The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA

The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA




This is a classic example of “if it’s too good to be true, it probably is”.


A stunning narrative account of the mysterious Jordanian who penetrated both the inner circle of al-Qaeda and the highest reaches of the CIA, with a devastating impact on the war on terror.
In December 2009, a group of the CIA’s top terrorist hunters gathered at a secret base in Khost, Afghanistan, to greet a rising superspy: Humam Khalil al-Balawi, a Jordanian double-agent who infiltrated the upper ranks of al-Qaeda. For months, he had sent shocking revelations from inside the terrorist network and now promised to help the CIA assassinate Osama bin Laden’s top deputy. Instead, as he stepped from his car, he detonated a 30-pound bomb strapped to his chest, instantly killing seven CIA operatives, the agency’s worst loss of life in decades.
In The Triple Agent, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Joby Warrick takes us deep inside the CIA’s secret war against al-Qaeda, a war that pits robotic planes and laser-guided missiles against a cunning enemy intent on unleashing carnage in American cities. Flitting precariously between the two sides was Balawi, a young man with extraordinary gifts who managed to win the confidence of hardened terrorists as well as veteran spymasters. With his breathtaking accounts from inside al-Qaeda’s lair, Balawi appeared poised to become America’s greatest double-agent in half a century – but he was not at all what he seemed. Combining the powerful momentum of Black Hawk Down with the institutional insight of Jane Mayer’s The Dark Side, Warrick takes the readers on a harrowing journey from the slums of Amman to the inner chambers of the White House in an untold true story of miscalculation, deception, and revenge.
From the Hardcover edition
©2011 Joby Warrick (P)2011 Random House Audio


On December 30, 2009, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who was working as an informant inside of Al-Qaeda for the Jordanian government and the Central Intelligence Agency, arrived at a secret location in Khost, Afghanistan to meet with his handlers and several CIA operatives. The hope was that al-Balawi, who had provided valuable intelligence over the previous few months, would turn over information that would help the CIA assassinate Osama Bin Laden’s number one deputy.
What happened instead was the worst loss of life for the CIA in decades. As al-Balawi arrived at the meeting, he detonated a 30-pound bomb that was strapped to his chest. This action resulted in the loss of his own life and the deaths of several agents and other personnel who were in attendance.
‘The Triple Agent’ by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick is an account of the events of that terrible day, but also of all the things that led up to it. Warrick’s narrative is in the form of a linear timeline that began roughly one year prior and goes all the way through to the aftermath of al-Balawi’s suicide attack.
Humam Khalil al-Balawi was too good to be true. This was a view expressed by several within the CIA. Yet, he was able to work a plan that put a lot of agency personnel in one location so that they could be eliminated. ‘The Triple Agent’ looks at the events that put everything into motion and what mistakes were made.
It could be argued that what doomed the American effort in this case was too much enthusiasm. There were many who were impressed with the information that al-Balawi provided, and as a result they let their guard down. Their enthusiasm was enough to overlook several red flags that came up concerning al-Balawi.
Warrick’s book gives some biographical information on al-Balawi and his family as well as many of the key players that were killed in his suicide attack. Books like this have a special kind of impact because they remind us that these are human beings with lives and families, and that they are doing a dangerous job. Knowing that CIA agent Elizabeth Hanson did a dead-on impression of Beavis from ‘Beavis and Butt-head’ is just one of several of those reminders in the book. These people weren’t just agents, they were husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers.
‘The Triple Agent’ does a good job of putting the human element on a story that might have otherwise been overlooked. It was an event that took place in a country that most have never been to, and it involved people who were unknown outside of their friends, family and colleagues.


Joby Warrick is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes about the Middle East and connected topics, such as Intelligence, Weapons of Mass Destruction, and National Security, for the Washington Post. He has a new book out titled ‘Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS’.
I’m glad for the linear timeline that was used for the book. It allowed the author to focus on all of the key players involved at different times and follow them as they made their fateful journey to Khost for that December meeting.


There is not a lot of emotion in the text until the end, and as a result there are not many opportunities for Sunil Malhotra to act in the story. This means that his performance is pretty straightforward, although his inflection ensures that it is never dry.
Malhotra has a very soft voice which makes for easy listening. It is an interesting contrast to the subject matter of the story.


As is typical for a Random House Audio release of nonfiction work, this track comes without sound effects or music. The narration is clear throughout the track with no change in volume level or other defects. The chapter stops on the Audible track pair up exactly with the book chapters.


‘The Triple Agent’ is a no-nonsense look at one of the darker days in both the War on Terror and in the history of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The linear timeline format chosen by the author makes the book easy to read and keep track of all the key players.



The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA
Title Author Narrator Publisher Genre Release Date Running Time Stars
The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA Joby Warrick Sunil Malhotra Random House Audio Government and Politics 07/19/2011 7 hours, 7 minutes 4/5


A copy of ‘THE TRIPLE AGENT: THE AL-QAEDA MOLE WHO INFILTRATED THE CIA’ was purchased from Audible for review.

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