A memo was sent by top American counterintelligence officers to warn all CIA stations around the globe about a worrying number of intelligence assets that had been murdered, disappeared, or captured in recent times. Although it was a very unusual addition, the memo did give a number of agents. This is a sign of the seriousness of this situation.
The CIA is a transition agency. Its intelligence focus has moved from fighting terrorism in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan to focusing on our enemies in Russia, China, and Iran. The loss of agents is especially troubling, as there doesn’t appear to be any major intelligence leakage. The problem is with agents.
The New York Times:
Recognizing that spying is a risky business, the cable highlighted issues that plague the agency in recent years. These include poor tradecraft, being too trusting of sources, underestimating foreign intelligence agencies, and moving too fast to recruit informants without paying enough attention to counterintelligence risks. This problem was called “mission over security”.
In recent years, there have been many compromised informants. This shows the increasing prowess of other nations in using innovations such as biometric scans and facial recognition to track the movements of CIA Officers to find their sources.
Our best intelligence is still collected by the old-fashioned method, despite all the sophisticated listening devices and satellites. The best way to interpret the data streams into Langley’s supercomputers is through human intelligence, or “HUMINT”. This idea was challenged by Jimmy Carter’s selection to lead the CIA, Adm. Stansfield Turner in the late 1970s.
Turner was an unmitigated disaster in the CIA’s history. He did take over the CIA in 1977 after the Church Committee exposed abuses and law-breaking. Turner set about dismantling this clandestine service believing that “National Technical Means”, such as satellites or signals intelligence, could be used to do the job.
He was proven to be spectacularly wrong. Turner fired 800 clandestine officers of the service and reorganized and downgraded all CIA operations bureaus. The agency took over a decade to recover.
Criticizations that the spy spies are practicing “poor trading craft” and the problem with putting “mission over security” is a problem.
According to those who read the warning, it was directed primarily at front-line agency officers, who are the ones most directly involved in recruiting and vetting sources. The cable reminded the CIA that case officers should not only focus on recruiting sources but also on security issues such as vetting informants or evading adversarial Intelligence Services.
According to those familiar with the documents, one of the reasons for the cable was to encourage CIA Case officers should think of ways they can manage informants better on their own.
Former officials stated that security and counterintelligence need to be given more attention by senior leaders as well as frontline personnel. This is especially true when it comes to recruiting informants, which CIA officers call agents.
It is normal to lose assets in Russia and China. Due to the paranoid scrutiny of the Communist governments — which is the most paranoid ideology ever recorded in the world’s history –, we have very few long-term assets. It shouldn’t be accepted that assets are lost due to incompetence, or laziness. The CIA should address these issues immediately.