CIA spies caught in Lebanon, Iran, feared dead

ABC News reports the CIA has lost assets — likely their entire network — in Lebanon, where they were gathering intelligence about Hezbollah actions against Israel. In Iran, similar but unrelated events led to the Iranian government’s discovery of spies there.

Robert Baer, famous in the intelligence community as the first CIA operative to successfully infiltrate Hezbollah, said that if the reports are true, those spies were likely killed.

Robert Baer, a former senior CIA officer who worked against Hezbollah while stationed in Beirut in the 1980’s, said Hezbollah typically executes individuals suspected of or caught spying.

“If they were genuine spies, spying against Hezbollah, I don’t think we’ll ever see them again,” he said. “These guys are very, very vicious and unforgiving.”

Baer and other critics said these losses were the result of bad intelligence practices. Some said operatives were meeting with multiple sources in the same location and using overly simplistic code words.

“If you lose an asset, one source, that’s normally a setback in espionage,” said Robert Baer, who was considered an expert on Hezbollah.

“But when you lose your entire station, either in Tehran or Beirut, that’s a catastrophe, that just shouldn’t be. And the only way that ever happens is when you’re mishandling sources.”

Others said risks of such losses were inherent in intelligence gathering.

“Collecting sensitive information on adversaries who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst will always be fraught with risk,” said the U.S. official briefed on the spy ring bust.

Update: The Washington Post has a great article on the exposure as well.

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