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

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  2,841 ratings  ·  287 reviews
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-ag
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published July 19th 2011 by Doubleday
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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 ·  2,841 ratings  ·  287 reviews

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Jason Koivu
Aug 27, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, war
Reading this was pretty much like watching Zero Dark Thirty. It's about the man who blew himself up in 2009 at the CIA base Camp Chapman at Khost in eastern Afghanistan.

Seven American CIA officers and contractors, an officer of Jordan's intelligence service, and an Afghan working for the CIA were killed when al-Balawi detonated a bomb sewn into a vest he was wearing. Six other American CIA officers were wounded. The bombing was the most lethal attack against the CIA in more than 25 years. - Wik
Lewis Weinstein
Dec 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a spectacular book, a sad and important true story that flows like a novel. The subject is one of the undercover battles between the CIA and al-Qaeda, heroic efforts undone by tragic mistakes that ended with multiple deaths in December 2009.

It is hard to believe that experienced CIA agents made the misjudgments that cost many of them their lives; people wanted to believe so much that the skepticism some of them expressed was ignored.

What I was left with in the end was a greater underst
For being an addictive read, I nearly gave this book 5 stars. Right up until marking it as 'read' I was still going to give it 5 stars. On contemplation, however, the flaws that pother during the read persisted after it and I decided to stew on my rating for a day or two.
That's when I resolved my thoughts to 4 stars.

The military non fiction genre is peppered with books that serve no clear purpose other than to either make the author a quick buck or to give them something to boast about. This bo
Miebara Jato
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Someone had said, "there are mistakes only a PhD can make". I feel there are blunders only the CIA is capable of making. Isn't there a name for it? I guess it is what they call " failure of imagination". In this case, the CIA failed to imagine and act proactively against a mole they planted in Al Qaeda from killing its operatives.

The CIA and Jordanian intelligence operatives cultivated what they thought was a mole in Al Qaeda—a doctor, by the name, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, whom the Jordanians ca
Patrick C.
I found this book to be very informative and compelling. The quality of the reporting reminded me of Bob Woodward's accounts - informed by multiple interviews and extensive research. Here, there were some gaps that I attribute to the nature of the intelligence business. For instance, the lives and backgrounds of each of those who died in the bombing at the Khost CIA base were presented in remarkable detail - yet those who were also present, but survived, are not described at all.

Two of the main
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: audiobook
The book's title would have you believe that its primary focus is that of the triple agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, who successfully exploded a suicide vest on a CIA base in Afghanistan in 2009. The book does delve into this man's life, but the majority of the book consists of multiple portraits of many of the CIA employees and the Jordanian intelligence officer who were killed in the attack. The main reason for this backstory is to explain how exactly the CIA exposed itself to such an ...more
Jul 07, 2012 rated it liked it
This was very interesting, but I did not love the writing. He tried too hard to make it sound literary and could not quite pull it off. The physical descriptions of people, particularly the women involved, were excessive. I also think he took a lot of liberties in detailing what people were thinking, when that's something he really could not know.
Mar 18, 2012 rated it really liked it

On February 22 of this year, United States soldiers burned Korans at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, in an effort to purge the base’s library of tools they believed jihadists were using to pass messages to one another. Then on March 11, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a decorated soldier on his fourth tour of duty, killed sixteen civilians in southern Afghanistan. The Koran burnings brought a string of deadly protests to the streets of Afghan villag
Evan Leach
Sep 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was a fan of Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS, Warrick's gripping description of the birth of ISIS, which led me to seek out his sole other book. The Triple Agent is a retelling of The Camp Chapman Attack of 2009, with a focus on the role of Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. Warrick has a knack for narrative nonfiction (as displayed in Black Flags), and this book is consistently engaging. The author does a good job in introducing the (fairly wide) cast of characters and the various locations (Jor ...more
Book Him Danno
Sep 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have never read a book like this before, I have read so many books of fiction and Non-Fiction about the CIA but never one on the current decade. It starts off with the Bomb blasting of the Khost CIA outpost in Afghanistan. As mentioned in the book several times it was the darkest day for the CIA because so many CIA officers were killed and it could have been prevented had they taken the proper steps to protect themselves, instead of worrying about protecting an asset they had never met. The CI ...more
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
A careful, easy to read history of the Humam al-Balawi case, with a focus on how various events, personalities, decisions led up the Camp Chapman attack. Warrick tells the story of all these events as they happened and refrains from passing judgement on any of them or engaging in sensationalism. His treatment of the Agency officers involved is sympathetic and he is appreciative of the many challenges posed by Balawi’s recruitment by the Agency and Jordan’s GID.

