Mark Riebling was born in Los Angeles, where he was educated in Catholic, public, and preparatory schools. He studied philosophy and comparative literature at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University.
Riebling attended Dartmouth College and the University of California at Berkeley, as a President's Fellow, and graduated in 1984, as a Bachelor of Science in Philosophy. After leaving university he was a book editor at Random House. Riebling has had articles published in the New York Times, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal and The National Review.
Riebling is the author of Wedge: How the Secret War between the CIA and FBI Has Endangered National Security. First published in hardcover in 1994 by Alfred A. Knopf, Wedge has been translated into Japanese, Chinese, Polish, and Czech. In 2002 Wedge was reissued by Simon and Schuster, with an updated Epilogue, bringing the story forward through 9/11.
In the book Riebling points out that Bob Woodward described Deep Throat as "having an aggregate of information flowing in and out of many stations" and "perhaps the only person in the government in a position to possibly understand the whole scheme, and not be a potential conspirator himself". Riebling goes on to argue that this indicates that Deep Throat was a senior official in the Central Intelligence Agency. He points out that Woodward virtually confirmed that his source was from the CIA: "As you know, I'm not going to discuss the identify of Deep Throat or any other of my confidential sources who are still alive. But let me just say that the suggestion that we were being used by the intelligence community was of concern to us at the time and afterward."
Riebling suggests three possible CIA suspects: William Colby, Cord Meyer and Richard Helms. He finally opts for Meyer arguing that like Deep Throat he was a chain-smoker and heavy drinker. Riebling also suggests that Meyer met Woodward while working as a Washington briefer in naval intelligence.
Mark Riebling is also a co-founder and the former research director of the Center for Tactical Counterterrorism. He is currently Editorial Director at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.
In recent years Riebling has written interesting reviews of several books including: A Moral Reckoning: The Role of the Catholic Church in the Holocaust and Its Unfulfilled Duty of Repair (2003), American Spy: My Secret History in the CIA, Watergate, and Beyond (2007) and Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007),
Just such a deflection of suspicion away from CIA was accomplished by Deep Throat, a source who began feeding leads to Post reporter Woodward, by the reporter's own account, on June 19 - only hours after Helms launched CIA's damage-control plan. Woodward's later description of Deep Throat as having "an aggregate of information flowing in and out of many stations" would seem a pointed signal to someone in Langley. Woodward also said that Deep Throat had an "extremely sensitive" position in the Executive Branch, which would perfectly fit someone at CIA, who (according to Woodward) did not like getting calls at the office. The use of an underground parking garage for clandestine meetings would seem to evidence a certain skill at "tradecraft." Furthermore, with the exception of Helms and his DDCI, CIA officers were not political appointees, and therefore their careers, unlike those of Dean and most other possible Throats, would not have automatically fallen with Nixon's own. Woodward himself would later all but confirm that Deep Throat was a spook. "As you know, I'm not going to discuss the identity of Deep Throat or any other of my confidential sources who are still alive. But let me just say that [the] suggestion that we were being used by the intelligence community was of concern to us at the time and afterward."
Could Deep Throat have perhaps been Colby? Much of the information Colby provided to the FBI in the days after the burglary was immediately leaked to the press, as Colby later admitted, though he blamed those leaks on the Bureau. Colby was a political liberal, and no great fan of the Nixon White House; as Helms' damage-control officer on Watergate, he would be perfectly positioned to leak; he was later rumored to use underground parking structures for secret meetings of a personal nature. 'Moreover, the final pages of Colby's 1978 book, Honorable Men, would contain a suggestive reference to Throat. Discussing how "the public must be informed of what intelligence is doing in its name," Colby cites "unofficial leaks" as one means of so informing the citizenry; sometimes material is made available to the media though "its source in the intelligence community is obscured from the people who use it." Colby then immediately raises the subject of Deep Throat, and although one might expect him to resent the role of Throat as a competitor in controlling public perceptions of Watergate, he actually characterizes Throat as a force for national good: "Deep Throat remains a secret," Colby says, "but the public has benefited from his information."
