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CIA cautions frontline operatives to be more vigilant, detailing dozens of informants killed or compromised

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The Central Intelligence Agency has urged their front line operatives to be more vigilant in the wake of dozens of their informants being killed, arrested or compromised in recent years.

That’s according to the New York Times, which reported Tuesday that a top-secret cable alerted agents in the field and described the problem in detail. It listed each and every agent that was executed by enemy intelligence agencies, details the CIA would normally treat with the utmost of caginess.

The document includes many determinations presumably from higher authorities pointing out the need for field agents to improve trade craft, cease underestimating counterintelligence abilities of foreign actors and refine their recruitment process for informants. A problem said to be described in the cable as “mission over security.”

In the recent past, China as well as Russia, Iran and Pakistan have all become more adept at tracking down American spies and in many cases, turning them against the U.S. and into double agents. The cable did not list any such agents, only those that were arrested or killed.

Particularly disquieting was the news of a breach of the classified communications system that led to the exposure of networks in China and Iran. Some U.S. intelligence officials believe that a turncoat American spy delivered information that led to the capture and killing of friendly sources.

Among agents who have been turned, in November of 2019, former CIA case agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage.  Prosecutors alleged that Chinese intelligence officers gave Lee more than $840,000 over a three-year period beginning in 2010 to give up the names of human sources. Lee’s counsel denied the allegation.

In another case the same year, ex-Air Force Intelligence Officer Monica Witt was indicted on charges of delivering national defense information to the government of Iran. Prosecutors said she turned over classified information about U.S. intelligence officers after defecting to Iran in 2013.

The growing number of compromised agents in recent years suggests an increase among foreign adversaries in the use of biometric scans, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and hacking tools to track the movements of CIA officers and discover their sources.

While the CIA has a plethora of ways to collect information, a strong network of human intelligence sources remains the most valuable.

Same goes for the enemy.

The agency has directed most of its energy in the last 20 years at terrorist threats abroad and in particular the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Many policymakers, however, are calling for increased scrutiny of Russia and China.

While adversarial nation states continue to improve their intelligence operations, the U.S. is struggling to stay ahead of that growth in intelligence prowess.

In the news of late have been troubling reports out of U.S. embassies and intelligence stations around the world concerning the so-called “Havana Syndrome“, which many intelligence officials believe to be weaponized microwave radiation. In addition to roughly 130 spies and diplomats being injured by the mysterious attacks, the CIA recently recalled its Vienna station chief for mishandling the many cases suspected to be of the aforementioned syndrome.

Frank Webster

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