The Mix

The not-so-secret CIA

<i>Chicago Tribune</i> introduces the security agency to that new-fangled contraption: the internet.
Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune published a story with the headline "Internet Blows CIA Cover." Writer John Crewdson didn't need to leave the confines of his cubicle for his investigation finding that a simple online search yielded "a virtual directory of more than 2,600 CIA employees, 50 internal agency phone numbers and the locations of some two dozen secret CIA facilities around the United States."

The article opens with, "She is 52 years old, married, grew up in the Kansas City suburbs and now lives in Virginia, in a new three-bedroom house." That would be the description of a covert CIA operative. Kindly, the Tribune agreed not to publish the less-than-inside info they discovered.

The CIA's response? "Cover is a complex issue that is more complex in the internet age. There are things that worked previously that no longer worked."

Yes, well, and apples are a kind of fruit.

Of course it's more complex. What's disturbing is that the CIA seems to just now be realizing this basic premise at a time when we are facing, according to this administration, unprecedented terrorist threats. And yet, when confronted with the Tribune's revelations, senior U.S. officials are saying things like this: "I don't know whether Al Qaeda could do this, but the Chinese could."

Forget the ethnicity, affiliation, or country of origin -- a seven year old could do this. It just begs the question -- if our security is in the hands of these people, how safe could we really be? President Bush, in his defense of the secretive nature of the NSA wiretaps, has repeatedly implied that riding roughshod over Congress and the law was necessary to keep al Qaeda from finding out that the NSA is listening in on phone calls. For those with functioning minds (come on…the NSA is known as "the big ear") this simply makes no sense. But we see this naivete (purposeful or not) rearing its ugly head again.

So how are our security agencies plugging critical intelligence and security gaps? Just this past week, a professor at Pomona College in Southern California was allegedly questioned by FBI anti-terrorism officials on the status of the Venezuelan community in the U.S. Tinker Salas, a professor of Latin American history told the AP that "the detectives' line of questioning focused on publicly available information such as where he went to school and whether there was a Venezuelan consulate in Los Angeles."

Can't you just see a FBI official, face set in a skeptical sneer, ignoring office hours and barging in on the professor. Asking, pen and pad in hand, Mr. Salas, how about you explain this whole "history" thing to us.
Onnesha Roychoudhuri is an editorial fellow at AlterNet.