Diane talks with Paul Butler, Georgetown law professor and author of "Chokehold: Policing Black Men.”
Sept. 11 was a turning point in America in innumerable ways. Foremost: For our national security, U.S. intelligence, military and law enforcement agencies had to find a way to work together. It was imperative that they put aside age-old competition for the good of the nation. In a new book, a veteran national security reporter tells how these agencies created a sophisticated, global security network spawned by 9/11. He argues that the nature of warfare has been forever changed. Diane talks with journalist and author James Kitfield about how a new style of U.S. security operations offers the best hope for defending the nation in an age of asymmetric warfare.
- James Kitfield Contributing editor, National Journal; senior fellow, Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress; author of "Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War"
READ A FEATURED EXCERPT
Excerpted from “Twilight Warriors” by James Kitfield. Copyright 2016. Reprinted with permission from Perseus Books Group. All rights reserved.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. In 2011, U.S. forces killed the world's most wanted terrorists, Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki. It became clear to longtime national security expert James Kitfield that the secret U.S. terrorist targeting program had become extremely effective. In a new book, Kitfield takes us on a journey, showing how top intelligence, military and law enforcement leaders pulled together to craft a new strategy of warfare after 9/11.
MS. DIANE REHMHis new book is titled "Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War." James Kitfield joins us in the studio, and you are, as always, welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or Twitter. And James, as always, it's great to see you.
MR. JAMES KITFIELDGreat to be here.
REHMThanks. James, it strikes me that this book tells the before and after story of 9/11. Tell us about before. What was going on?
KITFIELDWell, before 9/11, al-Qaeda had, you know, in a situation in Afghanistan that unfortunately looks a lot like the Middle East today, there was a civil war. We had supported a number of the mujahedeen groups. Osama bin Laden ran one of those groups, ran some training camps. He comes back to his home, Saudi Arabia, and sees 200-plus-thousand U.S. troops there trying to defend Saudi Arabia against Saddam Hussein. And he decides this is an outrage that Saudi Arabia should have called on the mujahedeen. So he decides to wage war against the United States.
KITFIELDAnd it starts slowly. He gives some training to the Somalia militias that were responsible for Blackhawk Down in Somalia. Then he had the 1993 World Trade Center bombing that was -- you know, killed six people, I think, but was designed to actually topple the World Trade Center towers into each other. And it just progressively, they got better and better.
KITFIELDHe created a learning organization that progressively ended up doing the two embassy bombing attacks in 1998 that were so devastating in Tanzania and Kenya, the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 he had, you know, nearly -- you know, sank a ship-of-the-line warship with a suicide bomber and then culminating on 9/11.
REHMSo where was the intelligence community back then?
KITFIELDWell, the intelligence community, he was on their radar, but there was a bifurcation that turned out that he sort of exploited, and that was between the CIA, which is responsible for tracking, internationally, terrorists, and the FBI, which is responsible for domestically tracking terrorists. And that -- we had put those walls up after the -- some abuses in 1973 as part -- you know, the '60s and '70s CIA assassination plots and regime change throughout the world.
KITFIELDSo we put these barriers up between our law enforcement and our intelligence communities, and as the 9/11 Commission report made very clear, those barriers became, you know, a scene that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda exploited because they had people in the country who were al-Qaeda operatives. CIA knew parts of this, but the FBI didn't.
REHMSo what you're saying is that we had created a structure that could be penetrated because of lack of communication.
KITFIELDLack of intelligence sharing, lack of cooperation in our -- not only in our intelligence and law enforcement communities, but the military was pretty much divorced from the fight against terror.
REHMSo the shock of 9/11 brings all these agencies together in the realization we are not doing our jobs as well as we should because we're not talking to each other.
KITFIELDExactly, exactly, and the post-9/11, 9/11 Commission reforms, the Bush administration accepted the vast majority of those reforms. The two most noticeable are they created a single person at the top of intelligence pyramid, the director of national intelligence, today's James Clapper, who I profile in the book, for the first time someone who could actually reach across the 16 or 16 intelligence agencies and sort of crack the whip to try to get some cooperative intelligence sharing.
KITFIELDAnd they also created the National Counterterrorism Center, which became basically the clearinghouse and the central node in our counterterrorism network. So those were two important reforms. But as I argued in the book, the real change was really introduced in Iraq and Afghanistan with these joint special operations command task forces.
REHMExplain more about that.
