Welcome Garrett Graff, and Host Cynthia Kouril.

The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror

Host, Cynthia Kouril:

Threat Matrix is a “biography” of the FBI’s development of counter terrorism capabilities from the days of state sponsored terrorism through the rise of domestic terrorism and to the new world of NGO (non-governmental organizations) terrorism.

For me, parts of this book were like looking through a school yearbook or family photo album. So many of the cases, prosecutors, and agents are stories I have followed throughout my professional life. So many of the people are folks I have not thought about in a long time, so I often found myself smiling and thinking, “yeah, I remember that guy.” For book store patrons who worked in law enforcement, especially federal law enforcement of any kind of law enforcement in New York City, this book reads like a trip down memory lane.

For those of you who have never lived that life, Garrett Graff does an amazing job—for one who has never been “on the job”—of “getting” the culture. I have read more than my fair share of books about why and how 9/11 happened and most authors either think the FBI and Department of Justice have superpowers or think they are dolts; when the reality is a complex web of institutional pressures, individual personalities, and competition from other investigative priorities.

What the lay reader will get from this book, especially once you get into the second of three sections, is that fly-on-the-wall view of how and why small things can effect big outcomes. The other thing this book does exceptionally well, and which few others I have read even attempted, is to show the arc of the careers of various major players in our national security establishment. So you will learn about the earlier career experiences that would shape the decision making of figures like Robert Mueller, Louis Freeh, Fran Townsend, and George Tenet.

At the back end of this book, you’re going to feel like you been hanging out in cop bars and feebee (FBI) bars for the last 20 something years absorbing these stories as they happened and as told to you by your drinking buddies on the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF).

I was a bit surprised to see some stories in this book that I haven’t seen in public before. This level of granularity reflects the research effort behind this book which took from April 2008 until January of 2011. The author spent over 1,000 hours conducting 180 interviews, all but 3 of them in person.

Unlike other books I’ve seen where the authors obviously put in a ton of time amassing a document file but didn’t seem to understand what they were reading or how information flows (or doesn’t flow) in the federal bureaucracy, Graff either “gets” it, or got his many interview subjects to explain it to him with great specificity.

He also does a good job of laying out the tension that existed between different individuals within the government who at different times held wildly different views on the correct balance between civil liberties and exhaustive investigation. How those individuals and their agencies played tug of war influenced the outcomes.

The other thing that rings very true, is in the third section of the book which describes the “ghost chasing” that went on in the near aftermath of 9/11. The FBI, at the direction of the White House stopped prioritizing information and treated every “threat” as if it were serious and credible. This put a tremendous burden on agents who wasted their days chasing down the silliest leads that anyone with experience would normally discount. This took them away from doing the real grunt work of building true cases and meaningful long range investigations. I cannot tell you how many complaints along this line I heard from agents and Assistant U.S. Attorneys (AUSAs) at the time. Added to that, the antiquated computer system that did not allow for efficient cross-referencing or data searching, and you the reader can feel the frustration along with the agents.

All in all, it makes for a good beach read. At least that’s where I read it.

109 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Garrett Graff, The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror”

BevW July 17th, 2011 at 1:57 pm

Garrett, Welcome back to the Lake.

Cynthia, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Glad to do it Bev.

Garrett, so glad to have you with us.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:01 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 2

It’s good to be here. Thanks for hosting me today, amidst the World Cup final madness.

Elliott July 17th, 2011 at 2:01 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

yes, what a great book review, Cindy.

Welcome Garrett, looking forward to the discussion.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Everybody, as you know keep all comments on this thread related to the book or to any other questions you have for our guest.

If you need to go O/T (I know the soccer game is competing for our attention) please take it to the prior thread.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:03 pm
In response to Elliott @ 4

Thanks for the nice words, Cynthia. It was a really fun book to research, and one, frankly, that I was surprised no one else had done before.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Welcome Garrett!

We have had many ex FBI and CIA guests here. My question is did you have to wrestle with the government or have sections redacted before print?

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:07 pm

I can see this being one of those books that agents give to each other for birthday presents, so they can look their own names up. Not unlike the books related to the Commission Case.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

OK Garrett, you have to give the Firepups a little taste so they will get the feel for the fly on the wall aspect of this book.

