Algeria, the CIA, Rape, and the Black Plague

The news that Andrew Warren, the CIA station chief in Algeria, allegedly drugged and raped two local Muslim women at his U.S. embassy residence in North Africa would be shocking anywhere around the globe -- at anytime. But the fact that this happened in Algeria, presently, could not be worse news for world security. If a CIA presence in Algeria was unwelcome before, no doubt Warren's actions (Warren is a self-described convert to Islam) have greatly jeopardized the CIA's legitimacy and credibility in a volatile nation that has become the newest laboratory for al-Qaeda's deadly biological warfare program.

According to a search warrant filed in Washington, D.C., Warren drugged his female victims, both Muslims, before raping them. Diplomatic security investigators recovered photographs from Warren's computer, which showed him having sex with one of the victims who appears to be unconscious. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Coll describes the incident as an "Abu Ghraib-inspired sequel involving American power, the Arab world, sexual violence, and digital photography." Making matters worse, the news of the CIA rape scandal broke in the same week that President Obama went on Arab TV discussing how important it is that the image of the United States overseas undergoes a transformation. The CIA scandal makes that all the more unlikely.

But aside from the damage to the so-called hearts and minds in the Muslim world, there will likely be consequences in the war on terror as well. The CIA depends upon cooperation from its host country to gather intelligence from locals. The station chief, as Andrew Warren was, would have been in charge of establishing relationships with officers in Algerian intelligence. If any of those individuals was motivated to work with the CIA before, they may be rethinking that partnership now.

Algeria has become a hotbed of al-Qaeda in North Africa. The death toll in suicide bombings there continues to increase ever since al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, declared in 2006 that his group had teamed up with Algerians in the name of jihad. The following year, calling themselves al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, terrorists bombed the United Nations headquarters in the capital city of Algiers, killing 41 people. The bombings continue in size and death toll. Further complicating matters for Europe is the fact that many Algerians live in France and move freely between the two countries, importing and exporting al-Qaeda as they move around.

But things in Algeria have recently taken a potentially catastrophic turn. On January 19, British tabloid the Sun broke a story with the headline, "Deadliest Weapon So Far ... the Plague." The paper claimed that the black plague, also known as the bubonic plague, had broken out in a cave inside an al-Qaeda training camp there. "The group, led by wanted terror boss Abdelmalek Droudkal, was forced to turn its shelters in the Yakouren forest into mass graves and flee," wrote the Sun. The suggestion from the paper was that unhealthy living conditions in the camps had led to plague-infested rats sickening the terrorists.

But later that same day, Washington Times reporter Eli Lake broke a follow-up story, using a U.S. intelligence officer as a source. The officer not only confirmed the dead Algerian terrorists, but he went on record saying that the deaths had been the result of a bioweapons experiment gone awry.

The intelligence officer also told the Washington Times that the CIA had "intercepted an urgent communication between the leadership of al-Qaeda in the Land of the Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Qaeda's leadership in the tribal region of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan [suggesting] an area [previously] sealed to prevent leakage of a biological or chemical substance had been breached." The intelligence officer dismissed the Sun's postulation that the plague had come from natural sources: "We don't know if this is biological or chemical."

The black plague has been responsible for some of the greatest epidemics in history. The first cycle of plague happened in 540, under the Roman Emperor Justinian. This was followed by another epidemic in 1340, with the death toll unclear, and finally the Great Plague of London in 1665, which is believed to have killed nearly 100,000 people -- a fifth of London's population at the time. France experienced a plague outbreak in 1720, with 50,000 people dead. In the 21st century, there are approximately 2,000 new cases of plague each year; 98.7% of cases and deaths occur in Africa.

Researchers in the United States regularly study plague by infecting mice with the deadly virus. In September 2005, three mice infected with bubonic plague disappeared from a laboratory in New Jersey. Federal officials at the time said they were unclear if the mice had been stolen, eaten by other lab rats, or misplaced by mistake. The mystery was never solved. According to health officials involved in that story, bubonic plague is not contagious. A person has to be bitten by an infected rodent in order to catch the disease. But untreated bubonic plague can transform into pneumonic plague, which is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person.

For any pathogen to leave the realm of Mother Nature and enter the sinister realm of bioweapon, it needs a microbiologist to weaponize it. Which is why the December 2008 news that al-Qaeda operative Yazid Sufaat was released from a Malaysian jail is incredibly disturbing. Sufaat is the microbiologist who once oversaw al-Qaeda's germ warfare programs. He was jailed in 2001, after FBI agents discovered he had hosted an al-Qaeda in Malaysia event in January 2000. Two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, attended that event.

According to the FBI, Yazid Sufaat graduated from California State University at Sacramento -- with a bachelor's degree in biological sciences.