Woodward's clues suggest, however, that Throat was more likely another CIA officer present at the June 19 damage-control meeting. This was Cord Meyer. Woodward describes Throat as a chain-smoker and heavy drinker, which Meyer was and Colby was not. Throat was an intellectual who "knew too much literature too well," and Meyer was an awardwinning literary talent. Throat's appearance bespoke "too many battles," and Meyer had a glass eye from the Battle of Iwo Jima. Meyer also reportedly bore a special grudge against Nixon because of his complicity in the McCarthyist drama which had once almost cost Meyer his CIA job; he was even said to have made digs at CIA secretaries who wore Nixon campaign buttons on their blouses. Meyer was practically a charter member of the Old Boys Network of Yale graduates who had gone on to work in intelligence, and Woodward, too, was a member of this club. In fact, Meyer may well have become acquainted with Woodward during the latter's 1969-70 tenure as a Washington briefer in naval intelligence: as part of his daily rounds, Woodward sometimes addressed top people in CIA's Department of Plans, where Meyer was then the number-two man. Moreover, Throat knew all about Hunt's activities-his first tips and most of his early leads concerned Hunt-and Meyer was one of the few at CIA . who knew, even before the Watergate burglary, that Hunt was working for the White House. On March 27, 1972, for instance, when CIA's domestic contact office in Miami queried Langley about Hunt's frequent contacts with Cuban exiles, Meyer cabled back that Hunt was in Miami on White House work and that Miami Station should "cool it," i.e., not concern itself with Hunt. Meyer, it should also be noted, possessed great family wealth his father controlled a lot of real estate in Manhattan-which would explain why Throat could afford not to come forward for big bucks (the advance for his book even now, two decades later, would be colossal). But perhaps most important, Meyer had extremely intimate connections with Ben Bradlee, Woodward's boss at the Post. Indeed, they were in-laws, having both married sisters from the socially prominent Pinchot family. Meyer's interface with Bradlee could have had a close professional aspect as well, since Meyer's main duty at CIA was to penetrate and influence leftist but anticommunist organs of opinion. Among other things, Meyer's close relationship to the editor of the Post might have accounted for the special access that allowed Throat to get to Woodward's morning copy of the Post and scribble on it times for secret meetings.
Recent disclosures about intelligence failures relating to September 11 have left Americans wondering what is wrong with our spy system. Congress is already probing this question. The answer, however, will not be found by any inquisition centered on the George W. Bush years. The crippling of our espionage effort in fact began 30 years ago today, when Washington police arrested the White House "Plumbers" at the Watergate Hotel.
The FBI, and Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, quickly discovered what seemed to be CIA fingerprints. Among the five men caught burglarizing Democratic headquarters in the Watergate was James Walter McCord Jr., a former employee of the CIA's Office of Security. Three Cuban exiles who participated in the break-in had also worked for the agency, and one of them was still on retainer. A search of the men's rooms at the Watergate turned up an envelope containing a personal check made out by E. Howard Hunt, another former CIA employee.
President Nixon self-servingly encouraged the notion that the burglary was a CIA operation. Meeting with his chief of staff, H. R. Haldeman, six days after the arrests, Nixon said: "The only way to solve this, and we're set up beautifully to do it, is for us to have [Deputy CIA Director Vernon] Walters call [FBI Director] Pat Gray and say, 'Stay the hell out of this… They [CIA] should call the FBI in and say that, 'We wish, for the good of the country, [that you] don't any [look] further into this case.' Period."
These words, recorded by a secret White House taping system which Nixon himself installed, later provided irrefutable proof that he had conspired in a cover-up. When made public 1974, they became the basis of impeachment proceedings against him — the famous "smoking gun."
