"Those who fell yesterday were far from home and close to the enemy, doing the hard work that must be done to protect our country from terrorism. We owe them our deepest gratitude, and we pledge to them and their families that we will never cease fighting for the cause to which they dedicated their lives--a safer America."
- Former CIA Director Leon Panetta, December 31, 2009
Five years ago, on a cold, gloomy December afternoon in the mountainous region of Khowst Province in southeastern Afghanistan, an al-Qa'ida terrorist detonated a bomb strapped to his chest and killed seven CIA officers and injured six others; one of the deadliest attacks ever conducted against Agency personnel.
The suicide bomber had been recruited as a CIA informant and taken to Afghanistan to infiltrate the upper ranks of al-Qa'ida. For months, he provided the Agency with independently verifiable intelligence on the terrorist network, and he promised to lead the CIA to the group's most senior members. Instead, the asset was an al-Qa'ida double agent.
On December 30, 2009, the CIA officers at Forward Operating Base Chapman, often referred to simply as "Khowst," were to meet with the asset in person for the first time and conduct a full debriefing. The decision to meet him at the Khowst base--with the objective of gaining additional intelligence on high priority terrorist targets--was the result of months of consultations between Headquarters and officers in the field. The asset had confirmed access within extremist circles, making a covert relationship with him--if he was acting in good faith--potentially very productive. But he had not rejected his terrorist roots. He was, in fact, a brutal murderer.
The seven who perished that December earned their place on the front lines of America's fight against a cruel and deadly enemy. Sustained by the love of family and friends--and by the urgency of their mission--they brought talent, energy, and purpose to the Agency's highest priority: to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa'ida and its violent sympathizers.
It was at Khowst, in a desolate corner of Afghanistan, that their skills and knowledge were in highest demand. Having received the birthright of every American--the freedom to follow their dreams--they chose to give something back. They found a deep satisfaction in protecting the lives of others, and in defending and upholding the beliefs that define what American is about:
: a pioneer in the field of counterterrorist targeting; a born leader with a fervent belief in the cause for which she fought and who never hesitated to speak truth to power.
: a man of great warmth and optimism who served his country in the Army; he went on to a successful career at the CIA because of his passion for public service.
: a gifted innovator in fighting terrorists; a woman with boundless energy and a quick wit who relished the challenge of her work and was committed to excellence and integrity in everything she did.
: a dedicated defender of his fellow citizens, supremely accomplished in law enforcement and soldiering; a man who not only wore the Ranger tab--he lived the Ranger creed.
: a former police detective and military security veteran, a friend to all who knew him; his legacy endures in the countless lives he kept safe, and in a little girl who never saw her father but will know of his valor.
: the eldest of the group with 27 years in the Army, nearly half of which was spent in the elite Special Forces; a soldier, a father, a husband, and a mentor with a big smile and endless compassion for others.
: a Navy SEAL with an abiding devotion to family, faith, and country; a man who believed in the virtues of constant learning and improving the lives of those around him.
The CIA Memorial Wall
The Memorial Wall is a memorial at the Central Intelligence Agency headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It honors CIA employees who died in the line of service. | Photo: CIA | Link | Cia, Memorial, Langley, Virginia, Death, War,
A Sacred Commitment:
Jeremy Wise was a former Navy SEAL (working as an Xe contractor) in Khost, Afghanistan when an asset, Jordanian doctor and double agent, visited the Camp Chapman base and detonated a suicide vest, thus killing Wise and six other CIA staffers. | Photo: Archives |
Soon after their deaths, seven ashen stars were chiseled into the smooth white marble of the CIA Memorial Wall, joining a constellation of what is now 111 stars commemorating each of the Agency's fallen officers. Their names were also etched into the Book of Honor, each beside a 23-carat gold leaf star.
A little over a month after the attack, at CIA Headquarters during a special memorial service, President Obama said, "Let their sacrifice be a summons. To carry on their work. To complete this mission. To win this war, and to keep our country safe."
The CIA answered that call as a sacred commitment. Although the loss was still fresh and the Agency was still deep in grief, the officers at the CIA rose with an iron resolve to pursue al-Qa'ida and its militant allies with a level of fierce determination worthy of the Agency's fallen heroes.
During the Agency's Annual Memorial Ceremony on June 7, 2010 former Director Panetta explained why the heroes of Khowst, the fallen and the survivors alike, risked their lives and why their work lives on within the vital mission of the Agency.
"They remind us," said Panetta, "as do the losses suffered by our brothers and sisters in uniform, that our nation's liberty and security is not free. It must be fought for by every generation. Their stories reaffirm that America is blessed with brave and selfless patriots who are willing to put their lives on the line: who are willing to shoulder that great responsibility."
Director Brennan, in a message to the workforce on the five year anniversary of Khowst, spoke of the tremendous risks inherent in intelligence work and of the courage of the women and men of CIA who serve on the front lines to keep our country safe, despite the risks.
"In responding to the tragedy of Khowst," said Brennan, "our CIA family came together, cared for our wounded, and redoubled our efforts to confront a dangerous and determined enemy. As always, CIA drew strength from adversity. We did not waver or retreat. We showed what it means to stand firm in the face of hatred and violence. I can think of no greater tribute to the heroes of Khowst."
: The Camp Chapman attack was dramatized in the 2012 film Zero Dark Thirty. The "Jessica" character, modeled on Jennifer Lynne Matthews, is killed in the attack. Several people who knew Matthews complained that the portrayal was not very accurate.