Lost Asset: The True Cost of the White House CIA Leak

Brewster Jennings & Associates was the cover organization to which CIA spy Valerie Plame Wilson was assigned. Its mission was deadly serious: tracking human intelligence on black market transfers of weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear materials.

There is no way to know the depth and the seriousness of what was lost when senior White House operatives chose to reveal the secret mission of Brewster Jennings and Associates in order to punish a political enemy.

One likely scenario is that the revelation tipped black marketers in nuclear materials that they were being monitored, thus helping them to escape scrutiny.

As a result, for all we know, a nuclear “dirty bomb” is being built right now – and its builders are thanking President Bush and his henchman for helping them escape detection.

So remember, when you hear the GOP trying to change the topic of this scandal to Joe Wilson, what they don’t want you to think about is the fact that by uncovering Brewster Jennings & Associates, Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, Scooter Libbey or others aided and abetted the very terrorists the Bush Administration says it is fighting in its bogus “war”on terror.

What was Brewster Jennings & Associates?

From the Wikipedia: Brewster Jennings & Associates was a company set up by the United States CIA as a front for its operations. One of its former employees was CIA-analyst Valerie Plame who later had her cover blown by Robert Novak (based on leaked information) in an interview on CNN in which he stated “Wilson’s wife, the CIA employee, gave $1,000 to Gore and she listed herself as an employee of Brewster-Jennings & Associates. There is no such firm, I’m convinced.”, though it later turned out that BJ&A did exist for all intents and purposes, listed on the Dun & Bradstreet database of company names.

The group was intended to infiltrate ties between groups involved in smuggling nuclear weapons and the material to create them, to countries such as Israel and Pakistan.

The company was apparently named after the late Brewster Jennings, who served as president of a predecessor company to Exxon Mobil Corporation.

How did the media connect Valerie Plame Wilson with Brewster Jennings & Associates?

From the Washington Post (October 3, 2003): The leak of a CIA operative’s name has also exposed the identity of a CIA front company, potentially expanding the damage caused by the original disclosure, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The company’s identity, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, became public because it appeared in Federal Election Commission records on a form filled out in 1999 by Valerie Plame, the case officer at the center of the controversy, when she contributed $1,000 to Al Gore’s presidential primary campaign.

After the name of the company was broadcast yesterday, administration officials confirmed that it was a CIA front. They said the obscure and possibly defunct firm was listed as Plame’s employer on her W-2 tax forms in 1999 when she was working undercover for the CIA…

The inadvertent disclosure of the name of a business affiliated with the CIA underscores the potential damage to the agency and its operatives caused by the leak of Plame’s identity. Intelligence officials have said that once Plame’s job as an undercover operative was revealed, other agency secrets could be unraveled and her sources might be compromised or endangered.

A former diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said yesterday that every foreign intelligence service would run Plame’s name through its databases within hours of its publication to determine if she had visited their country and to reconstruct her activities.

“That’s why the agency is so sensitive about just publishing her name,” the former diplomat said…

Official WP link

Where was Brewster Jennings & Associates located?

From the Boston Globe (October 10, 2003): At first glance, 101 Arch St. [in Boston, Mass.] seems like the perfect setting for a spy story: an elegant office building downtown with an upscale restaurant, lots of foot traffic, and a subway entrance to stage a getaway.

“It’s a great place to blend in,” said Rob Griffin, regional president of Cushman & Wakefield Inc., the real estate firm.

The CIA may have thought so too. Valerie Plame, an undercover CIA operative once listed as her employer Brewster Jennings & Associates. A company by that name has a listed address but no visible presence at the 21-story office tower…

A spokeswoman for Dun & Bradstreet Inc., a New Jersey operator of commercial databases, said Brewster Jennings was first entered into its records on May 22, 1994, but wouldn’t discuss the source of the filing. Its records list the company at 101 Arch St. as a “legal services office,” which could mean a law firm, with annual sales of $60,000, one employee, and a chief executive identified as “Victor Brewster, Partner.”

…Dun & Bradstreet records on Brewster Jennings show that on June 1, 2000, “sources contacted verified information” the day before, but a D&B spokeswoman wouldn’t discuss what that means.

The D&B records give a phone number for the company, but it wasn’t in service yesterday. Verizon wouldn’t comment. A spokesman for the US Postal Service wouldn’t say whether a post office box was associated with the company…

Brewster Jennings was the name of the president of the former Socony-Vacuum oil company, a predecessor of Exxon Mobil Corp. But the Jennings family denies any connection, said a grandson, Brewster Jennings, a real estate investor in Durango, Colo. He said that since the firm was named as a CIA front he’s heard from many friends and family members who “find tremendous humor in all this.”

What was really lost with the unmasking of Brewster Jennings & Associates?

