China killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 CIA sources from 2010 to 2012, hobbling U.S. spying operations in a massive intelligence breach whose origin has not been identified, the New York Times reported..
It is not clear whether the CIA was hacked or whether a mole helped the Chinese to identify the agents, officials told the paper.They said one of the informants was shot in the courtyard of a government building as a warning to others.
The CIA did not comment on the report. Four former CIA officials spoke to the paper, telling it that information from sources deep inside the Chinese government bureaucracy started to dry up in 2010.
The information began to dry up by the end of the year and the sources began disappearing in early 2011.
As more sources were killed the FBI and the CIA began a joint investigation of the breach, examining all operations run in Beijing and every employee of the U.S. Embassy there.
Some investigators believed the Chinese had hacked the CIA's covert communications system. Still others thought the breach was a result of careless spy work including traveling the same routes to the same meeting points or meeting sources at restaurants where Chinese had planted listening devices.
By 2013, U.S. intelligence concluded China's ability to identify its agents had been curtailed, the newspaper said, and the CIA has been trying to rebuild its spy network there.