We have asked before, how covert was Valerie Plame? But let's add a second question - how much of a clown show is the CIA? John Crewdson of the Chicago Tribune offers interesting evidence on both questions.
First, on the broader question of the CIA covert clown show:
Internet blows CIA cover
It's easy to track America's covert operatives. All you need to know is how to navigate the Internet.
By John Crewdson
WASHINGTON -- She is 52 years old, married, grew up in the Kansas City suburbs and now lives in Virginia, in a new three-bedroom house.
Anyone who can qualify for a subscription to one of the online services that compile public information also can learn that she is a CIA employee who, over the past decade, has been assigned to several American embassies in Europe.
The CIA asked the Tribune not to publish her name because she is a covert operative, and the newspaper agreed. But unbeknown to the CIA, her affiliation and those of hundreds of men and women like her have somehow become a matter of public record, thanks to the Internet.
Sidebar: Notice how that works - the CIA asked the Chi Trib not to publish her name and they withheld it. Funny how the CIA press office couldn't find the magic words ("Please"?) with Bob Novak on the line.
Right, then - on to the specific question of Valerie Plame, also addressed by the intrepid Mr. Crewdson in a different story:
Plame's identity, if truly a secret, was thinly veiled
BY JOHN CREWDSON
WASHINGTON - The question of whether Valerie Plame's employment by the Central Intelligence Agency was a secret is the key issue in the two-year investigation to determine if someone broke the law by leaking her CIA affiliation to the news media.
Federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald contends that Plame's friends "had no idea she had another life." But Plame's secret life could be easily penetrated with the right computer sleuthing and an understanding of how the CIA's covert employees work.
When the Chicago Tribune searched for Plame on an Internet service that sells public information about private individuals to its subscribers, it got a report of more than 7,600 words. Included was the fact that in the early 1990s her address was "AMERICAN EMBASSY ATHENS ST, APO NEW YORK NY 09255."
A former senior American diplomat in Athens, who remembers Plame as "pleasant, very well-read, bright," said he had been aware that Plame, who was posing as a junior consular officer, really worked for the CIA.
According to CIA veterans, U.S. intelligence officers working in American embassies under "diplomatic cover" are almost invariably known to friendly and opposition intelligence services alike.
"If you were in an embassy," said a former CIA officer who posed as a U.S. diplomat in several countries, "you could count 100 percent on the Soviets knowing."
That last bit about the porous cover of CIA officers ties in with this article by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA case officer now with the AEI.
Let's have a second sidebar on behalf of the "Keep hope alive" gang that believes Special Counsel Fitzgerald is still working on the Really Big Case with Impending Momentous Revelations - just because an online subscription service had this Plame info in 2006, it does not follow that they had it in 2003. Just saying.
What else does Mr. Crewdson offer us?
Two years later, when Plame made a $1,000 contribution to Vice President Al Gore, she listed her employer as Brewster-Jennings & Associates, a Boston company apparently set up by the CIA to provide "commercial cover" for some of its operatives.
Brewster-Jennings was not a terribly convincing cover. According to Dun & Bradstreet, the company, created in 1994, is a "legal services office" grossing $60,000 a year and headed by a chief executive named Victor Brewster. Commercial databases accessible by the Tribune contain no indication that such a person exists.
Another sign of Brewster-Jennings' link to the CIA came from the online resume of a Washington attorney, who until last week claimed to have been employed by Brewster-Jennings as an "engineering consultant" from 1985 to 1989 and to have served from 1989 to 1995 as a CIA "case officer," the agency's term for field operatives who collect information from paid informants.
On Wednesday the Tribune left a voice mail and two e-mail messages asking about the juxtaposition of the attorney's career with Brewster-Jennings and the CIA. On Thursday, the Brewster-Jennings and CIA entries had disappeared from the online resume. The attorney never returned any of the messages left by the Tribune.
"Not a terribly convincing cover". The Boston Globe had similar reporting in Oct 2003, headlined "Apparent CIA front didn't offer much cover".
