For a small cadre of CIA veterans, the death of Osama bin Laden was more than just a national moment of relief and closure. It was also a measure of payback, a settling of a score for a pair of deaths, the details of which have remained secret for 13 years.
Tom Shah and Molly Huckaby Hardy were among the 44 people killed when a truck bomb exploded outside the US Embassy in Kenya in 1998. Though it has never been publicly acknowledged, the two were working undercover for the CIA. In al-Qaida’s war on the United States, they are believed to have been the first CIA casualties.
Monday is Memorial Day in the United States, when survivors honor their dead from military or other service to the country. The names of Hardy and Shah probably will not be among those read at Memorial Day observances, because like many CIA officers, their service remained a secret in both life and death, marked only by anonymous stars on the wall at CIA headquarters and blank entries in its book of honor.
Their CIA ties were described to The Associated Press by a half-dozen current and former US officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because Shaw’s and Hardy’s jobs remain secret, even now.
The deaths weighed heavily on many at the CIA, particularly the two senior officers who were running operations in Africa when the embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, were bombed in simultaneous 1998 attacks. During the past decade, as the CIA waged war against al-Qaida, those two officers have taken on central roles in counterterrorism. Both were deeply involved in hunting down bin Laden and planning the raid on the terrorist who killed their colleagues in Nairobi.
“History has shown that tyrants who threaten global peace and freedom must eventually face their natural enemies: America’s war fighters, and the silent warriors of our Intelligence Community,” CIA Director Leon Panetta wrote in a Memorial Day message to agency employees.
These silent warriors took very different paths to Nairobi.
Hardy was a divorced mom from Valdosta, Georgia, who reared a daughter as she travelled to Asia, South America and Africa during a lengthy career. At the CIA station in Kenya, she handled the office finances, including the CIA’s stash of money used to pay sources and carry out spying operations. She was a new grandmother and was eager to get back home when al-Qaida struck.
Shah took an unpredictable route to the nation’s clandestine service. He was not a solider or a Marine, a linguist or an Ivy Leaguer. He was a musician from the Midwest. But his story, and the secret mission that brought him to Africa, was straight out of a Hollywood spy movie.
“He was a vivacious, upbeat guy who had a very poignant, self-deprecating sense of humor,” said Dan McDevitt, a classmate and close friend from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Shah was a standout trumpet player. Economic Times