From Knight-Ridder (October 13, 2005): Training agents such as Plame, 40, costs millions of dollars and requires the time-consuming establishment of elaborate fictions, called “legends,” including in this case the creation of a CIA front company that helped lend plausibility to her trips overseas.

Compounding the damage, the front company, Brewster-Jennings & Associates, whose name has been reported previously, apparently also was used by other CIA officers whose work now could be at risk, according to Vince Cannistraro, formerly the agency’s chief of counterterrorism operations and analysis.

Now, Plame’s career as a covert operations officer in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations (DO) is over. Those she dealt with — whether on business or not — may be in danger. The DO is conducting an extensive damage assessment.

And Plame’s exposure may make it harder for American spies to convince foreigners to share important secrets with them, U.S. intelligence officials said.

Bush partisans tend to downplay the leak’s damage, saying Plame’s true job was widely known in Washington, if unspoken. And, they say, she had moved from the DO, the CIA’s covert arm, to an analysis job.

But intelligence professionals, infuriated over the breach and what they see as the Bush administration’s misuse of intelligence on Iraq, vehemently disagree.

Larry Johnson — a former CIA and State Department official who was a 1985 classmate of Plame’s in the CIA’s case officer-training program at Camp Peary, Va., known as “the Farm” — predicted that when the CIA’s internal damage assessment is finished, “at the end of the day, (the harm) will be huge and some people potentially may have lost their lives.”

“This is not just another leak. This is an unprecedented exposing of an agent’s identity,” said former CIA officer Jim Marcinkowski, who’s now a prosecutor in Royal Oak, Mich., and who also did CIA training with Plame…

One mystery is how one or more officials at the White House knew of Plame’s work, since the CIA and other intelligence agencies guard the identities of their covert officers, often even from their political masters.

“The background on an agent typically is not common knowledge,” said a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Whoever leaked (the information) probably wasn’t supposed to have access to it.”

Intelligence officials said Plame worked on an issue high on Bush’s list of priorities: the spread of missiles and nuclear, biological and chemical arms, collectively known as weapons of mass destruction.

Human intelligence — as opposed to electronic surveillance — about WMD development and weapons transfers is hard to come by, especially in “hard target” countries such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea…

In 1990 and 1991, Plame was attached to a U.S. Embassy in Europe, according to address records, suggesting she may have operated under official cover for a time. Knight Ridder voluntarily is withholding the precise location of the embassy. Plame’s name doesn”t appear in State Department telephone and embassy directories from that period…

It appears that the Brewster-Jennings front was more than what is called “nominal cover,” and was used as part of Plame’s espionage, Johnson said.

That means anyone she met with could be in danger now, said Johnson, who described himself as “furious, absolutely furious” at the security breach…

“The bottom line is, she’s lost her career,” said former classmate Marcinkowski.

As a CIA officer operating overseas, “There’s only one entity in the world that can identify you. That’s the U.S. government. When the U.S. government does it, that’s it,” he said.

6 Comments

  • Donald Rigazio
    September 6, 2005 - 10:36 am | Permalink

    Why is it that when scandal strikes during a Democratic administration we had a Republican as an “independent” prosecutor [Ken Starr] butknow with the outing of a CIA agent by someone in the Bush Whitehouse we have another Republican [Fitzgerald] serving as an “independent “prosecutor? how “independent” can he be and where is this investigation going? I’ve heard nothing about it for a month!

  • Kathleen
    October 6, 2005 - 2:03 pm | Permalink

    All that damage, just go to War without just cause. The motive for outing Plame was to discredit and punish those who proved the falsity of their flakey intelligence on Iraq seeking uranium from Niger. They went so far as to forge documents and send them through some route to emerge in Italy, with an Italian Intel Asset in the Niger Embassy in Rome.

    How much you want to bet Plame operated in Italy? It’s interesting that Fitzgerald may indict 22 and Italy has issued warrants for 22 US CIA involved in the extraordinary rendition in Milan, including CIA chief Robert Seldon Lady, who was invloved in both the rendition and the Niger caper.

    Cliff-hangers, James Bond style.

  • Bill
    October 26, 2005 - 8:54 am | Permalink

    While the pundits on the right wail about criticism of the war ‘demoralizing the troops,’ it seems no thought can be given to demoralizing the career intelligence officers — people who generally have more “leverage” in keeping America safe.

  • Billybob 9
    October 29, 2005 - 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Two things ~ some of us tracked Plame down several years back doing genealogical research on Russian and Ukrainian websites under her own name, from your CIA ISP.

    It is not clear that she was making any effort at all to maintain cover.

  • October 30, 2005 - 3:44 pm | Permalink

    Of course you uncovered her through genealogy reports. She operated overseas under a different name. Lived a double life. Double identity. Think about it.

  • Richard Pritchard
    October 30, 2005 - 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone wonder who that ‘former diplomat’ is?

    Not me.

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