Four CIA operatives died in a shipwreck off the coast of the Philippines in a tropical storm in 2008, it has been revealed, following a daring operation to try and spy on China‘s activity in the region.
The story of how the four died has never before been told, Yahoo News reported.
When they were declared missing, presumed dead, their relatives had no idea that they were spies.
The men – Stephen Stanek, Michael Perich, Jamie McCormick and Daniel Meeks – were working for the CIA’s Maritime Branch.
Stephen Stanek was a CIA operative posing as a sailor for hire when he died in Sept 2008
Michael Perich was sent to dive with Stanek to the seabed to leave the listening device
Their mission was to sail from Malaysia, and dive down to place a ‘pod’ disguised as a rock beneath the surface.
The pod would monitor electronic signals of Chinese naval ships operating in the area.
The crew would sail on to Japan, spend a few weeks there, then return to collect the device.
Their 40 foot boat was secretly owned by the CIA, yet the four had a cover story that they had been hired to transport the vessel from Malaysia for a client in Japan, and they had the paperwork and documentation to back up the story if questioned.
They also were using commercially-available scuba diving gear, rather than U.S. government-issued kit.
The problem, however, came in the shape of Tropical Storm Higos.
The storm was forecast to take a sharp turn away from them, and so on September 28, 2008, Stanek – commanding the crew – made the fatal decision to go ahead with the mission.
Higos did not change course, however, and smacked straight into the little boat.
The CIA had a beacon on the ship that tracked the boat right into the center of the storm until it disappeared, a former member of the Special Activities Division (SAD) told Yahoo News.
Tropical Storm Higos, pictured on the radar, smashed straight into the 40 foot boat
The U.S. military was unaware that their four countrymen were missing, and did not participate in any rescue mission.
The CIA did ask the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to see if they could sweep the area, but nothing was found – ‘not even a floating life jacket,’ a former CIA officer told the site.
Death certificates were issued with a lawyer hired by the CIA’s Panama City cover company – which registered the boat – filing the paperwork.
Relatives of the four seamen were brought to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to be told the details of their mission and meet with Michael Hayden, the then-director of the CIA.
The CIA has never commented on the deaths of the four, whose relatives were in the dark
CIA officers pointed the finger of blame on Bob Kandra, the SAD chief at the time.
They accused Kandra of putting too much pressure on the crew to prove the relevancy of the CIA’s Maritime Division, in the face of competition from the U.S. Navy.
‘There was a lot of pressure to do ops,’ a former CIA operations officer told Yahoo News.
‘They just didn’t have to die. They did a mission that you didn’t have to do, and Bob was such a bad leader.
‘A lot of officers blame Kandra for the s*** that happened in the Pacific.’
The officer said that Kandra got away with his failures because he was senior intelligence staff when he ran the Special Activities Division.
Kandra had a reputation for poor leadership dating back to his days in Iraq, Yahoo reported, noting that the former CIA leader had T-shirts made that read: ‘I got laid in Baghdad.’
He was promoted to the CIA’s senior management ranks, known as special intelligence service, or SIS, which meant that he was beyond reproach.
‘He was protected by the SIS mafia,’ said a former SAD officer.
The former CIA officer agreed, saying: ‘Kandra was a continuous screw-up, but once they make you a SIS they don’t flush you.’
Kandra, who has since retired, was eventually removed from his role leading the SAD and was given a quiet posting in the Austrian city of Vienna.
The four men had their stars added to the CIA’s memorial wall in Langley, VA in 2008
The CIA’s interest in the region has not waned, it appears – despite the disaster of 2008.
In 2016 the Chinese Navy found an American-made undersea drone, which was floating in the ocean 50 miles off the coast of the Philippines. China agreed to hand the drone back, after the Pentagon said it was an unclassified system used to gather oceanographic data.