National Security Watch: The more things change ...
Ever since 9/11, the CIA and the FBI have been ordered to break down barriers between their agencies and work together more closely. This is, of course, not a new concept for two agencies. Indeed, a newly declassified document reveals just how long officials have been trying to break down the institutional walls.
On Nov. 7, 1951, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and then CIA Director Gen. Walter Bedell Smith met over lunch to discuss methods for closer cooperation. Smith told Hoover that he "realized there had been misunderstandings in the past and thought that a large number of them were the result of personalities rather than any question in policy," according to a memo on the meeting.
Some of the notes could just as easily have been written by the 9/11 commission when it issued its report more than a half century later. The memo notes, for example, that Smith "stressed the need for close coordination between these individuals (FBI legal attaches) and ours and pointed out the dangers of foreign intelligence services playing us off against each other."
Back in 1951, the enemy was communism, and the case that appeared to trigger the lunch was that of Gus Hall, the leader of the American Communist Party who had fled to Mexico. FBI agents arrested Hall in Mexico City, apparently without alerting their CIA colleagues. Smith praised the FBI's arrest but said that the "CIA would like to be kept informed." Sound familiar yet? Hoover blamed the local U.S. ambassador and suggested cutting the State Department out of any future problems.
In a message to other CIA officials the following day, Smith instructed CIA operatives overseas to establish "close and friendly mutual contact" with their FBI counterparts. Any disputes, he added, would be settled by superiors in Washington, not by third parties.
The "FBI and CIA will wash their linen in private at home," he insisted.