CIA officers in Afghanistan were so eager to meet the spy they believed would help them crack al-Qaeda's leadership they planned a birthday celebration for his visit in December. A birthday cake was waiting. But before they could begin to question their golden source, he detonated a powerful bomb, killing himself and seven CIA employees in one of the deadliest attacks in the agency's history.
It's not unusual for CIA officers to offer gestures such as a birthday cake or a small gift to spies they are overseeing, former intelligence officials said, but such celebrations are typically discreet, small affairs of one or two officers. In this case, many officials were nearby when he arrived at the base, leading critics to question why there was such a large contingent around al-Balawi when the bomb erupted. "Informants should always be met one-on-one," former CIA operative Robert Baer wrote in this month's GQ. "Always." (Read more CIA stories.)