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Net blows CIA agents' cover

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A trawl of the net has allowed a US paper to compile a list of the personal details of 2,653 CIA workers. The Chicago Tribune said it compiled its dossier from public records (such as telephone listings, property tax records, voting rosters, legal judgments and business incorporation papers) accessible to anyone with the nous enough to know the system and pay data aggregators a fee.

In this way the paper was able to compile lists of the names, places of work, addresses and phone numbers of hundred of workers at the US intelligence agency, including details of covert operatives. Before the advent of the internet the data would have only be available to people visiting local libraries and record offices, a far less practical proposition.

The Trib held off from publishing the list, at the CIA's request. The paper was also able to uncover the location of CIA facilities in Chicago, Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington state. Some are heavily guarded while others appear to be private residences, a "cover" the CIA would doubtless like to maintain.

LexisNexis, one of the US's largest data aggregators, maintains that it only does business with established organisations that can show why they need access to the data such as government agencies, employers, telemarketers, bill collectors, private investigators. Only special classes of clients (such as health insurance firms) get access to the most sensitive information.

Large US data aggregators, such as ChoicePoint and Lexis Nexis, were the subject of consumer security breaches last year. As if that wasn't bad enough smaller agencies are prepared to hand out sensitive data to anyone prepared to flash the plastic. The Chicago Tribune notes that going to smaller operators is more time consuming than purchasing a comprehensive profile from a single source. However it's possible to obtain a comprehensive profile on targets using these more unconventional sources, the paper's investigation reveals.

A CIA spokeswoman conceded that the net had more it harder to shield agents' identities. "Cover is a complex issue that is more complex in the internet age," Jennifer Dyck told the BBC. She added that the agency is developing unspecified remedies ("we don't want the bad guys to know what we're fixing") to address the issue. ®

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