Following the September 11, 2001, attacks, the US Central Intelligence Agency set up 12 bogus companies in Europe and other parts of the world in the hope of penetrating Islamic organizations, The Los Angeles Times reported on its website late Saturday.
But citing current and former CIA officials, the newspaper said the agency had now shut down all but two of them after concluding they were ill-conceived.
The firms were part of an ambitious plan to increase the number of CIA case officers sent overseas under what is known as “nonofficial cover” in order to increase the agency’s potential for penetrating Islamic networks, the report said.
According to the paper, the agents posed as employees of investment banks, consulting firms or other fictitious enterprises with no apparent ties to the US government.
But the plan became the source of significant dispute within the agency, The Times noted.
The CIA-run “companies” were located far from Muslim enclaves in Europe and other targets, and their size raised concerns that one mistake would blow the cover of many agents, the report noted.
In addition, because businessmen don’t usually come into contact with Al-Qaeda operatives, the cover didn’t work, The Times said.
Officials say the CIA’s efforts to use corporate disguises have yet to produce a significant penetration of terrorist or weapons proliferation networks, the paper pointed out.