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Interview with Andre LeGallo, Author of The Caliphate

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Andre LeGallo joined the CIA in 1961 when Allen Dulles was director. He served for more than 30 years and saw many directors come and go, including George H.W. Bush, William Casey, and John Woolsey. He particularly enjoyed his time with Richard Helms. He emigrated from France with his parents at 11 years of age, and got a degree from Lehigh University before joining the intelligence agency. He has also attended Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Study and the National War College. During his tenure at CIA, he completed assignments on both sides of the Arab-Israeli issue. He served as the National Intelligence Officer for Counterterrorism and now lives in California with his wife, Cathy. I spoke with him last week about his first novel, The Caliphate.

Andre LeGalloFCE: Do CIA agents ever really retire?

AL: Our primary mission was to obtain otherwise unobtainable information. I left in the mid nineties [during the Clinton administration]. We had no resources and it was just too risky. They asked me to help recruit some after 9/11 so I helped them out. I visited some campuses here in California.

We'll get back to life in the Clinton Presidency in a moment. Are things better generally now since the Cold War and, more recently, 9/11?

During the cold war, we were dealing with communism and the threat of nuclear war with another superpower. The threat is different now. WMD are still on the table but the focus is more on actions of individuals. A religious zealot. A radical fundamentalist. A small cell group. The Cold War was like being in a room with an 800-pound gorilla. Today's situation is like being in a room filled with poisonous snakes — and a lot of the snakes are in Washington, D.C.

The Vietnam experience confronted us with the difficulty of identifying an enemy who fought a different kind of war. Have we made adjustments any better in the war on terrorism?

It's difficult. They (terrorists) are fighting a different war with different rules. They kill civilians. They fight with no rules. The West tries to stay within international rules. It's human rights vs. self defense.

So how do we recognize the enemy?

You've hit the nail on the head! Some of them tell us, like with 9/11.

You left the service during the Clinton years?

The Agency operates at the pleasure of the President. Mr. Clinton had no interest. James Woolsey was director when I left and it was common knowledge that Woolsey couldn't get in to see the President. He was never allowed access. Remember the incident when the light plane crashed into the White House? We used to tease Woolsey that it was him trying to get in to see Clinton. Recruiting new agents was very poor during those years. 

How did you get into writing?

I've got lots of stories accumulated over the 30 years of service. A friend encouraged me to write a book and he was going to be a collaborator, but that didn't work out. I gave the story to a publisher who was immediately excited about it and we got started. So this first book was done without an agent and the publisher wanted to go straight to paperback. I won't make that mistake again.

Were you required to have the manuscript cleared?

Oh yes. Former agents must have their writings cleared. We know that going in.

Early in the book, a Muslim kills his daughter for behaving in a way that embarrasses him and shames his family. Steve, your protagonist, hears of it and responds with, "Killing your daughter in the name of Allah! What kind of religion is that?"

Honor killing. It's true. Muslims practice it and it's vastly under-reported. It happens anywhere there are fundamentalist Muslims. I'm not including most of the 1.3 billion Muslims out there, but this happens with the radical fundamentalists.

FCE: Do CIA agents ever really retire?  

AL: Our primary mission was to obtain otherwise unobtainable information. I left in the mid nineties [during the Clinton administration]. We had no resources and it was just too risky. They asked me to help recruit some after 9/11 so I helped them out. I visited some campuses here in California.

In a part of the book leading up to the climax, Steve and his father (a retired CIA agent) decide to work outside the system to avoid red tape for the sake of expediency. Does this happen?

Not really. It makes for good fiction. I didn't want the pace of the story to get bogged down in constant interactions with bureaucrats.

Was there a scene or event that was cut from the final version that you wish had been included?

There was about 100 pages cut that included a background for current events including the Battle of Tours in 732 A.D.

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