Hezbollah deals blow to CIA network

Capture of foreign spies in Lebanon highlights counterintelligence erosion

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While in the military, Mr. Petraeus developed a reputation for exacting standards and holding people accountable.

“Gen. Petraeus will definitely take care of the failings of his organization. He will deal with it head on and not try to bury it under the carpet,” said retired Army Col. Peter Mansoor, the general’s former executive officer in Iraq.

In response to the AP’s questions about what happened in Lebanon, a U.S. official said Hezbollah is a complicated enemy, responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group before September 2001.

The agency did not underestimate the organization, the official said.

The CIA’s toughest adversaries, such as Hezbollah and Iran, have been improving their ability for years to hunt spies by relying on patience and guile to exploit counterintelligence holes.

In 2007, for instance, when Ali-Reza Asgari, a brigadier general in the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps of Iran, disappeared in Turkey, it was assumed that he was either killed or defected.

In response, the Iranian government began a painstaking review of foreign travel by its citizens, particularly to places such as Turkey where Iranians don’t need a visa and could meet with foreign intelligence services.

It didn’t take long, a Western intelligence official told the AP, before the U.S., Britain and Israel began losing contact with some of their Iranian spies.

In this instance, the Iranians used travel and expense records to figure out who was selling the foreign intelligence services information about its nuclear program.

The State Department last year described Hezbollah as “the most technically capable terrorist group in the world,” and the Defense Department estimates it receives between $100 million and $200 million per year in funding from Iran.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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