Reporting from Washington — With flags flying at half-staff outside CIA headquarters for seven members of the intelligence service killed in a suicide bomb attack on a U.S. base in Afghanistan, President Obama today addressed the staff by letter on "a sad occasion in the history of the CIA and our country."
The attack Wednesday inside a fortified Forward Operating Base Chapman in the Khost Province claimed the lives of seven CIA members and wounded several other Americans.
"These brave Americans were part of a long line of patriots who have made great sacrifices for their fellow citizens, and for our way of life," the vacationing president wrote in a letter to the employees of the intelligence agency.
"In recent years," Obama wrote, "the CIA has been tested as never before. Since our country was attacked on September 11, 2001, you have served on the frontlines in directly confronting the dangers of the 21st century. Because of your service, plots have been disrupted, American lives have been saved, and our allies and partners have been more secure."
The names of the victims of the suicide bomber at the base in Afghanistan are not being released. As is the custom at CIA headquarters outside of Washington, a star will be placed for each of the fallen members on a Memorial Wall in the lobby of the Langley, Va., complex.
"Your triumphs and even your names may be unknown to your fellow Americans, but your service is deeply appreciated," Obama wrote today. "Indeed, I know firsthand the excellent quality of your work because I rely on it every day."
The president's sentiment carried a certain irony in a week in which the White House revealed that "human and systemic errors" in the nation's intelligence-gathering had occurred in the months before a Nigerian man trained in Yemen boarded a U.S. airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day and attempted to detonate an explosive hidden inside his pants.
The National Security Agency had intercepted communications in Yemen months beforehand about an unnamed Nigerian planning an attack, and the man's father had gone to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to report that his son had become involved in radical activities.
In Afghanistan, the Obama administration is deploying 30,000 additional U.S. troops with a goal of training national security forces to protect their own nation against an insurgency.
"The men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan did their duty with courage, honor and excellence, and we must draw strength from the example of their sacrifice," Obama told the CIA today in his letter. "They will take their place on the Memorial Wall at Langley alongside so many other heroes who gave their lives on behalf of their country. And they will live on in the hearts of those who loved them, and in the freedom that they gave their lives to defend."
Leon E. Panetta, Obama's appointee as CIA director, advised his agency today that "seven of their colleagues were killed and six others were injured" in the attack Wednesday at the forward-operating base in Afghanistan.
"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," Panetta said in a message to employees. "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."
Because of "the sensitivity of their mission and other ongoing operations," Panetta said, their names were not being released. He ordered the flags at CIA headquarters flown at half staff.