The warning, according to those who read it, was aimed primarily at the frontline agents of the agencies, those most directly involved in recruiting and verifying sources. The cable reminded CIA officers to focus not only on recruiting sources, but also on security issues, including verifying informants and leaking accusatory intelligence services.
According to people familiar with the document, one of the reasons for the telegram was to make the CIA operatives think about what steps they can take on their own to better deal with informants.
Former officials have said there is a need to focus more on security and counterintelligence, both among senior leaders and frontline staff, especially when it comes to recruiting informants, than CIA agents call agents.
“At the end of the day, no one is held responsible when things go wrong with an agent,” said Douglas London, a former agency agent. “Sometimes there are things that are beyond our control, but there are also opportunities for neglect and neglect and those in leadership positions are never held accountable.”
Mr. London said he was unaware of the cable. But his new book, “The recruiter: espionage and the lost art of American intelligence”, argues that the CIA’s shift to covert actions and paramilitary operations has undermined traditional espionage that relies on the secure recruitment and treatment of agents.
Messages around the world to CIA stations and bases that note troubling trends or issues, or even warnings about counterintelligence issues, are not unheard of, according to former officials. Yet the note describing a specific number of informants arrested or killed by warring powers is an unusual level of detail, which signals the importance of the current issues. Former officials have said counterintelligence officials generally like to keep these details a secret, even to the entire CIA workforce.
Asked about the note, a CIA spokeswoman declined to comment.
Sheetal T. Patel, who last year became the CIA’s deputy director of counterintelligence and heads this mission center, has not shied away from sending broad warnings to the community of current and former CIA officers. .