CIA closes most “black stations” in Europe

By Xinhua

Los Angeles : The CIA has closed most of the “black stations” which were set up as spy companies in Europe following the Sept. 11 terror attacks, it was reported on Sunday.

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After spending hundreds of millions of dollars setting up as many as 12 of the companies, the CIA shut down all but two after concluding they were ill-conceived and poorly positioned, the Los Angeles Times said.

The companies were set up as part of a constellation of “black stations” for a new generation of spies, but they apparently failed in the mission to gather intelligence on the CIA’s principal targets: terrorist groups and unconventional weapons proliferation networks, said the paper.

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, said the paper, quoting current and former agency officials.

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, according to the paper.

But the plan became the source of significant dispute within the agency and was plagued with problems, officials were quoted assaying.

The bogus companies were located far from Moslem enclaves in Europe and other targets. Their size raised concerns that one mistake would blow the cover of many agents, said the paper.

And because business travelers do not ordinarily come into contact with Al Qaida or other high-priority adversaries, the cover did not work, the paper said.

Officials said the experience reflected an ongoing struggle at the CIA to adapt to a new environment in espionage.

The agency has sought to regroup by designing covers that would provide pretexts for spies to get close to radical Moslem groups, nuclear equipment manufacturers and other high-priority targets, according to the paper.