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Mark Riebling is a U.S. historian and policy analyst. He directs the Book Program at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Researchmarker. He co-founded and served as Research Director for the Center for Policing Terrorism, which helps U.S. police formulate counter-terrorism policy. He is the author of Wedge - The Secret War between the FBI and CIA. Riebling has written also on domestic surveillance; military intelligence; the U.S. conservative-intellectual movement; Winston Churchill; and Vatican Policy during the Cold War and Second World War.


Education and early career

Before joining the Manhattan Institute, Mark Riebling worked as a book editor in the Adult Trade Division at Random House. Riebling studied philosophy and comparative literature with Umberto Ecco at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Columbia University. He studied English at Dartmouth College and then majored in Philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, where he studied with A. A. Long and Michel Foucault.

Study with Michel Foucault

Riebling ascribes to Foucault's influence the inspirations for key ideas on politics and national security. Riebling writes that when he arrived at U.C. Berkeley in January 1983, Foucault "was then in his final, almost 'neo-conservative' or libertarian political-phase. He recommended that I read Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, and I think he was shocked that I was not shocked by that -- Berkeley still being very left. I think I was the only other person in the Philosophy Department then who had read any libertarians, and so we bonded around that." Riebling states that he adapted Foucault's ideas in developing a "background theory" for national security, which Riebling calls a "Philosophy of Danger." Riebling cites as especially influential Foucault's strophe: "My point is not that everything is bad, but that everything is dangerous, which is not exactly the same as bad. If everything is dangerous, then we always have something to do.” Glossing that passage, Riebling writes, "[C]onsider how much wiser this is than Francis Fukuyama's prediction, in The End of History, that 'the future will be boring.' Conservatives fell all over themselves reading Fukuymama at the end of the Cold War, when they should have been reading Foucault."

Counter-Terrorism Practitioner

From 2002 to 2005, Riebling served as Research Director for the Center for Policing Terrorism at the Manhattan Institute. Describing the Center's work n his 2008 book, "Crush the Cell," NYPD Deputy Commissioner Michael A. Sheehan wrote, "the Manhattan Institute provided a team of intelligence analysts that supported our work with timely and accurate reports on fast-breaking issues."

Influence of Riebling's ideas on United States policy

Riebling's analysis of U.S. security failures influenced intelligence-community reform during the George W. Bush years. Andrew C. McCarthy, the deputy U.S. attorney who prosecuted the first World Trade Center bombers in 1993, wrote in The Wall Street Journal in 2006 that "Riebling’s analysis has now become conventional wisdom, accepted on all sides. Such, indeed, is the reasoning behind virtually all of the proposals now under consideration by no fewer than seven assorted congressional committees, internal evaluators, and blue-ribbon panels charged with remedying the intelligence situation." Riebling's call for reform of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act received debate in law and policy journals, especially in connection with the Title II of the USA Patriot Act, which implemented many of Riebling's recommendations. In his January 28, 2003 State of the Union Address, President George W. Bush announced an initiative to close what he termed the "seam" between FBI and CIA coverage of foreign threats, as Riebling recommended in Wedge.

Criticism of his work

Riebling’s ideas have drawn fire from both the political left and right. Writing in Reason Magazine, Michael W. Lynch criticizes Riebling from a libertarian perspective, alleging that his arguments have been used to broaden the FBI's ability to collect political information on Americans and people living in the United States. Left-wing 9/11 “Truthers,” meanwhile, have attacked Riebling for providing a vast “cover story” for an alleged U.S. government conspiracy behind the events of September 11, 2001. Thus one blogger “take[s] a shot at The Nation for its embrace of a disingenuous book by Mark Riebling," alleging that U.S. Deputy Attorney General and 9/11 Commission member "Jamie Gorelick, who learned so much from this book," adapted Riebling's concept of a "tragic wedge" into the 9/11 Commission's criticism of a "wall between the CIA and FBI.”

Writings on National Security

Wedge - The Secret War between the FBI and CIA

Riebling's book Wedge (1994, 2002) traces the conflict between U.S. law enforcement and intelligence, from World War Two through the post-Cold-War era. Using documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and interviews with former agents, Riebling presents FBI-CIA rivalry through the prism of national traumas—the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the McCarthy-era loyalty investigations, the JFK assassination, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair—that might have turned out differently had these agencies cooperated. Riebling argues that relations have always been tense, dating back to the early years of WWII when William Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA), built a network of agents against the wishes of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. Wedge traces many of the problems to differing personalities, missions, and corporate cultures: While the CIA evolved from freewheeling WWII foreign operations, the FBI focused on domestic security and the punishment of criminals. In the epilogue to the paperback edition, Riebling argues that the Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen spy cases deepened the feud and contributed to the intelligence failures of 9/11. Discussing the paperback edition in The Washington Post, Vernon Loeb wrote: If Riebling's thesis -- that the FBI-CIA rivalry had “damaged the national security and, to that extent, imperiled the Republic” -- was provocative at the time, [but] seems prescient now, with missed communications between the two agencies looming as the principal cause of intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Theory of intelligence-led policing

