Saturday, January 9, 2010

Suicide Bombing Puts a Rare Face on C.I.A.’s Work

Via NYTimes -

In the fall of 2001, as an anguished nation came to grips with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a slender, soft-spoken economics major named Elizabeth Hanson set out to write her senior thesis at Colby College in Maine. Her question was a timely one: How do the world’s three major faith traditions apply economic principles?

Ms. Hanson’s report, “Faithless Heathens: Scriptural Economics of Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” carried a title far more provocative than its contents, said the professor who advised her. But it may have given a hint of her career to come, as an officer for the Central Intelligence Agency specializing in hunting down Islamic extremists.

That career was cut short last week: Ms. Hanson was one of seven Americans killed in a suicide bombing at a C.I.A. base in the remote mountains of Afghanistan.

In the days since the attack, details of the lives of the victims — five men and two women, including two C.I.A. contractors from the firm formerly known as Blackwater — have begun to trickle out, despite the secretive nature of their work. What emerges is a rare public glimpse of a closed society, a peek into one sliver of the spy agency as it operates more than eight years after the C.I.A. was pushed to the front lines of war.

Their deaths were a significant blow to the agency, crippling a team responsible for collecting information about militant networks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting missions to kill the networks’ top leaders. And in one sign of how the once male-dominated bastion of the C.I.A. has changed in recent years, the suicide bombing revealed that a woman had been in charge of the base that was attacked, Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost Province.

Those who died came from all corners of the United States but were thrown together in one of the most dangerous parts of the world. Several had military backgrounds. One of the fallen C.I.A. employees, a security officer named Scott Roberson, had worked undercover as a narcotics detective in the Atlanta Police Department, according to an obituary, and spent time in Kosovo for the United Nations. Postings on an online memorial site describe a hard-charging motorcyclist with a remarkable recall of episodes of “The Benny Hill Show.”

Another, Harold Brown Jr., was a former Army reservist and father of three who had traveled home from Afghanistan briefly in July to help his family move into a new home in the Northern Virginia suburbs.

Mr. Brown’s mother, Barbara, said in an interview that her son — she had believed he worked for the State Department — had intended to spend a year in Afghanistan, returning home in April. He did not relish the work, she said, and talked little about it.

“The people there just want to live their lives. They’re normal people,” she recalled him saying, adding that he had told her parts of Afghanistan were “just like back in biblical times.”

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