What was your favorite anecdote?

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Hi PP, glad you could join us

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 7

Since I’m not in the government, I didn’t have to clear the book’s contents with anyone before publishing. I did do some pretty extensive fact-checking before publication, though, since I wanted to get the story as right as I could, and in the course of checking facts with various sources I did make five changes in the text to protect what the intelligence community calls “sources and methods.” In two cases, for instance, I was asked to protect ongoing counterterrorism projects.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 10

Hi, Pal! I’ve been waiting all week for this. So happy you are hosting and thanks to Bev as always!

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:11 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 11

Thanks for the response! I’ll hush for a while and let you get to the good stuff. ;-)

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:11 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 9

I still think the NSA domestic wiretapping showdown of March 2004 is one of the craziest stories of the post-9/11 world. I dove into it for the book, since FBI Director Robert Mueller was really a key figure in forcing that issue to the President’s desk. I can’t believe that word of that showdown didn’t leak out at the time. The entire leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI came within hours of a mass resignation that would have put the Saturday Night Massacre of Nixon’s years to shame.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 14

Okay, I gotta come out of hush zone for that one.

We’ve been trying to follow the Patriot Act and it’s re-uppance here at FDL. There are two congress members that are doing what they can to get the specifics of certain GPS issues. What with all these duties being privatized and giving out to private companies, do you feel that these programs really ARE what the intelligence agencies need now?

Also, they have been using satellites for years and that is not a secret. Why was it so hard for them to use that technology for Bin Laden?

Teddy Partridge July 17th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Speaking from Portland, which axed participation in the JTTF years ago on civil liberties grounds within the Oregon constitution: We are only now slowly re-establishing a relationship between our Police Bureau and the Feebs.

I’d like to know what you discovered about “FBI-initiated terrorism,” such as we experienced here on the evening our city’s Holiday Tree was to be lit. Are the terror-creators compartmentalized, or are they rewarded within JTTF? Or is it simply that regions without actual terror have to gin something up to get recognized within a terror-alla-time organization? There’s lots more examples besides Mohamed Mohamud of terror that never would have “happened” without Feeb initiative, support, and ongoing impetus.

I’d just love to know where the terror-inventors fit within the matrix.

Thanks! And thanks for this book (and the swell intro, too).

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:19 pm

One of the story lines that didn’t get nearly enough play in the traditional media and which (outside of our own Emptywheel) you don’t hear much about outside law enforcement circles–and even then, some beer must be consumed first–is how the CIA and the military actually hampered the process of debriefing prisoners

That whole section in the late 300 pages laying out in anecdote, what Marcy has been hypothosizing and teasing out of redacted memos, it was great to see that validated.

Kathleen Barry July 17th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to BevW @ 1

As the US government and military are involved in so many secret and covert illegal wars, would the author clarify the place of the FBI’s wars and how they are different from other covert, illegal operations? Perhaps with a specific example?

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Why do you think the White House chose to favor the CIA, which had completely blown the pre-9/11 intel over the FBI which had a track record of sucesses to go along with that failure?

And how did military intelligence get ahead of FBI on line?

I realize FBI had a mixed result history, but CIA had an umixed result of having achieved zero sucesses in this sphere, how did Tenet win that turf war?

BevW July 17th, 2011 at 2:22 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 18

Garrett, Could you take this one?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

This is a really tough conundrum. I spent a lot of time on this over the last year, since these types of cases—what you’ve seen in Portland, as well as in Dallas, Springfield, Baltimore, and elsewhere—are now one of the primary types of counterterrorism cases. They certainly skirt the line of government entrapment, since in many cases the suspects wouldn’t have been able to execute their plots with FBI informant help, but the cases are a good example of how counterterrorism cases have evolved.

The Bureau used to arrest suspects before they became operational, look at the Lackawanna Six for instance, but they had trouble in court showing actual intent. Most of their prosecutions fell apart. Now they work with suspects actually through to execution, just to be sure that the suspect actually meant to carry out the attack.

