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Classified Conflict

Aired December 26, 2002 - 09:13   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The failures of U.S. intelligence before 9/11 are still being investigated, but now, as the U.S. prepares for potential war with Iraq, are the two agencies or the same page, or is a rivalry still causing problems? Mark Riebling has written extensively about their internal conflict. His new book is called "The Wedge.: From Pearl Harbor to 09/11, How the Secret War Between the CIA and the FBI Has Endangered National Security."
And Mark Riebling is our guest right here in New York.

Good morning.

MARK RIEBLING, AUTHOR, "THE WEDGE": Good morning, Daryn.

KAGAN: Thanks for being here with us.

RIEBLING: You're welcome.

KAGAN: Let's get right to where we are today. Have things improved in the relationship between the CIA and the FBI?

RIEBLING: Well, for 60 years, they had a very bad rivalry, as I write about in "Wedge," but since 9/11, knock on wood, things have been much better. We have the FBI in Afghanistan, and of course at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. We also have CIA officers working at all 56 major FBI field offices in the United States. This is very helpful.

What you also have, though, is the two sides continue to operate on their own wavelength, so to speak. It's almost like two different operating systems. One is using IBM; one is using MacIntosh. Anyone who has ever tried to swap files knows what a problem this could be.

A good example is on November 3rd, CIA assassinated six Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. It didn't consult with the FBI, who'd wanted to bring these guys into trial. So that's a kind of example of the things we're going to continue to see.

KAGAN: So everything not working perfectly, but you do see some improvement?

RIEBLING: You do, you see a lot of improvement, in fact, and although both Director Tenet of the CIA and director Mueller of the FBI, have been under intense criticism in some quarters, I support what they're doing. I think they've done a good job, considering the system itself begs for and actually incites conflicts between the agencies, because we divide things at the water's edge. And as a former CIA Director Richard Helm said, that's like cutting a man down the middle, so we shouldn't be surprised to be walked in opposite directions.

KAGAN: So the way these two agencies had worked in the past was news for a lot Americans, following 9/11, not news to you, because as you point out in your book, this goes back -- you even say that perhaps even Pearl Harbor could have been prevented had the agencies been working better?

RIEBLING: I think, yes, very certainly. At the time, Pearl Harbor, we really lacked a centralized intelligence-gathering apparatus. So as in so many cases, one side has part of the puzzle, the other side the other part of the puzzle. If you don't put it together clear, you have problems. With 9/11 what we saw was, for example, the same kind of thing. CIA was tracking, and meeting in Malaysia, which we heard about.

Khalid Al-Midhar (ph) was one of the 9/11 suspects who CIA had been tracking two years earlier. It didn't inform the FBI about this when he came to the United States, and he was on the plane which crashed into the Pentagon.

So it's absolutely crucial that we have a centralized way of putting all these facts together.

KAGAN: Looking forward, do you see -- is it important in some respects both agencies keep their own personalities and their own cultures? You don't want it to melt into one agency?

RIEBLING: In a way, I'm contrarian there. I kind of do.

KAGAN: You would like to see that?

RIEBLING: I think there's pro and con. Truly, in a globalized threat environment, it doesn't make that much sense to divide things geographically when our enemies don't observe these divisions.

KAGAN: At home and abroad.

RIEBLING: That's right. At the same time, I think Americans aren't comfortable with having the CIA using the same kind of hardcore tactics at home as they do overseas. And you were talking earlier about some of the interrogations in Afghanistan.

So as a compromise, I favor what the British have, which is a domestic spy agency with no powers of arrest. They have MI-5 over there, and there is a big debate in Congress, and also within the administration whether we should go to a pure domestic spy agency with no powers of arrest. I think, ultimately, that's what's going to happen.

KAGAN: You do think that will happen?

RIEBLING: I do, but you'll hear a lot of complaints from civil libertarians, and some of this will be justified. This is an important debate we need to have.

KAGAN: And it's a debate on many issues -- our civil liberties versus being safe.

That's right, and also what kind approach we're going to take. I mean, this is a war. In a certain way, the CIA has gone back to the James Bond kind of tactics it used during the Cold War with actually limited success. It was trying to kill Fidel Castro for many years using poison cigars and things like this. These attempts sort of have a parallel to the coyote's attempt to kill the road runner. They never really succeeded.

In Yemen, they actually did succeed but with a Predator drone aircraft. So I think the James Bond of the future is likely to be a robot, but this represents the kind of tactics beyond the law, outside the law, which are likely to emerge.

RIEBLING: So much more to talk about than we can cover just in our three minutes here in the morning. So if people want to check out your book, "The Wedge." straight to it.

Mark Riebling, thank you. Appreciate it.

ZAHN: You're welcome.


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