Were Shitty SAIC Systems the Cause of the CIA’s China Disaster?

The NYT has a story about how China started rolling up CIA’s spy network in 2010, the cause of which (the story says) still has not been solved. One possible cause is that a Chinese-American exposed America’s spies to the Chinese. But the government was never able to establish enough proof that he was the Chinese mole to arrest him, not even when they lured him back to the US to try to bust him.

The mole hunt eventually zeroed in on a former agency operative who had worked in the C.I.A.’s division overseeing China, believing he was most likely responsible for the crippling disclosures. But efforts to gather enough evidence to arrest him failed, and he is now living in another Asian country, current and former officials said.


As investigators narrowed the list of suspects with access to the information, they started focusing on a Chinese-American who had left the C.I.A. shortly before the intelligence losses began. Some investigators believed he had become disgruntled and had begun spying for China. One official said the man had access to the identities of C.I.A. informants and fit all the indicators on a matrix used to identify espionage threats.

After leaving the C.I.A., the man decided to remain in Asia with his family and pursue a business opportunity, which some officials suspect that Chinese intelligence agents had arranged.

Officials said the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. lured the man back to the United States around 2012 with a ruse about a possible contract with the agency, an arrangement common among former officers. Agents questioned the man, asking why he had decided to stay in Asia, concerned that he possessed a number of secrets that would be valuable to the Chinese. It’s not clear whether agents confronted the man about whether he had spied for China.

The man defended his reasons for living in Asia and did not admit any wrongdoing, an official said. He then returned to Asia.

A second possibility is that bad tradecraft allowed China to discover America’s spies.

Those who rejected the mole theory attributed the losses to sloppy American tradecraft at a time when the Chinese were becoming better at monitoring American espionage activities in the country. Some F.B.I. agents became convinced that C.I.A. handlers in Beijing too often traveled the same routes to the same meeting points, which would have helped China’s vast surveillance network identify the spies in its midst.

Some officers met their sources at a restaurant where Chinese agents had planted listening devices, former officials said, and even the waiters worked for Chinese intelligence.

A third possibility — which the NYT doesn’t examine at length and which it ties to the poor tradecraft — is that China hacked the CIA’s method of communicating with assets.

Others believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources.


Some investigators believed the Chinese had cracked the encrypted method that the C.I.A. used to communicate with its assets.


This carelessness, coupled with the possibility that the Chinese had hacked the covert communications channel, would explain many, if not all, of the disappearances and deaths, some former officials said.

I lay these three possibilities out because the timing of the moment the exposure became critical — 2010 and 2011 — and the allusions to a hacked covert communication channel sound a lot like what CIA whistleblower John Reidy complained about seeing his employer, SAIC, oversee starting in 2005. While his complaint is heavily redacted, it sounded like he accused SAIC of providing inadequate security for a system serving the intersection of human assets and electronic reporting.

[H]is heavily redacted appeal at least appears to suggest his complaint was very serious and should have been a timely way to limit the compromise of CIA assets and officers.

Reidy describes playing three roles in 2005: facilitating the dissemination of intelligence reporting to the Intelligence Community, identifying Human Intelligence (HUMINT) targets of interest for exploitation, and (because of resource shortages) handling the daily administrative functions of running a human asset. In the second of those three roles, he was “assigned the telecommunications and information operations account” (which is not surprising, because that’s the kind of service SAIC provides to the intelligence community). In other words, he seems to have worked at the intersection of human assets and electronic reporting on those assets.

Whatever role he played, he described what by 2010 had become a “catastrophic intelligence failure[]” in which “upwards of 70% of our operations had been compromised.” The problem appears to have arisen because “the US communications infrastructure was under siege,” which sounds like CIA may have gotten hacked. At least by 2007, he had warned that several of the CIA’s operations had been compromised, with some sources stopping all communications suddenly and others providing reports that were clearly false, or “atmospherics” submitted as solid reporting to fluff reporting numbers. By 2011 the government had appointed a Task Force to deal with the problem he had identified years earlier, though some on that Task Force didn’t even know how long the problem had existed or that Reidy had tried to alert the CIA and Congress to the problem. [my emphasis]

All that seems to point to the possibility that tech contractors had set up a reporting system that had been compromised by adversaries, a guess that is reinforced by his stated desire to bring a “qui tam lawsuit brought against CIA contractors for providing products whose maintenance and design are inherently flawed and yet they are still charging the government for the products.”