KITFIELDWell, it turns out that these task forces that joint special operations command established in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and their job is just to hunt down terrorists, they're not involved in any of the nation-building or any of the counterinsurgency stuff, they are terrorist trackers, Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 are their chief operational units, and they created these task forces that combined all of the intelligence agencies members, from the law enforcement agencies like the FBI, the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, as well as Special Operations forces, as well as conventional forces, and they all put them under the same tent.
KITFIELDSo they lived together, they worked together. They were in a rather desperate situation because we were losing the war in Iraq, you know, circa 2004 to 2006. And whereas the conventional military officers would rotate out after a year and then go to doctrinal schools like General Petraeus did and try to figure out what he learned, JSOC and General McChrystal, who ran it, Stanley McChrystal, stayed in the first for almost five straight years. I mean, he was -- just kept doing it.
KITFIELDAnd they kept getting better and better, more synergy between these different agencies. There was one anecdote I tell here where before, you know, the, you know, Delta Force or the Special Forces would raid a house, dump everything, computers, laptops, phones, everything into a big plastic bag and dump these on the intelligence analysts, overworked intelligence analysts in Baghdad, and they couldn't make sense of any of it.
KITFIELDAnd so the FBI comes in and teaches Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 how to basically conduct -- execute a search warrant, where you tag every piece of information, who that belonged to, where it was found in the house, what room it was found in, and once they started doing that, they exponentially started getting better at intelligence collection.
KITFIELDAnd so that's what I mean when I say the synergy between all these different agencies learning to work together and understanding each other's strengths and also each other's weaknesses.
REHMTo what extent were there certain personnel whose obligation it was to penetrate these groups to act as though they had come to support them?
KITFIELDWell, I mean, penetration with sources is really the CIA's specialty, and they were certainly working on that. I will say these groups are dramatically difficult to penetrate because they are -- they tend to be tribal, and they tend to have a certain ideology, which requires you to be very, very well-versed in sort of radical ideology of Salafi jihadism.
KITFIELDThey -- you know, al-Qaeda was always very, very careful in vetting people that would -- it would join. ISIS is less -- is less intent on that kind of vetting. It seems to think that the more the merrier, but these groups are very, very hard to infiltrate, although there was some infiltration at various spots in the last 15 years. But it's not like we've ever had someone sitting next to Osama bin Laden who's a double agent. That to my knowledge never happened.
REHMI'm also wondering whether this is a very diverse group that you're talking about both in terms of gender and their backgrounds and so on and yet working together in a homogeneous way.
KITFIELDYeah, they are very diverse. I mean, you know, the old -- I mean, for instance the CIA and the FBI come from dramatically different cultures. You know, the FBI kind of play to role as sort of beat cops, you know, they're cops, and the CIA consider themselves sort of tweedy Georgetown, you know. And for the longest time those two organizations were really -- not only didn't cooperate, they were actively trying to thwart each other because there was this competition and really a lack of fundamental respect.
REHMAnd they let that competition sort of overwhelm the tasks that they were supposed to be performing.
KITFIELDI was told stories by CIA guys that, you know, in South America, you know, when they were rotating out of an assignment, and they were supposed to turn over their car to an FBI agent, and they drove into a lake instead. You know, there's -- that kind of stuff goes on.
REHMWhat was the basis of that kind of competition? Does that go back to J. Edgar Hoover?
KITFIELDIt goes back, I think, to these reforms where -- I mean listen, they call themselves, as one senior CIA guy told me, they were cities on separate hills. They didn't understand each other, they kind of ridiculed each other. The FBI guys thought the CIA guys were, you know, rogues from -- you know, always operating outside of legal boundaries. The CIA guys thought that the FBI guys were just unsophisticated and, you know, were just sort of beat cops. And they just allowed this competition to develop throughout the 1990s, especially, that proved really dysfunctional.
KITFIELDAnd to both organizations' credit, they started to realize this, and they started putting liaisons in each other's counterterrorism centers and any of the sort of realms like counter-drug, counterterrorism, where everyone understood that the bad guys were sort of crossing these boundaries between international intelligence and domestic law enforcement.
KITFIELDBut that wasn't enough. It's not enough to have one guy sitting -- one CIA guy sitting in an FBI headquarters. You have to have kind of a meld of cultures, where you understand and respect what the other guy does and what he brings to the table and a willingness to work together, and that first happened in these JSOC task forces.
