Lebanon, Syria Disband Israeli Spy Network
(FNA)- The Lebanese and Syrian security bodies in a joint operation uncovered and dismantled an Israeli spy network operating in Lebanon.
The operation, the first in its kind, led to a harsh clampdown on the Mossad network in Lebanon in March, the Syrian press reported.
The Mossad network, named "Ivory", included spies with different nationalities working to harm Syrian security, Syria's Dam Press reported.
The website released the names of a number of the arrested spies, but declined to reveal any further information due to the sensitivity of the issue.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011 with organized attacks by well-armed gangs against Syrian police forces and border guards being reported across the country.
In October, calm was eventually restored in the Arab state after President Assad started a reform initiative in the country, but Israel, the US and its Arab allies are seeking hard to bring the country into chaos through any possible means. Tel Aviv, Washington and some Arab capitals have been staging various plots in the hope of stirring unrests in Syria once again.
Earlier this month, four members of the UN peace-keeping mission in Syria who were visiting Homs province saved a foreign spy and took him out of the region in their car.
The four peace observers entered the city of Khalidiya in Homs province but they were five when returning from the city, eye-witnesses said, adding that the two UN cars then stopped at a restaurant and the peace observers handed the foreign spy to unknown parties.
Also in February, a Saudi spy named Nasser al-Ariqi was arrested in Homs after clashes erupted between Syrian forces and armed gangs on Saturday.
Al-Ariqi has been said to be the commander of a heavily armed terrorist group in the city in Western Syria. The Lebanese media reports said that the armed group has been trying to remove the Syrian army's security checkpoints using heavy weaponry.
In November, US officials acknowledged that Hezbollah has unraveled the CIA's spy network in Lebanon and arrested dozens of informants, severely damaging the intelligence agency's reputation and ability to gather vital information on the country at a sensitive time in the region.
US officials said several foreign spies working for the CIA had been captured by Hezbollah in 2011. The blow to the CIA's operations in Lebanon came after top agency managers were alerted in 2010 to be especially careful handling informants in the Middle Eastern country.
A CIA-led program in the Middle East went up in the air after officials confirmed to news organizations that paid informants in Iran and Lebanon working for the US government had disappeared while attempting to infiltrate Hezbollah.
During the last two years, leaders of both Iran and Hezbollah have publicly announced the successes of their security and counterintelligence forces in uncovering CIA informants.
Iranian intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi announced in May, 2011 that more than 30 US and Israeli spies had been discovered and he quickly took to Iranian television to broadcast information explaining the methods of online communication that the agents would use to trade intel. Only a month later, Hezbollah leader Seyed Hassan Nasrallah announced that two high-ranking officers within his own organization had been identified as CIA spies. After several months, the US government confirm that not only is this information true, but they believed that the rest of their Hezbollah-targeted operations in the Middle East were compromised.
In June, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said two of the group's members had been arrested on suspicion of being affiliated with the CIA, and a third was held for working either for the CIA or for European or Israeli intelligence agencies.
A former US intelligence official who worked in the region said US operatives have been "battling for most of the last decade" in a shadow war with what he described as Hezbollah's extremely effective counterintelligence operatives.
"Over the years, Hezbollah has proven persistent and successful both in spotting CIA informants within its ranks and in trying to plant its own double agents on the CIA," the former official said.
One frequent tactic used by the group, the former official said, is to send "walk-in" operatives into US embassies in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries claiming to have information about attacks being planned against US targets.
Instead of having information about real attack planning, however, the "walk-ins" use their visits to US embassy buildings to gather information about embassy security measures and procedures which could then be used to plan possible attacks, according to the former official.
Robert Baer, a former CIA operations officer whose books inspired the Hollywood movie Syriana, said that Hezbollah's counterintelligence capabilities are formidable and should not be underestimated.
"Hezbollah's security is as good as any in the world's. It's the best. It's better than that of the KGB," the former Soviet spy agency, Baer said.
Hezbollah, founded during Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war, has grown from a militia that fought Israeli forces in south Lebanon into the most powerful political and military force in the country.
Baer said one reason Hezbollah has been successful in rooting out spies is that it has managed to find access to US equipment to identify and track down CIA informants.
US officials were coy about the extent and seriousness of CIA losses. But they said damage to US intelligence was serious enough for extensive briefings and discussions to have been held with congressional oversight committees. A congressional source said any discussions remain classified.
Hezbollah and Iran are major targets of interest for US spy agencies and the White House.
The CIA declined to comment on the latest developments. Agency spokesman Preston Golson said the CIA "does not, as a rule discuss allegations of operational activities."
A report by the Los Angeles Times on Monday revealed that that CIA operations in Lebanon have effectively been crippled due to Hezbollah's astonishing actions.
US officials confirmed that some CIA informants assigned to gather information on Hezbollah and the government of Iran had been compromised, and that any such losses are considered damaging to US intelligence collection efforts.