WASHINGTON — 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 a secret for 13 years.
Tom Shah and Molly Huckaby Hardy were among the 44 U.S. Embassy employees killed when a truck bomb exploded outside the embassy compound 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 be the first CIA casualties.
Their names probably will not be among those read at Memorial Day observances around the country this weekend. 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 U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because Shaw's and Hardy's jobs are still secret, even now.
The deaths weighed heavily on many at the CIA, particularly the two senior officers who were running operations in Africa during the attack. Over the past decade, as the CIA waged war against al-Qaida, those 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.
"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.
The U.S. government said both victims were State Department employees. But like all fallen officers, they received private memorial services at CIA headquarters. Every year, their names are among those read at a ceremony for family members and colleagues.