CIA suffered ‘catastrophic’ compromise of its spy communication system

CIAThe United States Central Intelligence Agency suffered a “catastrophic” compromise of the system it uses to communicate with spies, which caused the death of “dozens of people around the world” according to sources. This is alleged in a major report published on Friday by Yahoo News, which cites “conversations with eleven former US intelligence and government officials directly familiar with the matter”. The report by the online news service describes the compromise of an Internet-based covert platform used by the CIA to facilitate the clandestine communication between CIA officers and their sources —known as agents or spies— around the world.

According to Yahoo News, the online communication system had been developed in the years after 9/11 by the US Intelligence Community for use in warzones in the Middle East and Central Asia. It was eventually adopted for extensive use by the CIA, which saw it as a practical method for exchanging sensitive information between CIA case officers and their assets in so-called ‘denied areas’. The term refers to regions of the world where face-to-face communication between CIA case officers and their assets is difficult and dangerous due to the presence of ultra-hostile intelligence services or non-state adversaries like the Taliban or al-Qaeda. However, it appears that the system was flawed: it was too elementary to withstand sustained scrutiny by Internet-savvy counterintelligence experts working for state actors like Iran, China or Russia.

In September of 2009, Washington made a series of impressively detailed revelations about the advanced status of Iran’s nuclear program. These angered Tehran, which redoubled its efforts to stop the US and others from acquiring intelligence information about the status of its nuclear program. Some sources told Yahoo News that one of the CIA assets inside Iran’s nuclear program was convinced by the Iranians to become a double spy. He proceeded to give Tehran crucial information about the CIA’s online communication system. Based on these initial clues, the Iranians allegedly used Google-based techniques “that one official described as rudimentary” to identify an entire network of CIA-maintained websites that were used to communicate with assets in Iran and elsewhere. The Iranians then kept tabs on these websites and located their users in order to gradually unravel an entire network of CIA agents inside their country. Around that time, Iranian media announced that the Islamic Republic’s counterintelligence agencies had broken up an extensive CIA spy ring consisting of more than 30 informants.

The Yahoo News report says that the CIA was able to successfully exfiltrate some of its assets from Iran before the authorities were able to apprehend them. The agency also had to recall a number of undercover officers, after they were identified by the Iranians. The effects of the compromise, however, persisted on a global scale, according to former US intelligence officials. In 2011 and 2012, another network of CIA spies was busted in China, leading to the arrest and execution of as many as three dozen assets working for the US. Many, says Yahoo News, believe that the Iranians coached the Chinese on how to use the CIA’s online communication system to identify clandestine methods and sources used by the agency.

Along with other specialist websites, IntelNews monitored these developments as they took place separately in Iran and China. However, the Yahoo News report is the first to piece together these seemingly disparate developments and suggest that they were likely triggered by the same root cause. What is more, the report suggests that the CIA had been warned about the potential shortcomings of its online communication system before 2009, when the first penetrations began to occur. In response to the compromise, the CIA has reportedly modified, and at times completely abandoned, its online communication system. However, the implications of the system’s compromise continue to “unwind worldwide” and the CIA is “still dealing with the fallout”, according to sources. The effects on the agency’s operational work are likely to persist for years, said Yahoo News.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 05 November 2018 | Permalink

4 Responses to CIA suffered ‘catastrophic’ compromise of its spy communication system

  1. L says:

    Last July, INTEL TODAY correctly reported the link between the John Reidy’s complaint to the CIA’s internal watchdog and the CIA debacles in both Iran and China.

    See: CIA Whistleblowers — “I, John Reidy, Declare…” (UPDATE)

    This is why I told you that one should take the allegations against Jerry Lee with a pinch of salt.

    As Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin now write: “Lee’s betrayal does not explain the extent of the damage, or the rapidity with which Chinese intelligence was able to identify and destroy the network, said former officials.” And that is exactly why I looked into John Reidy’s complaint…

    Regards, L

  2. Bobby Shireman says:

    I just wonder if the Private Email Server used by Hillary Clinton played a role in revealing methods and assets to our adversaries?

  3. Pete says:

    A preliminary to this “catastrophic” compromise of the system it uses to communicate with spies,” may be a 2004 occurrence recorded in James Risen’s book “State of War” see Risen writes:

    “Several of the Iranian CIA agents were arrested and jailed, while the fate of some of the others is still unknown”, after a CIA official in 2004 sent an Iranian agent an encrypted electronic message, mistakenly including data that could potentially identify “virtually every spy the CIA had inside Iran”. The Iranian was a double agent and handed over the information to Iranian intelligence.”

    Iranian intelliigence may well have forwarded the data and findings, on CIA officer-to-agent communications, to the Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies, causing further unravelling of CIA networks

  4. Paul says:

    Use of the internet, however well embedded the system is, can be traced in time.
    I’ll bet the CIA wish they had continued using the more secure Counting Station, TCS aka ‘Cynthia’ or better known as E05.
    The transmitting site can be easily located using Radio Direction Finding but the person sitting at the receiver in the hostile country is located with very much difficulty, if at all.

    The Counting Station operated 20 hours a day 365 days a year. A female voice repeated the intro for ten minutes [this sample 2100z 29 April 2003 on 8110kHz]:

    111 111 111 1234567890
    111 111 111 1234567890
    111 111 111 1234567890
    ten tones
    Count150 Count150
    967 90 969 57 464 97 138 91 079 67
    message text continues until the end:
    032 40 587 86 645 94 865 73 198 99

    This message took 38 minutes to send and would have been repeated at other days/times/freqs.
    The language was English but Spanish was also transmitted.

    A message in Farsi was also transmitted, and intercepted, on two occasions at least, both on a Friday at 1100 and 1200z in 2003.

    These were destined for an Iranian National, a member of the Revolutionary Guard snd who had been given the codename ‘WALLY.’ He used proper tradecraft, was not found out and now lives with his family in the USA.

    Other Nations also used these transmissions ‘OWVC’ One Way Voice Channel; MOSSAD [alpha groups with specific identifiers eg, Victor Lima Bravo Two], MI6 with its Lincolnshire Poacher and Cherry Ripe folk song intros and the numbers spoken by a plummy voiced female.

    All these have closed; I thought replaced by Satellite phones or the BGAN or specific L Band transmissions, but the Internet?

    Russia transmits its OWVC’s – its Number Stations unbounded, good receiving op security.

    The Affidavit for Jerry Lee did not say anything unusual; it was more of what it didn’t say that was interesting. The breach was claimed to be from Iran but reading between the lines Lee could so easily have identified Chinese CIA ops and as the evidence grew passed the same to Iran. Despite what people say Intel Agencies talk to each other; as outside observers we’ll never know how much, but talk they do.

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