Camp Chapman attack and the Blame Game

The Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate, a rather mysterious intelligence organization, is becoming the subject of much talk post the Camp Chapman attack, occurring on December 30th, 2009.

People are shocked that the suicide bomber responsible for the attack came into the base without the routine security measures. The attacker, currently identified by the CIA and western sources as Humam al-Balawi (though Jordanians call for more investigation), is responsible for the death of eight, among them Sharif Ali bin Zeid, a GID official.

U.S. sources say that al-Balawi was a Jordanian “double agent”, initially an extremist Islamist sympathetic to al-Qaeda, but ‘turned’ into a GID “agent” and informant. Taliban-related sources call him a “triple agent”, who was ultimately motivated to serve Taliban/al-Qaeda.

As such, public opinion of the of the GID, or, “the Jordanians”, as they are referred to, is becoming more negative. Many with little background on the history of GID-CIA anti-terrorism cooperation would call for less trust by the CIA/Americans towards the GID/Jordanians.

UPI states, however, that Jordanian officials stress that al-Balawi was not a Jordanian agent, but instead a trusted informant. Supposedly, al-Balawi has had a history of reporting reliable data. As such, the GID vouched for his integrity (information wise).

Nevertheless, should the GID be embarrassed? Sure. They do hold part of the responsibility; they probably didn’t watch al-Balawi as closely as they should’ve.

However, saying the CIA should be more questioning of GID contributions would do more harm than good.

David Ignatius, Washington Post journalist and author of “Body of Lies”, clarifies that the CIA probably should have been more weary of its own protocols. CBS News states that – in many ways – it was the CIA’s own problem that it let down its guard.

So why do I say that questioning GID contributions to the global operations against worldwide terrorism is harmful? Well, because the GID has, in the past, proved to be an invaluable source. Jordanian intelligence was responsible for thwarting the millennium attack plots, warning the CIA about the 9/11 attacks, etc.

The GID also are acclaimed worldwide for their intelligence abilities. David Ignatius mentions a CIA offer who said “He set the standard for how we do it”, of Sa`ad Kheir, a former GID official. Also referenced by Ignatius is George Tenet, former CIA director, saying the GID was the most helpful intelligence service against al-Qaeda.

Some Jordanians or Arabs might be discomforted by what I say, because they might view my apparent approval of “GID-CIA cooperation” as a sign of blind pro-Westernism, or going against ‘Arabism’, our culture, or political causes. As such, I’ll make it clear that the reason I approve of such ‘cooperation’ is because – as far as I understand, currently – the nature of such cooperation revolves around fighting worldwide terrorism. We Jordanians fell victim of the November 9th attacks in 2005, orchestrated by al-Qaeda-Middle East and al-Zarqawi. So, we should especially understand that, when it comes to networks such as al-Qaeda or Taliban, or attack plots that can endanger the lives of civilians, we have a human responsibility to cooperate with whoever capable to combat it.

Why Jordan’s Reputation in the Region might not Improve

… unless something changes, that is.

And its a general PR mess that I’m talking about here, not actions.

I was in the process of writing an article about the recent attack in Camp Chapman that killed Shareef Ali Bin Zeid, a senior GID official, along with several CIA agents in the base. In the meantime, I noticed that Naseem Tarawnah, had already written up a post about the issue. Instead of writing a virtually duplicate post, I decided to follow the comments there, and a separate idea formed; Jordan is sometimes so sensitive about possibly appearing pro-Western that it chooses silence, denials, or bogus arguments that end up hurting their reputation among Arab states, not retain it.

It is indeed depressing that apparently, King Abdullah’s vision of transparency – while it applies to the government – doesn’t apply when the names “Israel” or the “U.S.” come to play. Which is a shame, really. Because I think if the government was in full disclosure of some of these facts (ones that do not play into issues of national security, of course), only few would contest the actions of the government.

As mentioned in the comments over at Naseem’s blog, fighting terrorism, al-Qaeda, and Taliban is a legitimate cause that 90% (if not more) of the Arabs would agree to. If Jordanian spokespersons were as frank as Wikipedia, for instance,  was with me, telling me that Jordanian GID officials only went to the CIA base to deliver Humam Khalil al-Balawi, who claimed to have information about the location of Ayman al Zawahiri ,then most would be content! Instead, when the issue broke, no official source spoke of the CIA-GID connection, that many assumed the GID itself was somehow a ‘follower’ or a ‘subset’ of the CIA, and assumed also that the “connection” was somehow at a functional level (which would be scandalous), instead of an operational level (which is acceptable, especially in cases of combating global terrorism networks). Instead of receiving facts that would’ve made me examine things in an unbiased way, I only heard rumors, assumptions, and weasel words, and I was armed with no information to fight back with.

And if Humam al-Balawi is indeed the bomber, then don’t be ashamed because he’s a Jordanian. Did we forget al-Zarqawi is a Jordanian as well? Its fine to have one or two terrorists out of 6.5 million. And if the government is just ashamed because they vouched for al-Balawi, then how about just blame the CIA for not searching him or something?

But, here’s an interesting quote, pasted from Wikipedia:

Jordanian government officials, while acknowledging that al-Balawi was a Jordanian doctor, insisted that there was no proof that the suicide bomber was a Jordanian. They pointed to contradictory reports, including a statement from Afghan Taliban that claimed the attacker was an Afghan. A Jordanian official living abroad said that al-Balawi would not have been a double agent, and stated he was a sometime contact of the Jordanian intelligence who had no formal role as an intelligence officer. (source)

So I won’t jump into conclusions that it is indeed al-Balawi; it can be people from al-Qaeda or Taliban who tracked him and decided to stop him from leaking information or whatever. Still, the official story needs to shift from strict denial to something more informative.

This whole issue reminds me of Mohammad Hassanein Haikal’s saga, in which he bashed Jordan over and over, and it took weeks, if nor a month or so, for Zaid al-Rifa`i to come up with an answer. And that’s what kills me, we have the answers! 90% of the time, facts are on the Jordanians’ side. Our PR still messes up, comes up with little answers, and is reluctant to share the very information that will vindicate us!

Today, a spokesperson released some clarifications, and I think that’s satisfactory on some level, information-wise. But how far reaching is a late response?