Mark Riebling

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Our civilization developed personality early and responsibility late. Only the duties of democratic governance required a word to express the abstract principle, "a state of being responsible."

Mark Riebling (born 1963) is a U.S. historian, essayist, and policy analyst. He has written on national security, the history of ideas, and Vatican foreign policy during Cold War and Second World War.

See also Wedge - The Secret War between the FBI and CIA


Interview with Mark Riebling (2002)[edit]

Broadcast on The Big Story with John Gibson, Fox News, 4 June 2002. Full transcript online
  • I think that in the emergency situations like we have with potentially weapons of mass destruction, the agent in the field needs as much flexibility as he can and the decision of probable cause as to what’s going to occur needs to be made not in headquarters and not by the attorney general and not by a special court in Washington, but by the agent in the field who needs to respond immediately.
  • Congress imposed a warrant requirement in 1978 which JFK didn’t use when he went after the Klan. He put the Klan out of business, but he didn’t do it with -- by going through the courts. He did it by burglarizing Klan offices. I think we need to use hardcore tactics against a hardcore threat.
  • If [an FBI agent] abuses his power, we should punish him, and there are laws on the books for that. But just because a power can be abused doesn’t mean you take away the power. Congress can declare war unjustly. What do we do if they do so? Do we take away their power to declare war? No. We somehow reprimand Congress. We vote them out of office. If a senior official or a field agent leaks some personal information on someone, they should go to jail, and they will.

"Uncuff the FBI: Congress Must Undo the Church Committee's Damage" (2002)[edit]

Published in The Wall Street Journal (June 4, 2002). Full essay online
  • One would think that agents charged with protecting us from "dirty nukes" would enjoy the same discretionary search authority as patrolman who make traffic stops. 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 an 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.
  • Civil libertarians do not deny that FISA hampers our ability to counter terrorists. Citing the abuses alleged by the Church Committee, however, they argue that chronic insecurity is the price we must pay to preserve our liberties. But the United States was not a fascist dictatorship before Ted Kennedy and Jimmy Carter rode to the rescue. Our current surveillance rules are nether constitutionally required, nor traditionally American. They were observed neither by Senator Kennedy's elder brothers, nor by any presidents or attorneys general before the Carter presidency. 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 executive branch has sometimes abused its mandate -- most famously, with the surveillance of Dr. King -- but not as much as the Church Committee would have us believe. The FBI's political spying was not the creation of right-wing reactionaries, and it was not systematically targeted at the innocent grassroots left. It was begun by our most liberal of presidents, FDR, who ordered the surveillance of fascist sympathizers in 1936. The most controversial domestic Counterintelligence Programs (Cointelpro) were actually born in the Kennedy administration, as an attempt to disrupt the Ku Klux Klan. The FBI also disrupted "Black Nationalist Hate Groups," including the Black Panthers. This was not political repression; it was a largely successful effort to deal with violent militant groups.

"Rumsfeld’s New Spy Unit" (2002)[edit]

Broadcast on National Public Radio (October 31, 2002). Full transcript online
  • 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 intelligence 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.
  • If you want more effective intelligence, you have to have this kind of fusion. 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.
  • Everyone acknowledges that people come to the evidence with different preconceptions. But we 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.
  • 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.

"Jesus, Jews and the Shoah: A Moral Reckoning by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen" (2003)[edit]

