The horrible news Dec. 30 that a suicide bomber had taken seven American lives in Afghanistan may have been for some a stark reminder that we are at war. But the men and women of the CIA, whose colleagues these seven were, needed no reminder.
The main lesson from this attack is that, like our military, CIA officers are on the front lines against Al-Qaida and its violent allies. They take risks to confront the enemy, gathering information to destroy its networks and disrupt its operations. This is a vicious foe, one that has struck our country before and is determined to do so again.
As an agency, we have found consolation in the strength and heroism of our fallen colleagues and their families.
We have found no consolation, however, in public commentary suggesting that those who gave their lives somehow brought it upon themselves because of "poor tradecraft." That's like saying Marines who die in a firefight brought it upon themselves because they have poor war-fighting skills.
This was not a question of trusting a potential intelligence asset, even one who had provided information that we could verify independently. It is never that simple, and no one ignored the hazards. The individual was about to be searched by our security officers - a distance away from other intelligence personnel - when he set off his explosives.
Our officers were engaged in an important mission in a dangerous part of the world. They brought to that mission their skills, expertise and willingness to take risks. That's how we succeed at what we do. And sometimes in a war, that comes at a very high price.
The CIA cannot speak publicly about its major victories - the plots foiled, the terrorists neutralized. In the past year, we have done exceptionally heavy damage to Al-Qaida and its associates. That's why the extremists hit back. And it is all the more reason why we intend to stay on the offensive.
Our focus now is on these seven American heroes and those wounded beside them. They knew the value of their work against terrorism and did it with talent, energy and a full appreciation of the risks involved. If the CIA was not in that rugged outpost and many more like it, obtaining information that could save American lives, the agency would not be doing its job.
Leon Panetta is director of the Central Intelligence Agency.