Hezbollah, Iran uncover CIA informants

Mon Nov 21, 2011 6:35pm EST
 
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By Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In an apparently serious setback for U.S. intelligence against a key adversary, Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite militia, has succeeded in identifying and arresting informants within its ranks who were working for the CIA, current and former U.S. officials said.

Separately, counterintelligence officers in Iran also succeeded in uncovering the identities of at least a handful of alleged CIA informants, the officials said.

Some former U.S. officials said that the CIA informants, believed to be local recruits rather than U.S. citizens, were uncovered, at least in part, due to sloppy procedures - known in the espionage world as "tradecraft" - used by the agency.

But Bob Baer, a former CIA operations officer whose books inspired the Hollywood movie Syriana, said that Hezbollah's counterintelligence capabilities are formidable and should not be underestimated.

"Hezbollah's security is as good as any in the world's. It's the best. It's better than that of the KGB," the former Soviet spy agency, Baer said.

Hezbollah, founded with Iranian help during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, has grown from a militia that fought Israeli forces in south Lebanon into the most powerful political and military force in the country. Hezbollah and its allies dominate the Lebanese government formed in June.

Baer said one reason Hezbollah has been successful in rooting out spies is that it is so powerful it has forced Lebanese government security forces to hand over sensitive communications and spy gear supplied by the U.S. government. Hezbollah then used this U.S. equipment to identify and track down CIA informants.

U.S. officials were coy about the extent and seriousness of CIA losses. But they said damage to U.S. intelligence was serious enough for extensive briefings and discussions to have been held with congressional oversight committees. A congressional source said any discussions remain classified.   Continued...