Former CIA Op: Keep FBI Out of Global Terror Fight

February 8, 2010 07:20

By: Kent Clizbe via Newsmax

Obama’s Keystone Kops responded to a “man-made crisis” in Detroit on Christmas Day. The resulting confusion and chaos laid bare their utter incompetence and the failure of their strategy to deal with terrorist attacks against America.

While the counterterror bigwigs were skiing, street cops from the FBI took on a task for which they were totally unprepared. That is the real crime in the Obama/Holder/Brennan counterterrorism strategy.

America is less safe because the Obama administration relies on law-enforcement tactics in the ongoing global war on terror. The national intelligence director, who had been missing from the national conversation about the so-called underwear bomber in Detroit, surfaced and let slip a glimpse of the truth in testimony before Congress two weeks ago.

Dennis Blair said the Nigerian terrorist should have been handled as an enemy combatant and interrogated by the Obama/Holder special interrogation unit. This unit was announced months ago as Obama’s “smart” solution to what Obama and Holder called “torture” in previous terrorist interrogations.

Then, FBI Director Robert Mueller surfaced the next day and said the FBI-led interrogation team does not even exist yet!

Like many smart guys, Obama confuses his eloquent speeches with on-the-ground results. However, in this case, let’s look at the “brilliant strategy” a bit more closely. Maybe Obama’s failure to implement it could be a blessing in disguise.

The FBI is the world’s best at investigating crimes on its turf and walking the case through the U.S. prosecution system. It also is very good at enticing potential bad guys in America into illegal schemes, such as blowing up the Sears Tower. It also is very good at publicizing its successes, following J. Edgar Hoover’s excellent public relations campaigns.

There are two important issues to understand when considering the FBI’s successes. The first is the location of its turf: America. The second is one word: prosecution. FBI agents are rewarded and promoted based on their arrest, prosecution, and conviction records. FBI agents sit on the top tier of the law-enforcement community, with nearly total freedom to operate.

A gross simplification of their method of operating: An agent walks into an office in Raleigh, N.C. He flashes his badge and lets his coat slip open, allowing the office manager a glimpse of his holstered semi-automatic handgun. The agent says, “I’m Special Agent Jim Smith, FBI.” He immediately gets full access to whatever, or whoever, he wants.

The CIA, meanwhile, is the opposite of this “badge-and-gun” culture. The CIA’s operations officers are among the world’s best at gathering and reporting intelligence in foreign countries. The agency also the world’s best at leveraging relationships with foreign intelligence and security services. It has targeted foreign terrorist organizations around the globe for decades.

One word encapsulates the CIA’s competencies: foreign. The CIA’s mission is foreign intelligence. CIA operations officers are rewarded and promoted based on their abilities to recruit foreign sources and to report foreign intelligence.

The CIA is uniquely positioned in foreign countries, and it has close and longstanding relationships with the local civilian and military intelligence, local police, and national police. It has run thousands of covert intelligence ops in foreign countries, with and without the cooperation of foreign services.

CIA officers are residents in the foreign country, some have studied the language, and all try to understand the cultural issues involved in their work.
FBI agents’ skills also are phenomenal — in America. Unfortunately, the FBI’s law enforcement and prosecutorial approach applied in overseas counterterrror environments, in my experience, is obstructive at best, and harmful to our national security at worst.

For example, I worked a counterterrorism operation post-9/11 in a foreign country, with the goal of disrupting or destroying a terrorist network that had killed, kidnapped, and brutalized numerous Americans and others. It was a complicated covert op involving assistance from numerous foreign government security organizations and officials, with whom the CIA worked very closely. The op took place in a desolate and remote area. I was the CIA officer on the ground, coordinating the complex moving pieces with the local intel, military, and police.

We developed intel that a terrorist safehouse was a meeting and support site. Or it might be used to house the hostages themselves. The intel came about through careful and close cooperation between the CIA and our local allies. We each contributed our strengths. The CIA had technical means, guidance, and training to offer. The foreign services had in-depth cultural and linguistic knowledge, a network of contacts and sources, and a deep motivation to help their friends.

After careful planning, we coordinated a pre-dawn, lightning-quick raid of the safehouse. Although the hostages were not present, there was a treasure trove of documents, cell phones, and computers, in addition to terrorist support staff. Our allies, in whose country and under whose laws we were working, took control of the detainees and material seized.

Gathered together, locals and CIA, at a military intel office, we discussed the best approach to processing the take. We came up with a satisfactory division of responsibilities — locals take the documents in the local language and the detainees for interrogation, CIA take the laptops and cell phones for exploitation — when I got a call from CIA management.

