CIA admits to losing large number of informants

When the Central Intelligence Agency sends out a top secret cable, they expect it to stay secret. However, that is not always the case.

A New York Times article published on Oct. 5 reports that the CIA sent a cable to all stations and bases globally admitting a concerning number of informants being lost due to imprisonment, execution or a turnover of loyalty. 

The CIA has always lost informants — that is the name of the game — so why is this cable different? “Perhaps it’s an increase at the rate in which informants are being lost,” said Ken Foster, professor of political science.

The cable went to the length of specifying the number of agents lost to execution, leading to larger questions of the effectiveness of the CIA’s internal workings. What led to the increased lost informants, Foster says, may be that “places like China and Russia are getting better at rooting out informants and counterintelligence.” 

This rise of other states’ foreign intelligence agencies, such as those in China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan, have also raised concern.

“As the CIA declines in effectiveness, we will see the U.S. become more insecure,” says Luke Eyler, sophomore political science student.

Many states have been increasing their use of technology such as artificial intelligence, facial recognition and biometric scans. This shift exemplifies the importance of human informants in the field, who complete tasks technology cannot.

CIA books in the Carl B. Library. | Anna Kronbeck

“The human element continues to be tremendously important in everything; only a human being can connect with other human beings and understand a situation that is quite complex,” Foster said. 

As far as a turnover of loyalty goes, the cable used the phrase “mission over security,” alluding to the fact that the institution is moving too quickly through security checkpoints in the recruitment of new informants. The drive to complete tasks and gain information has overshadowed the original duty of the CIA: to protect the state.

Current informants are relied on to recruit new informants, but a lack of security clearances has led to a higher turnover rate. David Kelm, senior political science student, says, “the adequate background checks aren’t there, and that is a huge detriment to state security.”

In 2009, an international informant who had been recruited to gather information on Al Qaeda, and who was seemingly loyal to the United States, led a suicude bombing at a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan that killed seven agents. The rush to get the job done yielded no results and a loss of life. Our state’s intelligence agency is getting sloppy and this cable is an admission of that.

A lack of accountability has been blamed for disorder within the agency. When situations occur like the bombing at the base in Khost, there is no system of tracing the security checks or recruitment of the lost agent; no one comes to face the consequences of the event. This is unlike intelligence agencies of other states, namely Russia, where the level of accountability incentivizes agents to pass rigorous security clearances in order to be authorized and to only recruit those who will pass these clearances.

Since the attacks on 9/11, the CIA has been focusing its efforts abroad on counterterrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Some have pointed at counterterrorism efforts to explain a decline in the focus on security within the agency. Since the time the United States moved more military resources into the Middle East, the CIA has seen a shift of oversight from the State Department to the military, Kelm suggests. “This is sort of a trend in our foreign policy, just globally as well. We’re looking at the incredible decline of our state department and the incredible increase of resources to our military.”

The bottom line is that the CIA inadvertently admitted to the globe that their job is getting increasingly harder as the intelligence and technology of other states rises. Not only is it of concern that informants are being turned against the United States, but also that the CIA is reporting a number of informants executed around the world. “Informants of the US are getting murdered everywhere and going to prison. Everyone should be mad about that — it is the US’s responsibility to take care of their informants,” Kelm said. “Our CIA needs to step it up.”

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