In this episode of Intelligence Matters, host Michael Morell interviews Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA intelligence service officer who had a 26-year career in public service. He looks back to the day that seven service members were killed by suicide bomber Humam al-Balawi, who was working as a double agent. Polymeropoulos talks about why it was important to interview al-Balawi in person, the mistakes that were made, and what important lessons he still keeps with him.
- Why the CIA had to interview al-Balawi in person: “For us, a personal meeting with an asset, that cannot be replicated. You can have communications over a kind of computer, email, other impersonal means, how we call it. But ultimately, with someone of this importance, you need a CIA case officer, an operations officer to really look the asset in the eye and get a real assessment of what we’re dealing with. I mean, this is what I did for years and years, and that just cannot be replicated. Looking someone in the eye. You can also do things with kind of other personnel you bring to a meeting such as polygraph, an asset. You can vet them kind of using techniques designed to see if they’re telling the truth or not. And remember again, we had never met Balawi, so we had to…if you can talk to someone for hours, you know, and also have substantive experts at the ready, you can learn so much about your agent because we’re also looking at does he have what it takes to go back and continue to infiltrate the group? Will he be able to kind of provide us with targeting data and things we really need?”
- Mistakes made that day: “Ultimately, the security protocols broke down and he was treated as almost a visiting dignitary. Again to this day it kind of defies belief to me that that’s what occurred. You know, what more can really be said on that. We let our guard down on this and how it happened is just something that I think we’ll never know. And I say this painfully, too, because I knew all the officers involved. There was top notch people on the ground. This was a crack kind of security team we had. I would even to this day of trusted with my life, with every one of those members of the CIA team on the ground. Again several rings of security where you should have been searched and so on.”
- The detonation of the bomb: “Again, I just have to be careful because I’m not revealing the location where I was. So I was, along with several others, we’re monitoring the meeting kind of real time and all of a sudden our communications kind of go silent. They went dark. I remember I had several officers and you have to understand and you know this quite well, but for the listeners that the CIA is a small place. So I knew a lot of the people on the ground and the officers I had around me did as well. But the communications went dark and you start to get a bad feeling. It’s one of the times where that hair on the back of your neck kind of stands up and a bit of nausea sinks in. I remember I cleared the room and I really I think I left one officer with me and then I received a secure call from a senior official one of our top and most respected operational leaders and he said something to me that I’ll never forget. He told me Marc sit down, and he said they’re all gone. And I’ll say Darren LaBonte was one of them, he was my officer. He said that Darren and the six others were killed. He said that Balawi was obviously a double agent and that he blew our team up.”
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“Intelligence Matters”: Marc Polymeropoulos
Producer: Ariana Freeman
MICHAEL MORELL: The first time we had you on Marc, we talked about what it was like to be a CIA operations officer, and this time we’re going to talk about a particular story. This is part of our spy story series, and we’re going to talk about something pretty painful for our agency, and I’d like to go through it kind of step-by-step. Since I lived through this as well, I’m going to add my own thoughts here and there as we as we talk about this. Let me let me start with three pieces of context. The first is that you were involved in the operation that we’re going to talk about, but you’re not at liberty to say in what context you were involved, correct?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: That’s right, I was indeed closely involved, with the operations. You know, it’s something that certainly haunts me to this day and I don’t talk about it publicly. There’s much that’s been written about it and some of it accurately, some of it not. But it’s just not appropriate for me to say the actual location where I was during the agency rules allow me to disclose that.
MICHAEL MORELL: No worries. We will absolutely respect that. Another piece of context is the times, it’s the late 2000s, so 2006, 2007, 2008 and what I want to ask you, Marc, to sort of kick this off is from where you were sitting in the work you were doing? What was the degree of threat that you saw from al-Qaeda to us here in the United States? What did that threat look like to you?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Sure, at that time, and it’s certainly several years after 9/11, but al-Qaeda still remained a key terrorist to the United States even in that time period. So you think to the 2006 plot to detonate aircraft with bombs hidden in soft drinks, then there are Zazi’s attempt to bomb the New York City subway, 2009. You had the AQAP plot to strike the kind of the global aviation industry. So there was, you know, really a relentless and really seemingly almost never ending war at CIA. You’ve got to think of this as, we’re almost a soccer goalie, so we make 20 saves in the game. But if one goes by, we lose. So there was just know, really enormous pressure, in particular because the leadership of al-Qaeda, both Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, were still on the loose.
