’s guest today is Robert Baer, an ex-CIA field officer in its Directorate of Operations division from 1976 to 1997. He is the author of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism.
Frontpage Magazine: Robert Baer, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
In See No Evil, you discuss how 9/11 was, in many respects, the result of the paralysis of the CIA in the post-communist era. The CIA refused to get its hands dirty and, overall, the human intelligence side of spying was subordinated to technology-driven surveillance. In your view, this was a disastrous mistake. As you point out, a source in Hamburg’s mosques in the 1990s could have reported that Muhammad Atta was recruiting suicide bombers. But there was no source. Could you talk a bit about this intelligence failure in the CIA?
Baer: For almost a decade now the CIA put a low priority on recruiting human sources abroad. The CIA was more concerned about being politically correct, getting along in Washington and not causing waves. Don't forget that in the 1990's the Clinton White House only cared about the economy. The last thing it wanted was for the CIA to be mucking around abroad and damaging U.S. business relations. The point in all this is that if the CIA had been running sources in the mosques in Germany and Saudi Arabia it would have found out bin Ladin was recruiting suicide bombers. It was an error we will pay for years.
FP: So in terms of the CIA’s failure under the Clinton White House, what do you know about how things are going under the Bush White House? Is some of the political correctness dying off? Is the CIA increasing any recruitment of human sources? Do you think the Bush White House is more willing to risk putting some business relations in jeopardy for the sake of national security objectives?
Baer: I think it's pretty clear that after the David Kay report on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that the CIA still has serious problems. Some will says that it is too short of a period -- between 9/11 and the Iraq war -- for the CIA to have turned around. They are probably right. More to the point, though, the CIA still is in need of a top-to-bottom, genuine house cleaning. And even then it will take seven-to-ten years to see the results.
FP: Tell us some more about how does political correctness killed effective intelligence operations under Clinton.
Baer: For a start everyone in the CIA knew that Clinton refused to see his CIA director. This wrecked morale throughout the CIA. Why get yourself in trouble spying if no one in the White House cared? The result was that the really good officers resigned and everyone else elected to stay home.
FP: So the President of the United States refuses to meet with his own CIA director? This is like basically just saying that protecting your country from foreign enemies is of no interest to you and that nothing will be done about it under your administration. In your judgement, was Clinton just a moron or was there actually a malicious and shrewd attempt on his part to damage the interests of his own country?
Baer: I think Clinton was naive. He didn't have the slightest idea there was a dangerous world out there. A baby-boomer, he was more concerned about Nasdaq and the way he felt about things than he was about national security.
FP: You have spent many years of your life in the Middle East. In See No Evil, you refer to the violent hatred that is felt in that region for the United States. Please illuminate that hate and what you think is behind it.
Baer: People in the Middle East hate the United States for a variety of reasons. For a start we are accused of propping up corrupt regimes, from Saudi Arabia to Morocco. They believe we profit from these regimes and it is in our economic interest to protect them. Secondly, people in the Middle East hate us for giving unlimited support to Israel. Finally, at the bottom of it all, as the last super power, we are blamed for everything that goes wrong in the world.
FP: I don’t see anyway out of the Arab Middle East’s hate for the U.S. unless that region abandons its backward and authoritarian culture and embraces democracy, freedom, individualism, women’s equality (and sexual freedom) etc. But I see very little possibility for this. What do you think?
Baer: I'm pretty much an isolationist. I think it would be a walk in the park bringing down all the regimes in the Middle East. But what do you have then? Probably a lot of mini-Taliban states. Our best defense is protecting our borders, in particular making sure who is living and visiting our country. A good missile defense wouldn't hurt.
FP: You point out that Europe, once our ally against communism, has become fertile soil for Islamic fundamentalism. How and why did this happen? Is there any way to turn back the clock?
Baer: Europe has a significant Muslim population that it has not been able to integrate into its societies. Whereas American Muslims are generally given an equal opportunity in the U.S., in Europe they are often excluded from the best schools, good jobs, and elite societies. This has fuelled resentment against the West. In addition, Europe has been reluctant to defend its borders and keep track of its large immigrant populations. This is the reason bin Ladin was able to put together a cell in Germany.
FP: You say that in Europe Muslims are often excluded from the best schools, good jobs, and elite societies. But isn’t the larger problem that many Muslims refuse to assimilate into a secular society and seek to impose their fundamentalism on their host societies? Look at how white girls in many Muslim areas in France are now brutalized and gang-raped for not covering themselves. . . .
Baer: Well, this touches on a very sensitive subject -- race, ethnicity, and religion. One of the reason we've done relatively well in the United States is that we've tended to put our origins behind us. My background is German. But I have no more attachment to Germany than I do any other country. My feeling is that if we (or Europe) allow the growth of ethnic enclaves Balkanization is inevitable.
FP: Let’s suppose President Bush appointed you the CIA Director and told you to “clean it up” and to make the agency the best it could be in terms of keeping America safe. Assuming you accepted the appointment, what would be some of the first things you would do on the job?
Baer: I would separate the directorate of operations (DO - collection) from rge directorate of intelligence (analysis). I would make advance in the DO strictly based on the ability to collect information vital to the US. In this way, the CIA would re-focus on what it was meant to do: spy.
FP: So where are we headed in the Iraq and the War on Terror? What policy would you advise to the U.S. administration on both?
Baer: If I were in the White House I would worry about what is happening in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. These two countries our lynchpins to world security, and they are both fragile.
FP: So what exactly is happening in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia? The Pakistani regime appears to be intentionally not wiping out the rest of the Taliban and al-Qaeda within its borders. And we know that the Saudis have, in one way or another, allowed al-Qaeda to operate within Saudi borders. What policy should the U.S. pursue towards both? Do you think there is a danger that both nations might be taken over by Islamic extremists?
Baer: Neither Saudi Arabia nor Pakistan are cooperating fully on terror. The main reason is that al-Qaeda remains popular, especially among the religious establishment. Turning bin Laden over to us or killing him would destabilize either government. In any case, both countries are fragile. Saudi Arabia, which owns 26% of the world's oil resources, is vulnerable to chaos is Iraq.
FP: What do think about how the Left has behaved in terms of the War on Terror and Iraq?
Baer: I don't think there is a left and right now when it comes to national security. We've gone back to the Cold War when U.S. national security was a bipartisan issue. A Democratic president in the White House today would not alter our national security policy all that much. What I'm afraid of is that the 9/11 commission will become a highly charged political issue and we will never get a clear answer who was behind the 9/11 attacks.
FP: Well, when I say the “Left,” I mean the anti-war movement and the leftist establishment that is trying to weaken us in the face of our enemy. What do you think of the Left in terms of how it has, in one way or another, demonized the U.S. rather than our evil enemies such as bin Laden and Saddam? What is the psychology of these people?
Baer: I would focus on the Clinton Administration. Although Clinton certainly is not solely responsible for dismantling the CIA, he did nothing to raise it back up. In the nineties we all knew that the Middle East was going to hell, but the Clinton White House decided to ignore it. People were making too much on Nasdaq to care.
FP: Are you hopeful that we will win the War on Terror? How will we do it?
Baer: We have to start by telling the truth about the nature of the threat we face. For instance, if we let the Saudi royal family plunder the country and do nothing about the exploding population there, the country will be taken over by fundamentalists threading the stability of the west. A band-aid in Afghanistan just isn't going to help.