Friday, July 15, 2005

Spy vs. spy—and how to find one

In the days of the Internet, even the CIA has trouble keeping secrets
July 15, 2005

Want to find out if a spy lives in your neighborhood? Turn on your computer and you need but ask—
It’s hard enough keeping your identity private these days if you are just an average kind of guy. Imagine the difficulty if you are a CIA agent. Just how easy is it to find an agent? Very. David Lazarus, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, has a scary piece on just how easy it is.

Let’s stay that all you know is that a guy named Joseph Wilson has a wife who is a CIA “operative.” You are a journalist (or worse, a terrorist) and you want to find out her name and where she lives. Doesn’t matter how you know—someone from the White House may have told you [we know that couldn’t happen, of course]. Or some sleazy columnist. But nevermind, how do you find her? Lazarus first discovered that Wilson’s full name was Joseph C. Wilson IV and he worked for the State Department not the CIA. Google said he was born in 1949. First, he went to a free website called, which combs public records. After ZabaSearch found too many entries, he refined the search to only those people living in Washington and found Wilson’s home address. Now, to find the wife.

He went to LexisNexis (which is not free but you can pay for individual searches) and confirmed that the Wilson at that address had a spouse, “Valerie E.” Then he searched by that name and found “Former name: Plame, Valerie E.” According to Lazarus, she was using her maiden name as part of her cover: an energy industry analyst for Brewster Jennings & Associates, which is actually a CIA front. [All this is now public knowledge, by the way and the company no longer exists—at least on the web]. This all took less than a half-hour. Then he went to Google’s map service and got a high-resolution satellite picture of the Wilson home. Google even provided directions. Nice digs.

Lazarus correctly states that while this is all great fun, it also is illustrative of the danger Valerie Plame was put into by the great patriots in the Bush administration when they outed her to get back at her husband—and incidentally the wonderful journalism Robert Novak performed in helping them. Anne Coulter, the queen of the village idiot wing of the Conservative movement, wrote a book accusing liberals of being traitors. What do you call a guy who writes a column exposing a CIA agent—or a White House official who gives him that name?

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