WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 CIA
sources from 2010 to 2012, hobbling U.S. spying operations in a
massive intelligence breach whose origin has not been identified,
the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Investigators remain divided over whether there was a spy within
the Central Intelligence Agency who betrayed the sources or
whether the Chinese hacked the CIA’s covert communications
system, the newspaper reported, citing current and former U.S.
The Chinese killed at least a dozen people providing information
to the CIA from 2010 through 2012, dismantling a network that was
years in the making, the newspaper reported.
One was shot and killed in front of a government building in
China, three officials told the Times, saying that was designed
as a message to others about working with Washington.
The breach was considered particularly damaging, with the number
of assets lost rivaling those in the Soviet Union and Russia who
perished after information passed to Moscow by spies Aldrich Ames
and Robert Hanssen, the report said. Ames was active as a spy in
the 1980s and Hanssen from 1979 to 2001.
The CIA declined to comment when asked about the Times report on
The Chinese activities began to emerge in 2010, when the American
spy agency had been getting high quality information about the
Chinese government from sources deep inside the bureaucracy,
including Chinese upset by the Beijing government’s corruption,
four former officials told the Times.
The information began to dry up by the end of the year and the
sources began disappearing in early 2011, the report said.
As more sources were killed the FBI and the CIA began a joint
investigation of the breach, examining all operations run in
Beijing and every employee of the U.S. Embassy there.
The investigation ultimately centered on a former CIA operative
who worked in a division overseeing China, the newspaper said,
but there was not enough evidence to arrest him.
Some investigators believed the Chinese had hacked the CIA’s
covert communications system.
Still others thought the breach was a result of careless spy work
including traveling the same routes to the same meeting points or
meeting sources at restaurants where Chinese had planted
listening devices, the newspaper said.
By 2013, U.S. intelligence concluded China’s ability to identify
its agents had been curtailed, the newspaper said, and the CIA
has been trying to rebuild its spy network there.
(Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)