Published in National Review (January 27, 2003). Full essay online
  • A Moral Reckoning is, among its other faults, a 352-page exercise in intellectual bad manners. Reading it is like listening for three days to Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe.
  • Many good writers, from Montaigne to Mencken, have been impolitic, colicky, or sassy.
  • It would be futile to deny that the Nazis built a vast mass of evil on a vast mass of prejudice. It would be equally futile to deny that strong prejudices against the Jews existed among Christians during the centuries before the Shoah. Since, moreover, the childhood of the European nations was passed under the tutelage of the clergy, we should not be surprised that these prejudices were, in part, ecclesiastically inculcated.
  • Goldhagen does not say it, but one has the sense that he would affix, to every Christian Bible, the warning label: "This text contains hate speech."
  • The Holocaust was the product not of Christendom, but of Christendom's collapse. The destruction of Christendom effected (1) the rejection of Catholic natural law and (2) the rise of the absolute nation-state, previously impossible because popes could depose and counterbalance kings. Hitler, to be sure, contributed a neo-paganism and anti-Semitism all his own. But in mobilizing opinion and wielding power, he was helped more by these two innovations than by any Catholic doctrines.
John Paul II

"Freedom's Men: The Cold War Team of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan" (2005)[edit]

Published in National Review (April 7, 2005). Full essay online
  • There was, sometimes, a de facto alliance between this president and pope. But relations were not so close that they could be taken for granted by the president's men. In fact, 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.
  • When the Soviets faced these two leaders of shared purpose and conviction, they faced their worst-case scenario: a moral-political meta-power.

"The New Paradigm: Merging Law Enforcement and Intelligence Strategies" (2006)[edit]

Published by Center for Policing Terrorism Full essay online

  • Globalization is a trend with many gurus; not all have been wise. Some, writing during the economic euphoria of the Clinton years, predicted that global trade would translate into global peace. In The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization, Thomas Friedman even dismissed terrorists like Ramzi Youssef, architect of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, as ineffectual "Yahoos" who were not the wave of the future. We know now that the Ramzi Youssefs of the world are not ineffectual; that they will threaten us for decades to come; and that they will seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction and use them against us.
  • The realities of globalization can be seen in something as simple as the investigation of a car crash. If a patrolman investigated a fatal accident in the 1970s, the victims and the witnesses were both likely from the local community; and if the officer climbed into the wreckage, to look for some malfunction in the vehicle, he would probably see from the serial numbers that the car was made in the U.S. He could put all that together, and make his case. But 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.

"Litany of Blunders" (2007)[edit]

Published in City Journal (October 5, 2007). Full essay online
  • The United States has never actually wanted one true spy service, on the model of England’s MI6. Instead, it has tried to create a first-rate spy community. That community reflects the character of our culture: it’s a crazy-quilt of checks and balances, division of labor, specialization, decentralization, friendship with free nations, civilian control of the military, and a distrust of secrecy dating to the Salem witch trials. The result is an over-managed yet under-coordinated system, spanning not just dozens of U.S. agencies, but dozens of other governments, and even nongovernmental organizations. It includes not just the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon, but functional partners in British and Israeli intelligence, treaty alliances such as NATO and SEATO, and even information sharing with transnational entities such as the United Nations, the Vatican, and Google.
  • 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.
  • Military intelligence officers 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.

"His Long War: E Howard Hunt's American Spy" (2007)[edit]

Published in National Review (April 30, 2007). Full essay online
  • Though espionage is supposed to be thrilling, CIA memoirs are often boring. Usually written decades after the fact, always sanitized by government censors, the typical "autospyography" has the vague, approximate effect of a police sketch drawn from the memory of a traumatized witness.
  • The flaw in the work is the flaw in the man.
  • We are what we think. To change how people act, we must change what they believe.

"Watching the Watchmen: The CIA’s investigation of its own inspector general is perfectly legitimate" (2007)[edit]

Published in City Journal (October 17, 2007). Full essay online
  • The history of the CIA brims with inquiries that cowed our spies and ruined their careers.
  • Appearance is not reality, except in Washington.

"Prospectus For a Critique of Conservative Reason" (2009)[edit]

Privately circulated paper (September 2009). Full essay online
  • What do we call conservative, and what do we call liberal, in daily life? A conservative explains behavior spiritually, and personalizes responsibility. In Aristotelian terms, the principle of motion is within us. A liberal, by contrast, explains behavior mechanically, and externalizes responsibility: the principle of motion is outside us. Thus, in the typical policy debate, a liberal makes excuses for the human agent, and a conservative places blame. The spark of the liberal argument — He didn’t have the same opportunities you did — meets the conservative conceptual firewall: Lots of people start poor, but still find ways to make it.

