While businesses across the US are dealing with a labor shortage, the CIA apparently has an informant shortage. Sources tell the New York Times that a top secret cable sent to CIA stations around the world last week warned that dozens of foreign informants have been killed, captured, or compromised over the last few years. The sources say the cable, unusually, gave the specific number of informants that had been executed by rival spy agencies. The cable urged case officers to focus not just on recruiting informants, but on vetting them properly and protecting their agents from other countries' intelligence services.
"Sometimes there are things beyond our control but there are also occasions of sloppiness and neglect and people in senior positions are never held responsible," former CIA operative Douglas London tells the Times. He says traditional espionage skills have suffered over the last 20 years as the agency has devoted much of its attention to covert operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria—but those skills are now badly needed as lawmakers turn their attention to threats from China and Russia.
Sources tell the Washington Post that one of the main reasons for the reminder to "tighten up on tradecraft" was Pakistan's success in identifying CIA informants. Russia, China, and Iran have also been hunting down CIA sources and, in some cases, have successfully turned them into double agents, the Times notes. Sources say that while the cable listed the numbers of informants that had been arrested or killed, it said the number that had been turned is unknown. (China killed or imprisoned more than a dozen CIA informants between 2010 and 2012.)