AP Reporter Discusses Hezbollah In Lebanon
GUY RAZ, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Guy Raz.
The CIA may have suffered a serious setback to its intelligence gathering operation in the Middle East. Hezbollah, the Islamist group in Lebanon, has captured several people who were allegedly spies working for the CIA. American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to the Associated Press, have admitted the failures. Adam Goldman has been reporting this story for the AP and he joins me now in the studio. Adam, welcome to the program.
ADAM GOLDMAN: Thank you for having me.
RAZ: First of all, how did this happen? How were these alleged spies captured?
GOLDMAN: Well, it comes down to essentially bad trade craft. Agency officers need to take the necessary precautions to protect their informants. Making sure you're not being watched. Making sure the location you're meeting at is secure. Making sure you're not being followed. And they were sloppy when meeting with their informant spies or assets. And the Hezbollah were able to uncover these case officers.
RAZ: Do we know how many they captured?
GOLDMAN: The reports have been up to a dozen.
RAZ: Up to a dozen. Do we know who they were? Were any of them American? Were they mostly Arabs?
GOLDMAN: No, these were – you know, typically, these would've been foreign-born informants.
RAZ: So, if up to a dozen have been captured or unmasked, do we know their fate? I mean, do we know if they're alive or what's happened to them?
GOLDMAN: Their fate is unknown but we can assume Hezbollah has probably done terrible things to them.
RAZ: Hezbollah has a pretty sophisticated counter-intelligence apparatus, built in part with aide – up to $200 million a year – it receives from Iran. Your reporting shows that they did very sophisticated things. They tracked phone records and they sort of did a lot of investigating into trying to uncover this ring.
GOLDMAN: After the Iranians helped Hezbollah stand up this professional counterintelligence unit, that's right. They purchased off-the-shelf commercial software which allowed them to search for anomalies and they examined cellphone data. And that led to the uncovering of dozens of Israeli spies.
RAZ: This happened in 2009.
RAZ: Up to a hundred spies allegedly working for the Israelis, they were unmasked by Hezbollah.
GOLDMAN: Correct. And then Hezbollah turned its attention to the CIA. And the CIA was warned about this.
RAZ: You say the CIA was warned about this more than a year ago. Why did somebody think these spies were vulnerable?
GOLDMAN: Well, there was an analysis done on the way – the CIA learned how Hezbollah managed to uncover the Israeli spies and they did their own analysis of cellphone data and they were looking for patterns. And once this analysis was completed, top managers in the CIA, including the individual running Hezbollah operations in D.C., the head of the counterintelligence unit and the head of the counter-terrorism center were all warned, hey, we need to be careful. We need to be careful in the way we're handling our informants in Lebanon.
RAZ: You interviewed current and former CIA officials for this story who confirmed what happened. I mean, how important was Lebanon for the CIA's overall mission in the region?
GOLDMAN: This is an incredibly important target for the CIA, given Hezbollah's relationship with Iran, given that people are beating on war drums in the region. And if, in fact, the U.S. does take measures against Iran to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon, a military strike for instance, they are going to need to know how Hezbollah is going to react. Hezbollah has the ability to rain down thousands of missiles on Israel. And they need to know Hezbollah's intentions.
RAZ: This is presumably quite embarrassing for the CIA.
RAZ: I mean, have you found out what they are doing to try and prevent this from happening again?
GOLDMAN: Well, you can assume that they're doing a damage assessment, the CIA is. They're trying to figure out what went wrong and how they can prevent it again. And then, I think they're going to look at the individuals who were possibly accountable.
RAZ: That's AP reporter Adam Goldman, who along with his colleague, Matt Apuzzo, recently reported on how a group of alleged CIA spies and informants was uncovered by the militant Islamist group Hezbollah. Adam, thanks for coming in.
GOLDMAN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.