Counterintelligence officials are ringing the bell with the Central Intelligence Agency.
A recently revealed cable shows that we could have another Year of the Spy, only this time with our agents.
According to the cable, dozens of American spies have been killed or captured in recent years, raising the alarm over sloppy handling and tradecraft by agents.
The Year of the Spy All Over Again
In 1985, there was a rash of spies arrested in the United States, with the media dubbing it “The Year of the Spy.”
In actuality, it should be “years” of the spy, as 1984 netted more arrests.
The next several years were like riding a wave for intelligence agencies, with our own assets in foreign countries getting exposed in the late 80s and early 90s, many of them “disappeared” or were killed by their governments.
Much of that damage was put into play by Aldrich Ames, who started to turn over CIA secrets to the Russians in the mid-1980s.
Ames was arrested in 1994, but his damage would take more than a decade to repair.
That situation seems to be playing itself out again, as assets are dropping like flies.
The cable reported by the New York Times this week cited frontline spies that had all been captured or killed, dozens of them, and it is citing sloppy handling and security measures as the reason.
Douglas London, a former agency operative, stated, “No one at the end of the day is being held responsible when things go south with an agent.
“Sometimes there are things beyond our control but there are also occasions of sloppiness and neglect and people in senior positions are never held responsible.”
Agents are promoted based on recruitment, not the handling of the assets, so there is a lack of focus on this front.
NYT reported, “Acknowledging that recruiting spies is a high-risk business, the cable raised issues that have plagued the agency in recent years, including poor tradecraft; being too trusting of sources; underestimating foreign intelligence agencies, and moving too quickly to recruit informants while not paying enough attention to potential counterintelligence risks — a problem the cable called placing ‘mission over security.’
“The large number of compromised informants in recent years also demonstrated the growing prowess of other countries in employing innovations like biometric scans, facial recognition, artificial intelligence and hacking tools to track the movements of C.I.A. officers in order to discover their sources.”
In recent years, we have seen the impact of sloppy security.
If you watched “Zero Dark Thirty,” a suicide bombing was a perfect example of sloppy work to put mission over security.
The CIA was positive it had turned a doctor against Al Qaeda to penetrate the organization, but it was all a setup.
The vehicle was permitted to bypass security checkpoints, and it ended up being a suicide attack that killed seven agency employees.
London stated, “We were in such a rush to make such a big score. Those were tradecraft mistakes.”
Reports like this only make the agency’s job all that much more difficult.
If assets are getting captured or killed, there is little incentive to turn and work with the CIA.
It is yet another blackeye for federal agencies that seem to be reeling as of late.