Mystery Surrounds Contractors' Role at CIA Base

Paresi and Wise, killed by bomber, worked for Xe, once called Blackwater.

ByMatthew Cole, Nick Schifrin and Rhonda Schwartz
January 05, 2010, 7:16 PM

Jan. 6, 2010 — -- Two of the seven CIA personnel killed in last week's suicide bombing in Afghanistan worked as contractors for the company formerly known as Blackwater, but what role Dane Paresi and Jeremy Wise played at the CIA's forward base in Khost remains unknown. The base collected intelligence used in the CIA's drone attacks across the border in Pakistan, but CIA director Leon Panetta has said that the former Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, is no longer involved in the drone program.

Spokesman for both the CIA and Xe/Blackwater declined to comment whether Paresi and Wise were employed through Xe, but two private intelligence sources and one current government official familiar with CIA operations at the Afghanistan base confirmed to that the two were there as Xe employees. A source familiar with Xe's contracts said that their role was not to provide security for the base, but provided no further details.

Paresi and Wise were both former elite military commandos, and were killed when a Jordanian double agent detonated a suicide bomb at a meeting inside the CIA base near the Pakistan border. Wise was a 35-year-old former Navy SEAL from Virginia Beach, Va. A statement from the family of the 46-year-old Dane Paresi described him as having recently retired from 27 years in the Army, many in Special Operations. He was from Portland, Ore.

Last month, CIA director Leon Panetta announced that his agency had terminated its contract with Xe to load and arm Predator and Reaper drones in Afghanistan and Pakistan that are used to strike suspected militants and al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan's Tribal Areas. According to two former intelligence sources, Forward Operating Base Chapman was used to gather intelligence for drone strikes across the border.

In response to an ABC News report last month that the CIA had expanded the role of contractors to operation positions, CIA spokesman George Little said, "CIA does not use Blackwater to perform our core missions of collecting intelligence, performing analysis or conducting covert operations," said Little.

A U.S. government official told ABC News the private contractors "don't kick down doors" but only fulfill a "security role" on certain CIA missions.

Said Little, "Earlier this year, Director Panetta ordered the end of one Blackwater contract and the transition of those activities to government personnel. In addition, he ordered a review of all Blackwater contracts."

"At this time," said Little, "Blackwater is not involved in any CIA operations in other than a security or support role."A CIA spokesperson, George Little, acknowledged the use of contractors "in roles that complement and enhance the skills of our workforce, just as American law permits."

Little said "it's the way things actually work in the real world," and he stressed that CIA officials always retained "decision-making authority and bear responsibility for results."

CIA Security Breakdown

The suicide bomber, who killed some of the CIA's top al Qaeda hunters, lured the agents to the meeting by claiming he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri, this country's most wanted terrorist after Osama bin Laden, sources told ABC News.

The informant-turned-bomber, a 32-year-old Jordanian doctor named Humam Khalil Muhammed Abu Mulal al-Balawi, had been recruited by Jordanian intelligence to get information on Zawahiri.

The promise of getting a bead on Zawahiri prompted one of the CIA's top analysts to travel last week from Kabul to the remote CIA listening post at Forward Operating Base Chapman in the middle of Taliban country near the Afghan-Pakistan border. The CIA outpost at Camp Chapman is the nerve center in the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.

When al-Balawi detonated his bomb, he assassinated seven CIA operatives and wounded six others. He also killed the Jordanian intelligence officer who recruited him out of a Jordanian prison cell.

The question of security procedures has surfaced as information about the meeting has surfaced. Former CIA officers tell that the bombing was a result of poor operational security and went against the known and accepted tradecraft of meeting with agents.

That as many as 13 CIA personnel had gathered to meet a source who had not been searched before entering the base has been hotly debated among former CIA officers who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, "It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn't have 13 people there."

"Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision," said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. "This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown."

A second paramilitary officer familiar with the attack noted that even if the Jordanian agent had met with al Qaeda number two Zawahiri, no foreign source can be trusted completely.

"It was in everyone's interest to pat him down before getting into the car," the former officer said. "You might have lost a few people, but it would not have taken out the whole base. If the source was an honest agent, he would have appreciated that you were concerned with both your security and his."

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