From the last few weeks of 2010 to the end of 2012, China killed or imprisoned up to 20 sources cultivated by the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States’s premier spy agency, a New York Times report said.
The US daily spoke ten current and former unnamed American officials to reveal how the Chinese systematically destroyed what had become the CIA’s most productive spying operation in China. According to the report, the Chinese counter-intelligence killed at least a dozen of the CIA’s sources.
One source, three American officials reportedly said, was shot dead in front of his colleagues at a government building in China. The act was likely meant to serve as a message to others who may have been working for the CIA.
According to the NYT report, by 2010, the CIA had managed to build a vast network of spies in China, cultivating sources within the bureaucracy in Beijing. Some of the sources were Chinese nationals who the CIA believed had become disenchanted with government corruption in China.
By 2010, thanks to the CIA’s intelligence operation, the Americans were receiving some of the best intelligence they had gathered in years in China, a top priority for the agency. However, by early 2011, the intelligence started drying up and American officials soon started to realise that some of their Chinese sources were starting to disappear.
This set off alarm bells in the US, prompting the CIA and the Federal Investigation Agency to begin an investigation. Working out a secret facility in US, the probe looked into each and every aspect of the CIA’s China operation. Nearly all officials at the United States embassy in China were probed, NYT reported.
The investigation started taking more urgency as more CIA sources started disappearing in China. By 2013, the joint CIA-FBI probe concluded that China had been successful in crippling the US’s intelligence operation in China.
WAS IT A MOLE?
Notably, NYT reports that the probe failed to discover exactly what happened. The investigators considered the possibility of a CIA insider had leaked information to the Chinese. The probe even narrowed down upon a possible suspect.
However, other officials rejected the mole theory and instead believed that US operatives had become sloppy with their spy tradecraft, using the same routes to travel and meeting sources at the same locations, making it easier for Chinese counter-intelligence to identify American spies’ movements.
According to the NYT, the probe also found how Chinese counter-intelligence bugged restaurants where US operatives met their sources and even infiltrated the meeting spots with waiters who were actually spies.
Another theory was that the Chinese had been able to crack the cover method the Central Intelligence Agency used to communicate with its sources.
The CIA-FBI investigation, however, did not reach upon a final theory. The CIA has tried to rebuild its China operation, but it is a money and time consuming effort, the NYT report notes.