Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA by Joby Warrick

I've recently read - and highly recommend - The Triple Agent. It is the story of how al-Qaeda agent Himam Balawi was trusted by the CIA well enough to be allowed onto their base in Khost, Afghanistan, where he blew himself up as well as several CIA case officers. It was one of the most tragic days in the history of the organization. Rather than review the book, I'd rather just comment on a few quotes. At one point, the author wrote:

"But somewhere Balawi had fallen off a cliff...against all logic and his own self-interest, he had embraced a virulent philosophy that threatened to destroy everything that Jordan had achieved in a half century of faltering progress toward modernity. He had risked his reputation and his own family in the service of fanatics living in caves two thousand miles away. How such a thing could happen to such a clever, world-wise young man as Balawi was unfathomable."

I've gone way past amazement - although I am still disappointed - when I hear otherwise intelligent, educated, articulate individuals such as Joby Warrick (and almost everybody else in the intelligence and academic communities as well as the media and the government) describe the radicalization of young Muslims as "unfathomable". It's like hearing someone describe Warren Jeff's belief in polygamy as "unfathomable". Excuse me, that's what your prophet did! Just as Mormon polygamists justify their behavior with chapter and verse from their holy books and the life of their prophet, so do Muslims Jihadists justify their terror, chapter and verse, from the Koran, the Sunna and the Sira (the life and sayings of Muhammad). And just as progressive Mormons try to argue - often with great difficulty and little success - that trying to model Joseph Smith in the 21st century is not a viable option, so moderate Muslims face an impossible task when they protest that the Jihadists are taking verses from the Koran and examples from the life of Muhammad out of context when they carry out their acts of terror.

At one point in the book the author described the efforts of Jordanian intelligence officer Bin Zeid to deradicalize Balawi. "Osama bin Laden's vision of Islam is distorted," Bin Zeid would say. "The Koran forbids the taking of innocent life."

There is nothing more amusing - although tragic - than reading the attempts of Muslims who are not Islamic scholars as they try to convince the Jihadists that they have Islam and Muhammad all wrong. At this post, I described the futile efforts of Tawfik Hamid to do just that. Bin Zeid might argue that the Koran forbids the taking of innocent life, but he completely skirts the questions of who is innocent in Islam. According to the Koran, no-one who denies the message of Muhammad can be described as innocent. Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi argues that no Israeli can ever be considered innocent. It is only a step further for al-Qaeda to argue that no American is innocent. Again, the Jihadist Sharia scholars trump non-scholars like Bin Zeid and Tawfik Hamid every time.

Towards the end of the book, just before the explosion in Khost on that fateful day, Warrick discussed some of the questions being raised about allowing Balawi on the compound.
"The Mukhabarat had been dealing with jihadists of all stripes for many years, and it knew a few things about them, including which ones could be flipped. The low-level types - the thugs and opportunists who glommed on to terrorist movements for personal advantage - could be transformed and might even become useful informants. But radicals and ideologues never truly switched sides. A true believer might lie and deceive, but deep down he could never betray his cause. And Humam al-Balawi had all the markings of a true believer."

This is probably the most important paragraph in the entire book. How naively we seem to believe Saudi claims that hundreds of former jihadists have been "reformed" by taking them through a comfortable rehabilitation program and then giving them a car, an apartment, a job and a wife. As Warrick accurately noted, these are not the true believers. Those who are truly convinced will never change.

They will never change, that is, unless they have a complete paradigm shift - to use a hackneyed phrase - and dare to ask the questions no Muslims yet dare to raise publicly, "Is it possible that Muhammad was not a Prophet of God? Could it be that he was nothing more than a seventh century military and political commander who had nothing to do with God? Is it conceivable that the Koran could be just a collection of sayings that was presented to the Muslim community as the word of God?"

"I'm a Muslim," a  lawyer told me recently in Tunisia, "But I'm an atheist." Well I'm not an atheist, but I admire his courage. I'm just looking for the day when he will be able to make that admission, not to a visiting American infidel, but to his own Muslim community without fear of reprisal or condemnation. I'm hopeful enough to believe that day will come.


aemish said...

The book sounds fascinating. I'd be intrigued to discover what specific markings Balawi possessed of the true idealogue. I also wonder how you are certain the Tunisian lawyer doesn't freely own up to his Atheism in his own community. Did he specifically say so? One thing about my daughter's father's Muslim family I've noticed is that everybody in the family knows every single thing about everybody else. There are no secrets. Unless this lawyer was praying five times a day in some grand scheme to deceive others it is hard for me to imagine a grown man giving a shinola about the opinions of strangers...

Hey, have you read 'God Is Not Great' by Christopher Hitchens. I'd love to read your review.

Anonymous said...

Waiting to hear the same from some of my friends. Don't see it happening very soon though.
@aemish Seems to me your post bears the suspicious hallmarks of religious fervor.. You sure the atheist mantra of disbelief in God has not turned into bigotry?
Hard to allow people to believe what they want to believe no matter what you believe isn't it?

aemish said...

I don't think I follow you, Anonymous.. I am not an Atheist..

Quotable Quotes: said...

I agree with you that the Tunisian lawyer's wife probably knows that he is an atheist. My point was more that the Muslim community at large does not encourage people to express their doubts about what they are expected to believe. "Insulting the Prophet" can still bring a death sentence in some Muslim countries.

I personally find all the "atheist" books by Hitchens, et al, kind of boring. They set up strawmen - believers are idiots who believe the world was created 6,000 years ago - and then tear down their own strawmen. Frank Schaeffer, by the way, wrote a recent book called Patience with God in which he dealt at length with that very issue.

aemish said...

This may be true. I have never personally encountered a Tunisian much less myself been in Tunisia. Perhaps that is why I find it so appealing to get to live vicariously through your travels and the meet and greets you encounter. From my little corner in the world Tunisia may just as well have come out of The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe.

sara said...

I am also reading this book and really enjoying it

While reading it, I was thinking about how Al-Qaida is the only employer that you do NOT want to be brought into your bosses office and told you have great potential :)

Innocent (from Nigeria) said...

I just picked up this book on saturday because of the title, I started reading the book on Sunday and i can't put it down! Today is monday, I am at work and I am still reading the book. The only book that has ever made me do this is The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum. Joby Warrick did an excellent job in this book. I am trying to pickup business lessons in this series of incidents that led to the book. I really feel for the families of those affected by this ugly happening and i pray for the souls of the victims.