What the Bureau says is that once someone starts down the road of possibly launching an attack, they have no choice but to sweep that person off the table. Someone may not be able to buy a Stinger missile on their own without FBI help, but they could shoot up a shopping mall. It’s a tough call and one that I’m not sure there’s a right answer.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:28 pm
In response to Kathleen Barry @ 18

The subtitle’s reference to the “FBI’s wars” in some ways is meant to contrast their operations with the CIA and the U.S. military. As Cynthia mentioned in Comment #17, the CIA and the FBI actually chose very different paths after 9/11, with the Bureau trying to draw upon its decades of open court criminal prosecutions of terror suspects and rejecting the CIA’s “black site” interrogations. I was frankly quite surprised in my research about how different the FBI’s decision-making was after 9/11, much more Constitutionally grounded.

As the FBI’s head of counterterrorism told Director Mueller after 9/11 and the “enhanced interrogations” began to take place, “This is Washington. Someday people are going to be lined up at green felt tables, and we need to be able to say we didn’t do this.”

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:30 pm

Why do you think the shift went from people in NYC who had sooooo much experience and so much sucess to running everything from DC using people with little or no prior experience with Al Q, who had to spend valuable time getting up to speed?

The telephone shoot out between Dave Kelley and Mike Chertoff over whether the Hoover Building or NY would be the office of origin really is telling. It was a failure by DC manage info from the rest of the country and make sure it got the attetnion it deserved in NY that caused so much failure to connect the dots.

And to virtually sideline the two prosecutors in the whole world who had the most granular knowledge of who’s who and what’s what in Al Q (I realize that PatFitz) had just moved to Chicago, but couldn’t his “acting” have held down the fort for a few more weeks to allow for Pat’s expertise to be brought to bear?


Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 15

I think one of the shames of our post-9/11 response was we allowed our reliance on technology to far outstrip what we were capable of processing. Government intelligence agencies now gather so much more than they’re able to actually read, which means inevitably information is still getting lost in the shuffle. That’s why you hear so much talk about “signals vs. noise” in government circles, sorting out the best information, rather than just sweeping it all up. The book is filled with examples of “Pizza Hut leads,” how the NSA turned over troves of vague data to the FBI that agents complained that they inevitably end up investigating the local pizza delivery guy.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:33 pm

What did you learn that surprised you the most?

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 24


Just as I suspected. This is downright crazy.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:34 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 19

Tenet won the turf war I think for two main reasons: He had a well-established relationship with the Bush family and so seemed part of the inner circle, and because of his personality he was inclined to be helpful. Propelled forward by a near blood lust in those under him, above him, and around him, Tenet told the White House what it wanted to hear. Cofer Black, the head of the Agency’s Counterterrorism Center, assured the president and the National Security Council in the Situation Room on September 13, “You give us the mission — we can get ’em. When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.”

Mueller was just a week into his time at the FBI, he was an unknown quantity.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 24

If I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard and FBI agent or JTTF cop complain about looking for a needle in a haystack and that the haystack just keeps growing exponentially, I could single handedly end the government debt. Especially in the first couple of years.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 27

It really makes you wonder what would have happened if Louis had not bailed with 2 years left to go on his term. If someone at the height of his institutional power had been at the helm of FBI when it happened?

It’s true, you can’t expect a guy who hasn’t even gotten his feet wet yet to win a turf war with a guy who’s a holdover from the prior administration.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:39 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 23

I think another of the big mistakes after 9/11 was that the Bureau and DOJ (“Main Justice”) blamed the people who had been working counterterrorism before 9/11 for letting the attacks happen. They wanted fresh faces because they felt (wrongly in my opinion) that the

“After 9/11, all the great work we’d done went by the wayside,” the New York head of counterterrorism Ken Maxwell told me. Another agent, John Anticev, who had worked CT for a decade before 9/11, said, “It was as if the executives said, ‘You’ve had your chance, now it’s our turn.”’