REHMJames Kitfield, and his new book is titled "Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War." We are taking your calls, 800-433-8850. Send us an email, join us on Facebook or send us a tweet.
REHMAnd welcome back. Journalist James Kitfield is with me. We're talking about his new book, "Twilight Warriors." He is a contributing editor to National Journal, a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He's a three-time winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense.
REHMAnd James, speaking of national defense, there has, I think, pretty much for a long time been a great mistrust of the CIA. Do you think that that mistrust has begun to change in the years you're talking about, post-9/11?
KITFIELDWell, are you talking about a public mistrust of the CIA or...
REHMPublic mistrust of the CIA.
KITFIELDYou know, the CIA does really, really important work, but it does it so secretively that it's -- I think that it just kind of breeds a certain level of distrust. And I think that that was one -- one of the reasons I wrote this book was when I saw in 2010, '11, where this targeted killing program was really hitting its stride, what Stanley McChrystal told me was becoming the amazon.com of counterterrorism that it was cloaked in such secrecy, and it seemed to me that that was not right, that certain -- you know, I understand there's elements of it that have to remain secret.
KITFIELDBut I mean, when you have a program like this that is so lethal and so effective, I think you need public buy-in, and you need some transparency in that. So I guess to answer your question in a roundabout way, the CIA will always probably engender a little bit of distrust, but it's got -- you know, ever since the oversight, you know, reforms of '73, it's had a lot of oversights. You've got intelligence committees who are briefed by the CIA and all their operations.
KITFIELDSo you have oversight of it. What I found so interesting was the distrust that existed inter-agency was what started to dispel when these guys worked in these war zones and then came back up and worked their way up through the chain of command in all these different agencies. You know, as DNI James Clapper described to me is that you had a whole generation of intelligence analysts and operatives who were -- who knew only the sharing of intelligence and working together to fight a common enemy, and they never want to go back to those, you know, where everyone goes to their corners and doesn't share and has this dysfunctional competition. They're not interested in that.
REHMTell us a little more about what you learned about the terrorist targeting program.
REHMWell as I said, you know, it started -- it started out at JSOC in the warzones, and then in these warzones the Joint Special Operations Command had carte blanche, really, to go after people. They didn't have to worry, you know, you were in a warzone, so you didn't have to go mother may I to higher headquarters, whatever. You basically -- they were responsible for coming up with their own targeting list.
KITFIELDAnd it basically -- they became so effective as a learning organization that that started to expand. And, you know, I think President Obama and the Obama administration gets a certain amount of credit for really empowering that network because when he came in, if you'll recall, he said he would go after bin Laden wherever he was, and if the Pakistanis didn't like it, and they were harboring him, tough.
KITFIELDIn his first two years, he launched more strikes into Pakistan than George Bush did in his first eight years. The number of targeted raids against terrorists went up by three-fold. So they clearly, even as President Obama wanted to end the post-9/11 wars, he saw this targeted terrorist targeting program as something that could keep us safe, as long as you had diminished the enemy to a certain degree. Now that became a point of contention later on.
KITFIELDWell after -- 2011 was a watershed year. They killed, as you mentioned in the prelude to the show, Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki, who was the American-born imam who was in many ways more dangerous than bin Laden by that time because he was -- he spoke in American vernacular, very successful at recruiting, very sophisticated on social media, killed both those guys, killed more than half of the top 20 al-Qaeda high-value targets.
KITFIELDAnd then you had the Arab Spring come along, and it seemed like the whole narrative of al-Qaeda was sort of like old news. And they started sort of basically developing a narrative that we're -- that we've won -- al-Qaeda has decimated -- this battle is almost over, and not coincidentally, we pulled all our troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011, as well, and set a deadline for being out of Afghanistan by the end of 2016.
KITFIELDAnd then Obama gave a very seminal counterterrorism speech in 2013, saying that basically the drone strikes could keep us safe, that the enemy was very much diminished and that we had to move on from this global war against terrorism because it was, as he quotes James Madison as saying, you know, no free country can forever be at war, you'll never be able to protect your civil liberties like that. He had some concerns, wanted to close Guantanamo Bay. He wanted to turn the page on the war on terror, and the war on terror wasn't necessarily ready to turn the page on the Obama administration, unfortunately.
REHMAnd still is not. I mean, going on and on with perhaps the diminishment, if not the defeat, of al-Qaeda, you have the rise of ISIS.