MICHAEL MORELL: So we were doing everything what we could to collect intelligence on al-Qaeda, both to identify any specific attack plotting anywhere in the world and to identify the locations of key al-Qaeda operatives so that the United States could remove them from the battlefield. Right, that was our number one priority at that time?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: That’s right, and really, you know, the CT campaign at the time, if you recall this well, it was really multifaceted. You know, one was kind of this relentless pace of airstrikes against al-Qaeda kind of foot soldiers. And the other was really the hunt for the leadership. And so, you know, make no mistake, we had to try to kind of cut off the heads from the very top. So any intelligence related to the top echelons of al-Qaeda, including Bin Laden and Zawahiri, was absolutely of paramount importance. And remember, these are really hard targets so the intelligence, was very hard to come by. So any kind of nugget where we thought we had a real shot at finding either HVT one or two, was kind of put at the top of the list of not just, you know, the counterterrorism center, but the CIA as a whole.
MICHAEL MORELL: OK, so, Marc, the last piece of context and you’ve mentioned his name a couple of times, Ayman al-Zawahiri, he’s important to our story here. So what was his role at that time?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: He was kind of technically is the number two in al-Qaeda is an interesting figure. You know, he was an Egyptian doctor by trade, certainly an elusive figure. I think the State Department still has a twenty five million dollar reward on his head. He was he was born in Cairo in the suburb of Modie, which is interesting because that’s where many foreign diplomats live. He went to medical school and he served as a doctor in the Egyptian army. And then he joins the Muslim Brotherhood and goes on to help found the Egyptian Islamic Jihad ends up in Pakistan. And then certainly in Afghanistan, they merged together with al-Qaeda. Zawahiri then becomes, then there’s some controversy over this. Certainly, he was considered the intellectual brains behind the movement, but he’s also considered the overall kind of operational commander as well. So, you know, there’s a lot of focus in and certainly in the media about the hunt for Bin Laden. But Zawahiri is, frankly, as far as the agency was concerned, in terms of cutting off the heads of al-Qaeda, was just as important.
MICHAEL MORELL: So with all that his background, tell us about Humam al-Balawi. Who was he? Why were intelligence and security agencies so interested in him in that 2007, 2008 time period?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Balawi was a Jordanian doctor, he came on the radar screen of the Jordanian security services in that time period, he was first involved, as many are, on chat forums. So he’s speaking out against the West, praising martyrdom operations and as Jordan is a close CT partner of us at the United States government, we became aware of him as well. When you think back, there was nothing particularly special about that. We monitor a lot of individuals such as Balawi, and certainly every Middle Eastern service is going to monitor its own people for for extremist tendencies.
MICHAEL MORELL: What happened to him in January of 2009?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: The Jordanians finally arrested him, he crossed the line a bit, guys are monitoring these chats. You’re looking at kind of what they’re espousing, you know, violence, but I think he crossed the line. So, they did arrest him and they claimed to then have turned him in prison. And so, you know, it’s almost considered a jailhouse recruitment, but it’s very common, of course, in Middle Eastern intelligence circles. You know, the host governments can have a great deal of control over what happens to the family members, for example. So it’s not a traditional recruitment in the sense of how the CIA would conduct a full cycle of recruitment with a lot of vetting, a lot of time on target. But it’s not dissimilar to what, you know, Middle Eastern services do and we in the USG, you never met Balawi. Then they send him off to Pakistan almost on an operation. So the Jordanians send him off, we’re in the background. And ultimately, it’s an attempt, one of in fact many such attempts one would make to ultimately infiltrate al-Qaeda. But at that time, it’s an operation that we’re paying attention to. But but nothing really that’s kind of burning for us until somethings happened later on, which I think we’re going to get into.
MICHAEL MORELL: Today, we have with us Marc Polymeropoulos, a former senior CIA operations officer, and he is with us as part of our latest series on real life spy stories. Marc, do you know, perhaps you don’t, what the conversations were like between him and the Jordanians? I mean, did this recruitment happen quickly? Did it take a period of time with of conversations with him?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: It was relatively quickly. I think it was probably not a great deal of personal meetings. It was a jailhouse recruitment and then it was some more meetings after his release and getting ready to deploy. Ultimately, it’s again, it’s not something unusual for a Middle Eastern service because the belief is always that they have leverage over an individual due to family members still being present. So, I mean, we were aware of what the Jordanians were doing. The key part was not necessarily even the nature of these discussions. It was what would he do once he hit South Waziristan?
