It became one of the biggest failures of the CIA over the last several decades: within a two-year period since 2010, the Chinese government has systematically attacked the intelligence network of the CIA, working in the country, executing several dozens of alleged agents of the United States. Since then, many experts wondered how the Chinese managed to uncover this network of agents.
Now, eight years later, it was revealed that the CIA was negligent to the choice of the communication system, which it used to communicate with their sources, as reported by five current and former employees of this intelligence Agency. For the first time the CIA tested this system in its operations in the middle East, where the online environment was much less dangerous, and obviously the Agency has underestimated China's ability to crack it.
"The attitude was that we all get, we untouchables," — said one of the officials, who asked to keep his name secret. This former official said that while working in China, the agents feel like they're "invincible".
Among the reasons for the failure of other factors, including the fact that around the time China is alleged to have recruited former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shin Lee (Jerry Chun Shing Lee). Earlier this year the Federal court found him guilty in this case.
However, just hacking the CIA may explain the speed and accuracy with which the Chinese authorities started to attack China working in the CIA.
"We can say that the Chinese do not guess. The Ministry of state security of China [which is responsible for foreign intelligence and internal security] has always arrested the right people," said one of the officials.
"When the situation began to deteriorate, it happened very rapidly."
Former officials also noted that the number of lost CIA agents and people in their orbit, which the Chinese authorities have eliminated over a two-year period amounted to about 30 people, although some sources give higher figures. The New York Times, which first wrote about it last year, noted that the Bureau had lost "over a dozen" agents. All CIA agents detained the Chinese intelligence service in that period of time, eventually were killed, as reported by former CIA officers.
The CIA, FBI and national security Agency refused to comment on this information. The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not respond to our request comment.
According to one official, first, U.S. intelligence was stunned. The CIA initiated operation rescue, and several agents managed to escape from China.
According to one former official, the latest employee of the CIA, met with agents in China, gave large sums of money to those who remained in this country, in the hope that this money will help them escape.
When it became known about the hacking of communication systems, along with the FBI, the CIA set up a special team to investigate what could go wrong. During the investigation, this group found three potential causes of failure, said former officials of the Bureau: an agent has provided Chinese authorities with information about a secret network of CIA in China; perhaps some action of a secret network of CIA got careless and attracted the attention of the Chinese authorities; the communication system was compromised. According to former officials, this ad hoc group came to the conclusion that the failure of the intelligence network cited "the circumstances and the totality of events."
Ultimately American counterintelligence came to Lee a former CIA officer who worked for a long time in Beijing — which probably gave information to the Chinese authorities. According to court records, Whether in contact with their supervisors in the Ministry of public security at least until the end of 2011.
According to documents, the Chinese government has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars. In may of this year he was convicted of spying for China.
However, according to former officials, estimated worth can not explain the damage the US suffered in China in 2011 and 2012. Source information is securely protected by various security levels, so Lee could not know all the agents. This and some other facts have led experts to conclude that China has been able to penetrate the communications system with which the agents communicate with their curators of the CIA.
When the CIA officers begin to work with the new source, they often use temporary classified communication system — in case this man to be a double agent.
The communication system that was used in China at that time, was available via the Internet, and it was possible to log on from your laptop or desktop computer, said two former officials of the CIA.
This temporary communication system permits communication between an officer of the kindle and its source in the distance, and it is separated from the main communication system used to communicate with a trusted source, which reduces the risk that, if the source does not justify expectations.
Although some of the codes were the same, the interim system and the main system which was used in China at the time, was not supposed to be connected to each other. Theoretically, if the Chinese intelligence uncovers a temporary system, those sources which are in the main system, still remain under the protection and there should be no way to trace their communications to the CIA. However, during the time the CIA program provided a technical error: it with the main platform when the CIA had a common architecture. When there were suspicions that the interim system is compromised, the FBI and the NSA held a "penetration testing" to determine the degree of security for the transitional system.
They found that experts who have access to temporary system, can also access the main communications system, which the CIA used to communicate with a trusted source.
According to one former official of the CIA, the Bureau simply "flogged firewall" between the two systems.
According to one former official, officers of American intelligence also failed to detect digital communication between the primary communication system and the government of the United States — ties that the Chinese Agency is almost certainly also found. These digital communication has helped China to find out what this secret system of communication used by the CIA. In fact, according to one former official, some of these tracks were to their own website the CIA.
Secret communication system used in China, was first piloted American intelligence in war zones in the middle East, where security threats and tactical goals are very different from those in China. "This system was migrated to countries where counterintelligence conducts a much more complex operation — such as China," said one of the officials.
This system was not designed for a country like China, where the CIA was faced with a very strong intelligence service and a completely different online environment.
In the framework of the project "Golden shield" Chinese authorities closely monitor Internet traffic and use unusual methods. Even in 2010, to remain anonymous online it was very difficult.
Once the Chinese intelligence had access to a temporary communication system, according to former intelligence officials of the United States, penetration in mainstream has become a relatively simple task. The window between the two systems could remain open for only a few months before the Americans will find it, however, the Chinese managed to hack into the main system during this period of its vulnerability.
While it remains unclear exactly how the Chinese managed to hack the system. Perhaps the Ministry of state security was a double agent who gained access to the secret communication system from his handler in the CIA. Perhaps the Chinese authorities figured out the American agent, perhaps due to the information that they received from Lee, and seized his computer. In addition, the authorities could also identify this system through the analysis of suspicious online activity.
According to one former official, China was so determined to hack into this system that it has established a special working group, which included representatives of the Ministry of state security and control of the armed forces of China (the equivalent of the NSA).
As soon as it was discovered, that this or that person is an agent of the CIA, Chinese intelligence could trace all his meetings with curators and uncover the entire network. (Some of the sources of the CIA whose names became known to the Ministry of state security, had this secret communication system.)
According to one former official, the CIA has every reason to believe that China shared his discoveries with Russia, where some sources the CIA used a similar system. Around the same time, the Chinese government began to actively attack the CIA agents, many sources in Russia, suddenly broke the connection with his handlers in the CIA, what NBC News reported in January and that was confirmed by one of the former officials.
After the failure in China in the US intelligence community once again sparked debate about the appropriateness of using old means of communication to interact with sources.
According to one former official, all the secret systems of communication inherent paradox: the easier the system is to use the less safe she is.
According to the former officials, after the failure of the CIA officers who work in China, appealed to the old methods of communication, including secret personal meetings with their sources. Such methods can involve time consuming and carry their own risks.
This failure in China has forced some officials to conclude that the systems, which are based on the Internet access — even those that use sophisticated encryption — cannot be considered a reliable method of protecting sources.
"Whether one or the other system to always remain encrypted, given the rapid development of technology? And you have to protect your people always," said one former official.
Zach Dorfman (Zach Dorfman)
Tags: Russia , USA , China , analytical work