CIA admits too many informants are being killed in top secret memo to spies around the world as former staff reveal Iran and China executed networks of US spies after agency's classified communications system was breached
The message, which was sent to a global network of stations and bases, said that the CIA’s counterintelligence mission center had investigated dozens of cases of informants who were killed, arrested or compromised
The CIA has admitted that too many informants are being killed, captured or turned in a top secret memo to their spies across the world.
The unusual cable, sent to all CIA stations and bases, said the counterintelligence mission center had analyzed dozens of cases over the last several years.
The memo gave an exact number of informants killed, classified information not usually shared in such cables, according to the New York Times.
Former officials have also disclosed that China and Iran cracked the agency's classified communications system, or 'covcom', and executed informants in those networks while others had to be extracted and resettled.
The memo reprimands spies for poor tradecraft, being overly trusting of sources, underestimating foreign intelligence agencies and 'putting mission over security' by moving too fast and not paying enough attention to potential risks.
Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan have had success in hunting down informants in recent years - and in some cases turning them into double agents.
In Iran and China, some intelligence officials believe that Americans provided information to the adversarial agencies that could have helped expose informants.
The rival counterintelligence agencies are utilizing biometric scans, facial recognition, AI and hacking tools to track CIA officers to discover their sources.
The CIA has been pre-occupied over the last two decades with terrorist threats and Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
But old-fashioned intelligence collection is now once again central to the CIA's mission as tension grows with China and Russia.
Monica Elfriede Witt, an ex-Air Force sergeant who defected to Iran, was indicted on a charge of giving up information to Tehran in 2019. The Iranians leveraged her knowledge only once they determined that she could be trusted.
In 2019, former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison for providing secrets to the Chinese government, which they then used to arrest and execute at least 20 of his fellow agents.
US officials suspect China shared the information Lee gave them to Russia, who used it to expose, arrest and kill American spies.
Those findings led the CIA to temporarily shut down human spying in China and reevaluate how it communicates with intelligence assets worldwide.
Lee was charged with possessing classified information but not as a spy because officials had a lack of proof and would not wanted to air any evidence they have in a public courtroom, according to NBC News.
In 2020, Iranian forces executed Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, a man accused of reporting on the movements of that nation's forces in Syria on behalf of the United States and Israel.
He was also accused of spying on Revolutionary Guard commander Qasem Soleimani, an Iranian national hero who was killed in a drone strike by the US earlier in 2020.
Mousavi-Majd, a former translator, was found guilty by Iran of receiving money from both the CIA and Israeli intelligence's Mossad.
'No one at the end of the day is being held responsible when things go south with an agent,' said Douglas London, a former agency operative.
'Sometimes there are things beyond our control but there are also occasions of sloppiness and neglect and people in senior positions are never held responsible.'
Returning to greater intelligence gathering is a high-level objective for the agency, especially as Congress turns it's focus away from the Middle East and closer to Russia and China.
The agency will also look to learn more about the Pakistan's ties to the Taliban now that the American-back government in Afghanistan has collapsed.
Officials said the messages are a way of pushing intelligence officers to become more serious about counterintelligence.
A CIA spokeswoman declined to comment on the memo.