MICHAEL MORELL: Do you know what he was promised in return for working for the Jordanians? I mean, obviously, staying out of jail was one, right, but you know what else?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Right. That’s a great question. I think it would be kind of the usual kind of mix of financial incentives and just, you know, staying safe, staying out of jail. You know, they appealed to kind of just patriotism to him. So, again, the Middle Eastern services are not necessarily like us in terms of our ability to kind of throw around a lot of money and it would almost be, using a different set of kind of motivations for recruitment. And a lot of it has to do with being a coercive threat against the family. It’s something that Middle Eastern services actually are quite effective at, especially the Jordanians.
MICHAEL MORELL: So they send him and the idea is for him to penetrate al-Qaeda, to get to know the al-Qaeda guys and hopefully to be able to report back on what he learns once he gets inside the group. Correct?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Right, so he leaves and I believe is the spring of 2009 and he actually he makes it to South Waziristan, a hub of al-Qaeda activity. A place where I spent years later, I spent a lot of time staring across from eastern Afghanistan. And so Balawi after months of kind of growing contact with the local extremists and terrorists. The Pakistani Taliban invite him to come live with them and then he drops off the radar for some time. And again, we are extremely busy in the counterterrorism world with our Jordanian partners and many others so at this point, we just wait and see. We know he’s there and we’re just seeing if he ever does resurface.
MICHAEL MORELL: Then the Jordanians eventually got two messages from him, right, that were particularly interesting. Can you tell us about those messages?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: That’s right and one of the messages did cause quite a bit of stir. He actually sends a video which shows him sitting next to a senior al-Qaeda member close to the leadership circles and in touch, this was pretty solid evidence. That one would hope to have received, that it had gained the trust of the rank and file, also of senior al-Qaeda. So, in the intelligence business, we’re always trying to validate an asset. You do from information they provide and also from their bona fides. This really falls into the latter category. You know, you are who you say you are. And so there was considerable excitement in this video. There was also a message that indicated that Balawi, who remember, is a doctor by training, that Balawi might be in a position to personally treat Zawahiri. So here you go again and taking what you can call a liaison, source or developmental asset or, it’s kind of murky how you would consider Balawi. But but ultimately, he starts rising to the top of our interest level because he might have access to in fact, HPT2 and then he seems to provide some information that corroborates what we knew about Zawahiri’s medical condition. So, again, this is a big deal. Think about the hunt for Zawahiri was of such critical importance to the entire kind of global war on terrorism. And at that point, you start thinking that this is the best lead we’ve had to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in years. I look back and I recall that we were very excited, we were encouraged. I remember writing an email to a colleague noting that this was it, this was the key lead that was going to lead us to HPT2. Looking back on that, you know, look at that with some trepidation now. But there was a palpable sense of excitement about this case, particularly these two messages that came in.
MICHAEL MORELL: So he goes from somebody who’s just on the radar screen and we’re not paying a lot of attention to, to all of a sudden possibly one of the most important assets we have. How fast that happened is really interesting. By the way, this was the moment of my first interaction with the case. At this point in 2009, I was, as you know Marc, the head of analysis at CIA. And I was visiting your space’s, I was visiting with you and your team and you and your boss, I remember cleared the room. Kicked out a bunch of people so it was really just the three of us. And you and your boss told me the entire story about Balawi. I don’t know if you remember that, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: No, I certainly do, and I think it was warranted for you to receive such a briefing because this was a really big deal in terms of getting close access to really an elusive target.
