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December 8, 2005
Not One Of Langley's Finest Moments

The CIA should find itself embarrassed by the article in today's New York Sun on how CIA flights in Europe got exposed. The explanation unearthed by Josh Gerstein shows little imagination and even less care in covering the tracks of what supposedly amounted to a top-secret operation, and should concern Americans about the competence of the CIA in protecting wartime operations:

In May 2004, the Swedish show reported on the CIA's involvement with the expulsion of two men from Sweden to Egypt in December 2001. The tail number of an aircraft involved in the transfer led quickly to information about at least six other occasions on which the same small Gulfstream V jet was used to move prisoners from various locations to countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. "Once we had the identity of the plane, which we were able to find out in many ways - a plane leaves a lot of traces - it was obvious the plane was fishy," Mr. Laurin said.

When a producer working on the broadcast called one of the American firms involved in leasing the plane, the call was returned 15 minutes later by the Swedish intelligence service, which said it was calling at the request of its "U.S. cooperation partners."

Mr. Laurin said almost every name linked to the company that appeared to own the aircraft, Premiere Executive Transport Services Incorporated of Dedham, Mass., seemed to be fake. "You weren't able to trace the name to any living individual," he said. "They were all living in post office boxes in Virginia."

One has to wonder whether the CIA deserves its reputation for the way it conducts intelligence operations these days, or if it just has coasted on the hard-earned respect it earned during its halcyon days of the Cold War. The ease in which the Swedish press blew the CIA cover makes one wonder whether the CIA even cared that its European assets could get exposed. The Swedes say that American taxpayers should get upset and demand that the new CIA director fire everyone involved, which doesn't sound like a bad idea considering the results here.

With efforts like this, I could even start believing that the CIA intended Valerie Plame to remain NOC-listed even after having her drive to the Langley offices to work for the last several years.

The excuse given by intelligence observers is that the CIA didn't think about the way information could get pooled in the Internet age and how amateurs could start connecting the dots. Well, why the hell not? The US started running their own data-mining operations in the 1990s (LIWA, Able Danger among them. Shouldn't that proven capability have tipped them to strengthen their covers instead of shrugging their shoulders and hoping for the best? A former CIA mission head notes that the countries involved knew the nature of the flights and therefore the flights would not have been considered clandestine, but that hardly makes sense. The CIA doesn't assess the need for secrecy based on the status of our friends but the threat from our enemies -- or at least that should be how they assess it.

I suggest we convert the Langley PO boxes into recruitment addresses for those involved in keeping this operation under wraps, and Congress should ask Porter Goss if peek-a-boo has been added as a supposedly effective method of hiding agents in the last ten years. My three-year-old granddaughter seems to think it works, and she's the only one who might have been fooled by the cover arranged for these CIA flights in Europe.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at December 8, 2005 6:04 AM

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