REHMAnd what role do these combination of agencies play successfully in trying to go after ISIS?
KITFIELDWell, they play a huge role. I mean, Joint Special Operations Command is -- I was sitting next door to them in a recent visit to Iraq, when they're up in Erbil. They are going after ISIS terrorist leaders. They've killed more than 120 of their leadership. They've gotten some of their top guys. They haven't gotten Baghdadi yet, but they've gotten some of his inner circle. They have -- you know, U.S. -- you know, we haven't talked about it, but there was sort of a technological revolution that goes on in part of this, which is precision air power and this really wide-blanket surveillance they call ISR, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, but think drones flying over everyone, streaming live video, all around the world to some command centers, where you can actually watch someone for 24 hours, every move, establish patterns of life and then figure out how to intersect those patterns of life.
KITFIELDSo we've gotten very good at this discreet, targeted killing operations, but that is -- you know, once these groups get a certain level of, you know, claimed territory, insinuate themselves a destabilized society, that's not a war-winning strategy, unfortunately.
REHMSo what's it going to take for those groups to develop similar strategies and use drones against us?
KITFIELDWell, the use of drones against us is -- you know, already we're seeing some of that. It's pretty -- it's pretty rudimentary, but we have to worry about that very much. I mean, exploding drones is something that quite honestly a lot of people are worried about. You know, it's -- they have no -- they have no prospect of getting as sophisticated as we are. What we do with drones requires a whole satellite network of -- so you can have remote, split operations. That's so the guy who's flying the drone is sitting in Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, and the drone is shooting a missile over Pakistan. That's -- the capability behind that is extremely sophisticated, not something that a terrorist group can get.
KITFIELDBu they can use drones for tactical, you know, seeing where the enemy is on the battlefield, et cetera. I wouldn't be the least surprised if they're using them in Mosul right now.
REHMAll right, we've got a caller in Sarasota, Florida. John, you're on the air.
JOHNHello, thank you for taking my call, Diane.
JOHNMy question is in regards to, I guess, I worked in Iraq in 2009, 2010 in the joint operations center there, and a common issue I ran into is classification and sharing information with our allies. And I'm wondering if there's any kind of effort to be able to -- like to kind of curb the over-classification on the part of especially the CIA was my experience in order to be able to share better information with our allies, you know, so we can target terrorists and, you know, the related groups more efficiently, if there's any kind of effort to work on that.
KITFIELDThat's a really great question, and two data points, yes, there is an effort, but it's not -- the problem has not been solved altogether. I was in our bases in Africa at the joint -- combined joint task force Horn of Africa, where we were trying to give the African Union force in Somalia, doing very much for them what we're doing for the Iraqis now, give them the benefit of our air power and our advanced surveillance and drones, et cetera.
KITFIELDAnd they had to do a hot wash of all of the intelligence and then put it on a separate computer system, so there was no chance that it could -- you know, classified information you didn't want to get to the African Union force would get, you know, would get out. And also, you know, General -- Lieutenant General Mike Flynn, who was the pioneering intelligence officer for JSOC under Stanley McChrystal, he was investigated by the Pentagon inspector general because he shared information with our British counterparts during the height of the Afghan War.
KITFIELDAnd his comment to me was, you know, I'm proud of that. You know, those guys were commanding units that had Americans in them, and we were in a war. But there are these -- there are these rules and regulations, and one of the things that I found out about -- so interesting about this JSOC task force is, you know, they -- they stretched the boundaries on that stuff, and it's why they became so good. But we do have that issue, and I think particularly with the Europeans now it's difficult for us to share the intelligence we need to share with them because they are really on the front lines now.
REHMTell me how involved the U.S. is in Mosul right now.
KITFIELDOh, we're very involved. We are sort of the -- we've got more than 5,000 troops, all of whom now are focused on this Mosul fight. I was there with the chairman of the joint chiefs about a month -- a little over a month ago, and we are -- again, this is the new template. We're marrying these JSOC capabilities and skill set, read, precision air power, drones, surveillance, command and control, things that the Iraqis will struggle on for years and years, as well as the Afghan security forces -- our logistical capability, train and assist, and we're behind the scenes in that whole fight trying to help them.
KITFIELDPresident Obama has relaxed the -- how the -- the level to which we can go, our train and assist personnel can actually advise them, so it's now at the battalion level, which is pretty close to the front. So we are intimately in the battle for Mosul, trying to, you know, we're not leading it, but we are -- we are enabling it.
