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Riebling argues that relations have always been tense, dating back to the relationship between the two giants of American intelligence--J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI and William Donovan of World War II's Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA). Wedge traces many of the problems to differing personalities, missions, and corporate cultures. Donovan had been in combat in World War I, while Hoover was building the FBI Indexes at the GID. Donovan argued against the constitutionality of Hoover's GID activities in the 1920s. In World War II, President Roosevelt (at the demand of the British, including Ian Fleming), allowed the creation of a new intelligence agency, against the wishes of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. He put Donovan in charge. The intelligence failure of the FBI (i.e. regarding Dusko Popov) leading to Pearl Harbor helped convince government leaders of the necessity of a 'centralized' intelligence group.
Donovan's new group accepted communist agents and the alliance with the Soviets, while Hoover (informed by his experiences in the First Red Scare period) was abhorred at the thought and believed the Soviet empire would become the 'next enemy' after World War II was over. The CIA evolved from freewheeling World War II foreign operations, hiring known criminals and foreign agents of questionable moral character. Donovan operated with a flat, non-existent hierarchy. The FBI in contrast focused on the building of legal cases to be presented in the US court system, and the punishment of criminals, and demanded 'clean living' agents who would act in strict obedience to Hoover's dictates.
CIA Counterintelligence Chief James Jesus Angleton
Scott Ladd wrote in Newsday, "If a heroic figure emerges from Wedge it is the late James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's controversial director of counterintelligence for more than 20 years. Riebling partially rehabilitates Angleton from the drubbing he's taken in recent books such as David Wise's Molehunt, in which he is depicted as disrupting his own agency in a futile, paranoid search for a nonexistent mole." A Namebase reviewer finds that "Riebling explains the Angleton view so competently that it finally makes sense on its own terms."
FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover
Ladd asserts that Riebling "avoided tarring the late FBI boss with the kind of sensationalist touches common to recent biographies. ... [Riebling] is respectful of those he believes played the game both wisely and well."
KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn
In his 1984 book New Lies For Old, Soviet KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn predicted the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet empire, and the rise of a democratic regime in Russia. Riebling calculated that of Golitysn's 194 original predictions, 139 were fulfilled by 1994, while 9 seemed 'clearly wrong', and the other 46 were "not soon falsifiable"--an accuracy rate of 94%. Riebling suggested that this predictive record (and the rise of KGB officer Vladimir Putin) justified re-evaluation of Golitysn's background theory, which posited a KGB role in "top-down" liberalization and reform. Golitysn quoted Riebling's assessment in a January 1995 memo to the Director of the CIA.
Operations and controversies spotlighted
Probe of the John F. Kennedy assassination
Riebling devotes considerable attention to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. His take is that "liaison problems" between the FBI and the CIA "contributed" to the Dallas tragedy, impeded the investigation and led to a "fight that precluded the truth from being inarguably known." When the Warren Commission issued its conclusions on the murder in 1964, it concealed "indications of a Communist role" because of an interagency conflict over the bona fides of the Soviet defector Yuri Nosenko, who insisted that Moscow had nothing to do with the crime. The FBI thought Nosenko was telling the truth; the CIA was sure he was lying to protect Moscow. Riebling writes that the Warren Commission's "obvious delinquencies and cover-ups would later lead conspiracy theorists to suspect Government complicity in the assassination."
Dispute over KGB defector Yuri Nosenko
Wedge describes the divisiveness caused by the FBI's championship of Nosenko, versus the CIA's support for the Soviet defector Golitsyn, who accused Mr. Nosenko of being a Kremlin plant. In 1970 the Nosenko-Golitsyn conflict "reached a point of crisis." Calling on Richard Nixon in Florida, J. Edgar Hoover asked the President how he liked the reports obtained by the FBI from Oleg Lyalin, a KGB man in London. Nixon said he had never received them. Furious, Hoover learned that Angleton acting on advice from Golitsyn, had withheld them from the President as disinformation. "If Lyalin had been the first such source to be knocked down by Golitsin," Riebling writes, "Hoover might have been able to tolerate Angleton's skepticism. But coming at the end of a decade which had seen CIA disparage a whole series of FBI sources, the Lyalin affair turned Hoover irrevocably against Angleton and Golitsyn."
Watergate and the crisis in domestic surveillance under Richard Nixon
Emboldened by the knowledge that his personal relationship with Nixon was far warmer than that of Richard Helms, the Lyndon Johnson-appointed Director of Central Intelligence, Hoover proceeded to break off direct contact with the CIA. Later, when the agency sent him requests for information, he would curse the CIA and say, "Let them do their own work!"