MICHAEL MORELL: Now one of the big turns comes and as you noted, we still had not met him. Everyone thought that we needed to meet him, given his potential importance here, why was it so important from an intelligence perspective to meet him? What did we want to get out of such a meeting?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Absolutely, this now goes into kind of classic HUMINT in the way that CIA would practice HUMINT as well. So you’ll remember that he was, of course, a jailhouse recruitment by the Jordanian service. For us, a personal meeting with an asset, that cannot be replicated. You can have communications over a kind of computer, email, other impersonal means, how we call it. But ultimately, with someone of this importance, you need a CIA case officer, an operations officer to really look the asset in the eye and get a real assessment of what we’re dealing with. I mean, this is what I did for years and years, and that just cannot be replicated. Looking someone in the eye. You can also do things with kind of other personnel you bring to a meeting such as polygraph, an asset. You can vet them kind of using techniques designed to see if they’re telling the truth or not. And remember again, we had never met Balawi, so we had to. I have to kind of throw in here that the Jordanian case officer involved I knew him. He was a great man. He was a Jordanian patriot. He appreciated and valued the cooperative relationship he had with the United States government in liaison capacity. And he really was a tremendous ally and so and our officers loved him like a brother. There’s been a lot of talk about that he was young and inexperienced and that’s fine, there’s no dig on that, its just a fact. But again, the meeting was designed where we would have both the Jordanian case officer there, but also a U.S. team involved for a really kind of fulsome debrief. And again, if you can talk to someone for hours, you know, and also have substantive experts at the ready, you can learn so much about your agent because we’re also looking at does he have what it takes to go back and continue to infiltrate the group? Will he be able to kind of provide us with targeting data and things we really need? I mean, there’s such a variety of a menu of what we would want this agent to do. And Michael, you know as well, CIA, and I talk about this often, CIA has really perfected the art of manhunting and people get uncomfortable when I say that. But that’s what we have done in the global war on terrorism. So you do this using all sorts of means. But a human agent on the ground really is a key piece of this puzzle.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Marc, did Balawi agree to a meeting with us right away, or was there some back and forth? How did that work?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: There really was indeed a great deal of back and forth. He insisted first, that the Jordanian officer be present and he initially suggested several locations that we did not deem to be safe. And now, looking back, I think those were some signs that we probably should have taken a bit more seriously, although it’s not unusual for an asset to suggest meeting locations. And really it’s ultimately up to the case officer involved and the station involved and the agency as a whole to control the location. Both for counterintelligence and safety reasons. So looking back, we didn’t have that control. It was a warning indicator. But again, not terribly unusual. And ultimately, we did agree on a location and this was something that we proposed.
MICHAEL MORELL: How was the location of the meeting chosen and where did it end up happening?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Working with the Jordanians, we proposed the meeting to be held at a U.S. military base in Khost, Afghanistan, that’s in, South Waziristan, right across the border from South Waziristan. It’s in proximity to South Waziristan that he could cross over and so it made sense to us from a logistical standpoint for his ability to travel and also for what we assess would be a more secure location.
MICHAEL MORELL: So now Marc, we get to the to the hard part here. Walk us through that day?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: There’s I think ultimately and this is something that in my 26 year career was certainly the darkest moment. I thought about this a great deal, not only in the aftermath, but even now. I think that ultimately there’s a great deal of uncertainty as to why Balawi was not properly searched before coming on to the coast base. That was part of the operational plan and it’s something you know, to this day, I and no one else can explain because everyone who kind of was involved in those decisions were unfortunately killed.
MICHAEL MORELL: So it was in the plan that he was supposed to be searched before he got onto the base?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Right. And in fact, there’s multiple layers of security. When you look back to what occurred, it’s pretty remarkable because there would not be just one search there would actually be several along the way. You know, no one thought this was going to be sitting down, and having a picnic or a barbecue with someone. Not only we had never met, but someone who had just been in, who had we thought infiltrated the most dangerous terrorist group on the planet. But ultimately, the security protocols broke down and he was treated as almost a visiting dignitary. Again to this day it kind of defies belief to me that that’s what occurred. You know, what more can really be said on that. We let our guard down on this and how it happened is just something that I think we’ll never know. And I say this painfully, too, because I knew all the officers involved. There was top notch people on the ground. There was a crack kind of security team we had. I would even to this day of trusted with my life, with every one of those members of the CIA team on the ground. Again several rings of security where you should have been searched and so on.
