08/14/11 — Wayne son writes on CIA Afghan tragedy

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Wayne son writes on CIA Afghan tragedy

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 14, 2011 1:50 AM

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Joby Warrick, a Wayne County native, stands in front of an Afghan building. He has published a book on the death of seven CIA agents.

Journalist Joby Warrick's entrance into the Afghan city of Khost was aboard a helicopter full of pardoned Taliban who didn't look or sound as repentant as they professed to be.

Warrick's arrival in the volatile border region next to Pakistan was both a "thrilling and spooky" part of his journey to unearth how a triple agent had managed to work his way into the confidence of the CIA to carry out a terrorist bombing that killed 10 people.

While it sounds like the plot for a best-selling spy novel, it is the basis for "The Triple Agent," a nonfiction book by Warrick, a Wayne County native and a 14-year veteran Washington Post reporter.

While nonfiction, the book is written like a novel as realistically as possible and is very fine-detailed, Warrick said.

On Dec. 30, 2009, news first broke that hinted that something had gone badly wrong and that a suicide bomber had killed several CIA agents, Warrick said.

Humam al-Balaw, a Jordanian doctor, had been arrested by intelligence officials in Jordan in early 2009. During the interrogations, he "flipped" and offered to become a double agent and travel to Pakistan's lawless tribal regions to help the CIA penetrate al-Qaida.

He provided details of his work in that area and was being brought to the camp in Khost when he exploded the bomb, killing seven CIA agents, a Jordanian intelligence officer, an Afghan driver and himself.

It was the worst loss of CIA agents since eight were killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut.

Warrick, who writes about the intelligence community for the Post, said he was intrigued and fascinated by what happened and was granted a sabbatical from the Post to follow the story.

His quest to make sense of the events led him across the country to Khost and to the Jordanian home of the bomber, where he interviewed the man's family.

He spent nearly a year tracking the story and al-Balaw's movements.

"I think (my family is) glad the research part of it is over," Warrick said. "I think they were anxious -- I went to some crazy places. They are glad that I am back in the country."

The research for the book included that helicopter trip to Khost with the Taliban prisoners, who were being released because they had been deemed amicable to reform and were being sent home.

It was a way to "win the hearts of minds," Warrick said, since the prisoners in question had also been vetted and found to be in the lower Taliban ranks and less dangerous.

He said they looked like something out of the "Star Wars" cantina scene because of the way they were dressed.

"In conversation they didn't seem all that reformed. They still hated us and wanted us out of there," he said.

His travels also took him to Jordan, but as an American, there were some places that Warrick said he could not go. In those cases, he hired colleagues in other countries who had done stringer work for The Post.

The Jordanian intelligence agency is friendly to the U.S. and helped arrange the meeting with al-Balaw's family. At first, the family was not interested in being interviewed. However, Warrick said his interpreter was good and was able to convince them to talk with him.

"The family was curious, just like the rest of the world, as to what happened and why," Warrick said. "They were as curious as we were. They were interested in exchanging information. Once they felt they could trust me, they showed me his passport and other information."

The bomber, who had been a prolific blogger on jihad and al-Qaida websites, was also a source of information, he said. Al-Balaw wrote about his views and had even put together five or six videotapes of questions and answers of what he did and why he did it.

Warrick said it took about six months to write his book -- an "excruciating experience" and a pretty compressed time frame for this type of publication.

Events continued to unfold while the book was being written including the death of Osama bin Laden, which forced Warrick to add another chapter to his book.

Some of the agency officers who died in the 2009 attack had been involved in the search for bin Laden. So, bin Laden's death this year was vindication for those who were left behind, he said.

It has been a demanding time keeping up his reporting duties while at the same time being in demand for interviews and television appearances, he said.

Warrick is the son of the Rev. and Mrs. Eugene Warrick of Grantham and the grandson of the late Dr. and Mrs. Luby Warrick, who lived in the Grantham area, and the late Mr. and Mrs. J.B. Dupree, who lived in Angier.

A graduate of Temple University, Warrick shared the Pulitzer Prize for the series "Boss Hog" published in the Raleigh News and Observer in the 1990s. He joined the Post in 1996 having previously worked for United Press International in Vienna, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times.