Spies Are Us
At the nexus of so many conflicts and international machinations, Beirut has long been a popular destination for intelligence agents. Every spy thriller or ex-undercover agent’s autobiography features at least one stint here, and many agencies first honed their car-bombing and assassination skills in Lebanon. Even today, every Beiruti knows at least a couple of people they suspect of being on some intelligence agency's payroll.
One of the few perks of living with this specter of surveillance is the glaring incompetence of the spies sent to gather intelligence on Hezbollah and other resistance groups. It is part of the national lore – Lebanon burns the fingers of clumsy spooks – and nothing elevates collective spirits quite like a good story about the hubris of the enemy. During its frenzied bombardment of Lebanon in 2006, Israel’s numerous intelligence failures offered a welcome respite from the death and destruction. One memorable incident involved an elderly grocer who was mistakenly kidnapped during a brazen night raid by Israel’s elite paratrooper unit, which subsequently announced – to much fanfare from the Israeli and US press – that it had captured a “big fish.” To his misfortune, said grocer bore the same name as (though no resemblance or relation to) Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He was later released. Stupid may be exceedingly brutal, but stupid doesn’t win.
In times of relative calm – a favored media term for those interludes between wars – western spy agencies don’t appear to fare much better. A few months ago, Hezbollah, using commercially available telecommunications tracking technology, busted a ring of CIA agents in Beirut. They had reportedly been using the codeword “Pizza” to arrange clandestine meetings with their informants at Pizza Hut. As a result, according to ABC News, the CIA was forced to close its entire station Beirut – a “catastrophe,” according to former senior CIA officer Robert Baer, who lamented that the agency had “lost [its] touch in espionage.”
In this context, “The GI Files” affirm many of our suspicions about the comical ineptitude of intelligence agents, which we will share with our readers here over the coming days. Let the gloating begin.
- Blog: Strat4Dummies