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:39 pm

During your research did you happen to view the Sibel Edmonds issues? She continues to claim that she tried to help the FBI, yet was steamrolled and giving the gag. I still think it has to do with certain members of congress and their personal money grabs via Turkey.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 29

I think that’s a fair question, about whether Louis Freeh could have done better in the months after 9/11, but at the same time, I actually think he bears a bunch of the blame for the government’s position on the morning of September 11th. He had such a bad relationship with President Clinton that they didn’t speak for three years, from the 1998 East Africa bombings onwards, so Freeh really missed an opportunity to argue that the U.S. should be taking al-Qaeda more seriously.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm

Considering that the FBI is operating out of DOJ,and dedicated to national,domestic issues ,doesn’t that automatically constrain how and where they can respond,unlike the CIA who has more latitude -on a worldwide scale?

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

We’ve been having a little bit of a debate backstage about whether or not Mueller can just be a holdover or whether he has to be nominated and go through confirmation to a special 2 year term.

What’s your take on that?

Watt4Bob July 17th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Has your research turned up any information that expands our understanding of the situation surrounding FBI agent John O’niel’s efforts to warn the government about AQ, and his eventual resignation from the FBI?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Watt4Bob @ 35

Actually the middle third of the book focuses on this period in the FBI, the peak of John O’Neill’s years and efforts. He was a fascinating character and probably the person who did more than anyone in the Bureau to ring the bell on counterterrorism and al-Qaeda. It was a shame that he was forced from the Bureau as he was, but in fact that was a common theme: Many of the counterterrorism agents I spoke with left disillusioned with the whole enterprise.

I think that in many cases the FBI succeeds in spite of itself. It has incredibly hard-working and industrious street agents who too often are hampered by risk-averse bureaucracy at headquarters.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Watt4Bob @ 35

Good question! I was thinking Sibel as well.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 33

Actually–and I’ll let Garrett give the details, FBI actually grew its overseas presence at a time when CIA was contracting it’s overseas presence.

CIA didn’t do much HumInt, FBI did a lot of it. Also FBI processed crime scenes overseas. That careful tagging and bagging of every bit of pocket litter and cellphones (not unlike an archaeologist) enabled meaningful analysis that led to actionable intelligence.

Unlike the random rumors that some other agencies like to deal in.

Kathleen Barry July 17th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 22

Thanks Garrett. And thanks for your book. We need it.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:47 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 34

I’m not a Constitutional expert, so I don’t fully understand the debate, except that the Department of Justice seems to have answered the question to their own satisfaction and that of my home state senator, Patrick Leahy. It appears that should be enough — however now it seems Rand Paul is holding up the nomination and threatening the chance that Mueller’s term will lapse before he’s extended, which would certainly be unnecessary. Then again, the Congress seems so bad at governing these days, it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise.

Watt4Bob July 17th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 37

It’s hard to chose which ‘rabbit-hole’ to explore, isn’t it?

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to Watt4Bob @ 41


Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 38

Yea, the Bureau’s overseas expansions during the 1990s is still largely unknown—and it came exactly as a response to the CIA’s own budget cuts. The so‑called peace dividend, the savings that foreign policy experts decided should come with the end of the Cold War, meant that Congress was regularly hacking money from the intelligence community’s budget. From 1991 to 1997, every single year the CIA’s budget was smaller than the year before — and the FBI’s budget grew. The Bureau gained more 1,300 new special agents between 1993 and 1998. Proving the old adage that power abhors a vacuum, Louis Freeh forged ahead into the openings provided by the Agency’s atrophy: During the 1990s, the CIA closed twenty overseas stations while the FBI opened twenty-two new ones.

Today the FBI operates daily in about 80 countries overseas and has an international force that’s nearly a tenth the size of the entire U.S. Foreign Service.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:52 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 37

Sibel Edmonds’s case and arguments are very controversial within the Bureau. I was unable to get answers to the level of satisfaction that I felt comfortable addressing them in too much depth. I will say that she’s raised important concerns about the Bureau’s ongoing inability to attract foreign language speakers at anywhere close to the level it should have.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 36

One of the other things that hampers them is a rule of Mueller’s that in order to get promoted past a certain rank, you have to transfer to DC and do a two year rotation at HQ. A lot of super experienced agents and FBI lawyers chose to not accept promotion because they don’t want to go to the Hoover Building.

At least in NY, they end up being “acting” whatever for the longest time allowed by the regs, then hiring their own new boss (who is usually much less experienced than them, but more personally ambitious) and then helping that boss look good until s/he takes another transfer up the ladder.

