The Central Intelligence Agency, the White House and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence aren't commenting on press reports that eight CIA officers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated at a military base in the province of Khost.
The death of eight CIA officers would be the agency's worst toll since the 1983 bombings of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, when at least six officers were killed. Robert Baer, the now ubiquitous former CIA officer who spend years hunting down the Beirut bombers, has written that the agency never recovered from the loss of life that day. In an environment where the CIA is under extreme pressure from all corners, the Afghanistan massacre begins history as a tragedy that even under ordinary conditions the agency would find it hard to bear. Leon Panetta, the CIA director, must now add, to the mountain of pressing concerns, the grief counseling for thousands of employees.
The CIA's semi-covert Predator drone strike program, targeting Al Qaeda and Taliban operatives who cross back and forth from Pakistan, has killed hundreds -- a number of which were most likely innocent civilians by any definition.
This is not to suggest an equivalence -- just to say that the agency's American operatives are most definitely combatants in this war, which is also to say that the rules of war and the legal understandings that the CIA is using to fight terrorism in Pakistan are not clear and not easily explicable to the American people. With the CIA's massive footprint in Afghanistan, some sort of tragedy was probably inevitable. (In 2001, officer Johnny Spann, a member of the CIA's Special Activities Division, was killed in action in Afghanistan.)
It is tempting to associate the three publicly known CIA-related mass murders -- the Beirut bombings, the 1993 shootings near CIA headquarters in Virginia and today's events -- with America's 30-plus year struggle against Islamic extremism. It is worth noting, however, that the CIA's two major traitors, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, directly caused the deaths of dozens of people who risked their lives to protect American lives.
One also wonders how many CIA contacts -- people who helped provide actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda -- have been killed.