It emerged last week that dozens of the CIA’s informants have gone missing in recent years. It’s “the moment of dread for every intelligence service”, says Ben Macintyre in The Times. The world’s best-known spy agency “may have a mole”.
MI6 went through this “horror” in the 1940s and 1950s, when Kim Philby betrayed numerous western intelligence assets to the KGB. “Scores, and perhaps hundreds, of people were liquidated.” But the CIA “is notoriously unwilling to address the possibility of internal betrayal”. After the Philby debacle, the agency’s head of counterintelligence, James Angleton, became convinced its ranks were “riddled with high-ranking moles”. The resulting witch hunt ruined scores of careers – almost “destroying the agency from within”.
Further embarrassments have followed. In 1985 a “disgruntled” CIA officer called Aldrich Ames “walked into the Soviet embassy in Washington and offered to spy for the KGB”. Before he was caught in 1993, he betrayed at least 10 top-level sources behind the Iron Curtain – “almost all of whom were unmasked and executed” – in return for $4.6m. More recently, the Chinese government tore apart the CIA’s network in China between 2010 and 2012, “killing or imprisoning at least 20 agents”. A Hong Kong-born agent was eventually convicted, but many suspect he was a scapegoat for another traitor who remains uncaught.
The CIA insists that the recent disappearances were probably down to “bad tradecraft and technological wizardry”. But many of its agents will be “secretly wondering if the colleague at the next desk might be a mole, buried in plain sight”.
Read the full article here (paywall).