All the CIA’s Lebanon spies wanted was a slice. What they got, allegedly, was a big intelligence failure.
Hezbollah may have just rolled up the CIA’s network of spies devoted to cracking the secrets of the Lebanese Shiite extremist group. If so, it’s because of one of the stupidest, least secure code words in history.
According to ABC News, Hezbollah operatives figured out that CIA informants who had infiltrated the Iranian proxy group were meeting with their agency handlers at a Beirut Pizza Hut. How could Hezbollah deduce that location? “The CIA used the codeword ‘PIZZA’ when discussing where to meet with the agents,” ABC reports.
The agency is reportedly fearful for the informants’ lives. “If they were genuine spies, spying against Hezbollah, I don’t think we’ll ever see them again,” retired CIA officer Robert Baer told ABC.
An anonymous U.S. official denies to ABC that CIA’s Hezbollah network actually met in a Pizza Hut. We’ve reached out to the CIA and will update if they’re challenging the story further.
If ABC is correct, though, it’s another spy-ring setback against Hezbollah and its Iranian sponsors, who appear devoted to gaining a nuclear weapon. In addition to losing the Lebanon informants, a different operation exposed “a secret internet communication method used by CIA-paid assets in Iran” to Iranian security officials. “Dozens” of assets may have been lost, according to ABC.
It’s not like the CIA doesn’t have successes against Iran and its allies. It’s spent years disrupting Iran’s nuclear supply chain through sabotage. The Stuxnet worm that messed with Iran’s centrifuge control system may have been a joint U.S.-Israeli homebrew. Iranian nuclear scientists keep dying under mysterious circumstances. Some may have been kidnapped, as well.
But the CIA also has an unfortunate streak of self-pwnage as well. New York Times national security reporter Jim Risen reported that in 2000, the CIA accidently exposed its entire network of Iranian contacts thanks to a boneheaded reply-all mishap.
The successful targeting of Osama bin Laden gave the CIA its biggest success in decades. But that may mask some deeper problems, according to one of ABC’s anonymous sources: “Officers take short cuts and no one is held accountable.” But now CIA sloppiness even comes with free Crazy Bread.