Escalating its confrontation with the CIA, the militant organization Hezbollah released what it said were the names of agency officers working in Lebanon in a television broadcast that aired there last week.
The exposure creates new security risks for CIA officers in a country where American espionage operations had already been damaged by Hezbollah’s capture of a group of agency-paid informants.
The names of the purported CIA members were broadcast Friday on the Lebanese television station al-Manar as part of a report that claimed to expose the agency’s spying efforts as well as its collaboration with Israel.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said the agency “does not, as a rule, address spurious claims from terrorist groups. I think it’s worth remembering that Hezbollah is a dangerous organization, with al-Manar as its propaganda arm. That fact alone should cast some doubt on the credibility of the group’s claims.”
Youngblood declined to comment on whether the report was accurate or whether the agency had or would remove officers from a country that has long been an espionage crossroads in the Middle East.
Former CIA officials indicated that at least one of the names mentioned — that of the station chief in Beirut — appeared to be accurate. The move by Hezbollah was designed to intimidate would-be spies, they said.
“They want to dissuade people from spying in the future, show the world that they’re a very capable organization,” said a former senior CIA official. “They also want to embarrass the agency as much as possible.”
Last month, U.S. officials acknowledged that a group of informants on the CIA payroll had been identified and detained by Hezbollah. The organization apparently used software analysis of cellphone records and calling patterns to track the communications of suspected spies.
The names included in the al-Manar report are not being published by The Washington Post.
In the past year, the CIA has recalled two of its chiefs in Islamabad, Pakistan, after their names were exposed in the country’s press.
Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.