- By Blake Hounshell
Blake Hounshell is managing editor at Foreign Policy, having formerly been Web editor. Hounshell oversees ForeignPolicy.com and has commissioned and edited numerous cover stories for the print magazine, including National Magazine Award finalist "Why Do They Hate Us?" by Mona Eltahawy. He also edits The Cable, FP's first foray into daily original reporting, and was editor of Colum Lynch's Turtle Bay, which in 2011 won a National Magazine award for best reporting in a digital format.
Blake joined Foreign Policy in 2006 after living in Cairo, where he studied Arabic, missed his Steelers finally win one for the thumb, and worked for the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. Blake was a 2011 finalist for the Livingston Awards prize for young journalists for his reporting on the Arab uprisings, and his Twitter feed was named one of Time magazine's "140 Best Twitter Feeds of 2011." Under his leadership, in 2008, Passport, FP's flagship blog, won Media Industry Newsletter's "Best of the Web" award in the blog category. Along with Elizabeth Dickinson, he edited Southern Tiger: Chile's Fight for a Democratic and Prosperous Future, the memoirs of former Chilean president Ricardo Lagos, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2012.
A graduate of Yale University, Blake speaks mangled Arabic and French, is an avid runner, and lives in Washington with his wife, musician Sandy Choi, and their toddler, David. Follow him on Twitter @blakehounshell.
Isn’t it interesting that the underpants bomber — whose failed attempt to detonate plastic explosives on a Detroit-bound plane killed zero people — has gotten a lot more attention than the CIA bomber — who successfully perpetrated a devastating attack against a CIA forward operating base in Khost, Afghanistan, killing seven?
Granted, most Americans are probably more interested in the former story, because it directly concerns them. But now, the focus of media attention is shifting, with a couple new data points coming out.
First, the CIA bomber, a Jordanian doctor of Palestinian origin named Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, showed his face today in a video of himself next to Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud, posthumously published by Al Jazeera. (Interestingly, Balawi was also a prolific jihadi blogger who told the CIA that his online writings were part of his cover.)
And second, the CIA disclosed that Balawi detonated himself moments before he was about to undergo a pat-down search. As CIA director Leon Panetta puts it in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, " This was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset, even one who had provided information that we could verify independently."
It is never that simple, and no one ignored the hazards. The individual was about to be searched by our security officers — a distance away from other intelligence personnel — when he set off his explosives.
(Panetta’s claim that poor tradecraft was not to blame for the bombing’s success is undermined by the Post‘s own reporting. )
NPR also notes today, as has been reported elsewhere, that Balawi was considered "a valued CIA informant" whose reports were restricted to the highest levels of the agency. "He was feeding us low-level operatives and we were whacking them," a former intelligence official told the network.
The new details about the attack are interesting, but the most significant news here is that the Pakistani Taliban is taking credit. That means there’s going to be intensified pressure on the Pakistani government and military to finish the job against the Mehsud network, whose base in South Waziristan was just successfully assaulted last fall. Hakimullah has obviously survived to fight another day, and now he can boast about having outfoxed the mighty CIA.
Some analysts’ initial assumption had been that the Haqqani network, whose area of operations straddles Afghanistan and Pakistan and is near the Khost base, was behind the attack. (The Afghan Taliban originally claimed responsibility, crediting a disaffected Afghan army member.) Haqqani’s people as well as al Qaeda proper may yet have been involved, suggests Pakistani analyst Talat Masood here:
Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general, said that in addition to involvement by Mr. Mehsud’s network, the attack on the C.I.A. station in Khost most likely also had some involvement of Al Qaeda and other Taliban factions. Al Qaeda and Afghan Taliban groups have also claimed responsibility for the attack.
So what happens now? Well, I think it’s fair to say the CIA is going to be out for blood. It may take some time to replenish its expertise in targeting drone strikes — and reassess the effectiveness of those strikes aided by Balawi’s tips — but Hakimullah is going to be Public Enemy No. 1 now, if he wasn’t already. With Pakistan already on his tail, I’d say his days are numbered.