Spying in China is one of the CIA’s top priorities, but the communist nation’s complex security apparatus makes it exceptionally difficult for American spy services to develop sources there.
According to a New York Times report published on Saturday, China killed or imprisoned 18-20 CIA informants between 2010 and 2012.
These killings systematically dismantled US spying operations in China and represent a massive intelligence breach that is as bad or worse than the Aldrich Ames fiasco in the late 80’s and 90’s.
“The previously unreported episode shows how successful the Chinese were in disrupting American spying efforts and stealing secrets years before a well-publicized breach in 2015 gave Beijing access to thousands of government personnel records, including intelligence contractors,” reports the Times.
The first signs of trouble materialized in 2010, when the CIA had been receiving information about the Chinese government from informants deep within the bureaucracy. Former officials told the times that some of the informants were Chinese nationals who were disgruntled by the Chinese government’s corruption.
According to the report, information started to dry up by the end of 2010. Sources started to disappear in 2011. By 2013, China had lost the ability to identify US agents.
The FBI and CIA teamed up to investigate the breach, questioning nearly every employee of the US Embassy in Beijing. The investigation was code-named “Honey Badger.”
“Their debates were punctuated with macabre phone calls – ‘We lost another one’ – and urgent questions from the Obama Administration wondering why intelligence about the Chinese had slowed,” reports the Times.
The origin of the breach was never found, and investigators are still unsure whether there was/is a mole within the CIA or whether the Chinese hacked into the agency’s communications system. In other words, this person may still be operating.
Author’s Note: This is not an act of war by China. Death is the fate of captured spies in almost every country. What this report exposes is a serious fault in security that can only be blamed on the Obama Administration. This should be a much bigger story.
Editor’s Note: I was around with Aldrich Ames was in his heyday in the late ’80’s and early ’90’s. The effect on morale is devastating in the Agency when all of the agents in a country get rolled up and executed. Paranoia is rampant and progress comes to a halt.