REHMJames, you focus a lot of attention in your book on the interrogation procedures that the U.S. has used and the criticism thereof. Talk a little about that.
KITFIELDWell you know, Diane, I was in Iraq in 2004 when the Abu Ghraib situation broke, and that was an absolutely devastating blow to everything we were trying to do.
KITFIELDAnd, you know, it was to a person -- every military person I talked to said that, you know, if you're doing these things at the top, then it'll filter down to the front lines in the MP unit that was so, you know, disgusting what it did there. So number one, I realized very early on that this was an absolute -- not only a -- I couldn't quite believe that we were doing it, but I mean, and not only a smirch in reputation, but it was an absolute recruiting bonanza for al-Qaeda in Iraq.
KITFIELDSo that's number one. Number two, you know, I consistently saw where a majority of Americans still think torture is effective and can be justified in terrorism cases, and that just goes so counter to what I'm told by the people who actually know what they're doing and conducting these interrogations.
REHMI mean, you heard then Vice President Cheney say exactly that, that it was effective.
KITFIELDRight, it was -- you know, so I have a whole chapter in here, you know, seen through the eyes of the FBI because there's one case, the first guy who -- high-value al-Qaeda target captured after 9/11, Abu Zubaydah, he was the only guy that went through both traditional FBI interrogation and then the CIA's enhanced. And they absolutely -- the FBI got there first, used a traditional, sort of established a rapport, slowly break down their stories, and they got the only two pieces of actionable intelligence out of him, and that was that -- and they were huge, one of which was they learned from him that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 9/11, we didn't know that until -- at that point, that was in the spring of 2002.
KITFIELDAnd they learned, there was a guy named Jose Padilla, who was an al-Qaeda recruit who was going to set off a dirty bomb. Enhanced interrogation got none of that, but they tortured him for, you know, weeks.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. Talk about the difference between what the FBI was doing and what the CIA was doing.
KITFIELDWell like I said, the FBI was -- the FBI has a, you know, very well-established protocol for how you interrogate someone or interview them, they would say, but, you know, they didn't have the constraints that the guy could invoke his Miranda rights. These were enemy combatants, so they had a lot of time. They could, you know, use their template to break these people down, and they were very successful at it.
KITFIELDAnd then the CIA comes in, and the CIA has no skillset for interrogating people. It's not something that comes from their sort of innate qualifications. So the only reason they assigned the CIA to do that, because they had deniability. They could do it in secret. They could do it at these black site prisons. They relied on the sort of interrogation protocol that came -- two Air Force psychologists who themselves had never done an interrogation came up with because these Air Force psychologists had trained Special Forces guys how to resist the interrogation practices of the North Koreas and the Chinas of the war during the Korean War.
REHMWho first used waterboarding?
KITFIELDThese guys, these...
KITFIELDWell, CIA guys under the -- this template established by these Air Force psychologists, and it included waterboarding. It included sticking you inside of very small spaces, like coffin-like spaces, for days at a time. It included slapping, sleep deprivation, playing loud music, and they waterboarded Zubaydah, Zubaydah sorry, I keep fumbling over that, I think 87 times. You know, he got to the point where...
REHMAnd got nothing.
KITFIELDGot nothing, got nothing. And this is the problem that the FBI said all along is even if -- you know, you're going to tell -- he'll tell you whatever you want, but they wouldn't tell him what to say because that's how you get corrupted intelligence. Under torture, you will tell your torturer whatever you think he wants to hear, and that's -- so it just made it -- I wanted to make the point that we've learned this lesson, and when you -- during this election, hear one of the chief candidates say I want to return to waterboarding and worse, it's not -- I mean, we failed to -- he has failed to learn that lesson.
REHMCan you describe for our listeners exactly what happens in waterboarding?
KITFIELDWell, the person is put on a -- on a table, and a cloth is put over his head, and then water is consistently deluging that cloth -- on that cloth to the point where you -- it just induces a feeling of drowning, and in fact at one point in this interrogation, the guy did drown, he was unconscious, you know, bubbles coming out of his lungs. So it's -- it's induced drowning, basically.
REHMSo we continue to do that to how many captured people?
KITFIELDNot very many. I think it was only -- it's less than a handful. I think it was three, three or -- I think it's three, but quote me on less than a handful, all away by 2005, 2006 it was determined that this was not the way to go, and we moved away from it. And -- but we kept using a number of the other enhanced interrogation techniques that others...
