But as the latest bomb plot in Yemen shows, little stays hidden for long these days.
In the post-Sept. 11 world, even the most sensitive intelligence operations quickly become daily fodder as the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet and media-friendly politicians give the story momentum. And it's often senior government officials and the intelligence community who spread the juiciest details.
Many headlines and stories (including some of ours) have been saying that a "double agent" infiltrated al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and foiled a plot to get another underwear bomb aboard a U.S.-bound passenger jet.
But we've been looking at definitions of spy terms and think that based on what we have been told so far, the person at the center of the story wasn't a double agent.
For the CEOs of companies such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard, talk of cyberweapons and cyberwar could have been abstract. But at a classified security briefing in spring 2010, it suddenly became quite real.
"We can turn your computer into a brick," U.S. officials told the startled executives, according to a participant in the meeting.
The White House and FBI have confirmed al-Qaida attempted to target a plane bound for the United States. All indications are the plan was conceived by al-Qaida's arm in Yemen. But officials say the plot was foiled before it was any threat to the public.
Business executives and national security leaders are of one mind over the need to improve the security of the computers that control the U.S. power grid, the financial system, water treatment facilities and other elements of critical U.S. infrastructure. But they divide over the question of who bears responsibility for that effort.
The disagreement stands as an obstacle to passage of major cybersecurity legislation backed by Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Susan Collins of Maine, among others.