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A CIA suicide sparks questions about the CIA Memorial Wall

CIA Memorial Wall in the main lobby of the agency's headquarters in Langley, Va., Celebrates operations "serving their lives for their country". (John McDonnell / Washington Post)

She had spent the year in Afghanistan targeting senior al-Qaeda and Taliban members from one of the CIA's most important bases. 19659005] Ranya Abdelsayed was less than 48 hours away from returning to the US in 2013 when a colleague found his body in his bed at the agency's Gecko Firebase in Kandahar. In 34 years, she had shot her head.

Next year, Abdelsayed was honored with a black star on the CIA's hangover, which celebrates members of the CIA as its inscription reads "gave their lives to their country for service."

On Tuesday, the CIA holds its annual ceremony to recognize the fallen, revealing new stars on the increasingly crowded wall. But not everyone agrees that Abdelsayed – one of at least 19 CIA deaths in Afghanistan during the longest war in American history – deserved that honor. Of the 129 men and women who are given stars, she is the only one killed by suicide.

Nicholas Dujmovic, a long-standing CIA historian who retired in 2016, said that Abdelsayed's involvement violates the agency's own criteria – and that her star "must definitely come out of the wall."

The Famous Memorial He said, is reserved for deaths that are "of an inspiring or heroic character" or are the result of enemy actions or dangerous conditions. However, in addition to Abdelsayed, some stars have been assigned operations that died in aircraft or accidents in vehicles that had no connection with the dangers of their duties.

"There has been an erosion of understanding in the CIA leadership for at least two decades about what the wall is for and who we are reminiscent of," said Dujmovic, who has investigated several agency deaths to see if they meet the criteria for inclusion on the wall. "Now we have a suicide star on the wall. That's not what the wall is for. Suicide is of course a great tragedy. But the purpose of the wall is not to show compassion to the family. It is to show who in our society is worthy of this. honor. "

Dujmovic said he was so frightened by Abdelsayed's star that he made his objection known to senior CIA officials, including those at the Agency's Honor and Merit Awards Board. The Board of Directors makes recommendations to the Director, who has the last word on integration.

"They said," We understand that people are plagued by demons and break into war under psychological pressure, "Dujmovic repeated." And another said, "It's just so hard to say no." My thinking was, "Isn't that what leadership is for?" "

In an interview, John Brennan, who approved Abdelsayed's star when he was the CIA director, defended his decision, saying that Abdelsayed had voluntarily given up Dangerous tasks and that "under these circumstances there are many strains as well as daily challenges associated with that work."

After her death in August 2013, Brennan and his wife burned with Abdelsayed's parents to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the arrival of her remnants Fathi and Nahed Abdelsayed – who refused to comment on this article – told the Brennans that their daughter loved painting, drawing, writing and playing the piano.

"There was many tears and heartbreaking e discussions, "Brennan said about the trip. "A lot of them were torn away. Ranya was a person whom they not only loved but admired. They proudly beamed that their daughter worked for the Central Intelligence Agency."

An undated image of CIA officer Ranya Abdelsayed who died by suicide in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2013. (Obtained by the Washington Post)

Some people raised questions when Abdelsayed became a candidate for the wall, Brennan said. The cause of her suicide was unclear. But in the end he felt that a message should be sent, he said.

"Ranya was hugely involved in the agency's mission. Her death felt I was a direct result of her work and her commitment to a very difficult overseas environment," he said. "It couldn't have been unanimous that Ranya was deserved [of a star] but I let it be known … Ranya's death was something the agency needed to recognize as one of the unfortunate consequences of the global challenges that the CIA addresses." [19659020] After her suicide, Brennan said he made it a priority for the Agency to provide more help to CIA staff who suffer from depression or other mental pressures.

And he promised Abdelsayed and three other officers when their stars were revealed on May 19, 2014.

"We share your pride in them and what they achieved" Brennan told their colleagues and family members. "We also know the knowledge of their strong character and generous spirit and feel deeply privileged and grateful to have served with such unselfish patriots."

But he didn't do anything about how Abdelsayed died. And when the CIA added her name to the honorary book sitting at the wall a few years later, there was no usual press release or public recognition.

& # 39; A Risky Flight & # 39;

When it was created in 1974 with 31 stars. The memorial wall, which dominates the agency's main lobby, was designed to inspire awe.

Among the operators are now named: Barbara Robbins, a CIA secretary who was killed when a car bomb exploded outside the US Embassy in Saigon in 1965; Richard Welch, the Athens Station Manager, badly killed a terrorist in 1975; Robert "Bob" Ames, the agency's top Middle Eastern expert, killed in a truck bombing at the US Embassy in Beirut in 1983; and Johnny Micheal Spann, who was killed in a prison uprising while deployed in Afghanistan two months after the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

Shannon Spann, wife of the killed CIA officer Johnny Micheal Spann, has their 6 month old son Jake during his husband's funeral at the Arlington National Cemetery in December 2001. He was killed in a prison rally in Afghanistan. (Doug Mills / AP)

But Dujmovic, the retired historian, said that only about half of the awarded stars died due to hostile action or terrorism.

