CIA Debacle in China — The Search for “PATIENT ZERO”

You could tell the Chinese weren’t guessing. The Ministry of State Security [which handles both foreign intelligence and domestic security] were always pulling in the right people. When things started going bad, they went bad fast.”

Anonymous former US Intelligence Officer (August 2018)

“To give our compromise context, the U.S. communications infrastructure was under siege. Once we understood this compromise several of the mysteries we encountered in our operations came sharply into focus. Our operational interests were known. The damage did not stop with the identification of our humint assets. It was a recipe for disaster. We had a catastrophic failure on our hands that would ensnare a great many of our sources.”

John Reidy — Letter to the CIA Inspector General’s Office (2010)

Between 2010 and 2012, the government of China arrested — and eventually executed — several dozens CIA sources, crippling the Agency’s ability to collect information within the country. How did this happen and why are MSM silent on this story?

Without a doubt, the debacle of the CIA in China is a disaster of epic proportions. I argue that basic epidemiology principles, concepts, and procedures may help to solve this case. It appears that the discovery of a single CIA asset by China Counter-Intelligence exposed the entire network. It is obviously highly important to discover the identity of this individual. Based on the limited information available, I suggest that he may have been the personal  secretary of Lu Zhongwei, the then Vice-Minister of China Ministry of State Security. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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RELATED POST: The True Story of the CIA Debacle in China


A joint CIA and FBI counterintelligence operation, codenamed “Honey Bear”, failed to determine the source of the agents’ compromises.

In January 2018, a former CIA officer named Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport, on suspicion of helping dismantle the CIA’s network of informants in China. That story is a textbook case of “smoke and mirrors”.

Five intelligence officials have now confirmed my findings to Foreign Policy Magazine.

According to these current and former intelligence officials, the CIA  botched the communication system it used to interact with its sources.

Several Hypotheses and a Most Likely Scenario

It is not known whether a mole within the CIA has leaked information to the Chinese or they themselves hacked into the data, using the flaws of the “covert communication” [covcom] system.

A combination of both theories appears to be the most likely scenario. It would seem that China Counter-Intelligence discovered a single CIA asset and then identified the entire network thanks to the coding flaws of the covcom he was using to transmit information to his CIA handlers.

The Concept of “Patient Zero”

Without a doubt, the debacle of the CIA in China is a disaster of epic proportions. I believe that basic epidemiology principles, concepts, and procedures may help to solve this case.

“Patient Zero” is a term that was coined to  refer to the supposed source of HIV outbreak in the United States, but the term has been expanded into general usage to refer to an individual identified as the first carrier of a communicable disease in a population (the primary case), or the first incident in the onset of a catastrophic trend.

In some cases, a known or suspected patient zero may be informally referred to as an index case for the purpose of a scientific study, such as the one-year-old boy who thought to be the source of the largest Ebola virus outbreak in history.

The term can also be used in non-medical fields to describe the first individual affected by something negative that since propagated to others, such as the first user on a network infected by malware.

What Information is Known about “Patient Zero”

The CIA network was whipped out during a period going from 2010 to 2012. Thus, “Patient Zero” must have been recruited before 2010.

But he was still using the ‘interim covcom”, a system provided to an asset whose loyalty is still being tested by the CIA.

Thus, we may concluded that he was not recruited long before 2010, maybe one year or two at the most.

Next we can safely assume that China Counter-Intelligence did not arrest him publicly once they discovered that he was a CIA agent. They probably used him to pass disinformation for quite a while. Most importantly, they were thus hiding the true cause behind the worst failure of the CIA in recent history.

As an “educated” guess, I would suggest that he was one of the last, if not the very last, CIA assets arrested by the Chinese in this operation.

The Case of Vice-Minister Lu Zhongwei

In June 2012, REUTERS reported that a Chinese state-security official had been arrested — earlier that year — on allegations of spying for the CIA.

The official — not named by REUTERS, is Mr Li Hui who worked as the personal secretary of Lu Zhongwei, the then Vice-Minister of the Ministry of State Security.

Mr Li Hui was recruited by the CIA around 2009.

Hui was taken into custody sometime between January and March 2012 after the ministry became alarmed over repeated incidents of Chinese agents being compromised in the United States.

One could certainly argue that Li Hui fits all the characteristics of “patient zero”.

If one could prove that scenario, the consequences would be obviously far-reaching.

For instance, former CIA Jerry Lee left the CIA in 2007. At the time of his resignation, Lee was the second secretary at the US Embassy in Beijing, China.

Certainly, we can all agree that the former CIA officer could not have known the identity of an asset recruited AFTER he left the Agency!

CIA’s Worst Failure in Recent History


United States of America v. Jerry Chun Shing Lee — Indictment

18 U.S. Code § 794 – Gathering or delivering defense information to aid foreign government

Former CIA Case Officer Charged With Conspiracy to Commit Espionage and Retention of National Defense Information — US DOJ

The Crime of Conspiracy Thrives in Decisions of the United States Supreme Court — Paul Marcus

A whistleblower plays by the rules at CIA, and finds ‘nothing gets done’  by Tim Johnson

Botched CIA Communications System Helped Blow Cover of Chinese Agents — FP


CIA Debacle in China — The Search for “PATIENT ZERO”

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