occasional reading over the years of non-fiction books about Cold War spying, I’ve never heard of an incident in which twelve U.S. agents—foreign nationals working for the CIA in a foreign country—were exposed and arrested all at once. This has now happened. ABC News
That’s more than a significant failure; it’s an unprecedented disaster. But the way it happened is worse:
… others inside the American intelligence community say sloppy “tradecraft”—the method of covert operations—by the CIA is also to blame for the disruption of the vital spy networks.
In Beirut, two Hezbollah double agents pretended to go to work for the CIA. Hezbollah then learned of the restaurant where multiple CIA officers were meeting with several agents, according to the four current and former officials briefed on the case. The CIA used the codeword “PIZZA” when discussing where to meet with the agents, according to U.S. officials. Two former officials describe the location as a Beirut Pizza Hut. A current US official denied that CIA officers met their agents at Pizza Hut. [LA replies: Multiple CIA case officers were all meeting with their respective agents in the same location? This passes belief. And, completing the picture of Virgil Starkwell-like incompetence, they all met with their agents in a Pizza Hut and used “PIZZA” as their code word for that location? What else did they do? Walk into the Pizza Hut wearing funny hats that said, “CIA Case Officer” and “CIA Agent”?]
From there, Hezbollah’s internal security arm identified at least a dozen informants, and the identities of several CIA case officers.
Hezbollah then began to “roll up” much of the CIA’s network against the terror group, the officials said.
One former senior intelligence official told ABC News that CIA officers ignored warnings that the operation could be compromised by using the same location for meetings with multiple assets.
“We were lazy and the CIA is now flying blind against Hezbollah,” the former official said.
CIA Spies Caught in Iran
At about the same time that Hezbollah was identifying the CIA network in Lebanon, Iranian intelligence agents discovered a secret internet communication method used by CIA-paid assets in Iran.
The CIA has yet to determine precisely how many of its assets were compromised in Iran, but the number could be in the dozens, according to one current and one former U.S. intelligence official.
The exposure of the two spy networks was first announced in widely ignored televised statements by Iranian and Hezbollah leaders. U.S. officials tell ABC News that much of what was broadcast was, in fact, true.
Hezbollah’s leader, Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, announced in June of this year that two high-ranking members of Hezbollah had been exposed as CIA spies, leading U.S. officials to conclude that the entire network inside Hezbollah had been compromised.
In Iran, intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi announced in May that more than 30 U.S. and Israeli spies [again, this presumably means not Americans and Israelis, but Iranians working for American and Israeli intelligence] had been discovered and an Iranian television program, which acts as a front for Iran’s government, showed images of internet sites used by the U.S. for secret communication with the spies.
U.S. officials said the Iranian television program showed pictures of people who were not U.S. assets, but the program’s video of the websites used by the CIA was accurate.
Some former U.S. intelligence officials say the developments are the result of a lack of professionalism in the U.S. intelligence community.
“We’ve lost the tradition of espionage,” said one former official who still consults for the U.S. intelligence community. “Officers take short cuts and no one is held accountable,” he said.
But at the CIA, officials say such risks come with the territory.
“Hezbollah is an extremely complicated enemy,” said a U.S. official. “It’s a determined terrorist group, a powerful political player, a mighty military and an accomplished intelligence operation, formidable and ruthless. No one underestimates its capabilities.