MICHAEL MORELL: So he pulls up, right? He pulls up in a car. He has a driver and he’s in the back seat and he pulls up in a car and there’s a number of officers waiting for him. He gets out of the car, what happens?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Right, so again, there were several rings of security where he should have been searched. He wasn’t. He comes up to a location in which I believe a dozen officers were present at that point. Our security team did ask for him to step out of the car and they were going to search him. The problem is this was far too close to the kind of a team that was on the ground. And and before they could disarm him in any fashion, he had a suicide vest on. He detonated himself and seven of them were killed. I’ve been to that location at coast base. In fact, I was there a year later and there was still shrapnel holes kind of in the car gated steel roof. I slept in a guest house right there on site, which was certainly difficult psychologically for me. There was an attempt to search him at the last moment but it was far too late. He should have been searched by not only by U.S. personnel, frankly, by Afghan personnel in the outer ring of security. That should have been done far earlier and that was kind of normal protocols that for whatever reason, to this day, no one can really understand why they were not followed.
MICHAEL MORELL: Marc, I remember when I went to Khost probably about a year after as well, and I saw the same holes that you did. In fact, I saw some holes in the steel beams by the ball bearings that were part of Balawi’s a suicide vest. How did you first hear about this?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Again, I just have to be careful because I’m not revealing the location where I was. So I was, along with several others, we’re monitoring the meeting kind of real time. And all of a sudden our communications kind of go silent. They went dark. I remember I had several officers and you have to understand and you know this quite well, but for the listeners that the CIA is a small place. So I knew a lot of the people on the ground and the officers I had around me did as well. But the communications went dark and you start to get a bad feeling. It’s one of the times where that hair on the back of your neck kind of stands up and a bit of nausea sinks in. I remember I cleared the room and I really I think I left one officer with me and then I received a secure call from a senior official one of our top and most respected operational leaders and he said something to me that I’ll never forget. He told me Marc sit down, and he said they’re all gone. And I’ll say Darren LaBonte was one of them, he was my officer. He said that Darren and the six others were killed. He said that Balawi was obviously a double agent and that he blew our team up.
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: But the senior officer to me said something that was really important and that I’ll never forget. He said look, there’s going to be a time to grieve, but right now you have to get up and stand in front of your people. And that was several hundred people in a station in which I managed, and you’re going to have to show strength, you’re going to have to lead. That was it. I put the phone down and in fact, my wife really relays the story that I then walked in. I called a kind of a snap meeting of several hundred officers and she said she might have gone white in the face and she knew something awful had occurred and she just immediately said who died? And sorry getting chills up here, so, and I said that it was Darren and she started crying and you know, that all hands meeting that I called. I think that was the hardest leadership moment of my life. These people knew Darren really well. They broke down and started crying and it was agonizing, I felt sad I felt angry. Then, of course, this overwhelming sense of responsibility and what happened is, then I didn’t take care of myself. I didn’t sleep, read for about 48 hours. I was totally dehydrated and ended up with kidney stones in the hospital in a Middle Eastern country. So that was that was certainly a tough time.
MICHAEL MORELL: Marc, how many of the seven officers who died did you know?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I talk about Darren LaBonte and Darren worked for me, we knew his family very well, his wife and his daughter. In fact, I think it was the week before we died, the week before Darren died, he was deployed. We watched as his wife was an accomplished dancer, danced the lead in The Nutcracker in the location where we were. I had met Jennifer Matthews, the base chief at the chief of station seminar the previous summer, some of the injured officers involved, I hadn’t known tangentially but professionally. It really was an all star team of our of our counterterrorist community. The loss of all of them was almost indescribable, both personal for us because we knew them, but also in terms of the expertise that we lost. It was pretty stunning.
MICHAEL MORELL: What was Darren like as a person?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Darren, to many of us and again I was his one of his managers, but he was a superhero. He was an amazing athlete he was a baseball player in high school who had actually had an offer from the Cleveland Indians. But he ended up enlisting in the Army, became an Army Ranger. He had this remarkable career after that with kind of the alphabet soup of intelligence and national security communities. I think he was a cop as well, he was an FBI agent, he was U.S. marshal, then he finally settled on the CIA. He was smart, he was tough, he was indefatigable in his commitment to the CT fight, great husband, and father. Really, his loss was almost it was a seismic event. He was just that good an officer and that good a human being.
