Deep Background

Article excerpt

The Central Intelligence Agency's failure to set up effective mechanisms that enable officers to encounter hostile targets overseas has meant that, in spite of seven years of trying, there has been little progress in recruiting among terrorists or weapons proliferators--a poor return on the $34 billion annual intelligence budget.

Over the past five years, the CIA has developed 12 major "black station" cover mechanisms, mostly in Europe, and then abandoned them at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars when it was determined that they were poorly sited to carry out operations against terrorists. The new mechanisms were devised in response to Congressional pressure to diversify cover arrangements and avoid operations in embassies. They were designed to support Non-Official Cover officers, who work under cover as business professionals rather than as embassy employees. As businessmen, NOC covers need the physical presence of an office and must also be able to stand up to a certain amount of scrutiny from tax and licensing authorities. They are, therefore, much more expensive than embassy cover operatives, who merely require shifting a file in Washington. They also create a fundamental security problem because the exposure of one officer in the company effectively exposes everyone linked to it. Valerie Plame's Brewster Jennings was a business cover, and its exposure made possible the identification of other officers connected to the organization before it was shut down. This vulnerability creates another problem in that NOCs, who have no diplomatic protection, very often become reluctant to undertake operational activity for fear of blowing their covers. …