Iran and the CIA’s Worst Nightmare

While the world was distracted by all things Mueller, there was a significant news event that took place in Iran.

Here is the news item as reported by Iran's Presstv:

Note that the news item refers to a November 2018 report on Yahoo which you can find here:

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Let's look at some some key details from Yahoo's lengthy article:

"From around 2009 to 2013, the U.S. intelligence community experienced crippling intelligence failures related to the secret internet-based communications system, a key means for remote messaging between CIA officers and their sources on the ground worldwide. The previously unreported global problem originated in Iran and spiderwebbed to other countries, and was left unrepaired — despite warnings about what was happening — until more than two dozen sources died in China in 2011 and 2012 as a result, according to 11 former intelligence and national security officials.

The disaster ensnared every corner of the national security bureaucracy — from multiple intelligence agencies, congressional intelligence committees and independent contractors to internal government watchdogs — forcing a slow-moving, complex government machine to grapple with the deadly dangers of emerging technologies….

A former senior intelligence official with direct knowledge of the compromise said it had global implications for the CIA. “You start thinking twice about people, from China to Russia to Iran to North Korea,” said the former official. The CIA was worried about its network “totally unwinding worldwide.”

Yahoo News’ reporting on this global communications failure is based on conversations with eleven former U.S. intelligence and government officials directly familiar with the matter who requested anonymity to discuss sensitive operations. Multiple former intelligence officials said that the damage from the potential global compromise was serious — even catastrophic — and will persist for years.

More than just a question of a single failure, the fiasco illustrates a breakdown that was never properly addressed. The government’s inability to address the communication system’s insecurities until after sources were rolled up in China was disastrous. “We’re still dealing with the fallout,” said one former national security official. “Dozens of people around the world were killed because of this.”(my bolds)

In September 2009, the Obama Administration announced that Iran had a secret underground nuclear enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom. This facility was located in an underground tunnel complex on the grounds of an Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps base and was slated to enrich uranium in 2874 centrifuges.  Here is how the Guardian reported the news:

The letter from Iran stated that the facility would not enrich uranium beyond the 5 percent level.  On the eve of a showdown meeting with Iran, Barack Obama demanded that the IAEA be given access to the plant, stating that Iran was breaking the rules and not living up to its international responsibilities.

This breach of secrecy resulted in the Iranians looking for foreign spies that may have passed the information to the West.  Unfortunately for the CIA, the communication system being used to communicate with its agents was flawed and was easily breached by the sophisticated counterintelligence technology being used by other nations.  As a result of this negligence, Iran was able to identify and dismantle a CIA network in Iran, arresting a significant number of intelligence officers and CIA assets in May and November 2011 as shown here:

….and here:

According to two former U.S. intelligences officials, the Iranians recruited a double agent who led them to the CIA communications system.  This system allowed CIA officers to communicate remotely in dangerous operational environments like Iran where person-to-person meetings are risky. Interestingly, it is believed that the Iranians used Google to identify the website that the CIA was using to communicate with its agents.  From there, Iran's intelligence services searched the internet for other websites with similar components, eventually allowing them to locate other secret CIA websites.  From there, Iran was able to track who was visiting these websites, allowing them to unravel the CIA's network.

What is ironic about this (and particularly so given the intelligence community issues that were raised after the September 11, 2001 attacks) is that John Reidy, a contractor at the CIA, advised his employer in 2009 – 2010 that there were potential serious security weaknesses in the CIA's communications network.  For this, he was punished by being fired, resulting in his appeal to the intelligence community inspector general as shown here:

Ultimately, this breach of security discovered by the Iranians led to the execution and imprisonment of some of the CIA's informants and forced the CIA to exfiltrate others. 

Let's close by looking at one last quote from the Presstv's coverage of the most recent revelations about the CIA's global intelligence network:

'Iran’s intelligence minister specifically highlighted a quote from American national security analyst Irvin McCullough, who described the major American intelligence setback as "one of the most catastrophic intelligence failures” since the September 11 attacks in 2001. 

Alavi said that further details of the operations would be publicized soon, adding that a similar successful counter-espionage operation had been carried out against Britain's MI6 intelligence service.

The Iranian minister added that the breakthrough comes as his ministry has shifted from focusing on defensive operations to conducting offensive counter-intelligence operations, some of which had even “expanded deep” into Israel.

Iran has been successful in protecting itself from the spillover of terrorism and foreign-backed conflict — constant features of life in a number of regional countries — due to high vigilance by its intelligence and security forces." (my bolds)

It is unfortunate that the Central Intelligence Agency seems incapable of learning from its past mistakes. 

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