By Col. T.X. Hammes,
Best Defense bureau of intelligence context
It is virtually impossible for an agency to provide sufficient cover for a false name. If you provide information like where you went to school, what posts you have served before, etc., the information can be quickly checked. (Most yearbooks are online; graduates are listed in newspapers; property records, etc.) If you don't provide that information, then your bio sticks out.
Giving an intern the list of names of personnel at an embassy and telling them to build the person's bio from online sources -- with cross-checking -- will quickly cut through a light cover. It will also challenge even a well-constructed cover.
I think this is going to be one of the challenges for human intelligence in the 21st century.
T.X. Hammes served 30 years in the Marine Corps and is now a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research, National Defense University. He is the author of The Sling and the Stone.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.