Plame's employer, Brewster-Jennings, apparently has never tried very hard to hide its activities. Former employees like Jean C. Edwards and Robert Lawrence Ellman even advertise their association with the company on the Internet! They were doing so before Brewster-Jennings and Valerie Plame came to light and they still are.
...Plame's employer, Brewster-Jennings, apparently has never tried very hard to hide its activities. Former employees like Jean C. Edwards and Robert Lawrence Ellman even advertise their association with the company on the Internet! They were doing so before Brewster-Jennings and Valerie Plame came to light and they still are.
Edwards, in her resume on the website of the Washington, D.C., law firm Akerman Senterfitt, says she worked for "Brewster-Jenning [sic] and Associates" in Boston as a consultant from 1985 to 1989.
She worked for Brewster-Jennings from 1985 to 1989? Per both Mr. Crewdson and the Globe, the firm registered with Dun and Bradstreet in 1994.
As to her resume - here is the Google cache of the non-airbrushed version with the Brewster-Jennings reference; here is the revised version (PollyUSA provides links and commentary, and says she saved a screenshot of the oldie - that cache won't last forever.)
Hmm, did these two really react that quickly to a few hits on the traffic monitor (noticed only by the site administrator), and a bit of publicity in a nearly-invisible outlet? Or might someone be spoofing someone else - the original story is at what would normally be considered a left-wing site. Trust No One.
Well, these two disappearing resumes are an interesting sidelight, but hardly critical to the main theme. We will let Mr. Crewdson tell us what it means:
Libby's lawyers, who now question whether Plame's CIA employment really was secret at the time Novak's column appeared, have asked a federal judge to provide them with documents that bear on that issue.
If Plame's employment was not a legitimate secret, and if the national security was not harmed by its disclosure, Libby's lawyers argue, their client would have had no motive to lie about his conversations with reporters.
Fitzgerald has told the court he does not intend to introduce evidence showing that Plame's career, the CIA's operations or the national security were harmed by the disclosure of her CIA affiliation.
Nor, apparently, does Fitzgerald intend to charge the secret source who leaked to Woodward in mid-June, leaked to Bob Novak in July, and forgot to mention the Woodward conversation to investigators or in his testimony. Mightn't one think that such a man obstructed the investigation and harmed national security with his repeated leaking? Presumably Fitzgerald knows best.
As to the identity of the secret source, here is some forensic typesetting analysis of a redacted court document suggesting that Richard Armitage, former Deputy Secretary of State, is a good fit.
And the ubiquitous Larry Johnson responds to the ""Internet blows CIA cover" article, apparently without even reading it:
Okay Mr. Crewdson (the author of this nonsense). Please search the internet and identify 100 CIA officers for me. Go ahead. Give it a shot. Oh, I forgot, first you need a name. You do not just enter a random name and come up with a flashing sign that says, "this guy is CIA".
Well, Mr. Crewdson claims to have identified over 2,600 CIA officers (not all of whom are covert). Is it Mr. Johnson's view that he winnowed this down from a list of 20,000 or 30,000 random names in the news? Per the article, the actual process seemed much simpler - the online service had apparently compiled a database of CIA employees:
When the Tribune searched a commercial online data service, the result was a virtual directory of more than 2,600 CIA employees, 50 internal agency telephone numbers and the locations of some two dozen secret CIA facilities around the United States.
As to the specific case of Ms. Plame, any intel service that was intrigued to learn, via his July 6 op-ed, that Joe Wilson did consulting work for the CIA would have been likely to do a bit of research into the background of both Wilson and his wife. Such an investigation would have led quickly to the mysterious Brewster-Jennings, thanks to Ms. Plame's on-line filing with the FEC.
BATTLE ROYALE: Larry Johnson and Chi Trib deputy managing editor Jim warren slug it out on "Scarborough Country" on March 13. From LexisNews:
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. It`s certainly a long way from what we see on TV when we watch "24." Larry Johnson, you are skeptical, why?LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA AGENT: It`s a goofy article. What they imply in "Tribune" is that just go onto Google, go on to Lexis-Nexis, go onto Choicepoint autotrack. And just pick a name out and all of a sudden, it will tell you that they`re with the CIA.The methodology they used, and ask Jim about this, they were able to take, for example, the indictments that were handed down in Italy that identified about 24 people. And admittedly that was lousy tradecraft on the part of the CIA. But using that information backwards to identify companies, individuals. But at no time are you able to go anywhere on the Web and find somebody that says, hey, this is an undercover CIA operative.The way these operatives are outed is what happened in the case of Valerie Plame. She was outed by the administration. Once her name was out there and the company she worked for, it then enabled people to go out and do some of the work that Jim .
