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Matthew Cole – OPSEC Failures of Spies – BlackHat 2013

In Archive, CIA, Italy, Lebanon, Surveillance on December 31, 2013 at 6:38 PM

Matt Blaze: “Anyone who says it’s ‘just’ harmless metadata should be forced to watch Matthew Cole’s talk Clockwork Orange style.”

BlackHat:

The CIA is no more technologically sophisticated than your average American, and as a result, has suffered serious and embarrassing operational failures.

This is a rare peek inside the CIA’s intelligence gathering operations and the stunning lack of expertise they can bring to the job.

In 2005, news organizations around the world reported that an Italian court had signed arrest warrants for 26 Americans in connection with an extraordinary rendition of a Muslim cleric. At the heart of the case was the stunning lack of OPSEC the team of spies used while they surveilled and then snatched their target off the streets of Milan.

The incident, known as the Italian Job inside the CIA, became an international scandal and caused global outrage. What very few people ever understood was that the CIA’s top spies were laughably uneducated about cell phone technology and ignorant of the electronic fingerprints left behind.

The story would be startling, though old, if not for the fact that eight years after the debacle in Milan, history repeated itself.

In 2011, an entire CIA network of Lebanese informants was busted by Hezbollah. The reason: cell phone OPSEC failures. After receiving a warning from Mossad, who had lost their network a year earlier the same way, the CIA dismissed Hezbollah’s ability to run analytic software on raw cell phone traffic. But they did. And with a little effort, the CIA’s network of spies, as well as their own officers, were identified one by one.

This is the true story of American Intelligence’s Keystone Kops.

Matthew Cole is an investigative journalist, specializing in national security and intelligence issues. Most recently, Cole worked as a television producer at ABC News’ investigative unit. There, he garnered two Emmy nominations in 2011 for his coverage of the CIA and an al Qaeda terrorist plot. His work has aired on Good Morning America, World News Tonight and Nightline.

While at ABC News, Cole broke several international stories, which include a CIA secret prison in Lithuania, and revelations that a missing Iranian nuclear scientist had in fact defected to the US for the CIA. Cole has covered Blackwater, mercenaries, the expansion of JSOC, the CIA, and war crimes in Afghanistan. Prior to ABC, Cole was a contributing writer at ESPN the Magazine and wrote features for GQ, New York, Salon, and Details among others.

His work has been cited by the annual Best Sports Writing. Cole has filed or produced from Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as reporting in Egypt, Jordan, Dubai, Thailand, Lithuania, Italy and Panama. Cole graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. He resides in New York.

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