Internet blows CIA covert agents' cover

The Chicago Tribune, using free and for-pay online resources has uncovered the identities of several covert agents. The agency, it seems, has not updated its procedures for the 21st century.

The CIA's traditional system of providing cover for agents is fraught with holes, and those holes have been poked by the Internet, the Chicago Tribune reports.

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.

Only recently has the CIA recognized that in the Internet age its traditional system of providing cover for clandestine employees working overseas is fraught with holes, a discovery that is said to have "horrified" CIA Director Porter Goss.

The Tribune notes that finding and fixing the online holes were not a priority for George Tenet, Goss' predecessor. "One senior U.S. official observed that 'the Internet age didn't get here in 2004,' the year Goss took over at the CIA. "

It didn't take a real lot of work or money for Trib reporter John Crewdson to dig up details on CIA staff. An undisclosed number were definitely covert agents.

The Tribune is not disclosing the identities of any of the CIA employees uncovered in its database searches, the searching techniques used or other details that might put agency employees or operatives at risk. The CIA apparently was unaware of the extent to which its employees were in the public domain until being provided with a partial list of names by the Tribune.

At a minimum, the CIA's seeming inability to keep its own secrets invites questions about whether the Bush administration is doing enough to shield its covert CIA operations from public scrutiny, even as the Justice Department focuses resources on a two-year investigation into whether someone in the administration broke the law by disclosing to reporters the identity of clandestine CIA operative Valerie Plame.

A senior U.S. official, reacting to the computer searches that produced the names and addresses, said, "I don't know whether Al Qaeda could do this, but the Chinese could."

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