From Abraxas to Ntrepid: Tracking the Pentagon’s “sock puppet” operation contractor

A piece in today’s Guardian reveals a US military “sock puppet” operation that involves “using fake online personas to influence internet conversations and spread pro-American propaganda.” The article names the California-registered Ntrepid Corporation as a recipient of a contract for the project. The California corporate registry lists an office in Tysons Corner, Virginia as the physical location of the company. A search for the company’s name on Virginia’s corporate registry turns up an entry (ID: F184248-5) with a listing of its director and officers (screenshot here). The names are as follows:

Richard H. Helms (director and officer)
Wesley R. Husted (officer)
Margaret A. Lee (officer)

As it turns out, Richard Helms was previously the founder and CEO of the Virginia-based Abraxas Corporation. Wesley Husted was at one point its CFO. So, what is the Abraxas Corporation and what do they do? Its web site declares itself to be primarily concerned with information security and risk assessment. A June 2004 article in the International Herald Tribune identified it as a “small compan[y] made up almost entirely of former senior CIA officers […] in McLean, Virginia.” It further named one of its experts, Mary Nayak, as a former head of the Directorate of Intelligence’s South Asia group who had recently been hired as a consultant to the CIA’s 9/11 review group. According to an extensive profile of the company published in the LA Times in September 2006:

But Abraxas has also been tapped for unusual assignments. Several former CIA officials said Abraxas had been given a highly classified contract to craft “covers” — false identities and front companies — for the agency’s nonofficial cover program. The NOC program is one of the most sensitive and carefully guarded operations in the CIA. Most overseas case officers work under diplomatic cover, meaning they pose as State Department officials working at U.S. embassies and missions. If they are caught spying, they are typically protected from prosecution by diplomatic immunity. Officers in the NOC program have no such protections, and therefore operate under substantially greater risk. Major corporations traditionally have cooperated with the CIA to allow case officers to hold positions in overseas branches. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, the CIA has been under increased pressure to devise more imaginative cover arrangements that might give operatives closer access to terrorist networks.

The article also noted that Abraxas was declared in 2005 to be “one of the nation’s fastest growing young companies” by the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm. Apparently, it enjoyed 714% in revenue growth over three years. Naturally, 90% of this revenue was from government contracts.

More information about Abraxas can be found in Spies for Hire (2008) by Tim Shorrock.

It is fitting that a company such as Abraxas feels the need to form a front company just to put forth front “people” on the internet.

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