- On April 1, 2001, a US EP-3 spy plane collided with a Chinese fighter jet over the South China Sea.
- The US plane was forced to land at a Chinese base, giving China access to its sensitive hardware.
- Author James Bamford details US missteps throughout the incident and their lasting consequences.
The following is an excerpt from James Bamford’s new book, “Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence.”
Sunrise was still a half-hour away and the temperature was just at the freezing mark when the lineman removed the blocks from the worn tires of the EP-3E ARIES II, a gray-and-white four-engine propjet with a donut-shaped “Big Look” radar attached to its lower belly. It was Sunday, April 1, 2001.
“Kilo Romeo 919,” said a voice in the tower, “clear to taxi.” Moments later the pilot, Navy lieutenant Shane Osborn, released the parking brake and eased the four power levers forward, his knuckles white. As the engines coughed blue-black exhaust fumes like a heavy smoker, the aircraft crawled slowly toward the runway on Okinawa’s Kadena Air Base.
One of eleven left in the fleet, the tired 1960s-era spy plane bristled with porcupine-like antennas. It would be a risky mission. Assigned to the NSA’s Sensitive Reconnaissance Operations Program (SRO), the crew was scheduled to once again fly along the Chinese coast to update lists of signals, pick up a few conversations, and see if some ships or subs had moved from point A to point B or point C.
It was intelligence overkill. In addition to its vast number of cyber spies at Fort Meade focused on China, the NSA also had the world’s largest and most expensive fleet of spy satellites orbiting over the country every ninety minutes, as well as half a dozen expansive and costly listening posts stretching from northern Japan to South Korea to Okinawa. There, hundreds of agency operators sat with their ears constantly tuned to Chinese frequencies and their eyes scanning Chinese intercepts 24/7. And then just two miles from Kadena was the NSA’s Hanza Remote Collection Facility, a massive electronic ear facing China, and scores of additional intercept operators. But within the intelligence bureaucracy, more spies mean more power for those in charge, whether they are needed or not. Hence the daily EP-3E patrols.
At 4:47 a.m., the word came from the tower. “Wind 010 at eight [knots]. Cleared for takeoff.” Osborn, a native Nebraskan with a dark receding hair-line and heavy caterpillar brows, moved the power levers forward again and placed his feet on the rudder pedals. Loaded with twenty-nine tons of jet fuel, the plane lumbered forward. Then as the airspeed indicators hit 133 knots, Osborn pulled back on the yoke and the aircraft’s nose wheel lifted gently from Runway 4 Left.
In addition to Osborn, there were five other members of the flight crew, including two more pilots; the three would take turns resting and flying. Behind them, in the near-windowless tubelike fuselage, eighteen analysts, eavesdroppers, and linguists hunched over racks of gray machines with blinking scopes and black dials that lined the long bulkhead on either side of the cabin. The mission was to monitor China’s signals environment, especially their South Sea Fleet’s tactical communications, radars, and weapon systems.
Just aft of the door on the left side of the fuselage sat the Science and Technology (S&T) operator. His assignment that day was to collect and process signals associated with China’s SA-10 surface-to-air missiles. According to top secret documents, this was done with one of the most highly classified computers on the plane, the SCARAB. Tall and boxy with a handle on top, it contained a unique processor code-named LUNCHBOX that was able to search and identify forty different worldwide weapons-related signals, code-named PROFORMA.
A few seats away, another operator studied the screen of a black Tadpole Ultrabook IIi laptop. On it were some of the NSA’s most highly secret programs, including the RASIN (short for Radio Signals Notation) manual, the agency’s bible. Listed inside were critical details about every signal in the world that NSA was intercepting. The laptop also contained MARTES, an ultrasensitive codebreaking program that deciphered enciphered Chinese voice communications.
Shortly after takeoff, Osborn left the cockpit and entered the ops area. “It looks like good weather en route to the track orbit and back to Kadena,” he told the crew. “Mission time is just over nine hours today.” Back on the flight deck, he proceeded southwest, flying at 21,500 feet between Taiwan and the Philippines before following China’s coastline on his SRO track past Hong Kong. A short time later he began approaching China’s Hainan Island, home to the military’s Lingshui Airfield, remaining about sixty miles off the coast.
