Sunday, February 17, 2008

CIA's ambitious post-9/11 spy plan crumbles

The agency spent millions setting up front companies overseas to snag terrorists. Officials now say the bogus firms were ill-conceived and not close enough to Muslim enclaves.

By Greg Miller
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

February 17, 2008

WASHINGTON — The CIA set up a network of front companies in Europe and elsewhere after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a constellation of "black stations" for a new generation of spies, according to current and former agency officials.

But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars setting up as many as 12 of the companies, the agency shut down all but two after concluding they were ill-conceived and poorly positioned for gathering intelligence on the CIA's principal targets: terrorist groups and unconventional weapons proliferation networks.

The closures were a blow to two of the CIA's most pressing priorities after the 2001 terrorist attacks: expanding its overseas presence and changing the way it deploys spies.

The companies were the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to increase the number of case officers sent overseas under what is known as "nonofficial cover," meaning they would pose as employees of investment banks, consulting firms or other fictitious enterprises with no apparent ties to the U.S. government...

One of the CIA's commercial cover platforms was exposed in 2003 when undercover officer Valerie Plame was exposed in a newspaper by columnist Robert Novak. Public records quickly led to the unraveling of the company that served as her cover during overseas trips, a fictitious CIA firm called Brewster Jennings & Associates....[Open in new window]


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