WASHINGTON, Dec. 9 (UPI) -- A CIA program in which operatives posed as business people to gather intelligence was a costly failure and is being canceled, past and present officials say.
The program, on which at least $3 billion was spent, began after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Tribune Newspapers reported Monday.
At its height, hundreds of agents working outside the protection of diplomatic immunity under "non-official cover" used fake identities and front companies to recruit sources in hostile countries, especially Iran. However, the so-called Global Deployment Initiative was a "colossal flop," say a number of former CIA officials, because little useful information was ever gained.
According to the former officials, the program was plagued by operatives with poor language skills and a lack of experience, or were the wrong people with the wrong cover. In some instances, operatives were stationed "a zillion miles from where their targets were located," said Joseph Wippl, former chief of the CIA's Europe division.
Another former case officer said CIA leaders were reluctant to put these agents "in really, really dangerous places."
The most well-known of the agents was Valerie Plame. Posted in Brussels, she posed as an energy analyst for a Boston-based firm that was a CIA front company. Using her fake identity, Plame traveled to the Middle East and other countries recruiting agents who could spy in Iran and elsewhere.
Her identity was leaked to the press in 2003 by officials of the George W. Bush administration in retaliation for her husband's claims the White House had manipulated intelligence on Iraq.
The program also experienced bureaucratic hurdles and financial irregularities.