Star on CIA’s memorial wall honors employee who took her own life

CIA memorial wallA new star that was recently added to the United States Central Intelligence Agency’s memorial wall is seen by some as a way to draw attention to the mental pressures that come with the job, while others view it as disrespectful to the Agency’s mission. The specially designated wall is located at the main entrance lobby of the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It was created in 1974 and displays a star for each of the CIA’s personnel who have perished in the line of duty while working for the Agency. Today it displays nearly 130 stars, which span the CIA’s 72-year history.

The CIA holds an annual ceremony in recognition of its fallen members, at which time new stars are usually added to the memorial wall. Among them there is a star for Ranya Abdelsayed, who died on August 28, 2013, while employed by the CIA in Kandahar, Afghanistan. However, unlike the other 19 known deaths of CIA personnel in Afghanistan since 2001, Abdelsayed reportedly died by suicide. Her lifeless body was found by a colleague after she shot herself to death at Firebase Gecko, an International Security Assistance Force base in Afghanistan, which is commanded by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It is believed that Abdelsayed’s star is the only star on the CIA’s memorial wall that recognizes a CIA employee who took her own life.

In an article published on Sunday, The Washington Post’s Ian Shapira reports that not everyone at CIA agrees that Abdelsayed deserves to have a star on the Agency’s memorial wall. Shapira spoke to Nicholas Dujmovic, a recently retired CIA historian, who claims that Abdelsayed’s star “must absolutely come off the wall” because it violates the CIA’s own criteria for this highest of honors. Dujmovic opines that the memorial wall is reserved for deaths of CIA personnel that are “of an inspirational or heroic character”, typically deaths that are caused by hazardous conditions or violent actions by adversaries. The CIA historian tells The Washington Post that he has researched past deaths of CIA personnel and fears that “there has been an erosion of understanding in CIA leadership for at least two decades about what the wall is for and who is it that we’re commemorating”.

The paper reports that Dujmovic made his views known to CIA officials when the Agency’s Merit Awards Board decided to include a star in honor of Abdelsayed. But the Board upheld its decision, and so did the CIA’s director at the time, John Brennan. He told The Post that he stands by that decision today, arguing that Abdelsayed’s death was “something the Agency needed to recognize as being one of those unfortunate consequences of the global challenges the CIA addresses”.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 21 May 2019 | Permalink

3 Responses to Star on CIA’s memorial wall honors employee who took her own life

  1. I’m afraid you got the timing wrong. That star went up in 2014 and the name was added to the Book of Honor in 2017.

  2. intelNews says:

    @Nicholas Dujmovic: Thanks for the clarification. Have you by any chance spoken publicly about this issue before, and if so could you direct us to other statements from you about this case, which we could link them to this article? Also, is the statement that 19 CIA personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001 accurate, or is that subject to dispute? [JF]

  3. Richard S. says:

    I’m afraid they are focused on the wrong recognition venue to address this serious issue. What about those Officers who lost their lives to alcoholism or drug abuse because of ‘pressures’ they experienced in the workplace. The loss of any life while in service is sad, but the leadership got this wrong as to how they are going to address the problem in the workplace and with the workforce.

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