KITFIELDWell, confinement in coffins, you know, slapping, stress positions, sleep deprivation. People don't understand sleep deprivation is really horrendous. If you -- I mean, if you can't sleep for a couple days, you automatically are a basket case. I mean, I've seen enough sleep deprivation just being in these warzones that when it's forced, it's very powerful enhanced interrogation technique.
REHMJames Kitfield, his new book is titled "Twilight Warriors." In just a couple of minutes, we'll open the phones again, take your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. James Kitfield is with me. He is a highly respected reporter on intelligence and security. His new book is titled, "Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War." Here's an email from Steve, in San Antonio. He says, "To what extent has technological innovation created the possibility for endless war? Think of all the places the U.S. is currently in. Isn't war supposed to be costly, in terms of blood and sacrifice, so that when we engage in the act we do so judiciously? What happens when all combat is conducted from the safety of a room far away from the battlefield?"
KITFIELDSo really, it's a really good point. You know, endless war -- on this point I'm a little cynical in a sense that I've just -- in my lifetime I've covered so many wars and it seems like war is a part of the human condition in a lot of ways. Just as, you know, tyranny is and people wanting to fight for their freedoms. But he raises a really good point. And General Stanley McChrystal, who really is the pioneer of this kind of warfare, told me that he had the same concerns.
KITFIELDThat this targeted killing operations, by drones especially, is like a narcotic, he said. It convinces you that you're doing something, that you're making progress, when really, you know, you're having some effect on the enemy, but in terms of setting the conditions for actually winning the conflict, it can sort of lull you into a false sense of progress that's not there. So he had those concerns himself. It's just a little bit too easy.
KITFIELDYou're not putting your skin in the game. And so we have to -- and I think President Obama has said -- been pretty eloquent on -- he has his -- expressed concerns himself that this program has to be very, very closely over-watched and a lot of oversight because it can become too easy. And so I take that point.
REHMAnd here's an email from Robert, who says, "From what I understand, CIA targeting of Islamist officials with drone strikes is really not working because as soon as a leader is killed, a replacement quickly fills the vacancy." What do you think?
KITFIELDWell, that -- and that gets to a central tension that is -- runs throughout the book. So you've got this really exquisite, very lethal and effective form of operations, you even have a name for it, F3EA, Find, Fix, Finish, Evaluate and Analyze. The last two parts are intelligence related. The first two -- the first three parts are finding the person and finishing them. I think that it's been pretty proven that this is not a war-winning strategy by -- they call it decapitation of leadership
KITFIELDAl-Qaeda survived the death of Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula survived the death Al-Awlaki. Al-Qaeda in Iraq survived the death of Zarqawi, Abu Musab Zarqawi.
REHMIt doesn't take one leader…
REHM…to continue a movement.
KITFIELDRight. That's -- and Diane, you put your finger on the most important thing, that if I was gonna leave anyone with from all of my research is, that we are confronting a movement. It's not -- it's an ideological movement. And it is powerful. And so killing one person, although I think necessary in some cases to keep these groups on their heels and on the defensive, as opposed to just spending all their time plotting attacks against us, is not sufficient. And it is a movement. And it's an ideological struggle, much like the Cold War.
KITFIELDAnd which is why I think President Obama, who kind of provoked this narrative of, you know, we've killed -- we've decimated al-Qaeda, we can move behind it and go back to a new normal, is -- more recently has started talking about this as a generational struggle. And I think that's how we should consider it. This is a generational struggle…
KITFIELD…with an ideological core and it's a movement. And that movement is not gonna die with the -- with ISIS losing Mosul and Raqqah. It didn't die when we forced al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. So I would encourage my fellow countrymen to think of this as sort of a movement that we're fighting.
REHMTo Edwardsville, Ill. Ethan, you're on the air.
ETHANHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
ETHANI was wondering what your guest thinks of the extrajudicial assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki. Do you think that he deserved a trial as an American citizen, American born? Or -- and do you think that, you know, the people -- American people deserve to put him to trial? And do you think this sets kind of a troubling precedent, in terms of, you know, just sort of drones striking American citizens without…
KITFIELDThat's a very good question. It is troubling, there's no doubt about the fact that our government having the power of judge, jury and executioner of an American citizen is deeply troubling. There's two points I would make. The Obama administration has argued that it would have been too dangerous to try to capture him. These guys are smart. They stay in ungoverned places in the world where they are beyond the reach of any local governance.