For almost a year, tensions over the US spy flights, about two hundred a year, had been building on the island, as well as in Beijing. In May 2000, Chinese military officers aired their complaints during a conference with their American counterparts in Honolulu. The annual meetings were established to discuss ways to avoid accidents at sea and in the air, and at the May meeting the Chinese officials made it very clear that the flights had become a growing problem.
It was “the most important topic” at the meeting, one Chinese officer told the Washington Post at the time. The flights were approaching “too close to the coast, and it might cause trouble,” he said, adding, “The atmosphere wasn’t good.” But the Americans paid little attention.
It was an arrogant and belligerent stance for the United States to take since no American president would ever tolerate near-daily spy flights fifty miles off America’s coasts by China, Russia, or any other country. Such flights are often viewed as a preparation for war. But rather than reduce the provocative flights, the NSA instead increased them from about two hundred a year to five days a week, even on Christmas Day. It was therefore less about collecting intelligence and more about flaunting power and flexing muscles.
In response, on about every third mission Chinese fighters would conduct inspection flights, pulling up close and parallel with the American pilots and sometimes gesturing from the cockpit. The United States did basically the same thing on the very infrequent occasions that Russian aircraft flew near the US mainland. As the NSA’s spy flights close to China increased, the Chinese fighter pilots became more aggressive, and the situation was becoming more and more dangerous.
Nearly a half-century earlier, in 1956, another Navy reconnaissance aircraft was flying off China’s coast when it suddenly had a confrontation with Chinese fighters. As a result, the plane crashed into the sea, killing all sixteen crew members on board. The incident shocked President Dwight Eisenhower. “We seem to be conducting something that we cannot control very well,” he told Admiral Arthur M. Radford, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a secret meeting. “If planes were flying 20 to 50 miles from our shores,” Eisenhower continued, “we would be very likely to shoot them down if they came in closer, whether through error or not.” Close-in airborne eavesdropping was dangerous business.
As Osborn continued his mission off Hainan Island, the plane was on autopilot as it cruised over the South China Sea at 22,500 feet and about 180 knots. Outside the weather was clear, with seven-mile visibility and a broken cloud layer below at 15,000 feet. And in the operational spaces, the eavesdropping activity was light, with the interception of an occasional early warning radar and routine military communications. It was, after all, a Sunday, raising even more questions about the reasons for the costly and hazardous mission.
But the morning quiet would soon be shattered. On Hainan Island at 8:48 a.m., technicians manning the regional air defense network spotted the aircraft and flashed the details to Lingshui Airfield, which sounded an alarm. Standing by in ready status in their dark blue aviator’s uniforms, fighter pilots Wang Wei and Zhao Yu raced for their aircraft, single-seat J-8II Finback interceptors armed with Israeli Python air-to-air missiles. At Mach 2.2 and with a ceiling of almost 60,000 feet, they flew fast and high with improved avionics supplied by the United States in the late 1980s.
With the increase in spy flights came an increase in aggressive inspections. Since December there had been forty-four interceptions, with six coming within thirty feet, and two within ten feet. Wang Wei, a thirty-three-year-old PLAN (People’s Liberation Army Navy) lieutenant commander from the silk city of Huzhou near Shanghai, had eleven hundred hours of flight time under his belt. He was also a veteran of another EP-3E inspection the previous January.
As the alarm sounded at Lingshui Airfield, followed by the scramble for the jets, Chinese linguists in the EP-3E’s ops spaces immediately picked up the activity. Through their earphones they could hear the ground controller, the pilot communication checks, the fighter pre-flight activities, and a takeoff sequence.
Across the Pacific, in a World War II-era bombproof bunker beneath a pineapple field in Hawaii, NSA linguists and intercept operators were also listening intently to the activity at Lingshui. Part of an alert system for spy planes, code-named KNICKELBACK, analysts quickly sent out a warning to the reconnaissance plane. The expansive bunker, known as the Kunia Regional Sigint Operations Center, was the NSA’s major Pacific listening post.
At 8:51 the EP-3E acknowledged the warning via secure satellite communications, and four minutes later Osborn spotted the jets approaching about a half-mile out and climbing rapidly to his altitude. At the time, he was about seventy miles from Hainan Island, and with the mission coming to an end, he was preparing to return to Okinawa. Within minutes, however, the fighters had reached the lumbering spy plane, and while Zhao Yu hung back about a half-mile, Wang Wei rapidly closed in. “Hey, he’s right off our wing,” someone from the back end reported to Osborn. “He’s tight, that’s the closest I’ve seen!”
