Hezbollah uncovered CIA network in Lebanon, admit US officials

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In June of this year, Lebanese militant group Hezbollah claimed it had rooted out three of its members who were allegedly spying for the United States Central Intelligence Agency. The US State Department refused to comment on the allegations, and the US embassy in Lebanon issued a statement denying Hezbollah’s accusation. But the Associated Press now says that the Lebanese Shiite group’s claims were accurate, and that the CIA has had to significantly scale back its operations in Lebanon, as a result of Hezbollah’s counterintelligence success. The news agency cites current and former US officials, who say that the Agency’s operations in Lebanon were “badly damaged” after Hezbollah identified and captured several CIA ‘assets’. It appears that the militant group, which controls large parts of southern Lebanon, was able to capture CIA agents —local ‘assets’ recruited by CIA case officers to spy on behalf of Washington— but not actual CIA officers. Still, according to the Associated Press, the operational blow suffered by the Agency’s station in the Near Eastern country has been substantial, and local CIA case officers “have secretly been scrambling to protect their remaining spies […] before Hezbollah can find them”. The agency quotes an unnamed government source, who claims that the damage to the CIA’s network of agents in Lebanon has been “greater than usual”. Many attribute the Shiite group’s counterintelligence success to a relatively new counterespionage apparatus, which Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Hasrallah often calls the “spy combat unit”. The group, which is said to have gone operational in 2004, is responsible for essentially decimating Israel’s intelligence network in southern Lebanon, having conducted over 100 arrests since 2009.  But one government official told the Associated Press that substandard performance by CIA personnel was also to blame for the Agency’s setback, as “CIA officers fell into predictable patterns when meeting their sources”. This may be seen as implying that it was CIA officers who unwillingly led Hezbollah to US assets, rather than the other way around. The report states that Hezbollah’s success is “particularly troubling” for the Agency because senior officials in Langley, including the head of the agency’s counterintelligence operations, had been warned in advance about the danger. The unnamed US officials told the news agency that the impact of the incident on the CIA’s espionage operations in Lebanon remains unclear.

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