Warrick raises many questions about
Paul Pessolano
Jul 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
”The Triple Agent” by Joby Warrick, published by Doubleday.

Category – History/Military

The story of Humam Khalil al-Balawi is very convoluted and hard to believe. He is responsible for the worst loss of life in the CIA in decades.

Humam was very intelligent and came from a well to do family. He received a medical degree and was working at a United Nations medical clinic in a Palestinian refugee camp. He was married and had two daughters.

Humam also had another side of him that espoused radical Musl
Elizabeth Sulzby
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
I found this book very intriguing. It is based on a true story but reads like fiction by Richard Clarke or David Ignatius. This book is about the triple agent mole that lead to many CIA/NOC and other US intelligence "experts" doing very un-expert things which lead to their death. This is a real event, when so many of these people came out together to meet a mole they'd never met before--KaBlooey! Many highly trained intelligence experts got stupid just long enough to get killed.

I read this just
Jamie Smith
Sep 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Joby did a great job on this story. I helped by providing detail and he captured things we discussed very well. Great read.
Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviews
I came across this “Triple Agent” whilst reading “Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden--from 9/11 to Abbottabad”, and naturally I wanted to find out more about him. And that’s how I came across this book written by the Pulitzer Prize winning, Joby Warrick. Warrick did such a great job retelling the story that I kept thinking I was reading a novel!

Joby Warrick provides detailed background of the CIA agents involved in the catastrophic incident that took place on 30th December 2009. He expl
Sep 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Surprisingly good book. I had to read this for college, but I ended up really entertained by it.

Joby Warrick is a journalist from The Washington Post, and his journalistic experience transfers over to his prose. Reading The Triple Agent feels a lot like reading a damn good news article, only longer. It's both accessible (vital for a book with so much intelligence community jargon and so many Middle Eastern names), and gripping, with surprisingly good images and intense moments.

One thing that War
Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing
My review from Lawfare:

The Triple Agent: The Al-Qaeda Mole who Infiltrated the CIA, by Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, ranks among the very best pieces of narrative journalism I have read related to the history of America’s conflict with Al Qaeda. Like the other books in that category—George Crile’s Charlie Wilson’s War, Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower, and Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars—Warrick has pulled off a truly remarkable feat of reporting, bringing together a rich constellation of so
Hannah Pritchett
Mar 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's fascinating to read about relatively recent history, because how could this all have been happening when I was just going on with my doggy life? This is well-researched and (mostly) well-told, if with a slight journeyman's approach: start at the end, back up to the beginning, give two-page backstories for all its main characters, etc, is pretty much paint-by-numbers journalist non-fiction.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
I was familiar with this incident in broad strokes, both through nonfiction works that mentioned it in passing and through a heavily fictionalized account in a novel, but this detailed account filled in a lot of gaps and provided a lot of background on both the events themselves and the people involved. Well researched, informative, and reads like an excellent thriller.
Feb 14, 2019 added it
By far, my favorite book. I appreciated that it delved farther into a major driving force behind one of my favorite movies, Zero Dark Thirty. The book is fast paced and extremely compelling, Warrick has an extremely enthralling style of writing that is exceedingly detailed yet still captivating. Warrick creates an almost cinematic effect with his use of foreshadowing and flashbacks/forwards which make you feel as through you are in the novel yourself. I am definitely going to look into more of W ...more
Aug 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fascinating and disturbing, this book left me reeling and stayed with me for many days after finishing it. It's been a long while since I've encountered a book that I couldn't put down, but I sped through this one in two days. It truly does read like an edge-of-your-seat fiction novel. It details the events that occurred during the 2009-2010 winter holiday. At that time, a headline briefly appeared about a suicide bombing that killed 9 CIA officers at a forward operating base in Afghanistan. The ...more
Hock Tjoa
Mar 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the true story of an improbable spy. It is well written and deserves to be read by those interested in what the U.S. is doing fighting in "Af-Pak". A Lebanese doctor who develops into a fundamentalist Muslim despite his aversion to violence and ineptitude as soldier or spy. He is persuaded by the Jordanian intelligence agency to become a spy for them to infiltrate al-Qaeda; the C.I.A. rejoice with the Jordanians as he appears to be succeeding beyond their wildest dreams. Only those dream ...more
Dec 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
If you’re looking for a wide, in-depth canvas of the workings of the CIA you won’t find it in The Triple Agent, but you will find a deep, narrow slice of the agency. Part of that slice will show how so many of the agency’s successes and failures are caused by the strengths and flaws (and in-fighting) of human beings.

