The New York Times has a long article on the successors to Air America, “C.I.A. Expanding Terror Battle Under Guise of Charter Flights.” The bit that really caught my attention was:
On closer examination, however, it becomes clear that those companies appear to have no premises, only post office boxes or addresses in care of lawyers’ offices. Their officers and directors, listed in state corporate databases, seem to have been invented. A search of public records for ordinary identifying information about the officers – addresses, phone numbers, house purchases, and so on – comes up with only post office boxes in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
But whoever created the companies used some of the same post office box addresses and the same apparently fictitious officers for two or more of the companies. One of those seeming ghost executives, Philip P. Quincannon, for instance, is listed as an officer of Premier Executive Transport Services and Crowell Aviation Technologies, both listed to the same Massachusetts address, as well as Stevens Express Leasing in Tennessee.
No one by that name can be found in any public record other than post office boxes in Washington and Dunn Loring, Va.
In the past, the FBI could set up undercover agents, or those in the witness protection program, by talking to “the big three” credit agencies. If the CIA needed cover identities, they could do the same.
But today, “thanks” to the profusion of businesses dedicated to bringing public records access to everyone, these techniques no longer work. You can’t ask three patriotic businesses to help you, you’d need to give a list of identities to create to tens? hundreds? of businesses. I expect that CIA believes at least one of those businesses is a front for Al Qaeda, and thus, this is inconceivable, to hand out a list of covert officers.
Just another way in which privacy helps security.