Lather rinse, repeat. You have some incredibly experienced people, with very good relationships with other agencies local offices, with the Manhattan DA’s office and with the permanent people at USAO SDNY–> who do not have the authority they need to be as effective as they could.

All because they are unwilling to uproot their spouse’s careers and their kids’ schooling (not to mention leaving long term investigations behind) to do a rotation in DC.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 40

OK–so who is your guess as to who the new Director will be once Mueller is gone? (I don’t mean the Rand Paul lapse, truly retired)

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 45

Yes, that is a problem and one still ongoing. Mueller’s increase in the Headquarters staffing after 9/11 meant that there were hundreds of vacancies and not too many people willing to fill them—headquarters isn’t great for many street agents and the cost of living in DC is high. He worked hard to convince people to volunteer and when that failed he started using these “carrot and stick” approaches of offering promotions only after a stint at FBI HQ. Now there’s also a program where people can come do a temporary stint at the Hoover Building and then go backt to their same field office without necessarily uprooting their families.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 46

I think it’s a big failure of the Obama administration that there wasn’t someone ready to step into Mueller’s shoes on September 4th this year. The government has known for ten years the precise date by which they needed to have a replacement ready and they didn’t have anyone this year ready to step up.

I think you’re going to see someone very obviously groomed for the Directorship over the next two years. One person to keep on the radar is Lisa Monaco, a former federal prosecutor and the newly confirmed assistant attorney general for national security. She’s well-respected by both parties, has served under Clinton, Bush, and Obama, and is well-liked within the Bureau after her four-year stint on Mueller’s staff.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 47

Mueller, meet Writing on the Wall. He is the one that really counts when things get ugly.

It should tell him something and that change is needed.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 44

I always thought it odd that they did not institute a language incentive. I know people, hell one of my rugby teamamates, majored in foreign languages, studied Swahili back in the late 80′s, wound up teaching Spanish, I think, in a HS somewhere.

How hard could it be to look at college enrollment info and go recruit some folks? Or what about the State Dept lannguage school? It sems like they wait for foreign language speakers to self select the FBI as a career.

In the private sector, if you lack employees with a particular skill you either recruit people with that skill or send your employees for re-training.

I know FBI gives people with foreign language skills a preference in hiring the same way they do for folks with prior law enforcement experience, but that’s not the same as knocking on the door of a linguist and saying “your country needs you, won’t you consider joining?”

They still don’t have the languages capability they need.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 50

Well, if you think about the current teahadist going on in DC right now, you wouldn’t want to work for the Government. Especially when our own congress is trying to get rid of them, cut their pay and benefits, and scare people into thinking they are evil welfare queens!

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Other than the Mers space station technology that passes for a computer system, what do you think is the biggest challenge the next Director will confront?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 50

Absolutely. They also don’t have much success in recruiting from immigrant communities because people born overseas have a hard time passing the Bureau’s background checks for top security clearances.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:04 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 29

Thank you both for the info on the expansive duties of the FBI.(Incidentally,did this require Congressional approval to perform these FBI activities on foreign soil?)

I would be curious,Garret,if you address the DOJ investigation into FCPA-Foreign Corruption Practices Act,as it related to the bribery scandal involving Saudis,BAE and Prince Bandar? Louis Freeh,upon leaving the FBI started his own consulting firm,and Prince Bandar(Bush) is his client,among others.*

Anybody know if that is still ongoing,now that the foreign corruptions act is at the forefront with Murdoch’s mess ?

*FRONTLINE/WORLD: The Business of Bribes: Extended Interview With …

Apr 7, 2009
Former FBI Director, now attorney to Prince Bandar … The International Fight Against Bribery; An interactive map examining the world’s …

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 51

Oh, I know PP, but back in 2002, when they had feild agents chasing pizza delivery leads, they didn’t have anyone to translate stuff.

So, what’s the point of executing a search warrant if it will take 9 months before you can get translator services to find out what the warrant proceeds mean?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:07 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 52

Four things will be at the top of the FBI agenda in the years to come:

1) I don’t think there’s any real consensus in government right now about how we should prosecute would-be terrorists, so that’s still a big, open, looming critical debate for the FBI.

