They apparently haven’t watched Burn After Reading

I think it’s safe to dispense with the idea, being promulgated by certain parties, that US intelligence is behind the Hong Kong protests/riots. One would have to be painfully naive to rule out the possibility of the US exploiting a chaotic situation in Hong Kong for its own ends. Many elements of the US establishment have made it clear that they support the protests. But it stretches credulity to claim that the CIA is capable of orchestrating a massive, open-source protest movement in a large and sophisticated Asian city. Seriously, think about it. As the Big Lychee helpfully reminds us, this is the same agency that saw its entire network in China caught and executed over a two-year period (I posted about this total debacle here). And if the “black hand” of the US is responsible for the current ructions in Hong Kong, was it also responsible for the 2014 democracy movement and the massive 2003 protest against Basic Law Article 23? That seems highly implausible, to say the least.

A Cambridge academic weighs in:

Jeppe Mulich
@jmulich
[Thread] The idea that foreign forces, and specifically the CIA, is either behind or heavily involved in the #antiELAB protests in Hong Kong seems to endure, somehow. So here are a few thoughts on why that is silly.

The first problem with the “foreign black hands” thesis is the underlying assumption that Hongkongers are unable to organize these protests themselves. That somehow they need the guiding hand of foreigners to mobilize.

That there simply is not enough motivation to take to the streets without outsiders stirring up trouble or offering incentives to do so. This is the same logic behind every colonial administrator or crony politician in history

complaining that the only reason the ‘natives’ or the ‘masses’ are protesting their rule is due to foreign troublemakers. It is devaluing the capacity and motivation of ordinary people and, in this case, it’s orientalist to boot.

The second problem with the thesis is that it greatly overestimates the capabilities of the CIA. Don’t get me wrong. The CIA is good at some things, and a lot of those things are deeply troubling and unethical.

Those things include funneling arms and finances to established groups of insurgents or to foreign regimes; extrajudicial rendition and detention; gathering particular types of intelligence and sharing it with select allies;

killing people with drones (sometimes even the intended targets); and supporting the more kinetic divisions of the US forces during on-the-ground military operations. They’ve also had some success with ruining Castro’s cigars and funding abstract expressionist art.

But none of these things are happening or would be relevant in HK today. There is no established insurgent group for the CIA to co-opt. There are no arms being funneled in (protesters use umbrellas, hard hats, dishwashing detergent, and a few Molotovs!)

Langley wouldn’t begin to know who to talk to in this type of leaderless, highly networked movement (look at their failures during the Arab Spring). I doubt they even have enough people proficient in traditional Chinese (let alone Konglish) to keep up with LIHKG and Telegram.

So, the idea of foreign black hands driving HK protests puts too little faith in the capacity of Hongkongers and too much faith in the capacity of those foreign forces. And worse, it plays directly into Beijing’s attempt at discrediting what is in fact a bottom-up mass movement

CIA raid on North Korean embassy in Spain?

Story from El Pais, the second most-read daily newspaper in Spain, presented without comment (well, okay, just one comment – WTF?):

Investigators from the Spanish police and National Intelligence Center (CNI) have linked an attack on the North Korean embassy in Madrid on February 22 to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Sources believe the goal of the attack embassy was to get information on the former North Korean ambassador to Spain

At least two of the 10 assailants who broke into the embassy and interrogated diplomatic staff have been identified and have connections to the US intelligence agency. The CIA has denied any involvement but government sources say their response was “unconvincing.”

If it is proven that the CIA was behind the attack, it could lead to a diplomatic spat between Madrid and Washington. Government sources say that it would be “unacceptable” for an ally to take such action. Not only would it mean that the US agency had operated on Spanish soil without asking for authorization or informing the authorities, it would also be a violation of the international conventions that protect diplomatic delegations.

What’s more, unlike other intelligence activities – such as cyberattacks, which are characterized by their discretion, the attack on the North Korean embassy was especially violent. On February 22 at 3pm, 10 masked men carrying alleged imitation weapons broke into the embassy, located north of the capital in the residential area of Aravaca. They tied up the eight people inside and put bags on their heads. The victims were beaten and interrogated. A woman managed to escape from a window on the second floor and her screams for help were heard by a neighbor, who contacted the police.

CIA debacle in China

From Foreign Policy, we learn how China managed to roll up the CIA’s entire network of informants across the country in 2010-12, executing about 30 people in total:

It was considered one of the CIA’s worst failures in decades: Over a two-year period starting in late 2010, Chinese authorities systematically dismantled the agency’s network of agents across the country, executing dozens of suspected U.S. spies. But since then, a question has loomed over the entire debacle.

Now, nearly eight years later, it appears that the agency botched the communication system it used to interact with its sources, according to five current and former intelligence officials. The CIA had imported the system from its Middle East operations, where the online environment was considerably less hazardous, and apparently underestimated China’s ability to penetrate it. […]

The former officials also said the real number of CIA assets and those in their orbit executed by China during the two-year period was around 30, though some sources spoke of higher figures. The New York Times, which first reported the story last year, put the number at “more than a dozen.” All the CIA assets detained by Chinese intelligence around this time were eventually killed, the former officials said. […]

Some staggering technical incompetence on the part of the CIA appears to have been involved:

Although they used some of the same coding, the interim system and the main covert communication platform used in China at this time were supposed to be clearly separated. In theory, if the interim system were discovered or turned over to Chinese intelligence, people using the main system would still be protected—and there would be no way to trace the communication back to the CIA. But the CIA’s interim system contained a technical error: It connected back architecturally to the CIA’s main covert communications platform. When the compromise was suspected, the FBI and NSA both ran “penetration tests” to determine the security of the interim system. They found that cyber experts with access to the interim system could also access the broader covert communications system the agency was using to interact with its vetted sources, according to the former officials.

In the words of one of the former officials, the CIA had “fucked up the firewall” between the two systems.

And a tweet from the author, Zach Dorfman:

This didn’t make it into the piece, but here’s how the Chinese treated people working with the CIA: According to one source, one asset working at a state tech institutes, and his pregnant wife, were executed live on closed circuit TV in front of the staff.

What a disaster. HUMINT is a dangerous game, even more so when sloppy tradecraft is being used. Also, I question the value of this type of high-risk skullduggery. Chinese intentions with regard to the US are not hard to discern, and access to all the secrets in the world is useless if a country is not willing to defend its national interests.