In an unusual top secret cable sent to all stations and bases around the world last week, CIA’s counterintelligence mission center’s officials inform that too many of its informants recruited from other countries to spy for the US are being lost, the New York Times reported citing officials who had seen the letter.
The message incorporated in the cable said that the counterintelligence officials had analyzed dozens of cases involving foreign informants who had been killed, arrested or most likely compromised and turned into a double agent in the last couple of years.
The brief cable also laid out a closely held detail that counterintelligence officials typically do not share- the specific number of agents executed by rival intelligence agencies.
According to the report, the problem is “mission over safety” attitude, pointing as processes that need to change the speedy recruiting process, underestimating foreign intelligence agencies, the investment of too much trust in sources and the undeserved promotions of recruiting agents regardless if the informant they recruited proves a successful source or not while not paying enough attention to potential counterintelligence risks.
The former CIA operative Douglas London noted that, at the end of the day, when things go south with an agent no one is being held responsible while other former agents argue that the issue of losing informants, that is usually considered normal in one way or another, is now more urgent since it has been disclosed publicly.
According to people familiar with the situation, the reason for the widely spread message is to entice the front-line case officers and those directly involved in recruiting informants to tighten security and management of informants on an individual basis.
Highlighting the struggle CIA is having as it works to recruit spies around the world in difficult operating environments, the mission center now recommends making the vetting process for informants stricter and focusing on evading foreign intelligence agencies to prevent the potential emergence of double agents that have been tracked in countries like Iran and China.
The warning memo stressed that adversarial intelligence services in countries like Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have been hunting down the CIA’s sources in recent years and in some cases turning them into double agents.