qaeda. In 2009 Balawi traveled to Pakistan, where he claimed to have had a meeting with al Qaeda leader Ayman al Zawahiri.
According to several former intelligence officials, the officer twice overruled a junior officer who warned that Balawi might be working for al Qaeda and needed more assessment before he could be allowed to meet with CIA officers. The CIA station chief told others that the chance to catch Zawahiri was worth taking the risk, and pushed for the Balawi operation to continue. Most critically, the officer failed to report the warnings to CIA superiors at headquarters. CIA supervisors later agreed to Balawi coming to a CIA base for a meeting.
On the day of Balawi's meeting, he traveled from Pakistan to a CIA base in eastern Afghanistan, where he was let through three layers of security without being searched. When the CIA brought a welcoming party out to greet him, he exited a car and detonated a suicide vest. The blast killed seven Americans, a Jordanian, an Afghan, and severely wounded several other CIA employees. It was the single worst day for the CIA since the 1983 bombing of the U.S. embassy in Beirut, in which eight CIA operatives were among the 64 people who died.
The assignment to New York is not the first time in the officer's career that a scandal affected his choice of assignments. After his turn in Pakistan, the officer was the leading candidate to be chief in Italy, one of the agency's biggest stations. But top CIA officials blocked the move because his brother had been involved in the extraordinary rendition of an Egyptian cleric from Milan in 2003.
The brother, who worked as a surveillance operative, used a traceable cellphone to call his mother in the U.S., according to telephone records and former CIA officials familiar with the operation. An Italian prosecutor later tried and convicted -- in absentia -- several CIA operatives for the rendition. The officer's brother was among those eventually convicted, under the fake name he used while undercover in Italy. Top CIA officials worried that the Italian government would be offended if it discovered that the new station chief was the brother of one of those charged.