Riebling articulates a doctrine for state and local enforcement policy in The New Paradigm: Merging Law Enforcement and Intelligence Strategies, a 2006 analysis for the Center for Policing Terrorism. The U.S. needs a new paradigm, Riebling argues, because "all the physical and conceptual walls associated with the modern, sovereign state—the walls that divide domestic from international, the police from the military, intelligence from law enforcement, war from peace, and crime from war—are coming down." As an example, Riebling writes,
Consider the death of Princess Diana. This accident involved an English citizen, with an Egyptian boyfriend, crashed in a French tunnel, driving a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian, who was drunk on Scotch whiskey, followed closely by Italian paparazzi, on Japanese motorcycles, and finally treated with Brazilian medicines by an American doctor. In this case, even leaving aside the fame of the victims, a mere neighborhood canvass would hardly have completed the forensic picture, as it might have a generation before.

Riebling's paradigm, intelligence-led policing, leverages both Israeli counter-terrorist tactics, and the Fixing Broken Windows theories advanced by George Kelling James Q. Wilson. Among the Broken-Windows mechanisms, Riebling's model blends problem solving, environmental design, community policing, and public-private partnerships. Analyzing the work of the Israeli Police in Tel Aviv, Riebling notes that "investigation of the incident, even a traffic accident, is secondary to the number one goal—which is gathering intelligence. "For instance, when they raided a bordello, where the patrons were primarily Arabs from different parts of the region, Israelis were less concerned about the criminal activity, than with preparing intelligence reports on these people and how they got into Israel."

Theory of domestic surveillance

Writing in the Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2002), Riebling criticized the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and called for reform of its warrant requirements.
"One would think that agents charged with protecting us from a 'dirty nuke' would enjoy the same discretionary search authority as a patrolman who makes a traffic stop. In fact, they have less. If a patrolman pulls you over for weaving between lanes, and smells bourbon on your breath, he does not need a warrant to give you a breath test. But if a FBI agent learns that you are a member of a known terrorist group, and that you behaved suspiciously at a flight school, he must jump through bureaucratic hoops of fire to search your laptop computer."
Riebling argued further that "Our current surveillance rules are neither constitutionally required, nor traditionally American. ... For the first two centuries of our country's history, threats to our national security were countered without warrant. And the Supreme Court, from Olmstead v. U.S. (1928) to U.S. v. U.S. District Court (1972), has allowed warrantless surveillance in national security, as opposed to criminal, investigations." The case law Riebling cited in his Wall Street Journal piece later became the core of the Bush Administration's position, as spelled out by Director of National Intelligence General Michael V. Hayden, in what became known as the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy. In August 2008, the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review affirmed the constitutionality of warrantless national-security surveillance.

Theory of military intelligence

In a review of Tim Weiner's history of the CIA, Legacy of Ashes, Riebling notes that Weiner alludes to “a battle for control of American intelligence that went on for three generations.” Weiner concludes that “the Pentagon had crushed the CIA, just as it vowed to do sixty years before,” yet, according to Riebling, Weiner's account "neglects to explain why the Pentagon’s intelligence value to policymakers has grown."

"The simple answer,' writes Riebling, "[is that] the Pentagon’s judgments about the world have generally proved sounder than the CIA’s."

In the 1960s, the CIA said that the Soviets wouldn’t put missiles in Cuba; in the 1970s, that their missiles weren’t accurate; in the 1980s, that the missile budget wouldn’t bankrupt Moscow; and in the 1990s, that Russia’s democratic reforms were irreversible. In each case, the Pentagon argued the opposite case, and turned out to be right. Similarly, in the 1980s, the CIA said that the Soviets weren’t sponsoring terrorism, and then, in the 1990s, that Sunni and Shiite terrorists wouldn’t cooperate. In each case, again, the Pentagon rightly claimed otherwise.

Riebling then asks: "Why have the soldiers so often got it right where the spooks have got it wrong?" He argues that the work of late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington offered a clue. In The Soldier and the State, Huntington argued that America’s open society needed a professional military establishment, “steeped in conservative realism.” Generals could not be liberals. To keep the peace, they must prepare for war. They must make the best case for the worst case. They must assume the “irrationality, weakness, and evil in human nature.” Liberals were good at reform, Huntington thought, but not at national security. “Magnificently varied and creative when limited to domestic issues,” he wrote, “liberalism faltered when applied to foreign policy and defense.”

