Free counters!
FollowLike Share It

Friday 25 November 2011

CIA in Lebanon: Why a Mission Was Botched

CIA in Lebanon: Why a Mission Was Botched
By: Hassan Illeik
Published Thursday, November 24, 2011

The apparent shutting down of CIA operations in Lebanon took place well before two of its moles were exposed by Hezbollah and was the result of the agency's miscalculation of its foes' intelligence capabilities.

In an unprecedented move, the government of Lebanon has decided to summon the ambassador of a "friendly" state in order to inquire about the activities of her country's intelligence services in Lebanon.

US Ambassador Maura Connelly will appear before Lebanese Foreign Affairs Minister, Adnan Mansour, to provide clarification on CIA activities in Lebanon.

Last June, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, announced that his party's counter-intelligence apparatus arrested at least two party members who were working for the CIA.

The story of CIA cells in Lebanon, however, precedes Nasrallah's recent revelation. In the last few days of 2010, the same Hezbollah outfit uncovered a cell working for the CIA station at the US Embassy in Lebanon. But this did not seem to effect the activities of the station in Beirut.

Counter-intelligence observers indicate that the CIA, like its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, have a tendency to underestimate their rivals. These agencies believe that all their failures are the result of either poor performance by their agents or mistakes exploited by their enemies, say observers.

They pay little attention to their opponents' capabilities and whether or not they have been improved. But what happened last April and June in a number of countries across the region namely Iran, Syria, and Lebanon had a qualitatively different impact on the activities of the CIA in Lebanon.

Lebanese security officials, who are in regular contact with the CIA, have confirmed that the agency has minimized its communication with Lebanese contacts in the past three months.

For years, Lebanese officials received reports from the CIA on an almost weekly basis. Most of these reports contained information on organizations and individuals classified by the US as "terrorists," particularly those affiliated with al-Qaeda.

For instance, the CIA sent Lebanese intelligence information on a suspicious telephone number, resulting in the killing of the leader of the radical Islamist Fatah al-Islam, Abdel Rahman Awad, in the summer of 2010.

The arrest of T.B, a young Lebanese man from Majdal Anjar in June 2010, was also based on US intelligence information, this time intercepted from an electronic communication between him and members of another radical group based in Ein al-Hilwe, a Palestinian camp in Sidon.

The emails between T.B and the group included instructions on bomb making. The young man confessed that the explosives he possessed were intended for Lebanese Army buses.

However, communication between the two security agencies is not just restricted to the CIA providing information. The US agency also often requests information on groups classified by Washington as "terrorist organizations."

For instance, agents at the CIA station in Beirut requested detailed information on the so-called "Group of the 13" arrested at the beginning of 2006. They also demanded all information obtained on al-Qaeda and its leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

According to several Lebanese security officials, responding to such requests depended on each Lebanese agency. At times, it even depended on the officers involved. In many cases though, Lebanese authorities would refuse to cooperate.

Lebanese security officials have also confirmed that the CIA restricts its requests to "al-Qaeda and its sister groups," who are on Washington's terrorist list.

"They avoid requesting information on Hezbollah and the resistance," a Lebanese security official said, for the CIA have their own special channels for obtaining such information.

However, these CIA reports and requests have ceased for almost three months now. Prominent security officials say that the CIA has, in effect, suspended its activities in Lebanon indefinitely.

Others suggest that some officers at the station in Beirut no longer answer their phones. Others "have their phones switched off constantly. The phone company's answering machine indicates that the dialed number is currently out of service."

At first, some Lebanese officers attributed the CIA's absence to the events in Syria and the pending withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

A few days after Nasrallah announced the arrest of the CIA moles, Lebanese officials asked the head of the CIA station in Beirut whether this information was in fact true.

"We do not know anything about what Nasrallah said. We certainly have no station in Beirut, as he has mentioned," the agent responded.

But what American media outlets reported in the past few days has rendered the image clearer for Lebanese security officials.

Some explained that the CIA's suspension of activities in Lebanon is related to two matters. The first is to learn from the mistakes and mishaps that led to the exposure of their spies. The second has to do with concern over the safety of their agents operating in Lebanon.

The CIA has not forgotten the bitter experience they had in the 1980s, when William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut, was kidnapped by unidentified groups and executed 15 months later.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

No comments:

Post a Comment