In the ops spaces, Marcia Sonon was in an awkward crouched position. Searching for the Chinese fighters, she was looking out a small round window on the left side over the wing. A Navy lieutenant with bright red hair, she was the plane’s COMEVAL, the communications intelligence (COMINT) evaluator. Reporting to her were the six COMINT operators on the right side of the aircraft. They focused on intercepting Chinese voice communications and the PROFORMA weapons-related signals.
“He’s closing to three o’clock,” she told Osborn. “He’s definitely armed. I can see missiles on his wing. He’s got his oxygen mask on.” A moment later her calm tone turned tense and stressed. “He’s getting really close! Fifty feet. Now he’s about forty feet,” she said, her voice rising. “Oh my God, he’s coming closer! Right now he’s about ten feet off our wing.” Wang Wei rendered a salute, but Sonon couldn’t make out what he meant. In the cockpit, Osborne looked right in his face. “This isn’t good,” he said. Then Wang Wei fell back about a hundred feet off the left wing.
A minute later, Wang Wei had returned, this time closing to just five feet before making another gesture and dropping back again. Then a third approach, but this time he had difficulty slowing his fast interceptor to match the propjet’s slow speed and suddenly he was directly below the EP-3E’s left wing. In severe trouble, he immediately radioed the base, telling them he was unable to maneuver and being sucked in by the spy plane. Seconds later, his jet impacted the plane’s left outboard propeller just forward of the J-8II’s vertical stabilizer, tearing the tail off the Chinese aircraft and sending its nose crashing into the front of the EP-3E, which was then still on autopilot.
Instantly Osborn felt the bang as a cloud of glittering debris exploded in front of the left wing and he heard what sounded like a monster chainsaw hacking through metal. Then, a fraction of a second later, as the jet hit the front of his plane, the EP-3E’s fiberglass nosecone flew over the windscreen and metal fragments punctured the fuselage like machine-gun fire. Immediately there was an explosive decompression as screams filled the cockpit and the cabin.
“I was pretty certain we were dead at that point,” said Osborn. “We were upside down in a large reconnaissance aircraft. I had lost my nose. I could hear the wind screaming through the plane, and I knew that number one prop was violently shaking. We were pretty much inverted. I was looking up at the ocean, so it was not a good feeling … I thought twenty- four people were going to die in the middle of the ocean, and I wondered if anyone would know why.”
At that same moment, twenty-six-year-old Navy lieutenant junior grade John Comerford felt a shock wave rip down his spine. “I was scared,” he later said. Tall, with a thick patch of carrot-colored hair, the 1997 Annapolis grad had been nicknamed by Osborn “Johnny Ballgame” because the two would have a good time on the weekends together. As the senior evaluator (SEVAL), he had overall responsibility for the reconnaissance personnel. “Honestly, based on how things felt—I didn’t have a whole lot of visual reference—but based on how things felt, and the shaking of the plane, yeah, there was a time there that I really thought to myself, ‘Wow, this guy—this guy just killed us.’ “
Flying behind the two planes in his J-8II, Zhao Yu witnessed the collision and frantically radioed Wang Wei. “Your plane’s vertical tail has been struck off !” he yelled. “Remain stable, remain stable!” “Roger,” Wang Wei replied, but about thirty seconds later Zhao Yu saw his partner’s jet roll to the right side and plunge toward the South China Sea. Although Wang Wei managed to bail out, his parachute did not open in time and his body would never be found.
By now the spy plane was out of control, gear crashing all around, a disintegrating number one engine hurling shrapnel, and horrified screams in the cockpit and the ops area as it began an inverted dive. Osborn instinctively swung the yoke hard right and jammed his foot on the right rudder pedal to regain control. But the dive angle steepened, and he was looking up at the sky instead of down at the choppy blue-black waves of the sea below.
After the plane tumbled for about a mile and a half, Osborn shouted into the PA system, “Prepare to bail out!” In the ops area, the crew scrambled for their parachutes, survival vests, and helmets. But then he managed to bring the aircraft under partial control, and after falling another mile, he was able to regain full control, leveling off at 8,000 feet. Minutes later Osborn changed the order to prepare to ditch.
