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Hezbollah deals blow to CIA network
Capture of foreign spies in Lebanon highlights counterintelligence erosion
Hezbollah has partially unraveled the CIA’s spy network in Lebanon, severely damaging the intelligence agency’s ability to gather vital information on the terrorist group at a tense time in the region, former and current U.S. officials said.
Hezbollah’s longtime leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, boasted in June on television that he had unmasked at least two CIA spies who infiltrated the ranks of the organization, which the U.S. considers a terrorist group closely allied with Iran.
Though the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon officially denied the accusation, U.S. officials concede that Mr. Nasrallah wasn’t lying and the damage spread like a virus as Hezbollah methodically picked off the CIA’s informants.
These shadowy spy wars are extremely risky business, and people do get killed.
But the damage to the agency’s network in Lebanon has been greater than usual, several former and current U.S. officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about security matters.
Former CIA officials have said the once-essential skill has been eroded as the agency shifted from outmaneuvering rival spy agencies to fighting terrorists. In the rush for immediate results, former officers say, tradecraft has suffered.
But eight months later, Mr. Nasrallah let the world know that he had bested the CIA, demonstrating that the agency still struggles with this critical aspect of spying and sending a message to those who would betray Hezbollah.
It remains unclear whether anyone has been or will be held responsible in the wake of this counterintelligence disaster or whether the incident will affect the CIA’s ability to recruit assets in Lebanon.
CIA officials were warned that their spies in Lebanon were vulnerable. Those told include the chief of the unit that supervises Hezbollah operations from CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., and the head of counterintelligence.
By Tom Fitton
New photos confirm the attack's coordination and its cover-up
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