KITFIELDAnd it would put a lot of people at risk in some of these circumstances to try to capture these people. Having said that, they said that if they could have captured him they would. On the final issue of whether Awlaki deserved this, I would say he did because he had launched terrorist attacks against the United States personally. And he was proving he, you know, his -- he was in touch with the Fort Hood shooter, who killed 13 and wounded another 30. He was in touch with Carlos Bledsoe, who attacked a recruiting station in Arkansas.
KITFIELDHe was in touch with the -- his group basically was behind the plot to try to down an airliner over Detroit, the underwear bomber case. So he had declared war on us. And people like that should have to worry about whether we'll fight back.
REHMSo you've written about some of these excesses abroad. What is to keep these potential terrorists from coming to this country? You've already talked about how one person has influenced so many, but beyond that, to what extent is the CIA, the FBI, and the NSA successful in keeping these people from killing US citizens?
KITFIELDWell, we should differentiate between those who are trained over there and are foreign fighters and then come back to people who are just self-radicalized. The last, the lone wolf phenomenon is the hardest to stop…
KITFIELD…because in many cases they're just -- they're being self-radicalized over the internet. And until -- unless they communicate with someone overseas who we are monitoring, which we're monitoring a lot of people overseas, but if they don't do that, we -- they can slip through the cracks like the Orlando shooter. Or they can be like the Boston Marathon bombers, who we had -- the FBI had interviewed, but they hadn't committed any crime. We also interviewed Awlaki in prison, and he had yet to commit any crimes.
KITFIELDWe -- in Yemeni prison. We interviewed Nadal Hassan, the FBI did, who was the Fort Hood shooter. And he had -- he, you know, convinced them that he was doing that as part of -- he was in contact with Awlaki 'cause of he was doing some research. So…
REHMOkay. So what I'm asking is how much farther do our intelligence groups have to go to recognize what could potentially be there and to stop it before it happens.
KITFIELDOkay. Well, so the -- we're taking a number of these cases -- we're doing a lot. Let me put it that way. We are -- when we find a propagandist like Awlaki, he's pretty quickly in our targets. We are monitoring communications. The NSA, you know, all the Snowden revolutions, those were monitoring primarily for counterterrorism communications around the world that we could, you know, tip someone off. The FBI is also very effectively conducting a lot of stings.
KITFIELDSo if they see someone who looks like a livewire on the website, they'll put an informant who'll reach out to them, say, you know, I feel the same way. Let's work on a plot. And these have become the new normal now. These stings happen all the time.
KITFIELDAnd so you -- that's -- they call that getting to the left of the boom. Getting to the left -- getting before they actually, you know, in many of these cases they give the guy the fake bomb, and as soon as he, you know, has the -- tricks the trigger, they make the arrest. So you have…
KITFIELDAnd there's -- they haven't lost one of those cases in court yet.
REHMLet's go to Grayson in Cincinnati, Ohio. You're on the air.
GRAYSONYes. I have a question with the NSA. Considering the Snowden revelations and just recently the arrests. I'm not sure what the gentleman's name is, who had been collecting information on the NSA for 20 years, I don't feel the reason why we need an agency as large as the NSA, when it seems like they can't police themselves. I'll take my answer off the air.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling.
KITFIELDWell, the listener makes a good point, that the NSA has to do a much, much better job of policing itself, of securing itself. It's got huge amounts of data. And the fact that we've had now two huge, you know, incidents where that data is compromised is really pretty unconscionable. It's part and parcel of this new environment we're in, where, you know, people can hack computers, that people can, you know, steal, you know, a library's worth of stuff on a thumb drive. It's difficult.
KITFIELDWhy we have the NSA is, I mean, I will say this. The -- and it also goes back to the fight in Iraq and the Joint Special Operations Command, you know, the former NSA director, who I profile in my book, General Keith Alexander, you know, developed very creative ways to track people's communication and to geo-locate them using their phones. And if you don't have an agency doing that, you're gonna have a lot more Parises and a lot more Brussels types of attacks.
REHMCan't the CIA do the same thing?
KITFIELDCIA, no. The CIA relies very heavily on the NSA to do electronic communications intercepts. That's the NSA's ballpark. CIA is more think -- more about running human intelligence sources. That's their specialty.
REHMOkay. And does the CIA have as broad an international scope as does the NSA?