By then, both Woodward and the FBI had concluded that the burglars, despite their intelligence ties, were working solely for the Nixon White House. Exhaustive hearings in Congress also cleared the CIA of any role. Nevertheless, the post-Watergate inquiries would comprise what former CIA officer Cord Meyer called "a string exploding Chinese firecrackers," leading to devastation of the CIA.
The agency's refusal to cooperate in Nixon's obstruction of justice led directly to the firing of its director, Richard Helms, a veteran covert operator who knew how to keep secrets. By August 1973 the CIA was under William E. Colby, a political liberal, ACLU-member, and onetime union-organizer. Colby had absorbed certain themes floated by the campus movement of the 1960s: self-determination by the young, equal opportunity, ethnic diversity. He effected parking spaces for the handicapped, and a program of minority hiring. Junior officers admired him as the epitome of egalitarianism. Senior officers saw him as CIA's answer to California's eccentric governor, Jerry "Moonbeam" Brown.
During Colby's tenure, as the legislative branch examined the secret operations of the executive during the Nixon years, congressional staffers stumbled upon a number of domestic operations by the CIA. Colby acquiesced in their inquiries, and assembled a list of alleged CIA sins. It ran to 693 typed pages, and became known as the "Family Jewels."
Though none of the items on the "Family Jewels" list was palpably illegal, their disclosure by Colby fed into, and heightened, the post-Watergate distrust of government secrecy. In the furor which ensued, CIA's legal counsel reminded all employees of their rights under the Miranda decision.
The crown jewel on the list, the black diamond of the CIA, was its surveillance of antiwar protesters, who were suspected of collusion with hostile foreign powers. The program, known as Operation Chaos, was disclosed by Colby himself to the New York Times.
E. Howard Hunt was a genial, incompetent genius who happened into many of the major secret operations of his time. If Robert DeNiro had really wanted to tell the story of the CIA in his recent film The Good Shepherd, he would have modeled his hero not on the composite who became Matt Damon's Edward Wilson, but on the more tragic and representative figure of Howard Hunt.
Fully half the book is devoted to Watergate and its aftermath. That is appropriate, not only because Hunt helped plan the burglaries there, but because post-Watergate reforms of U.S. intelligence have restricted the means by which we may know our enemies. But Hunt's well-known role in that scandal is not the soul of this book. The beating heart of American Spy is the Cold War; or, more exactly, the moral continuity between the Cold War and World War II.
This continuity was described by FBI deputy director William Sullivan, who ran domestic spying during the Cold War: "When a soldier in the field shot down an enemy, he did not ask himself is this legal or lawful, is it ethical? It was what he was expected to do as a soldier.... We never freed ourselves from that psychology that we were indoctrinated with, right after Pearl Harbor, you see."
Every sentence in this book vibrates to that iron string. "Anything I may have done," Hunt said at his trial on Watergate-related charges, "I did for what I believed to be in the best interests of my country." In fact, Hunt believed that America itself had taught and told him to burglarize the Democratic headquarters. "I cannot escape feeling," he testified to the Senate in 1973, "that the country I have served for my entire life and which directed me to carry out the Watergate entry is punishing me for doing the very things it trained and directed me to do."
The "country," of course, was not the men who directed Hunt to plan the burglary, but the ideals Hunt betrayed in planning it. Just how Hunt's moral compass malfunctioned - with such dreadful consequences to him, to the Agency he served, and to the country he loved - is the story he sets out to tell us in American Spy. In March 1943, Army private Hunt is chafing at the easy life in Orlando, Fla., when he hears whispers about a mysterious unit, the Office of Strategic Services.
Through his lobbyist father, Hunt gets a meeting with OSS director William "Wild Bill" Donovan, who, at 67, still looks like a man you want next to you in a fight. Donovan taps him for a Pacific post. After tough training, Hunt makes the dangerous flight over the Himalayas into China, where he runs guns to guerrillas fighting the Japanese.