For example, Chiyoki "Chick" Ikeda was killed in the 1960 Northwest Airlines air crash when he escorted a Japanese security officer on a journey.

Ikeda was considered to be admitted in 1974, said Dujmovic, but was rejected because his death was not considered heroic or inspirational, the original criteria of the wall. When his name reappeared at the end of the 1990s, the Agency's Honor and Merit Awards Board then told Director George Tenet that Ikeda should be excluded. A senior CIA practitioner, Dujmovic said, even wrote a note to the Tenet who said the wall's integrity needed to be preserved.

But the Tenet disagreed, and a star was added to Ikeda in 1997. The tenet rejected an interview request. [19659034] Others who have been awarded stars: John Celli, an economic analyst who died in a traffic accident in Saudi Arabia in 1996; and Leslianne Shedd, an operation officer on holiday from his post after the same year, when her Ethiopian Airlines flight was hijacked and crashed into the Indian Ocean.

While Dujmovic is questioning their recording, he does not believe their stars should be removed. And he has spokesman on behalf of several other officers who died decades ago.

This year, two of them, Daniel Dennett and John Creech, are honored with stars. The men fly in a twin-engine air on an operation for the Central Intelligence Group – the immediate precursor of the CIA – when their aircraft crashed into a mountain in the Horn of Africa in 1947.

When the wall opened in 1974, they were excluded because they were not considered as a technical part of the CIA. But as Dujmovic wrote in an article on the CIA website, there was hardly any difference between the two groups, except for their initials.

Another group, repeatedly rejected to the wall: five CIA security officers flew from California to a U-2 spy plane test site and crashed into a Nevada mountain in 1955. The crew had to fly at dangerously low altitudes through mountains to avoid detection and maintain radio silence.

But the CIA has knocked them down at least four times, said Dujmovic. The agency, Dujmovic said, has long felt that they were "simply at work" even though he disagrees and believes that their case is far more convincing than the one that others have already given stars.

"It was a risky flight under dangerous conditions," he said. "They were at work, not just at work."

Steve Ririe, a Nevada spitting the effort to build a memorial on the site of the crash, wondered why they were killed in the accident when a person who died by suicide received one.

"I'm a little shocked, but at the same time I don't want to judge it," said Ririe when he told of Abdelsayed's star. "I don't know; what was the heroic element? It must be there. Because I believe what these men did on the flight was incredible."

"She was my sister"

The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Ranya Abdelsayed joined the CIA in 2006. Friends and colleagues called her "Rani." In Afghanistan, she worked nonstop as a targeter, mapping and tracking figures, including drug lords and senior Taliban members.

"She never felt like she could probably do enough," said a former colleague who spoke on condition of anonymity because of Abdelsayed's death-sensitive character. "We played whack-a-mole out there. Stress and intensity of her work ethic and other problems eventually overwhelmed her." He said Abdelsayed was widely respected, but was often withdrawn and "not really part of the cohesive team and social network. "

She was very private, said a linguist on contract with the agency, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. The two said she was close friends, worked long hours together and cycled to relax. Abdelsayed used dark humor to describe the intensity of the job. "Oh, it's a clumsy — today". She was happy to say.

But when her colleague asked Abdelsayed about her personal life – her family, how she came to the CIA, her ambitions – she always knocked off. [19659051] "Still, she was my sister down there. She not only had American interests in her heart, but she also had the interests of the people of Afghanistan in her heart," said the linguist.

In August 2013, after a year in Kandahar, Abdelsayed acted to go home to McLean, Va. However, her last week was tense.

According to the linguist, she was angry at random moments. "She would shout at me," said the language customer. "A couple of times, she cornered me in the chow hall and started shouting and screaming. I'll say," What's wrong? What is it? "She said," I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it. "I was like," Okay, you have a bad day. ""

In the morning, as Abdelsayed was to leave the base, she was to meet her friend for a 7:30 breakfast. But she didn't come up. Finally, the linguist called her on the radio, but got no answer. She got the key to her room from a support officer.

But before she came in, her colleague struck. Maybe Abdelsayed was in the shower, she thought. But after a few moments she opened the door.

"I just saw her down on the bed," said the linguist. "You couldn't see any light in her. She was pale. I was sitting right in her room and asking for support and then back. The picture is still carved in my head. I still have nightmares about it."

Abdelsayed's official date of death According to the Fairfax County trial records was August 28, 2013.

Her parents, Brennan said, had "already planned to see her. It was all taken away."

Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

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