At 9:13, eight minutes after the collision, copilot Jeff Vignery, a redheaded Kansan, put out an emergency call over the international distress frequency, 243.0 MHz. “Mayday! Mayday!” he shouted. “Kilo Romeo 919! We are going down!” It was then 8:13 p.m. in Washington, but despite all of its eavesdropping assets, the NSA never received the emergency call because even during sensitive reconnaissance missions it never bothered to monitor the international distress frequencies. Nor were the communications in the ops spaces any better. Moments after the collision, the secure communications operator attempted repeatedly to transmit the two-word message “GOING DOWN” on a secure network for reconnaissance operations. Code-named Sensor Pace, it was a low-data-rate digital satellite network, but the message was never received.
Finally, the navigator began repeatedly transmitting Mayday calls on another secure satellite system, the Pacific Tributary Network, and at least one transmission was eventually received by both the NSA’s Kunia bunker in Hawaii and the agency’s Special Support Activity at Fort Meade. Part of the agency’s National Security Operations Center, the SSA instantly sent out a top secret CRITIC message. Reserved for the highest emergencies, or indications of war, CRITICs (for Critical Intelligence) are designed to immediately alert the president and top government officials to a major event.
Within minutes, the SSA watch commander set up a special high-level conferencing system known as a NOIWON (National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer’s Network) bringing together the crisis centers at the White House, CIA, Pentagon, State Department, and NSA. Other discussions were conducted over a watch officers’ secure chat room known as ZIRCON chat. In concert with the National Reconnaissance Office, eavesdropping and imaging satellites were steered toward the crisis area.
On board the aircraft, there were only bad and worse choices. No one had ever bailed out of an EP-3E, and because of the damage there was a good possibility of the jumpers smashing into the tail. And even if they made it to the sea beneath their parachutes, the twenty-four crew members would be scattered over a wide distance in shark-infested waters. There was a life raft, but because of the airspeed, it would land far from the survivors. Ditching into the sea, however, was an even worse idea. Because of the lack of control, and the bulbous doughnut- shaped Big Look radar on the bottom, the plane would likely flip nose down and immediately sink.
Finally, Osborn gained partial control of the aircraft, which gave him a third choice: Make for the nearest land. But that was Hainan Island, their eavesdropping target. Thus they would be handing Chinese intelligence an entire NSA spy plane filled bulkhead to bulkhead with top secret coding and crypto equipment, intercept gear, and a library of highly sensitive documents, most classified above top secret. Nevertheless, between losing secrets or lives, Osborn chose in favor of saving the crew and turned toward Hainan’s Lingshui Airfield. “Activate the emergency destruction plan,” he yelled over the PA, assuming there was such a plan.
In the ops spaces, it was chaos, with no one in charge and no coherent method to the destruction. Despite the fact that NSA spy planes flew almost daily missions along hostile borders, there was no guidance or procedures on what to do in an emergency if it was necessary to divert to the target country. Nor had there ever been training on how to destroy a planeload of NSA secrets in flight. These were just further blunders by NSA director Michael Hayden, who was in charge of the airborne missions under his dual role as chief of the Central Security Service, the military side of NSA. He was about to hand the Chinese an entire flying listening post packed with the nation’s highest secrets.
Much of the blame for the chaos, compromise of material, and lack of training also fell on Osborn and the plane’s signals intelligence officers, according to a top secret NSA damage assessment. “The aircrew’s overall performance in safeguarding classified materials under their charge was poor,” it said, citing “a general lack of training, practice in emergency destruction, capabilities, and sound policy.”
LTJG John Comerford, the senior evaluator, was in charge of the NSA’s signals intelligence personnel in the back end and therefore responsible for overseeing the emergency destruction of the critical documents and equipment. But according to the NSA report, rather than supervise the destruction, he instead “isolated himself from knowledge of actions taking place in the rest of the cabin. As a result, he had no situational awareness of the status and scope of emergency destruction and was unable to effectively monitor and direct the actions of the crew.” Wielding a fire ax, he began smashing equipment and dumping material out a hatch, but paid little attention to directing an organized destruction effort.
Also, inexplicably, he never bothered to tell the crew that rather than ditching in the South China Sea they were going to land on Hainan Island. Therefore, many crew members simply stood by the door preparing to exit rather than taking part in the emergency destruction. Others found the task overwhelming due to the lack of direction and the fact that the plane was overstuffed with reams and reams of top secret documents. Many of the documents were useless, unnecessary, and never should have been brought aboard. And while the ax was used to damage some laptop computers, left unharmed were the internal hard drives containing the sensitive data. Similarly, with the racks of highly sensitive intercept equipment along the aircraft’s bulkheads, crew members smashed the keyboards and display screens but left such critical system components as tuners and signal processors unscathed.
