CIA ‘stripped of spies’ in embattled Iraq, say sources

US embassy compound, IraqBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
The Sunni uprising in Iraq, in combination with the Shiite domination of the government in Baghdad, has drastically limited the ability of the United States Central Intelligence Agency to collect dependable intelligence, according to sources. Newsweek’s veteran intelligence correspondent, Jeff Stein, said on Friday that the Agency had been “stripped of its spies” in the embattled country and was struggling to rebuild its network of assets. Stein cited “knowledgeable intelligence sources” as saying that the CIA had lost many of its sources inside the government in Baghdad, which is now firmly in Shiite hands. Since assuming power in 2006, Iraq’s Shiite Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, gradually purged most Sunnis from senior government positions, thus shutting down the CIA’s eyes and ears in Baghdad. The intelligence-collection problem for the Agency has worsened since the breakout of the Sunni uprising in the west of the country, which has prompted mass defections of senior tribal leaders to al-Qaeda-inspired rebel groups. Many of these leaders were previously valuable sources of information for the CIA, which has traditionally had far more contacts with Iraqi Sunnis than Shiites. To make things worse, says Stein, CIA operatives in Iraq are unable to travel outside of Baghdad due to the worsening security situation in the country. Instead, they remain “holed up” in the American embassy compound and rely almost exclusively on “technical means” of intelligence collection (and, one presumes, a variety of open sources). Inevitably, the Agency is now much more reliant than usual on information provided by regional intelligence services, such as Turkey’s and Jordan’s, who still have agents on the ground in Iraq. One “former operative” who maintains contact with US embassy staff, told Newsweek that the CIA contingent at the US compound is “not being tasked to do a lot of stuff” and is currently “not doing much”. Another former senior CIA operations officer said: “the train has left the station”, implying that it will be a long time before the Agency can rebuild its network of assets in the country. But a current US intelligence official told Stein that, although the Sunni insurgency took the CIA by surprise, “Washington had a clear picture” of the situation in the country and that its intelligence “capabilities are intact”.

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Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

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