The CIA, unlike the Pentagon, has long been a liberal institution. “There are two kinds of people I never met in the CIA,” quipped retired spy David Atlee Phillips. “One was an assassin, and the other was a Republican.” On the day that the last of the 9/11 hijackers entered the United States, Riebling writes, many of the CIA’s officers weren’t at their desks, because they were putting together a quilt to celebrate “Diversity Awareness Day.”

The Pentagon is useful to policymakers, Riebling contends, "because this kind of thing goes on less often there." Defense bureaucracies, notes national security scholar Richard Betts, “are rarely infected with such intellectual vogues as tend to deprecate the possibility of surprise or the eternality of conflict.” Military intelligence officers, Riebling writes, "cannot afford to be celebrators of diversity, utopians, game-theorists, apostles of negotiation, or purveyors of the idea that the Internet will bring us all together."

Riebling concedes that the military’s disdain for idealism has not earned it good press. The Pentagon’s outlook includes Ronald’s Reagan’s “evil empire,” but excludes his “morning in America.”

Yet even if we tire of hearing about evil, evil eventually returns to confirm the warnings. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s maxim summarizes the dynamic: “There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact.”

To many policy analysts, Riebling observes, the rise of military intelligence is cause for alarm. Weiner quotes one worried CIA officer as warning that Pentagon dominance portends a “Kremlin approach.” Riebling counters that
the Kremlin never put the military in charge of spying. But until the summer of 1941, the United States did. And when the armed forces did do most of our spying, two things didn’t happen. One was the co-option of foreign policy by the military, which liberals like Tocqueville always feared too much. The other was a catastrophic intelligence failure like Pearl Harbor or 9/11, which the liberals of our own day have never feared enough.

In a 2002 National Public Radio appearance, Riebling criticized liberal criticisms of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon intelligence initiatives as “frankly, a lot of scare-mongering."
I'm hearing about a vast Right Wing war conspiracy, a scenario for a James Bond film, in which Rumsfeld is Blofeld. ... the idea that he's, A, intent on taking over the whole spy community, and, B, after that, the whole world, I think is overstated. ... every time there's a major intelligence failure there's talk about a makeover. But, every time there's talk about a makeover, it's transmuted into warnings about a takeover. ... Every time the Secretary of Defense tries to get a hand on his many intel[igence] programs, we hear warnings about the dire consequences to liberty. When you look behind those warnings, what you really see is the CIA trying to preserve its perks. ... Considering that everyone and his brother has talked about the need for closer interagency intelligence cooperation, I'm surprised that, once we're actually seeing it, some of these same people claim to be scared by it. You can't have it both ways.

Pressed about the need for civilian oversight of military intelligence, Riebling responded:
[W]e can't go into these problems assuming that the civilian bias, which tends toward arms control, and the view that everyone is rational, is necessarily more appropriate than the military bias. That needs to be argued, not just assumed. ... What we're talking about here is the clash of two mind-sets. The military mind tends to be conservative, realistic and historical. The civilian mind tends to be liberal, idealistic and utopian. Journalists, obviously, are civilians, and they tend to distrust, and to suspect, the military’s motives.

Critique of Conservative Reason

In a review of Sam Tanenhaus' book The Death of Conservatism, Riebling challenges the traditional account of conservatism's origins and central argument. Where others, including Tanenhaus, trace American conservatism's origins to an over-arching argument against the New Deal, Riebling locates the movement's origins in a critique of totalitarianism that emerged during the Second World War and the early Cold War. The central argument of conservatism, Riebling contends, is
that totalitarianism is evil because it denies man’s spiritual nature. George Orwell trenchantly expressed this idea in April 1940, in his famous passage about the wasp cut in half. “Only when he tried to fly away did he grasp the dreadful thing that had happened to him. It is the same with modern man. The thing that has been cut away is his soul.”

Riebling suggests that the primacy of this antitotalitarian argument would clarify much that remains "fuzzy" in previous accounts of conservatism. For instance, if movement conservatism is "less about hating the state than about fighting Godless modernism, this might explain why conservatives have always found actual or cultural wars to fight, but have never got around to shrinking or controlling the growth of government (though centrists like Eisenhower and Clinton did)." Likewise, if the movement’s vitality owes less to the New Deal than to the Cold War, this might explain why conservatism entered its terminal and “most decadent phase,” only in the 1990s, just as the Cold War ended.