Basically, the author, Joby Warrick tells a simple story, and yet it is riveting and emotional because the events are well researched and described and because the people who trigger
Feb 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Humam al-Balawi was a soft spoken Jordanian doctor who, after being targeted by the Mukhabarat, turned into a triple agent working for them, the CIA, but most genuinely Al Qaeda. In 2009 he met his CIA handlers while wearing a suicide vest and detonated it, killing 8 CIA agents as well as a member of the Jordanian royal family. It is a fairly remarkable story which would almost seem risible had it not actually happened. The research here is good, the writing is sometimes thrilling and but also s ...more
Jul 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: documentary
Up front disclaimer that I listened to the audiobook version. Not that it makes a huge difference in all cases but the difference may impact the experience a little.

Book really contained a lot of detail of the events leading up to and after the sad day in December, part of which makes me doubt some of the validity of some parts of the story to a minor degree. Not saying it the story was completely fabricated but some of the minor details and thoughts of the people who were involved may have been
Jun 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is a very detailed account of a failed, tragic attempt to turn a Jordanian jhadist into an undercover agent for the CIA. I consider myself fairly informed of news events, and even I did not know hardly any of the details that are in this book. When reading this book, as a casual reader, it is hard to imagine how it would have been possible to avoid the tragedy. After all, we of course want to do what we can to get intelligence deep inside the jihadist networks. It is definitely not an easy ...more
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Just a great book. Reads like a Tom Clancy novel, but has the distinction of being actual events. This story was buried somewhat by the infamous "Underwear bomber" of Christmas 2009. I distinctly remember that, but I didn't remember hearing anything about this. Some great insight into the CIA and al-Qaeda operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including the famous Predator drone strikes. A sobering ending, one that left me heart-broken thinking about the families of the killed CIA agents, but a ...more
Aug 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. I already new the outcome but I still felt such a strong emotion to the men and woman who died.
I never realized until I read this book how much hatred is in the world and that war is apart of life.
This book read like a Tom Clancy novel but it's all written in fact.
My heart goes out to those families who lost loved ones that day.
Everyone should take the time to read this book. My eyes were opened and I still do not understand why Al-Qaeda hates us and longs to destro
Jan 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I started this book and could not put it down. The first chapter was riviting and I was shocked, perplexed or saddened all the way through. Joby Warrick did an outstanding job of portraying the inside world of the CIA and the Jordanian Intelligance Service. His ability to keep you engrossed in the story line while attempting to wrap your head around the horror of the world of terrorism has you questioning the ability of the United States to remain protected amongst all of the various obstacles.
Feb 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Great book, and a page-turning read. Very honest explanation how the CIA got into the situation where they compromised security and lost so many agents. Warrick explored the lives of everyone who was killed by this triple agent and the decisions made step by step.
The exploration of the impact of drones on Al Qaeda and the impact of public pressure on the White House, CIA and FBI is fascinating.
The last chapter describing the funerals of these men and women is so sad and had me in tears.
A great
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Joby Warrick (born August 4, 1960) is an American journalist who has won multiple Pulitzer Prizes. He began working for The Washington Post in 1996, writing about the Middle East, diplomacy and national security. He has also covered the intelligence community, Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) proliferation and the environment, and served as a member of the Post’s investigative unit.

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