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Researchers Find 885 Websites Used as CIA Fronts a ‘Motivated Amateur Sleuth’ Could’ve Found

© Photo : United States government work / Central Intelligence Agency
Central Intelligence Agency - Sputnik International, 1920, 29.09.2022
For several years, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) managed its contacts with sources through a network of fake websites. However, after Iranian counterintelligence officers cracked their system and shared their findings with Beijing, at least two dozen CIA operatives were hounded out and killed.
That story was first made public in a Yahoo News report in 2018, but researchers wanted to know more. Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto announced its findings on Thursday, publishing them in a statement in lieu of a full report.
According to the researchers, it was fairly easy for them to figure out how to identify CIA-linked websites, of which they found 885 they could claim “with high confidence” were part of a CIA network.
“Knowing only one website, it is likely that while the websites were online, a motivated amateur sleuth could have mapped out the CIA network and attributed it to the US government,” Citizen Lab said in a statement.
“The reckless construction of this infrastructure by the CIA reportedly led directly to the identification and execution of assets, and undoubtedly risked the lives of countless other individuals. Our hope is that this research and our limited disclosure process will lead to accountability for this reckless behavior.”
The websites were active between 2004 and 2013, but Citizen Lab said they are probably not being used by the intelligence agency anymore. They were used to both find informants and maintain contact with them.
This March 27, 2008, file photo, shows the Pentagon in Washington. The Pentagon said Tuesday, July 6, 2021, that it is canceling a cloud-computing contract with Microsoft that could eventually have been worth $10 billion and will instead pursue a deal with both Microsoft and Amazon. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File) - Sputnik International, 1920, 19.09.2022
Report: Pentagon Orders Review of US Clandestine Ops After Social Media Takedowns of Fake Accounts
Reuters has published a much deeper report on Thursday as well, titled “America’s Throwaway Spies: How the CIA failed Iranian informants in its secret war with Tehran.”
In response to that article, CIA spokesperson Tammy Kupperman Thorp told the news agency: “CIA takes its obligations to protect the people who work with us extremely seriously and we know that many of them do so bravely, at great personal risk. The notion that CIA would not work as hard as possible to safeguard them is false.”
Yahoo’s 2018 report revealed that Iranian counterintelligence officers had found out about the websites sometime around 2009 and exploited it to hunt down and destroy the CIA’s network in Iran. When they shared their findings with their Chinese counterparts, much of the CIA’s network there was eradicated as well.
Last year, the New York Times reported on a top secret CIA cable in which the spy agency admitted it had a severe problem of losing informants and warned its agents not to underestimate the tenacity of foreign adversaries. However, as early as 2006, CIA figures were calling attention to the major problems: John Reidy, a former government contractor, described the losses as a “catastrophic failure” in a 2006 report.
“Upwards of 70% of our operations had been compromised,” Reidy told McClatchy in 2015; still, the CIA fired him rather than address the problem.
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