The web-based network which was used by the CIA to communicate with its sources was overcome by Iranians using text-book Google queries, a new exposé claims. The agency knew about the vulnerability, but failed to act on it.
Probably the biggest failure of US intelligence since 9/11 has been the compromise of the CIA’s communication network, which it had used to keep in touch with agents and assets in foreign nations. The Chinese busted and executed dozens of US spies because of it. A new exposé by Yahoo News says a similar upheaval happened in Iran and that the Iranians managed to defeat the system relatively easily – because it was never intended for the purpose it was used for.
The internet-based platform was first used for war zones in the Middle East and was not designed for long-term communication or to stand up to any serious counter-intelligence effort. “The issue was that it was working well for too long, with too many people. But it was an elementary system,” one former US intelligence official said.
So around 2010, the Iranians managed to penetrate it, and many at the CIA were shocked with how simple Tehran’s approach was. The Iranians identified one of the websites used for the network through a double agent and then used Google Search to find sites with similar digital fingerprints. The visitors to those sites were then tracked, leading to an unravelling of the entire CIA network.
The US is not sure whether Iran and China busted the tool separately or cooperated with each other. They believe Beijing may have shared with Moscow their discoveries about how American spies operate. No similar unravelling of sources in Russia followed however, the report says, attributing this to the CIA having kept its Russia operations “walled off from the rest of the agency”.
The CIA could have prevented the blunder had it listened to a defense contractor named John Reidy, who’d warned about the vulnerability of the system years before the Iranians mastered it. Reidy’s job was to identify, contact and manage human resources for the CIA in Iran. His complaint, however, was not heeded, while Reidy himself was punished by his superiors for the embarrassment he caused, or at least that’s what he believes.
“This is one of the most catastrophic intelligence failures since September 11th,” Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst with the Government Accountability Project, told Yahoo News; “And the CIA punished the person who brought the problem to light.”