After the war, when OSS becomes CIA, Hunt quarterbacks covert operations in Latin America, Europe, and the Far East. But as political-action chief of the project to unseat Fidel Castro, Hunt never recovers, "psychologically or operationally," from the 1961 defeat of the CIA at the Bay of Pigs. Transferred into the agency's legally dodgy Domestic Operations Division, Hunt is writing spy novels under an assumed name when he meets Nixon aide Charles Colson (whom he calls the "spiritual ancestor to Karl Rove").
In 1971, Colson hires Hunt to spy on Nixon's enemies. Hunt teams with an eccentric former FBI agent, G. Gordon Liddy, and hires anti-Castro Cubans with long CIAresumes to do the dirty work. On June 17, 1972, D.C. police catch Hunt's operatives breaking into the Democratic headquarters at the Watergate.
In the ordeal that follows, Hunt loses nearly everything. His wife, Dorothy, dies in a plane crash. The White House abandons him. The press attacks him. His two eldest children disavow him. Even so, he remains a "good soldier," perjuring himself about White House links to Watergate until, realizing that Nixon is indifferent to his fate, he resolves to tell the truth....
Yet one of Hunt's main lines of thinking has merit. To him, the Cold War was not primarily a political struggle, but an intellectual one. That's why Hunt hired William F. Buckley Jr. into the CIA in 1951 to translate the memoir of a Peruvianex-Maoist. Whether the media today are books or blogs, audio or video, human nature is the same. We are what we think. To change how people act, we must change what they believe.
"We shouldn't bomb Al Jazeera television," Hunt counsels. Instead, "we need to buy it--through a third party, of course. Then slowly and subtly change the news slant to deprogram all the negative brainwashing that has occurred."
If the wisdom of that plan is debatable, the need for inventive propaganda is clear. In the war against head-chopping ideas, we should remember one lesson that E. Howard Hunt did learn well, before he died on January 23. "When we were fighting Communism, the most useful weapons didn't explode--they had pages, a volume control, or a great personality. They still do."
Tim Weiner, who reports on intelligence for the New York Times, has written an essential but flawed book about an essential but flawed agency. Legacy of Ashes, he declares, is “the first history of the CIA compiled entirely from firsthand reporting and primary documents.” That is the book’s great strength, and its great weakness.
It’s a strength, because the secondary literature on secret intelligence chokes with myth and guesswork. For every good book, such as Thomas Powers’s classic The Man Who Kept the Secrets, scores of bad ones have appeared, alleging, say, that the CIA killed JFK, concocted AIDS to kill black people, or orchestrated the World Trade Center attacks. Because Weiner doesn’t reference even the good books in the field, he doesn’t perpetuate the errors in the bad ones. If, as John Lukacs suggests, the historian’s calling is not just to establish truth, but to reduce untruth, then Tim Weiner has performed a real service.
Yet his reliance on primary sources crimps the value of the work. Weiner has read 50,000 pages of documents, most importantly the CIA’s own declassified oral and internal histories. But as the CIA itself has discovered, the more information one collects, the tougher it is to separate the “signals” from the “noise.” And like the CIA, Weiner is better at collecting the facts than interpreting them.
It’s difficult to see how Weiner derived some of his judgments. “The supreme goal of the CIA during the cold war was to steal Soviet secrets by recruiting spies,” Weiner writes, “but the CIA never possessed a single one who had deep insight into the workings of the Kremlin.” Yet as he notes elsewhere in the book, moles such as Pyotr Popov, Oleg Penkovksy, and Anatoly Golitysn all gave the CIA deep insight into the Kremlin. Weiner also asserts that Allen Dulles, CIA director in the 1950s, “refused to pay attention to anything but covert action,” that is, dirty tricks by human spies. But Dulles persuaded President Eisenhower to approve the high-tech U-2 spy plane project, as Weiner points out. In what Weiner calls “the battle between the spies and the gadgets,” Dulles fought for both sides.