WASHINGTON—The CIA has announced that 231 agents were killed Wednesday during a sensitive and highly overt operation overseas, the deadliest incident to strike the agency’s Overt Ops program in nearly a month.
Speaking in a televised press conference this morning, acting CIA director Michael Morell said the agents were shot dead while attempting to infiltrate the government of Turkmenistan, part of a widely publicized program of U.S. espionage there, the details of which remain unclassified.
“Today it is my somber duty to report that 231 heroic Americans have lost their lives in the Overt Ops mission we briefed you on earlier this week,” Morell said of the agents, who reportedly made no attempt to blend into Turkmen society, spoke English openly, and greeted everyone they met on the ground with the words “Hello, do you have any information for me?” “Their already well-known names, faces, and personal histories, which we posted on the CIA’s website last month, will never be forgotten.”
“These brave men and women died as they lived—in plain sight, nakedly advancing the intelligence interests of their country without making any effort to conceal their intentions,” Morell added.
Multiple CIA press releases indicate the mission, code-named Operation Steal Secret Files From Turkmenistan At 9 A.M. March 6th And Then Catch The Next Flight Out Of The Country, involved hundreds of overt operatives pouring into public places all over the country. Once in position, they loudly informed locals that they were CIA agents, asked if any of them happened to be informants, and requested any information anyone might have on where to find the government’s most sensitive internal documents.
Live coverage of the operation carried by cable news networks, the BBC, and Al Jazeera showed Turkmenistan’s armed forces opening fire on dozens of CIA agents as they stood in city squares shouting anti-government slogans through bullhorns and distributing pamphlets critical of the ruling party.
The victims, who all wore yellow field jackets with “CIA” printed in large letters on the back, were reportedly identified immediately by the unforged, completely authentic passports they each carried on their person.
“It was chaos down there,” Overt Ops chief Stuart P. Braithwaite said today on CBS This Morning. “The gunmen were shouting, ‘Who are you? What is your purpose here?’ And our agents kept saying, ‘We’re Americans, we’re trying to undermine your government, we sent you several e-mails about this last week, didn’t you get them?’ They repeated it in every language spoken in the region, but it’s as if the Turkmen troops weren’t even listening.”
“We’re hoping to avoid such miscommunications in the future by providing live updates on our blog and via Twitter, where you can follow us under the handle @OvertOpsUSA,” he added.
According to federal officials more than willing to speak on the record, agents in the Overt Ops program undergo years of rigorous training, are able to remain highly conspicuous in almost any situation, and can stand out in a crowd with ease.
Confiscated from the team’s hotel rooms following the massacre were detailed topographical maps indicating the location of Turkmenistan’s extensive natural gas reserves, several hundred kilograms of hard drugs in bundles labeled “For Sowing Chaos in Ahal Province,” and commemorative T-shirts printed in anticipation of a successful mission.
In a statement issued Wednesday by the White House, President Obama praised the courage and sacrifice of the agents.
“The 231 Americans who gave their lives today must never be forgotten, and we must honor them by following the proud example they set,” Obama said. “Indeed, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing on Friday when we send Overt Ops to knock on the front door of Bashar al-Assad’s palace in Damascus and ask if anyone inside is interested in helping them orchestrate a coup.”