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A new exposé by Yahoo News about one of the biggest intelligence failures in history is based on conversations with eleven former US intelligence and government officials familiar with the case, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Yahoo News has reported, citing several unnamed intelligence and government sources that the internet-based communications system used by the CIA to communicate with its operatives around the world was exposed by Iranians using Google search.
However, according to the same report, the vulnerabilities of the network had been detected years before the aforementioned developments.
In 2008, John Reidy, a defense contractor, whose job was to identify, contact and manage human sources for the CIA in Iran, reportedly sounded the alarm about a “massive intelligence failure” related to “communications” with sources.
The CIA could have prevented the fiasco had it heeded his warning, but a year after the “nightmare scenario” he had mentioned came true, he was sacked because of what his superiors said were conflicts of interest, while he believed the genuine reason behind his dismissal was retaliation.
“This is one of the most catastrophic failures since Sept. 11. And the CIA punished the person who brought the problem to light,” Irvin McCullough, a national security analyst with the nonprofit Government Accountability project, told Yahoo News.
The exposé claims that the Iranians managed to overcome the US intelligence system, which wasn’t designed to withstand elaborate counterintelligence efforts, without any trouble.
“It was never meant to be used long term for people to talk to sources. The issue was that it was working well for too long, with too many people. But it was an elementary system,” an unnamed former official told Yahoo.
In fact, the report claims that the communication network was previously compromised in China, so the risks posed by the system seemed to have been overlooked because it was easy to use, the insiders alleged.
By 2010, Tehran had made progress in exposing and identifying CIA agents, and a year later, the country’s authorities announced they had dismantled a CIA spy network, seven ex-intelligence officers added.
The authors of the report then wrote that in 2011 an Iranian TV broadcast suggested that US agents had developed websites for fake companies to recruit agents in Iran by promising them lots of perks, including jobs, visas and education abroad, but in fact they ended up meeting with CIA officers, who sought to hire them as operatives.
Another former official told the outlet that there was “shock and awe” at the CIA about the simplicity of Iran’s approach.
Even though it remains unclear how exactly Iranians infiltrated the network, two former US intelligence officers told Yahoo that they had cultivated a double agent who ultimately led them to the covert CIA communications system.
The Iranians, the report claims, then used Google to identify the website the CIA was using to keep in touch with its agents, and made the most of its search engine’s functions to sift out and isolate sites with similar digital signifiers.
Then Iranian intelligence managed to trace those who were visiting these websites and, eventually, uncover the CIA network, the report says.
US intelligence is unsure whether Iran and China cooperated with each other or managed to unravel the networks separately, but the systems used in both countries were similar, one official said.
Yahoo wrote that the CIA refused to comment on the matter, while the Iranian Mission to the UN did not reply to requests for information.
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