2) Beyond that, I think that the Bureau is behind the 8-ball on cyber issues.

3) The concentration on counterterrorism over the last decade has decimated the FBI’s ability to do basic criminal work, the run-of-the-mill bank robberies, white collar fraud, drug cases, and violent crime investigations that are its traditional bread-and-butter. I think there’s a chance we’re going to be in for some really nasty years of crime ahead and the Bureau isn’t in a position to address that.

4) Global organized crime is becoming all the more tightly linked with politics and governments overseas, which means that those groups are not just a criminal threat but a geopolitical one.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:08 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 55

LOL! I know, I know.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 54

Gitcheegumee, I didn’t address that actually and haven’t spent much time looking into it. I’ll read that link you sent along.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:10 pm

You know the thing about white collar cases? And I have heard that used as an excuse for why nobody’s being proesecuted in the mortgae mess.

Is that the people who were doing that work pre-9/11, are pretty much still around, and could do it again b/c many of them have been doing money laundering trying to trace the money flow for terror cases.

Also, at least in NY, they still have a decent number of agents doing Mafia cases (not as many as in the 80s) so there is a core of expertise there that could be used to seed units that return to the traditional mission.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I’d be curious to know what the assessment of Eric Holder is,among the current members of the FBI community.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

So, what surprised yo the most?

What one thing (or more than one) did you learn that was completely different than you thought it would be before you began your research?

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Garrett, many of the CIA have major issues and rightfully so with the old administration, in particular Dick Cheney. Do you see any of that animosity in the FBI and how they were jerked and twisted to meet an agenda that was not necessarily the right path?

Watt4Bob July 17th, 2011 at 3:14 pm

Foregive me if I’m missing something here, but I’s say that the Sibel Edmonds story is not at its’ core about the FBI’s lack of language capability, but rather about an organization whose culture considers it’s job to be first and foremost to protect the interests of TPTB, even to the point of protecting the interests of corrupt politicians working in the interest, not of the American people, but of foreign governments, illegal arms merchants, and even those who would sell America’s nuclear weapons technology.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 60

I think many in the Bureau really like Holder, but partly that’s what President Bush would call “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The FBI and Main Justice weren’t very well served by Attorneys General Ashcroft and Gonzales, so Holder has been a morale boost to many. He’s also consistently fought for the justice system’s primacy in terror prosecutions, which the Bureau very much appreciates.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 61

Well, this might not be a popular opinion, but the single thing that surprised me more than anything in my research is that the FBI has in my opinion actually done a better job on terrorism than I had originally thought, both before and after September 11th. I was surprised by how different of a path the Bureau took after 9/11 than the CIA or the military and, while the FBI has had its share of mistakes and problems, it’s actually done a lot more to ensure Constitutional rights were protected than agencies like the NSA or the CIA.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 62

Absolutely—that view is largely shared within the Bureau.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 66

Thanks! He and his pals are what I consider, “Enemy within” material.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to darms @ 68


Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 65

That’s interesting. I never thought the FBI muffed it. I thought that the WALL was interprested in way that went way beyond what the law required–and that mistake happened at Main Justice.

I was always in awe of the depth of knowledge the guys at 26 Federal and One St. Andrews had built up. I still am.

I agree with you that Holder’s repeated insistance on using the criminal courts has been ver popular within the bureau, and I think within the rest of DOJ as well.

The President made a foolish choice in not backing him.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Cynthia, I agree with you on the White Collar crime issues. Especially the mortgage fiasco and how the country has been brought to it’s knees over greed. Even now, Bernanke is paying back interest to himself at the Fed. We have and have had excellent agents to follow that twisted road.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 70

Holder would certainly have garnered my respect if he had resigned when the Prez pulled the rug out from him on that KSM trial.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 72

I was a little surpised that Holder didn’t, but Mary Jo White once said that the good rule of thumb for deciding whether to resign in protest over a particluar issue was whether this issue outweighed all the other things you had on your plate that would not get accomplished if you quit.