"Conservatism Turned Upside Down: Sam Tanenhaus' Critique of Conservative Reason" (2009)[edit]

Published in City Journal (October 16, 2009). Full essay online
  • 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).
  • Ever since 1953, when Russell Kirk produced its intellectual coat of arms, conservatism has been "what Edmund Burke wrote." 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 what Tanenhaus calls an "alternative universe"? If conservatives are "glaringly disconnected from the realities now besetting America," as Tanenhaus says, why is the solution to be more like a man who wore a powdered wig? 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."

"Churchill’s Finest Hour" (2009)[edit]

Published in City Journal (November 27, 2009). Full essay online
Winston Churchill
  • Winston Churchill led the life that many men would love to live. He survived 50 gunfights and drank 20,000 bottles of champagne.
  • France showed as a nation less strength than Churchill showed as a man.
  • Following the pattern set by Julius Caesar in The Gallic War, Churchill wrote books to vindicate policy; but he may also have made policy with an eye toward writing books. If so, the implications are alarming. Did Churchill conceive bold operations, such as the disastrous 1915 Dardanelles offensive, because these would make exciting episodes in the text of his life? A. J. Balfour once joked that Winston had written an enormous book about himself and called it The World Crisis. Was there more truth in that joke than we have so far known?
  • He was the outlier of a new type: the first twentieth-century personality to be famous for being famous. If he toured Africa with 17 pieces of matched luggage, or got hit by a car crossing Fifth Avenue in New York, he wrote about it. His life became a forerunner of reality TV; in today’s terms, he did everything to seek celebrity but release a sex tape. A great question of Churchill biography, therefore, is how this Paris Hilton of British politics became the second coming of King Arthur.
  • What then is the moral of Churchill’s life? He was the twentieth century’s great man, but we must sharply circumscribe his greatness. Because he drew the sword from the stone in 1940, what he did before and after seems admirable. Through his steadfast stance, Churchill rallied the English to die with honor—therefore they deserved to win. Whoever shall seek to save his life shall lose it; and whoever shall lose his life shall preserve it (Luke 17:33). Yet were it not for this one courageous triumph, we might now say of him: Never had one man done so little with so much.

"Personal Responsibility: How the Framers coined a phrase as they created a nation" (2010)[edit]

Published in City Journal (Spring 2010). Full essay online
  • Personal responsibility is a big idea about which little is known. It has received far less study than other key conservative tenets, like economic choice. This lack of attention is striking because personal responsibility is a defining assumption in American thought.
  • The Framers did not pioneer the concept of man as a personally responsible agent. That notion, arguably the greatest of all Western ideas, dates to line 32 of Homer’s Odyssey, where Zeus asks people to stop blaming their bad choices on the gods.
  • Though the words "personal" and "personality" date to the 1380s, "responsibility" emerged only in the 1640s, as England began its great democratic ferment. This linguistic lag marked an arrested moral development. Our civilization developed personality early and responsibility late. Only the duties of democratic governance required a word to express the abstract principle, "a state of being responsible."

Quotes about Mark Riebling[edit]

  • Mark Rieblng... breaks new ground, revealing important new details on Pius’ daring efforts to rid the world of Hitler. Riebling, one of the top intelligence experts in the world, has written extensively in support of Pius XII, using primary archives from the around the world. He has been in the forefront in correcting and rebuking other historians for failing to emphasize Pius’ prominent role in the numerous anti-Hitler plots.
  • Riebling succeeds brilliantly... in persuading the reader that the FBI-CIA conflict was a more important piece of the cold war mosaic than heretofore noted by historians.
    • Michael R. Beschloss, New York Times Book Review

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

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