Yet despite his ties to Hoover, Nixon privately felt, in the words of his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, that "the FBI was a failure; it hadn't found Communist backing for the antiwar organizations, which he was sure was there." As Riebling writes, the Nixon White House quietly encouraged the two agencies to encroach on each other's territory, and it established the notorious rump group known as the Plumbers, whose key operatives came from both the FBI and the CIA.
Nixon's conspiratorial mind-set, combined with his wont to exploit the two agencies for his own political purposes, led naturally to the President's effort to enlist both in the Watergate cover-up, which was strenuously opposed by Helms. Hoover had died in 1972, but Riebling believes that had he been alive, the FBI Director would have responded the same way as Helms. Riebling writes that "no one ever doubted" that Hoover "would have refused to let CIA or the White House, tell the bureau how to conduct a criminal investigation. The Watergate cover-up, even his most severe detractors would admit, could not have happened on Hoover's watch."
Analysis of 9/11 intelligence failures
In the epilogue to the paperback edition, Riebling argues that the Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen spy cases further soured relations, resulting in liaison problems that contributed to the intelligence failures of 9/11. Riebling's account of interagency counter-terrorism efforts before September 11, 2001 highlights ten instances in which he believes the national security establishment failed along the faultline of law enforcement and intelligence.
Quotes from the work
ON MAY 25, 1941, Commander Ian Fleming entered the United States on a secret mission. He took a taxi from LaGuardia Field to Rockefeller Center, in midtown Manhattan, where he got out with his boss, Rear Admiral John H. Godfrey, the director of British naval intelligence. Flags of a hundred nations fringed the plaza's International Building, as to advertise the many spy services within: America's Federal Bureau (Investigation on the 44th floor; the Japanese consulate on 35; and on 31 behind a door marked "Rough Diamonds, Ltd.," the British Secret Service, When Fleming later began writing novels, he would have his fiction James Bond shoot a Japanese cipher clerk here--hinting that this was based on the author's own killing of a Japanese agent, by "accidentally crashing a construction sandbag through a window. As far as history can establish, however, Fleming's real purpose in America was at once more prosaic and more profound. In the words of a Most Secret British document, he was to help Godfrey "report on United States intelligence organizations," and "to coordinate them with those at the disposal of the United Kingdom." In practice, that would mean pushing for an American central intelligence agency, and helping choose its chief.
[I]n a Washington Post article disclosing the molehunt, FBI officials admitted that their seven-year purge of CIA had been a mistake. None of the three hundred suspects was implicated in espionage. FBI officer Ed Curran, who had retired when CIA fingered Philip Hanssen, admitted that the Bureau's performance was abysmal. "We just dropped the ball so many times," he said. Curran thought the roots of the failure traced back to 1992, when, based on its new threat list, the Bureau had cut back its counterespionage staff. The article did not reveal that the agent who drew up the FBI threat list was the very officer whose treason had spurred the crippling molehunt in CIA--or that those dual disasters, traceable to the same traitor, had ruined the national-security balance that had held since 1947. Even so, the disclosure of the Bureau's apology, and of its incompetence in counterespionage, was damning. As a brilliant, cloudless day dawned in Washington, as the Post flopped down on doorsteps in Arlington and Georgetown, anyone who had a chance to read page A-5 before 8:57 a.m. on September 11, 2001, would have learned that the FBI's dominance of CIA, the triumph of Hoover's ghost over Donovan's, the seven years of sleep and drift and delusion, were never necessary at all."
The existence of major FBI-CIA problems has typically been denied by the parties in power, while the sins of previous generations are acknowledged readily. In this, both sides have been much like the Soviet rulers they spent so long fighting attacking past administrations as bankrupt and moribund, in order to make the present seem more perfect.
After more than fifty years of rivalry, Agency people are still perceived by FBI agents as intellectual, Ivy League, wine drinking, pipe smoking, international relations types, sometimes aloof. The Bureau's people are regarded by CIA as cigar smoking, beer drinking, door-knocking cops. What kind of restructuring might overcome such stereo¬typical perceptions especially when they are generally true?
Why should counterintelligence duties be divided between two agencies? The traditional view is that it was Roosevelt's political instinct, in keeping with the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers, that made him avoid concentrating secret powers and overall intelligence responsibility in a single law enforcement agency. In fact, however, the foreign domestic split was originally effected on bureaucratic, not constitutional grounds. The issues of political dictatorship and division of intelligence jurisdictions have nothing inherently to do with each other. The civil liberties argument, which equates these two issues, is to that extent false.
