Al-Balawi, who became a doctor and worked at a clinic in a Palestinian refugee camp near Zarqa, was extremely active online and in jihadist chat rooms and was arrested several times by the Jordanian authorities.
He was last arrested over a year ago by Jordanian intelligence, and was thought to have been flipped by the Jordanians while in prison to support U.S. and Jordanian efforts against al Qaeda and al Zawahiri specifically.
"Once you put them in prison, you let them see the light," Gerecht said. "Then you use them, maybe operationally."
The problem, he said, is that it's unlikely al-Balawi was ever really turned.
"Jihadists usually aren't that fickle about the issues of God," Gerecht said.
The Taliban has bragged that they were able to turn al-Balawi into their own agent to attack the CIA.
"Obviously there are many questions to ask. The answers so far are not ideal," Gerecht said. "It certainly appears that the GID did a rather bad job of proving bona fides, or Mr. Muhammed did a sublimely good job of duping his masters."
Humphries said that in a war against terrorists building an intelligence network is "done with a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of trial and error."
The doomed meeting last week "had a very, very high reward potential" with the offer promise of intel on al-Zawahiri. "They were taking great risks to get in touch with somebody that had actionable intelligence," he said.
Some precautions were obviously taken, like having the Jordanian official handling the informant be present for the meeting, essentially vouching for his reliability.
The Jordanian officer, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was a member of the royal family. He was buried with a royal funeral that was attended by the king and queen of Jordan.
"The breakdown here came with the security," Humphries said. "The protocols of security within that physical location obviously allowed this guy to get through with the demolition pack strapped to his body. Everybody gets subject to a particular kind of search. Any guest is treated equally. There is no special treatment or lack of treatment."
Gerecht said that in the wake of the bombing, some questions have to be asked of the Jordanians, who in the past have been key U.S. allies in the covert war against the Taliban and al Qaeda.
"I suspect again, because the Jordanians were involved, as a general rule of thumb when that happens, I suspect it's because the agency was being less vigilant than they should be," he said.
Gerecht said the disaster reminded the agency of its golden rule in running covert operations.
"The best safeguard, and it's not full-proof, is deep, profound lasting suspicion. No trust," he said.