MICHAEL MORELL: Marc, did you go to any of the memorial services?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I flew home from the Middle East, that’s the service where I know you were there, where President Obama came to headquarters. I think I ended up sitting next to Obama’s chief of staff. In fact, it was a very surreal time. I went to of course Darren’s service in Baltimore, that was excruciating, and much of it was a blur. Something I think I couldn’t do anymore. I couldnt actually, it was too hard for me to go to any of the other services. We really try to stay in touch with the LaBonte family. We’ve certainly gone to the CIA memorial service, I know one each year and I’m kind of trying to honor Darren and the others who were killed.
MICHAEL MORELL: You know, I went to a handful of the services and I remember all of them like they were yesterday, but the one that I remember in particular was for one of our officers named Harold Brown, who was from a small town outside of Boston. There was a funeral mass and then we drove from the church to the cemetery. And as we left the church for the cemetery, I saw a family, a mother, a father and three children who were just standing on their front porch at attention with their hands over their hearts. Then after a few more blocks, there were additional people standing in honor at driveways, in intersections along the road, family, scout groups, civic groups, lone individuals who just stopped their car and got out. The crowds grew closer as we got closer to the to the cemetery and there probably was a thousand people at the end of the day standing. It was 15 degrees, it was January. It was very, very cold. This was, like I said, in Boston and people were holding American flags and many had their hands on their hearts and some had signs that simply said, thank you for keeping us safe. I’ll never forget any of those. Now I’m choking up.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Marc, just a couple of more questions in the few minutes we have left here, you and I both know that the operation in the aftermath was scrubbed with a wire brush. Right. Looking at every aspect of the operation, looking for lessons learned. What do you think were the most important lessons learned from that experience?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: I think that it’s quite obvious that we made mistakes, that is something that is without question because ultimately, we got beat by al-Qaeda. We thought that they could not run a double agent at us with an ability to provide feeder material like you’d see from the Russians and the Chinese. But they did. Those mistakes are I think pretty easy and clear to figure out along the way some of the warning signs. But, the most important lesson I really took from this is one that is a little more kind of nebulous is that you have to practice some humility. I talk and write about leadership a lot and I think a really critical trait for the operational successes is just that, to practice humility. You can’t believe your own hype. We had tremendous CT success. I think that lack of humility really hurt us. You’ve got to keep an open mind to other suggestions or courses of action and again, we made critical mistakes as the signs in retrospect were there. But let’s go back to kind of the ultimate or kind of the key point is that ultimately we did have to meet him. So we’re not having this conversation if the first ring of security in Afghan, unfortunately, would have searched Balawi, none of this happens. So ultimately, you’re going back to kind of security protocols. I mean, that’s something that we really took in terms of lessons learned. I remember years later, as a senior operational manager, I was deputy operations chief for the entire Middle East and writing cables to stations, making sure that when they had high threat meetings that their protocols were in place. I think that’s just a huge lesson. But again, the practicing humility is something that I think, you know, everyone could use a good dose of.
MICHAEL MORELL: I think we also have to remember that this was the first time in the history of CIA that an agent killed his or her case officer, his or her operations officer, it hadn’t happened before. Marc, one last question, there’s a concept that’s very important to both you and to me and kind of think of it as never forgetting. Can you talk about that a little bit?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: This is something that I think that’s near and dear to both of our hearts. I’ll just tell the audience a story because both of us were there with Darren’s parents and we promised, especially Darren’s mom, that we would never let the agency family forget them. I think that that concept of never forgetting is really important when officers are lost in the line of duty and this really was a specific worry from Darren’s mom and it was heartbreaking. But she would ask because there was so much, there was an outpouring of support. But she’d ask, how about five years from now? Matter of fact, you and I, did go down well after these events down to Florida to see the family. They held a memorial dinner, memorial foundation dinner down in Florida and we went and we spoke there and I thought, you know, we still keep in contact with the LaBonte family. They’re really the strongest and toughest people that I know. My family, we visit Darren’s grave each year at Arlington on December 30th 2009 and I’ll even tell a story that Darren’s mom gave us Darren’s Little League Baseball card. My son, who’s a high school catcher, is going off to play college baseball, he carries that baseball card in his wallet just to remember, Darren. So that’s how you never forget. You just have to simply kind of remind the world as much as possible about Darren and, of course, the other six heroes who died that day.
MICHAEL MORELL: Marc, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing the story with us. Thank you.
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS: Thank you, Michael.