American culture has always been tormented by the idea of government secrecy in a way that European nations have never been.
That CIA counterspies operated in the U.S. for fifty years without greater civil liberties violations than actually occurred was a function of the uniquely American character--a pragmatism far more idealistic than usually recognized.
Every Government inquiry into intelligence, from the first Pearl Harbor inquiry to the 1992 Iraq-Gate probe, cited interagency non-coordination as a major problem to be solved. Failure to solve it damaged the national security of the Republic, and imperiled the Republic itself.
That such a phrase as The American Way of Life could no longer be uttered uncynically, at the end of what was once called The American Century, could be conceived as the consequence of various national traumas, and to catalog them was to review, for the large part, the circumstances of interagency strife. Japanese dive-bombers in the Hawaiian dawn; atomic bomb secrets stolen by Soviet spies; failure to prevent or properly investigate the death of a young President; an inability to understand student protest during the Vietnam War; the Watergate coverup; the blowing of CIA's illegal Iran-Contra networks; a bank raid that exposed U.S. complicity in arming Iraq; spy scandals which showed that our secrets were not safe; the deaths of nearly 3,000 innocents on a beautiful September morning--in such episodes could be discerned the FBI-CIA war, both as symptom and cause of an unmistakable national weakness.
Reviewing the hardcover edition in The New York Times Book Review, presidential historian Michael R. Besschloss wrote: "Wedge compellingly re-creates the life-or-death atmosphere of the half-century of American confrontation with the Soviet Union. Mr. Riebling succeeds brilliantly as well in persuading the reader that the FBI-CIA conflict was a more important piece of the cold war mosaic than heretofore noted by historians." To Besschloss, however, the relevance of the work remained somewhat elusive: "Vital controversies over Soviet moles and counterintelligence, which seemed so dramatic just a few years ago, have a vaguely antique quality now that the Soviet Union is dead, recalling Norma Desmond's lament in Sunset Boulevard that she remained big, it was merely the pictures that had got small."
Reviewing Wedge on the front page of the Washington Post Book World, Richard Gid Powers, found Wedge "a lively and engaging narrative of interagency bungling, infighting, malfeasance and nonfeasance, providing fresh and well-rounded portraits of well-known (and ought-to-be-well-known) agents, based on scores of original and rewarding interviews."
John Fialka wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "The fact that [Riebling] has taken great pains to avoid using anonymous sources is just one of a number of reasons why serious students of this nation's haywire-rigged counterintelligence effort should read Wedge. ... [T]he cumulative effect of his tales is staggering."
Writing in Reason, Michael W. Lynch criticizes Riebling from a libertarian perspective, alleging that his arguments have been used to broaden the FBI's ability to collect political information on Americans and people living in the United States.
Some 9/11 "Truthers" contend that Riebling provided the "cover story" for an alleged U.S. government conspiracy behind the events of September 11, 2001. Thus one blogger "take[s] a shot at The Nation for its embrace of a disingenuous book by Mark Riebling," alleging that U.S. Deputy Attorney General and 9/11 Commission member "Jamie Gorelick, who learned so much from this book," adapted Riebling's concept of a "tragic wedge" into the 9/11 Commission's criticism of a "wall between the CIA and FBI."
In October 2002, Vernon Loeb wrote in The Washington Post, "If Riebling's thesis--that the FBI-CIA rivalry had 'damaged the national security and, to that extent, imperiled the Republic'--was provocative at the time, [but] seems prescient now, with missed communications between the two agencies looming as the principal cause of intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks."
Influence on U.S. national security policy
Andrew C. McCarthy, the deputy U.S. attorney who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombers in 1993, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2006 that "Riebling's analysis has now become conventional wisdom, accepted on all sides. Such, indeed, is the reasoning behind virtually all of the proposals now under consideration by no fewer than seven assorted congressional committees, internal evaluators, and blue-ribbon panels charged with remedying the intelligence situation."
In his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush announced an initiative to close what he termed the "seam" between FBI and CIA coverage of foreign threats, as Riebling recommended in Wedge.
Influence on public discourse and academic scholarship
In Remaking Domestic Intelligence, Judge Richard A. Posner develops Riebling's proposal for a new domestic intelligence service based on the model of Britain's MI5.
Glenn P. Hastedt writes in Espionage: A Reference Handbook that "Riebling's concern for the rivalry and competitive nature of the relationship between the intelligence community is frequently commented upon in studies of intelligence estimates."
Writing in Reason, Michael W. Lynch criticized Riebling from a libertarian perspective, alleging others have used his arguments to broaden the FBI's ability to collect intelligence.