The CIA's logo. Photo: iStock

China has struck a devastating blow to CIA spying operations within its borders. According to news reports over the past few days, China has killed or imprisoned over a dozen CIA sources since 2010. In doing so, the PRC has severely impacted the CIA’s ability to conduct intelligence-gathering operations inside its territories.

It’s unclear who the CIA sources were. However, some experts have described the loss of these sources as the most significant they’ve seen in decades. According to current and former American officials, China has killed or imprisoned up to 20 sources. On May 22, Hua Chunying, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, stated, “I am not aware of the details of that report. But I can tell you that China’s national security organ is investigating and handling organizations, personnel and activities that endanger China’s national security and interests and fully perform its duty with the authorization by law. I do not want to say more about the normal performance of duty by the national security organ.”

The CIA probably spent many years building its network of spies around the country. Recruiting foreign nationals for the CIA requires patience, determination and developing strict reporting protocols for its sources. At this time, it’s unclear if those sources were betrayed by a CIA insider or if Chinese counterintelligence (a bureau within the Ministry of State Security) was able to penetrate reporting methods used by the sources.

The news of China’s ability to disrupt US spying operations will no doubt make its citizens think twice about working for the CIA

It is impossible to assess the impact of these losses on CIA espionage activities within China without a clear understanding of who these individuals were. It is not known what type of intelligence they were collecting and against which specific targets. CIA sources may have engaged in a range of collection activities from corporate espionage to military developments. Economic, political and defense developments in Beijing are keeping US Intelligence agencies like the CIA fully engaged.  

The news of China’s ability to disrupt US spying operations will no doubt make its citizens think twice about working for the CIA. It will also force the CIA to reassess its operations in the country; particularly how it communicates with its assets. If the leak came from within the CIA, then it will require the spy agency to conduct an internal investigation and make potential changes to prevent losses in the future.  

The CIA will continue its human intelligence (HUMINT) collection operations in the country. However, the loss of nearly 20 assets will undoubtedly have an impact on its assessment of Chinese developments in the near future and keep Washington guessing for years to come. 

Michael Brady

Michael Brady served as a career tactical and strategic intelligence officer for the United States. He was also the director of the Presidential Emergency Operations Center at the White House under George W Bush. He is now a professor of intelligence and security studies at The Citadel. His debut novel, Into The Shadows The Fever, will be released on September 15, 2017. It is the first of a series...

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