An Associated Press story Monday on the CIA's "badly damaged" operation in Lebanon gives a rare glimpse into the methodology used by opposing intelligence networks to track down U.S. spies, which look a lot like old-school P.I. work. The bulk of the AP account details the extent to which Hezbollah has systematically exposed local agents acting as Israeli and U.S. spies, either arresting them or killing them once they're found out. Even though the State Department described Hezbollah as "the most technically capable terrorist group in the world," their spy-hunting method does not seem terribly advanced:
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Using the latest commercial software, Nasrallah's spy-hunters unit began methodically searching for spies in Hezbollah's midst. To find them, U.S. officials said, Hezbollah examined cellphone data looking for anomalies. The analysis identified cellphones that, for instance, were used rarely or always from specific locations and only for a short period of time. Then it came down to old-fashioned, shoe-leather detective work: Who in that area had information that might be worth selling to the enemy?
And according to the AP, U.S. agents haven't been taking the right precautions against such a basic investigation.
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But whatever actions the CIA took, they were not enough. Like the Israelis, bad tradecraft doomed these CIA assets and the agency ultimately failed to protect them, an official said. In some instances, CIA officers fell into predictable patterns when meeting their sources, the official said.
The fate of the exposed operatives is unknown. One intelligence expert told the AP: "Hezbollah has disappeared people before. Others they have kept around."