The task force described in Reidy’s complaint coincides with the “Honey Badger” investigation described in the NYT, and the scale of the losses — 70% of operations compromised — sounds the same too. Reidy complained that those working on the task force didn’t learn how long he had been calling attention to the problem. And as he was appealing his complaint, he was being spied on by the intelligence community.

Of course, Reidy’s complaints were especially easy to silence because he was a contractor that the intelligence contractor community basically blacklisted.

I’m checking with the NYT reporters to see if this sounds like their story. But either the CIA had two catastrophic intelligence failures at the same time in 2010, or this sounds like the Chinese compromise.

In which case the fourth possibility to explain the compromise is that shitty intelligence contractors created the problem and then covered it up.

15 replies
  1. SpaceLifeForm says:

    A legislative bill DOA.
    No way to enforce. Handwaving.


    The new bill would mandate a review when a government agency discovers a security hole in a computer product and does not want to alert the manufacturer because it hopes to use the flaw to spy on rivals. It also calls for the review process to be chaired by the defense-oriented Department of Homeland Security rather than the NSA, which spends 90 percent of its budget on offensive capabilities and spying.

  2. Dev Null says:


    Gummint contractors are by definition highly competent, else they wouldn’t have been hired in the first place!

    I say this as a one-time gummint contractor, i.e. speaking from personal experience…

    “Q.”, he said smugly, “E.D.”

    mandatory /snark tag

    Q. Why has the Harvard Physics department stayed at the top of the heap for so many decades?

    A. “we know that hacks breed hacks, so we don’t hire hacks.” [Frank Pipkin]

  3. Rapier says:

    The contracting of intelligence activities is a counter espionage black hole. It was always remarkable to me that this was never discussed in the Snowden case, not even by Snowden that I know of. From day 2 or 3 when I thought about it the probability that there were genuine moles at Booz Allen, freelance and placed by foreign intelligence services, as opposed to Snowden’s apparent conscious based leaking was almost certain. Booz Allen is only the tip of the iceberg.

    Then there is the gigantic roster of NSA employees. A staggering number which when combined with the very nature of signal intelligence and access to it makes it an impossible task for counter intelligence. The same thing probably applies to all other intelligence services worldwide but like everything in America since intelligence has become mostly a racket for corporations to make money it’s probably worst here. In fact a corporation has a duty to shareholders to sell information to anyone in order to increase profits.

    A sad, or something, postscript to the Snowden story is that after Snowden Booz sold $1bn in bonds and paid out every penny as a special dividend to shareholders. The majority shareholder at the time, wait for it, Carlyle Group. The creme de la creme of insiders insiders. Then they sold their shares.

  4. Mitchell says:

    Chinese mole. Why would CIA let a man with his knowledge, of any national / race background, leave and live outside US?

  5. RUKidding says:

    I wonder if this isn’t happening more often across the globe.

    Used to be the notion that spies were spies because of some kind inate loyalty to their country.  That may have been at least somewhat true back in the good old days.

    Now we all live in nations run by Oligarchs for the benefit of the Oligarchs.  Where’s the loyalty to be placed?  To Goldman Sachs?  To the Koch Brothers?  To Rex Tillerson & BigOil?  etc.

    Why be loyal to the USA when our citizens get treated like sh*t, and it’s clear that the entire Fed Govt (as well as many state and local govts) are totally in the bag and on the payola of the Oligarchs, who could clearly give a stuff about outdated, antiquated notions like loyalty to take care of citizens?  Like doing what’s in the best interest of the populace and possibly for the world?

    Who are you supposed to be loyal to?  Booz Allen?  SAIC?  Why?

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      The love of money is the root of all evil.

