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FBI Beats the CIA in Their Turf Battle--For now


It's gotten lost in the shuffle, but news that the FBI will take much of the responsibility for questioning terrorists is a major poke in the eye for the CIA. It couldn't have been anything but a serious slight with the announcement coming on the same day that spooks at CIA were identified by one of their inspectors general as significant interrogation abusers.

Beyond that, the two agencies have traditionally fought for supremacy on the espionage battlefields. While their separate turfs would seem to be obvious -- domestic for the FBI, everywhere else for the CIA; spying for the CIA, counter-spying for the FBI -- there is huge overlap, and each agency is constantly maneuvering to overlap some more.

Add to that the "I told you so factor." For years, stories have leaked about FBI agents warning against abusive questioning of detainees. They did so at Guantanamo; they made sure the world knew they were leery of the harsh techniques, not only because they were legally dicey but because they didn't believe they worked. When their warnings weren't heeded, the agents would leave the room. Their bosses finally ordered them not to participate.


How they must have chortled at the language in the IG report that the tactics presented "long-term political and legal challenges." They certainly have. So while a White House spokesman hastened to say that "the CIA . . . obviously has a very important role to play as it relates to interrogations; they've done a brilliant job in doing it so far, gathering intelligence," it is clear this latest reshuffle is a repudiation, whatever the lip service.

And by the way, as the special prosecutor investigates to determine whether interrogators broke the law, guess who will be doing the interviews? That's right: FBI agents. How galling is that?

CIA Director Leon Panetta has a huge morale problem. Panetta found it necessary to issue a statement reassuring those who work for him: "You, the men and women of this great institution, do the hard work and take the tough risks that intelligence and espionage demand." Right now, many of them feel that their greatest risks are legal ones, that they are being abandoned after trying their best to do their jobs when guidance from above was nonexistent or confusing.

Over at the FBI, Director Robert Mueller would be well-advised to be wary. There is little more dangerous than a group of spies that has been left out in the cold.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 26, 2009 11:48 AM.

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