Among those Comerford failed to inform about the landing in China was Lieutenant Marcia Sonon, the COMINT evaluator in charge of the voice intercept crew. Assuming the plane was going to ditch, instead of destroying or jettisoning all the highly sensitive COMINT materials, the crew simply packed them in locking leather satchels and, along with the highly sensitive MARTES laptop computer, stored them in a cabinet.
It was a short flight to Lingshui, but despite numerous Mayday calls and requests for assistance on an international distress frequency (243.0 MHz), there was no response from the Chinese airfield’s controllers. No one, however, bothered to contact the airfield on its own frequency even though members of the crew had that information.
Nevertheless, after a pass over the runway, flying low over orange roofs, swaying palm trees, rice fields, and an operations tower blackened with mildew, Osborn touched down. It was 9:34 in the morning, twenty-nine minutes after the collision. As he tapped the brakes with his flight boots to slow the aircraft down, ahead of him on the runway he saw a thin lineman in sandals directing the aircraft to the edge of the runway. Once the plane came to a stop, it was surrounded by about two dozen military personnel, six to eight of them armed with AK-47 assault rifles, though none were pointed at the aircraft.
At 9:41, over secure satellite communications, Comerford reported to the NSA’s SSA, the Kunia bunker, and the Pacific Reconnaissance Operations Center in Hawaii. “On deck at Lingshui,” he said. He then told Osborn his orders were to stay put as they evaluated the situation. “They want us to hold on a few minutes,” Comerford said. Instead, before awaiting instructions or passing on any information about the collision, the status of the classified information, or their situation, Osborn ordered the plane’s power turned off, thereby eliminating any chance of further communications with NSA or the outside world.
Moments later, in the ultimate absurdity, the first thing Osborn did was to ask a PLA officer for his cell phone to call NSA headquarters. “Can I use your phone to make a call?” he said, standing in the doorway. “I have to tell my command that we are safe.”
“That is not possible,” the officer said. “We will take care of that. Do not worry.”
Ordered off the plane, Osborn at first resisted and then turned to Comerford. “Hey, Ballgame. It’s time to get off.”
“Okay, you’re right,” said Comerford, and he lowered the door’s folded ladder.
Once everyone was off the plane, the PLA officer headed for the ladder.
“You are not allowed aboard the aircraft,” Osborn said. “It’s American property.”
“It’s okay, we’ll guard it for you,” said the officer, no doubt laughing to himself.
From the plane, the crew was escorted to a bus where they waited, drinking bottled water and smoking packs of Bao Dao cigarettes, filling the air with thick gray smoke.
“Everything did go alright in the backend, right?” Osborn asked Comerford.
“Everything’s good back there,” he replied, seemingly oblivious to the inadequate emergency destruction that had taken place. Although the plane had an emergency action plan, neither Comerford nor anyone else ever consulted it.
“Notwithstanding the chaotic circumstances on the aircraft following the collision,” the top secret NSA damage assessment noted, “we conclude that the crew had sufficient time to jettison all sensitive materials … The incident revealed a systemic complacency regarding policy, planning, and training support to EP-3E SRO missions.”
The report also pointed a finger directly at the NSA’s leadership, including Director Hayden. “No specific guidance existed regarding Mission Commander or aircrew actions should an SRO aircraft be forced or, through emergency, be required to land in the PRC,” it said. It added, “Crew training for emergency destruction was minimal and did not meet squadron requirements; this deficiency was the primary cause of the compromise of classified material.”
For the next eleven days, until their release, the crew was treated well, housed first in a military barracks and then in a simple hotel. They were questioned about the cause of the midair collision while Washington and Beijing worked out agreements for their return. But while the crew was eating rice, seaweed, and chicken feet, Chinese signals intelligence specialists were studying the top secret documents and dissecting the equipment on the spy plane as if it were an alien spacecraft. It was an enormous intelligence windfall.
Because Lieutenant Marcia Sonon, the COMINT evaluator, was never informed by Comerford of the plan to land in China, all of the highly secret communications interception computers, equipment, and documents were neatly stowed in cabinets rather than destroyed or thrown into the sea. This gave Chinese intelligence an incredible insight into the NSA capabilities against their country.