SCARBOROUGH: Larry, we got 2,600 CIA employees that are out there. You have some undercover people out there.
JOHNSON: Joe. Joe. No, Joe, what you have 2,600 employees, most of whom are not undercover.
SCARBOROUGH: But there are some covert people, according to the "Chicago Tribune". And Jim, let me ask you about it .
JOHNSON: How do they know they know they are covert? Because here`s nowhere on the Web. Joe, hang on for a second. There`s nowhere on the Web that you are going to find a list of people that says, "Hi, I`m an undercover operative."
SCARBOROUGH: Well, of course, you are not! That`s why you have Pulitzer Prize winning guys piecing things together. That`s not what I`m saying. And that`s not what the "Chicago Tribune" said. Jim Warren, how do you respond to these attacks?
WARREN: Well, obviously, we could not, for a variety of grotesquely obvious reasons get into the specific methodologies we used. There was a substantially greater amount of information and discoveries that we made that we did not put in the newspaper and having been involved in the editing of this and knowing the amount of time that the lawyers spent on this, I can assure you everything that we wrote in the stories is absolutely correct. And in due respect to Mr. Johnson, he simply doesn`t know what`s talking about.
JOHNSON: No, sir. You are absolutely wrong.
WARREN: He doesn`t know what he`s talking about when he raises criticisms of the piece.
JOHNSON: That`s absolutely wrong. I do know what I am talking about. I work with these databases on a daily basis. I defy you. Come out and give me a name right now of somebody that`s not undercover that you can just pick out and automatically go there without having that name first divulged by a public source.
WARREN: Joe, Joe, I mean, that sounds dramatic, as a challenge but obviously one for lots of reasons that we`re not going to do that.
Well, does Larry Johnson thinks the Admin leaked the name of Brewster-Jennings? He
The way these operatives are outed is what happened in the case of Valerie Plame. She was outed by the administration. Once her name was out there and the company she worked for, it then enabled people to go out and do some of the work that Jim .
The more prosaic truth is that Ms. Plame identified her employer as Brewster-Jennings on a publicly available FEC filing detailing a 1999 contribution to Al Gore.
MORE: Mr. Crewdson got two other bylines on Saturday:
Thirty years ago, the murder of Richard Welch, then the CIA station chief in Athens, shocked the nation. The eventual result was the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the statute governing the current investigation into whether Bush administration officials illegally revealed to reporters that Valerie Plame worked for the CIA.
Six months before he was slain by masked gunmen outside his home, Welch was among several purported CIA operatives named by a left-wing U.S. magazine called Counter-Spy, which ceased publication following his death.
By John Crewdson
Tribune senior correspondent
Published March 11, 2006, 12:20 PM CST
WASHINGTON -- Almost from its founding in 1948, the CIA has used American, and occasionally foreign, corporations to provide "non-official cover" for its activities abroad.
In the 1960s, the agency used patriotic appeals to recruit legitimate firms for cover purposes. A major Illinois corporation that did extensive business abroad had CIA officers hidden among its overseas staff. A large Chicago law firm allowed CIA officers who were trained as lawyers to "join" its overseas offices.
... Companies began to shy away from such cover arrangements following the congressional investigations of the CIA in the mid-1970s, which left the CIA with no alternative but to set up its own dummy corporations. Corporate information available on the Internet makes such paper companies relatively easy to spot.
The basic details of these companies, like those of virtually any company doing business in the U.S., can be called up with the click of a mouse. The first tip-off is that there are not many details.
CIA front companies identified by the Tribune typically do not list any directors, officers or other employees--usually just a single CEO who, upon further investigation, appears to have no spouse or family, no mortgage history, no prior addresses, no driver's license or auto registration. In short, no existence.