According to Riebling, anticommunist exigencies provide, too, an "intuitively satisfying" answer to the question: Why do conservatives define themselves not by what they want to conserve, but by what they seek to destroy?

As National Review editor L. Brent Bozell, Jr. told a right-wing rally in the early 1960s: “I would favor destroying not only the whole world, but the entire universe out to the furthermost star, rather than suffer Communism to live.”

Riebling writes further that "conservatism, unlike liberalism, did not derive its policies from ideas, but instead sought ideas to support its policies." He sees this as the great inherent liability of the movement, especially when combined with a religious critique of modernity. "If conservatism was not only uniquely political in origin, but has also been a kind of religious crusade from birth, then the movement has the makings of what its critics might call a political religion."

Riebling criticizes the tendency of conservatives to define the movement simply as “what Edmund Burke wrote.” According to Riebling,
This is the equivalent of Arthur Danto’s institutional theory of art—art is whatever the art world says it is. But it’s also a cop-out. Instead of analyzing conservatism in an Aristotelian way, instead of asking how we use the term in real life, we just describe Burke. In the process, don’t we risk fleeing into... an “alternative universe”? .... Liberals have problems of their own, but, to their credit, they don’t sit around debating whether Hillary Clinton or John Edwards is the “real Rousseauian.”

Rieblng urges the return to "a conservatism that courts the vital center—measured roughly as the distance between barstool-and-barbershop expectations and the actual state of the world."

For instance, in the late 1970s, a “reasonable citizen” might have expected that America would free its citizens held hostage in Iran; in the 1980s, that he could walk out of a restaurant in midtown Manhattan without being assaulted by a homeless person; and in 2008, that he could put money in the bank one day and not fear that it would be gone the next. The widening gaps between these expectations and realities created the openings that Reagan, Rudy Giuliani, and Obama broke through.

Where conservatives thought and governed within these gaps from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, Riebling argues that "we now often speak and operate outside them."
The Welfare Reform and Personal Responsibility Act of 1996, and Giuliani’s transformation of New York City, would seem the last cases of conservative policy ideas self-evidently addressing these gaps. If these great successes hold any lesson, perhaps Republicans should be developing a coherent national agenda based on the concepts of personal responsibility and of quality of life.

Writings and research on Vatican policy

Cold-War alliance of Reagan and Pope John Paul II

From declassified files from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Riebling has reconstructed aspects of the Cold War alliance between Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In a 2005 article, Riebling writes: "When the Soviets faced these two leaders of shared purpose and conviction, they faced their worst-case scenario: a moral-political meta-power." Riebling describes the first contacts between the pope and the president; nuclear brinksmanship and disarmament; the Solidarity crisis in Poland; and Vice President George Bush's private 1984 meeting with the pope. According to Riebling, the documents reveal "a continuous scurrying to shore up Vatican support for U.S. policies. Perhaps most surprisingly, the papers show that that, as late as 1984, the pope did not believe the Communist Polish government could be changed."

Debate about reaction of Pius XII and the Catholic Church to the Shoah

Reviewing Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's book A Moral Reckoning, Riebling takes exception to Goldhagen's assertion that Pius "chose again and again not to mention the Jews publicly.... [In] public statements by Pius XII . . . any mention of the Jews is conspicuously absent." Riebling writes that Pius used the word "Jew" in his very first encyclical, Summi Pontificatus, published on October 20, 1939. "There Pius insisted that all human beings be treated charitably -- for, as Paul had written to the Colossians, in God's eyes "there is neither Gentile nor Jew." In saying this, the Pope affirmed that Jews were full members of the human community—which is Goldhagen's own criterion for establishing 'dissent from the anti-Semitic creed.'"

Personal life

Mark Riebling's friends include Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of the rock group Rush, who mentions Riebling in his books Ghost Rider and Traveling Music.



Shorter works


Further reading

Conflict between Intelligence and Law Enforcement



Moral and Political Philosophy


Vatican Policy
  • Bottum, Joseph, and David G. Dallin, eds. The Pius War: Responses to Critics of Pius XII. Lexington Books, 2004

Warrantless Surveillance
  • Breglio, Nola K. “Leaving FISA Behind: The Need to Return to Warrantless Surveillance.” Yale Law Journal, September 24, 2003
  • Manget, Fred. "Intelligence and the Criminal Law System." Stanford Law and Policy Review, 17: 415, 2006
  • McCarthy, M.T. “USA Patriot Act.” Harvard Journal on Legislation, 2002, 39: 435
  • Robinson, Gerald. "We're Listening-Electronic Eavesdropping, Fisa, and the Secret Court." Willamette Law Review, 2000, 36: 51

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