Among the undamaged computers were the two most sensitive on the aircraft, according to the NSA’s report. “The most potentially damaging compromised items were the carry-on LUNCHBOX PROFORMA processor,” it said, “and a laptop computer with MARTES software tools for collecting, analyzing, and processing signals. The aircraft also had an extensive inventory of SIGINT documentation in both hardcopy and electronic media.”
What most concerned NSA on the MARTES computer was the RASIN manual, RASIN Working Aid, and associated material. This was the agency’s index of every signal they were targeting in China, Russia, and everywhere else in the world. “Together, the RASIN manual and aforementioned files provided a comprehensive overview of how the U.S. Cryptologic System exploits an adversary’s signal environment,” said the report.
Ultimately, the damage went well beyond China itself to other adversaries. “The aircraft carried significant technical data on target nations such as Russia, North Korea, and Vietnam,” the report said. This included “Russian-designed PROFORMA [weapons-related] signals used by North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, and possibly the PRC,” as well as “PROFORMA data for nearly 50 nations.” It added, “The Electronic Order of Battle (EOB) database car-ried on the EP-3E provided information on the location, number, and type of radars worldwide.”
Still other documents revealed the fact that the NSA was able to spy on the PLA Navy’s Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile program, locate its submarines, and eavesdrop on their communications. They could now change their communication methods and develop better ways to successfully hide.
Compromises also included the Intercept Tasking Database and Collection Requirements. It outlined all the key targets in China the agency was interested in, and even details on a new communications system the PLA had yet to deploy. The PLA also got near-complete access to the plane’s electronic intelligence systems. “Emergency destruction of the installed ELINT equipment by the crew was largely ineffective,” said the report. A further problem for the NSA was the fact that the inventory of classified materials aboard, left by the EP-3E crew in Kadena before they departed “was not accurate, detailed, or verified.” Therefore, no one knew just what was on the plane and what might have been compromised.
The aircraft was also loaded down with encryption devices, cryptographic keys, and entire codebooks, some for a month in advance. Much of it, said the report, was “in excess of what was needed for the mission.” Sixteen cryptographic keys and codebooks as well as sixteen cryptographic devices were left on board undamaged. Other keying materials were simply torn and left in the plane. “The PRC would probably be able to reconstruct the key tape,” it said.
With keys and devices in hand, and the right technical ability, the Chinese had fifteen hours to decipher highly secret communications across the Pacific before the NSA was able to distribute new keys worldwide, an enormous intelligence coup. The compromised materials also “might enable PRC SIGINT units to decrypt limited U.S. Pacific area encrypted transmissions for 31 March and 1 April,” said the report. The crypto devices proved unique prizes. “There is strong evidence that the PRC has aggressively sought to obtain these equipments,” said the report. One reason might be that they already had a source who could supply them with keying materials on a regular basis.
The ramifications of the EP-3E disaster would be enormous and have a long- range and very detrimental legacy for the United States. In 2019, the Chinese government credited the incident that took Wang Wei’s life with being the catalyst to spur the country’s military modernization.
“His death was an accident, but it set off many changes,” said Beijing- based military expert Zhou Chenming. “What happened 18 years ago spurred China to step up the modernization of its military, especially aircraft development for the air force and navy.” Beijing-based naval expert Li Jie agreed. “The 2001 crash taught China a lesson—that a strong country cannot rely on a vibrant economy alone but also needs a strong military. That’s what they refer to as ‘comprehensive national strength.'”
Equally serious, the EP-3E incident provided China with an enormous capability to discover exactly what successes the NSA had been able achieve over the years and decades. Now they knew which codes they had broken and which targets they were intercepting, giving Chinese intelligence the ability to modify the systems and plug the NSA’s ears for years or decades to come.
Next, they were determined to do the same with the CIA’s human spies, to find them and eliminate them with a bullet or a jail cell. And following a secret meeting in Hong Kong a week before the crash, they were off to a very good start.
James Bamford, a winner of the National Magazine Award for reporting, is the best-selling author of “The Puzzle Palace,” “Body of Secrets,” and other books on intelligence. His most recent book, from which this excerpt was taken, is “Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence,” released on January 17.
Excerpted from “Spyfail: Foreign Spies, Moles, Saboteurs, and the Collapse of America’s Counterintelligence.” ©2022 James Bamford and reprinted by permission from Twelve Books/Hachette Book Group.