KITFIELDNo. The NSA is the largest intelligence agency in our country. It's huge. And you can, you know, you can see why when you think about how, you know, electronic communications are complex and they're so varied and they're global, that keeping track of them is a pretty big job.
REHMWe have an email from John in Winston-Salem, N.C., who says, "What is all this war costing and who is paying?"
KITFIELDWell, he's paying. You're paying, I'm paying.
REHMWe're all paying, you bet.
KITFIELDI think the intelligence budget, the last time I saw a reliable figure was something in the excess of $80 billion a year. And that's just the intelligence forces, that's not the military forces. So -- and we have a lot of military forces. While we're drawing down our ground troops, we're increasing the special operations forces who do this kind of work. So it's a huge cost.
KITFIELDNow, the question remains, how -- if you did -- if you weren't doing this, if you weren't paying this price, would you want to live in a world where there are a lot more attacks, like we've seen in Paris, like we've seen in Brussels, like we saw in Nice, like we saw in Orlando, like -- if you know, I mean, living in a world like that, to me, is even much more costly. So it's -- as with conflicts and enemies who are determined to strike you, there's always a cost benefit analysis. My feeling is -- especially seeing the immigration crisis caused in Europe, it's basically remaking the politics of Europe in a very sort of dark and troubling way -- that it's worth the price.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Are you saying that countries like France, where several terrible explosions have happened, taking people's lives, are you saying that their counterintelligence agencies, their versions of the FBI or CIA are simply not sufficiently in touch with that's going on in their countries?
KITFIELDI think the problem is not -- I think the French intelligence is very good, but I think it's good on French intelligence. But it's not so good in sharing intelligence with the Spaniards, who are next door, with the Swiss, with the Belgians who are next door. Europe reminds me now of us in pre-9/11, where our agencies weren't talking to each other.
KITFIELDEuropean countries' agencies are not sharing intelligence like we do. That has to be fixed. There is, you know, some talk about moving in that direction. It runs against the culture of Europe at a certain degree, but they have got to get a lot smarter about this.
REHMOne thing I think you may have noticed, we are in the midst of a presidential campaign with all your focus on your book, Donald Trump has said that he would kill the families of terrorists. I wonder what that kind of talk does to perhaps the thinking of potential terrorists abroad or even what does it mean to the safety of Americans abroad.
KITFIELDWell, you know, it -- I take his comment there, which is obviously a war crime, so the military would not execute those orders, but it's unhelpful in this way. When he talks about it in the same context of banning all Muslims and then of doing waterboarding and less, it paints the picture for our allies -- and this is what's most important. I'm not so worried -- I mean, the terrorists will kill you anyway. It doesn't -- they're not waiting for Donald Trump to, you know, to get them angry to kill you.
KITFIELDThey're trying to kill us already. But our allies look to us for leadership. And when the United States starts saying very unpolitic things like that, that if they were to side with United States on something like that, they'd be voted out of office pronto. So it's very unhelpful from an alliance point of view. America is, you know, is viewed as still the leader of the West Alliance. And so it's extremely unhelpful to have very injudicious comments about what you would do that your allies could never support.
REHMAnd one last call from Dillon in Louisville, Ky. He's asking about collateral damage, about innocent people killed in drone strikes. How efficient are we?
KITFIELDWell, it's the most efficient because, you know, used to be you would drop a bomb and it would take you three days later to go back there and see what effect it had. Now if you drop a precision guided weapon with a drone, you actually take the video as it hits and you have your bombing.
REHMRight then and there.
KITFIELDSo it's as precise as we -- it's the most precise. And President Obama made this point. It's the most precise type of warfare we've ever had. However, it doesn't mean it's perfect.
KITFIELDAnd we have -- hundreds of civilians have died, there's no doubt about it. And that has to be taken into the equation on whether, you know, America can support this program. But I think hundreds would probably be -- that's what the administration thinks, there's been -- some estimates are higher. It's very hard to know 'cause a lot of places in like Waziristan and Pakistan, we can't go in there and find out exactly what happened. So it's not cost free and there is collateral damage. There's probably less of it than we've in any other type of warfare.
REHMWell, we'll have to leave it at that. James Kitfield's new book is titled, "Twilight Warriors: The Soldiers, Spies and Special Agents Who Are Revolutionizing the American Way of War." Thanks for your reporting.
KITFIELDThank you, Diane, for having me.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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