Management let me know that the FBI agent who had flown in from the States the day before was on his way to the scene. I was to coordinate with him. As the officer in the field, my goal was to keep the FBI agent away from the ops, because he had a net zero to add to any facet of the op. At the same time, I appreciated the need for the FBI to appear to be involved, as it was under much pressure from Washington for 9/11 failures. My plan was to let him sit in on discussions and keep him informed but keep him away from the actual operations.

After 9/11, the FBI had attempted to assert “primacy” in any situation that involved a “crime against an American citizen,” no matter where that crime occurred in the world. In this case, the terrorists had kidnapped Americans. The same terrorists had kidnapped and murdered other Americans. So this case was a perfect test for the FBI’s new theory of primacy.

When the FBI agent arrived on scene, hours later, we had completed dividing responsibilities for the “take” from the safehouse. The FBI agent strode into the room, acting like he had just busted a ring of check-kiters in Milwaukee. He whipped out a roll of yellow crime-scene tape and wrapped the two piles of boxes and equipment with a crisscross pattern of tape.

He declared: “This is a crime scene. No one is to touch this evidence.”

Our allies, their jaws on the floor, looked to me. All I could do was call management. The CIA officers in charge told me that Washington and the ambassador were trying to sort out lines of responsibility, and I should just let the FBI proceed. The FBI agent had the material wrapped and palletized, and he left on the next flight.

Our local allies were enraged. Their men had risked their lives for this take. I retreated to their offices for an all-nighter, trying to persuade them that this had not been some sort of conspiracy to steal the take from them.

In the short run, we were able to repel the FBI (its agents never showed their faces in the field again). We ran the op to a successful conclusion, but God only knows what ever happened to the take from that raid. None of those terrorists has ever been prosecuted in the United States. However, several became shark bait at the conclusion of the ops our allies ran. And an American hostage lives in freedom today because of the CIA and foreign teamwork.

The FBI was designed to be, and is, a U.S.-based law enforcement agency. The CIA was designed to be, and is, a foreign-based intelligence and covert action agency. The 9/11 Commission, which was driven by those famous intelligence experts, the Jersey Girls, resulted in the creation of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI). It also resulted in a push for the FBI to be more involved in “intelligence.”

The 9/11 Commission’s empowerment of the FBI’s role in intelligence clouded what had been relatively clear lines of responsibility. After 9/11, the FBI began pushing into foreign countries in unprecedented numbers and with aggressive outreach. It claimed any operation as its own if it involved a crime against a U.S. citizen or person.

The FBI pushed its agents overseas with little to no training or experience. Agents from Little Rock, who had chased white collar criminals in Arkansas and Missouri, flew into embassies in the Middle East, Asia, and Africa to “investigate” terrorist “crimes.”

In the aftermath of the underwear bomber, FBI agents took control of the “crime scene” and the Nigerian detainee. At some point, the FBI read the Nigerian his rights. They put the terrorist in an American jail, and gave the Nigerian an American lawyer.

In the meantime, the bomber’s terrorist trainers, planners, suppliers, funders, and other co-conspirators got advance warning upon his arrest, and avoided detection and capture. Not only was the ability of the bomber to obtain a seat on an American plane an intel failure but also the “law-enforcement” handling of the incident and the FBI’s interrogation also were abject flops.

Coordination and communication among agencies in the global war on terror are extremely important. But even more vital is the need for the right tool to be applied to a job. When an incident calls for a counterterror, intelligence approach, that is what should be used. The dysfunctional hyper-bureaucracy created by the 9/11 Commission, including the DNI and the National Counterterrorism Center, should be scuttled. The president’s “terrorism counsel” should be fired.

The solution for terrorist attacks on the homeland is a joint approach between the Department of Defense, and the CIA. The Defense Department is responsible for detaining enemy combatants. The CIA is responsible for interrogation and intelligence exploitation of enemy operatives and operations.

Those two responsible agencies should call on other agencies for their specific skills, when needed. Until we return to a sane bureaucratic solution, America and its citizens will be endangered instead of protected.

Kent Clizbe was a staff CIA case officer in the 1990s and as a contractor after 9/11. He worked intelligence positions in Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. His specialty is counterterrorism and Islamic extremism. An emerging commentator on intelligence and national security, Clizbe has appeared on VOA TV, PJTV, and national and regional talk radio, as well as columns in and Parcbench. For more information on Clizbe, Click Here Now.

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