The CIA falsely believed it was ‘invincible’ in China — here’s how its spies were reportedly discovered in one of the biggest blows to the agency
- The CIA reportedly used a “f—-d up” communication system between its spies and handlers in China, according to officials cited in a Foreign Policy report.
- The vulnerability led to the deaths of at least 30 spies, the sources said.
- This internet-based system, imported from operations in the Middle East, was brought to China under the assumption that it could not be breached.
- But the, according to the report, the program actually had tell-tale links to the CIA which would have allowed China to work out what was going on, and take revenge.
The CIA reportedly used a “f—-d up” firewall to communicate with its spies in China, which compromised their identities and resulted in their deaths at the hands of the Chinese government, according to several current and former intelligence officials cited in a report by Foreign Policy magazine.
In a two-year period starting in 2010, Chinese officials began accurately identifying spies working for the US.
China’s Ministry of State Security rounded up the suspected spies, executing or imprisoning them before their handlers were able to determine what was going on.
“You could tell the Chinese weren’t guessing,” one of the US officials said in the report. “The Ministry of State Security were always pulling in the right people.”
“When things started going bad, they went bad fast.”
US intelligence officials cited in the report are now placing the lion’s share of the blame on a compromised communications system used between spies and their handlers.
This internet-based system, brought over from operations in the Middle East, was taken to China under the assumption that it could not be breached and made the CIA “invincible,” Foreign Policy reported.
“It migrated to countries with sophisticated counterintelligence operations, like China,” an official said.
“The attitude was that we’ve got this, we’re untouchable.”
Intelligence officers and their sources were able to communicate with each other using ordinary laptops or desktop computers connected to the internet, marking a stark departure from some of the more traditional methods of covert communication.
This “throwaway” encrypted program, which was assumed to be untraceable and separate from the CIA’s main communication line, was reportedly used for new spies as a safety measure in case they double-crossed them.
Unbeknownst to the CIA, however, this system could be used to connect with mainstream CIA communications, used by fully-vetted CIA sources.
According to the report, the vulnerability would have even allowed Chinese intelligence agencies to deduce it was being used by the US government.
The Chinese set up a task force in order to break into the throwaway system, Foreign Policy said, but it was unclear how they ultimately identified people.
The consequences for this breach were grim.
Around 30 spies were reportedly executed, although some intelligence officials told Foreign Policy that 30 was a low estimate.
The US officials were “shell-shocked” by the speed and accuracy of Chinese counterintelligence, and rescue operations were organized to evacuate their sources.
The last CIA case officer to meet with their source reportedly handed over large amounts of cash in hopes that it would help them escape, Foreign Policy said.
The CIA has since been rebuilding its network in China, but the process has been an expensive and long endeavor, according to The New York Times, which first reported on the suspected vulnerability in 2017.