      If you work at a spycorp, it is a difficult decision to realize that your loyaty to freedom really should superceed your loyalty to the spycorp, and actually give up a large salary.
      See Edward Snowden.

      The spycorp believes that they are paying enough to buy the loyalty of the employee/contractor. And certainly, the spycorp does not care about any individuals freedom, they are only in love with the money. All corporations are basically anti-freedom, they are evil by default because the corporation only cares about money.

      There are plenty of exceptions of course, but corporations in the spyworks business really are not in a position to be altruistic.

      This is why VEP really will not work. The IC/spycorp will not willingly do a responsible disclosure, because it will hurt their money flow.

  6. SpaceLifeForm says:

    US Contacted Russia in November Over Alleged Russian Hackers’ Activity


    22:21 21.05.2017(updated 00:10 22.05.2017)
    Oleg Khramov, a deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council said that the United States filed a request to Russia in November 2016 over DNC breach.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The United States filed a request to Russia in November 2016 over a breach of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) email system by allegedly Russia-linked hackers ahead of the US presidential election, Oleg Khramov, Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council, told Kommersant newspaper in an interview published on Sunday.

    “They did it a bit late. The first request was sent one week prior to the November election,” Khramov said.

    [Sure would be interesting to know who in US finally asked for russian help. Comey? Timing is good]

    [Will be interesting soon the Kim Dotcom Seth Rich story, which says that it was Seth Rich that leaked the emails to WikiLeaks. Even Newt Gingrich thinis it is the case, Kim Dotcom apparently has legal on this before he comments further]


    With no pushback from the Fox hosts, Gingrich shared innuendos that got new life last week after Rod Wheeler, an occasional contributor to Fox News whom a conservative donor had paid to probe Rich’s death, told local Fox affiliate WTTG 5 that he had new evidence. On Monday, Wheeler claimed to have sources at either the FBI or the D.C. police department who apparently knew that evidence existed of Rich — who was fatally shot in July — contacting WikiLeaks but that an unnamed person had told investigators to “stand down.”

    [Not clear who ‘investigators’ are in this context, media or FBI or D.C. police]

    • SpaceLifeForm says:

      “Russia’s relevant departments respond to all requests coming from foreign partners in a timely manner. That is why, the response was provided immediately, in November. Additional information was requested, as the data contained in their first appeal was blurred and mostly repeated media reports. Our competent departments, of course, asked partners to provide specific IP-addresses, attacks signatures and so on. The second request, containing additional information, came only at the beginning of this year. A detailed response was urgently provided,” Khramov added.

      [Partners == Russian spycorps. How many higher ups in US Intel can really describe what an attack signature is? Likely few, most would display their ignorance of tech. My reading of the Khramov article is that Russian IC really did do a deep dive and spent a lot of time, manpower, and money actually doing a serious investigation. And why wouldn’t they do so? All they keep hearing (from US media) is that it was Russian hackers that got the DNC emails and gave them to Wikileaks. So, when you keep hearing the same story over and over, even if fakenews, you want to check it out on your end just to be sure. And I suspect, they found no solid traces, which was then reported back to the original requestor (I suspect Comey). I still have no reason to believe that it was Russian hackers. And if it was Comey, well, you know he keeps good notes]

  7. greengiant says:

    Re: Seth Rich, Putinbot, MAGAbot propaganda warfare, reported big in 4chan/pol May 16. Usual Trump social media disinformation team involved early on. anti Trump propaganda claims that Seth’s email account has been hacked and salted etc. File Gingrich in the Giuliani bucket. Newt’s old seat election for GA06 is June 20th. DotCom going to be real careful not to admit interference in 2016 election, or then maybe he has already.

  8. Jay says:

    Curious how nobody speculates whether FSB or GOP operatives conspired to kill Seth Rich. Political assassination is well-established with FSB, and the traditional KGB assignments always had two-person teams. GOP conspiracy theorists have come up with all sorts of ingenious explanations for Vince Foster’s “assassination,” and the Rich death would be a convenient smoke screen for other activities.

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