By Senior National Security Producer Pam Benson
CIA informants in Lebanon were unmasked by Hezbollah and captured by the terror group, CNN has been told. One of the means used by Hezballah counter terrorism operatives to identify the foreign assets was to trace their cell phone calls.
A US official would not discuss the details of how many CIA informants might have been affected and the degree of impact on Central Intelligence Agency operations in Beirut. The official called spying a "perilous business."
“Collecting sensitive information on adversaries-who are aggressively trying to uncover spies in their midst-will always be fraught with risk. Good CI (counterintelligence) can mitigate risks, but won't eliminate them all," the source said.
The official says Hezballah has a very capable intelligence component and cannot be underestimated."Hezbollah is an extremely complicated enemy. Remember, this group was responsible for killing more Americans than any other terrorist group before 9/11. It's a determined terrorist group, a power political player, a mighty military, and an accomplished intelligence organization-formidable and ruthless. No one underestimates its capabilities." The official added, "look who helps them" a reference to Iran with which it shares tactics and information.
Back in June, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the militant Islamic group has uncovered three spies within its ranks, two of whom were recruited by the CIA, Lebanon's state news agency reported. The U.S. embassy in Beirut dismissed the report as "empty accusations."
A report by ABC News alleged unsafe spy practices, like meeting with multiple informants in the same location, were partially responsible for the compromising of the information. But the official CNN spoke to insisted it would be wrong to say that problems with CIA operational tradecraft led to the agents capture by Hezballah.
While the capture of the informants is a set back for the CIA, the official did say, "This assertion that CIA's activities in Beirut are shut down is nonsense."
The United States considers Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran and Syria, to be a terrorist organization. The group is a political party and a major provider of social services in Lebanon, in addition to operating a militant wing.