I assumed therefore, that Holder had some other battle (or amalgum of battles) that he felt more strongly about.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

So, Garrett, what is the takeawy you want your readers to get from this book?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 73

I think Holder hopes that he can still win the long-term war even if he loses some of these battles along the way.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 74

For me, the takeaway is a hopeful one: Terrorism didn’t begin with al-Qaeda and 9/11. It won’t end with bin Laden’s death, either, but if you look at this topic over the course of two generations, as “The Threat Matrix” does, many of the groups that were huge threats in one era are relegated to the history scrapheap in years to come. There aren’t too many people that worried about the terrorists of the previous generation—the Croatian separatists, Puerto Rican nationalists, Weather Underground, and Black Panthers who terrorized the 1970s. Life moves on and they all lose.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 73

Had Holder tendered a resignation,could the President have refused to accept it?(Thereby, Holder taking a stand,and making a statement-YET- continuing to stay on.)

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:37 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 76

Soooo, who’s the next emerging threat?

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 77

Except for the military, no one can force you to stay in your gov’t job

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:38 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 77

In theory, yes. You serve until the President says you don’t.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:40 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 80

That is my understanding also. After all, Holder’s position was an appointment by Obama,wasn’t it? I know he wasn’t elected.

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:41 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 78

Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen is getting a lot of attention, along with the splinter al-Qaeda & Taliban groups like al-Shabaab and AQAP, TeK, LeT, and so on, but I think there’s an open question how long al-Qaeda will hold together post-bin Laden.

If I were you, though, I’d pay attention to Semion Mogilevich, the Russian crime boss who is now the only international figure on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. That realm is where future threats are more likely to come, I think.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Did you, or do you have the inclination that some of the terror may or is caused by US expansion and takeover of oil and natural resources? Or maybe the corporate issues as in cardboard box neighborhoods beside sewers that people in foreign lands have had to succumb for the sake of big manufacturers like Nike, and other brand names?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 81

(Cynthia, by the way, is technically right that Holder–or any non-military official–could just quit outright, but in practice you don’t leave a job like a Cabinet post without the president’s assent.)

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 82

Personally,I would like to see Rupert Murdoch on the 10 most wanted list.*G*

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 83

Osama bin Laden was pretty explicit that he saw al-Qaeda’s terror campaign as a direct response to our stationing of troops in the Middle East to protect oil interests. However, I think al-Qaeda more represents the losers of globalization writ large, rather than just focusing just on the oil issue.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:44 pm
In response to Gitcheegumee @ 85

Me too! Along with another I mentioned up thread and an oldie but goodie from back in VietNam days. You know, the one that starts with a K and travels only with political parties?

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:45 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 84

Not to contradict you at your own party, but I think if Comey, Mueller et al had resigned, they would not have worried about getting the President’s consent

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 88

Yes, absolutely.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 86

You’re right, throughout the ages, anarchists and terrorists have moved to suicide missions because they believed there was no other viable option for them

Think about how desperate your circumstances must be if you are willing to become a human bomb

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:48 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 86

Yet Washington doesn’t understand why people get so disjointed over paying $4.00 a gallon when our sons and daughters are killed for it.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Which was the hardest interview to get?

What piece of info was the hardest to get?

What was the biggest hoop you had to jump through in your research?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 90

One of the things we’ll regret when we look back on the last decade politically, I think, is that we spent the ten years after 9/11 organizing the government and expending our treasure on chasing the losers of globalization, rather than focusing on how we compete against the winners of globalization like China and India. When you look at today’s politics, we’re still not dealing with the big questions of where the U.S. goes over the coming decades (which was, actually, the theme of my first book, “The First Campaign,” in 2007).

We treated al-Qaeda as if it was an existential threat to the United States when it was anything but.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Guys, our time with Garret is almost over, if you have any last questions, start typing really fast

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:51 pm

Garrett, do you find that the Bureau is all in lock step, or do they have their own particular leads with which they follow on the chance it may come to need?

I guess what I am asking is if they are solely directed to all terror, all the time now?

