Politics & Policy

Back to The Angleton Files

One in an occasional series.

I remembered that my old friend, James Jesus Angleton (long-time head of CIA’s counterintelligence operations) had been suspicious of the snipers, and so, as one had been convicted and the other was about to go on trial, it seemed a good time to ask the old spook about the latest developments in the war on terrorism.

It took several days. I think the ouija board got snafu’d during the hurricane, and it took a while to get it back in tune, but today I finally got a decent connection.

JJA: Good to hear from you, I was afraid something had happened–

ML: No, we’re still okay. Nervous, but okay. How does it look to you?

JJA: Well, it’s a bit frustrating, I don’t mind telling you. Obviously, the Supreme Being knows the whole story, but he doesn’t share information, so we have to make do with snippets from news broadcasts and the like. Not very satisfactory.

ML: I can imagine. I was calling primarily because you had speculated that the snipers might have been a sort of “probe” by the terror network, watching our reactions so that if and when they decided to mount large-scale operations inside this country, they’d have some operationally useful information. How does it look now?

JJA: It’s a bit maddening, frankly. Nobody seems to have followed up the most suggestive leads, namely the ones that said that Muhammed had organized phony passports for several people in the Caribbean. Terrorists need those, and it seemed to me that he might have been doing multiple tasks. But I haven’t seen any follow-up on that stuff.

ML: Right. But then again, if it was investigated, we wouldn’t necessarily know about it, would we?

JJA: No, you’re right. But the FBI in recent years has pretty much given up on intelligence work. It just does law enforcement (which makes me wonder why the president put the bureau and the Justice Department are in charge of the domestic war on terrorism). Maybe CIA has looked into it.

ML: Have you seen anything else that enhances your suspicion?

JJA: Yeah. The most interesting factoid to come out of the sentencing phase of Muhammed’s trial is that Muhammed and Malvo seem to have shot up Temple Beth El in Tacoma, Washington. The prosecutors say the bullet was tied to a gun to which Muhammad had access, and that Muhammad espoused anti-Semitic views. That again suggests that Muhammed may have been more than a lone homicidal nutcase. Someone with that kind of hate would be a prime target for recruitment by the terror network. And he was a recent convert to Islam; I’d like to know a lot more about his conversion. Who did it? What version of Islam was it? And so forth.

ML: If you were in charge of domestic counterintelligence how would you go about it?

JJA: The first thing is to create a proper counterintelligence structure, which we do not have, even at CIA. Just look at the penetrations in Guantanamo! Three different people, some of whom were handling sensitive materials. That tells you everything you need to know, because the folks in charge include both Pentagon and agency people.

Just turning it over to Homeland Security does nothing. In fact, in many ways it makes things worse, because you now have a federal agency that is required to coordinate with 50 different state agencies, all “fighting terrorism.” Most of those people have no background in counterintelligence, and since all those agencies are hiring Arabic speakers as fast as they can, it’s a virtual certainty that there are some enemy agents among them.

ML: I’m told that we’re making lots of arrests, both at home and overseas. The public doesn’t see these because they’re secret.

JJA: No doubt that is happening, and as there are more and more terrorist attacks against allies, they will work harder and share more information with us, hoping that we will act vigorously. It seems that the Italians, Spaniards, and Germans are being particularly helpful, and I expect lots of help from the Turks in short order. They aren’t very understanding of terrorists who kill hundreds of Turkish citizens.

ML: Yeah, that’s my impression, too. And, after all, we haven’t had another attack since 9/11, so we must be doing something right.

JJA: Undoubtedly we are. But all the political correctness blinds us to profitable lines of investigation. One of the great strengths of democratic societies is that the people generally cooperate with the authorities. But they have to be told what to look for. Remember that the snipers were caught because somebody at a rest stop spotted them, and told the authorities. Meanwhile, our experts were looking for a white van–that never existed.

ML: So what should we tell the people?

JJA: Tell them that there are certainly terror cells in the country, and that the terrorists do not necessarily come from the Middle East (remember Johnny Jihad) or have dark skin. But they do have radical beliefs, and so people should pay attention to activities at their local mosques, etc. I’d pay particular attention to activities on college campuses and in the prisons, where recruiting is undoubtedly going on.

ML: And what would you say when people start yelling about racial profiling?

JJA: I would say–the ouija board started to gasp and wheeze–common sense is a better guide than “correctness” (his voice was fading). Constitution doesn’t require suicide, does it?

And that was the end. I hope next time he’ll fill in the missing words, because he was very agitated. Or so it seemed. It always was hard to tell with him unless you could see his eyes.

Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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