|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The CIA set up a network of front companies in Europe and elsewhere after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a constellation of "black stations" for a new generation of spies, according to current and former agency officials.
But after spending hundreds of millions of dollars setting up as many as 12 of the companies, the agency shut down all but two after concluding they were ill-conceived and poorly positioned for gathering intelligence on the CIA's principal targets: terrorist groups and unconventional weapons proliferation networks.
The closures were a blow to two of the CIA's most pressing priorities after the 2001 terrorist attacks: expanding its overseas presence and changing the way it deploys spies.
The companies were the centerpiece of an ambitious plan to increase the number of case officers sent overseas under what is known as "nonofficial cover," meaning they would pose as employees of investment banks, consulting firms or other fictitious enterprises with no apparent ties to the U.S. government.
But the plan became the source of significant dispute within the agency and was plagued with problems, officials said. The bogus companies were located far from Muslim enclaves in Europe and other targets. Their size raised concerns that one mistake would blow the cover of many agents. And because business travelers don't ordinarily come into contact with Al Qaeda or other high-priority adversaries, officials said, the cover didn't work.
Summing up what many considered the fatal flaw of the program, one former high-ranking CIA official said, "They were built on the theory of the 'Field of Dreams': Build them and the targets will come."