Senior CIA officials have for years intentionally deceived parts of the agency workforce by transmitting internal memos that contain false information about operations and sources overseas, according to current and former U.S. officials who said the practice is known by the term “eyewash.”
Agency veterans described the tactic as an infrequent but important security measure, a means of protecting vital secrets by inserting fake communications into routine cable traffic while using separate channels to convey accurate information to cleared recipients.
But others cited a significant potential for abuse. Beyond the internal distrust implied by the practice, officials said there is no clear mechanism for labeling eyewash cables or distinguishing them from legitimate records being examined by the CIA’s inspector general, turned over to Congress or declassified for historians.
Senate investigators uncovered apparent cases of eyewashing as part of a multi-year probe of the CIA’s interrogation program, according to officials who said that the Senate Intelligence Committee found glaring inconsistencies in CIA communications about classified operations, including drone strikes.
At least two eyewashing cases are cited in the classified version of the committee’s final report, according to officials who have reviewed the document. In one instance, leaders at CIA headquarters sent a cable to the agency’s station in Pakistan saying operators there were not authorized to pursue a potentially lethal operation against the alleged al-Qaeda operative known as Abu Zubaida . But a second set of instructions sent to a smaller circle of recipients told them to disregard the other message and that the mission could proceed. (Read more from “‘Eyewash’: How the CIA Deceives Its Own Workforce About Operations” HERE)