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:52 pm
In response to Cynthia Kouril @ 92

As you know, most people in this world — the FBI, prosecutors, CIA, and military — don’t trust journalists. I had to spend a lot of time demonstrating to potential interviewees that I knew my background, was well-read, and willing to really listen to them. A lot of the reporting on these areas is pretty scattershot and inaccurate, as you no doubt have experienced in your work.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:52 pm

We treated al-Qaeda as if it was an existential threat to the United States when it was anything but

I think I may have to embroider that on a pillow, just to keep reminding myself.

Well said

BevW July 17th, 2011 at 3:53 pm

As we come to the end of this Book Salon,

Garrett, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the FBI.

Cynthia, Thank you very much for a great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Garrett’s website and book

Cynthia’s website

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

Thanks all,
Have a great evening!

Next week:
Saturday – Kathleen Barry / Unmaking War, Remaking Men: How Empathy Can Reshape Our Politics, Ours Soldiers and Ourselves
Host: Debroah Emin

Sunday – Bernard Harcourt / The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order
Host: George Grantham

Garrett Graff July 17th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
In response to PeasantParty @ 95

Not solely directed to terrorism, but mostly. The Bureau like many organizations only really does one thing well at a time. Right now, that’s counterterrorism.

Anyway, thanks everyone for the good comments and good discussion. If you have other thoughts or questions, feel free to email me: ggraff AT washingtonian DOT com.

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:54 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 93

Very interesting! I’ve been harping on the Bush, “Service Economy” joke for the longest time. America has no place to go now unless we allow Wall Street to become the new Geneva, which is what it appears they are trying to do.

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 93

Why do we always seem to define ourselves by our”enemies”,real or imagined?

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 3:56 pm

Thank you for this time and interview, Garrett!

Cynthia, love ya.

Bev, love you too!

Gitcheegumee July 17th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Sincere thanks to Cynthia, Garret, Bev and ALL for an informative and entertaining interlude.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 3:58 pm
In response to Garrett Graff @ 96

Too many book authors seem to amass a ton of docuemnts, and then not understand what they’ve read, or don’t let what’s in those documents interfere with their hairbrained conspiracy theories.

You really did seem to “get” it. You described agencies the way I remeber them and gave sufficient weight to the vagaeries of institutional culture and indivdual personalites, even when–like in real life–is messed up the tidiness of your story line.

Real life does not have a perfect narrative arc, which is something that too many authors writing in this area don’t seem to get.

Sometimes there is a failure for some simple reason like a guy was hungover, or somebody won a sweepstakes and was distracted. Occam’s razor.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Thank you Garrett and good luck with the rest of your book tour.

Cynthia Kouril July 17th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Well done as usual, Bev

PeasantParty July 17th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Cynthia, we gotta remember that name he gave us. Be on the watch for it as well. Great, Book Salon!

Elliott July 17th, 2011 at 4:07 pm

Thanks Garrett, thanks Cindy. fascinating salon.

(and, as always, thanks Bev)

mike123 July 17th, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I read the book.

For some reason US journalists have failed to get answers to a very important question–What on earth was going on with information about Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi in the intelligence community?

In the book Graff suggests that concern about civil liberties from post Watergate reforms may have contributed to the FBI’s failure to “connect the dots.” This analysis completely glosses over the details of the al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar sharing withholding.

The wall excuse is not credible if one looks at the details. FBI General Counsel Larry Parkinson noted in a 9/11 Commission interview that the wall was not applicable and he would have been very surprised if the NSLU gave such advice. In fact NSLU attorney Sherry Sabol did not give such advice. She told UBLU agent Dina Corsi that the criminal agents could be part of a search. She also told Corsi that she could share NSA information or get a release if she was that worried about it. Corsi did get the NSA release to share the information. The sticking point is that she told criminal side agent Bongardt that the wall was applicable and thus the criminal side agents could not be involved.

The risk averse excuse makes no sense at all. If anything one would think it would be risky for FBI headquarters to obstruct investigations in a period of high threat with al Qaeda operatives roaming around the US. Especially al Qaeda operatives linked to the ’98 embassy bombings and the USS Cole attack.

One should also note that the FBI refuses to declassify 9/11 Commission interviews with UBLU and RFU agents. The public is expected to give the FBI whatever powers they claim are necessary to prevent terror attacks while the FBI will not explain why the ITOS protected al Qaeda operatives before 9/11. IMO that is very messed up.

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