Trust and the FBI

Thomas Baker, a retired FBI agent, had some thoughts in the The Wall Street Journal about how to restore trust in the FBI. Naturally, I have some thoughts on those thoughts.

The centralization of case management at FBI headquarters. According to Florida Rep Matt Gaetz [R], an email from Mr McCabe said that Hillary Clinton would receive an “HQ special”—lenient treatment in the investigation into her handling of classified materials. Mr Wray has tasked Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate to review how the bureau manages sensitive investigations.

That’s the wrong step. Director Wray needs first to explain why some investigations are more sensitive than others and then to eliminate that dichotomy.  All investigations are sensitive.  Or does Wray think some Americans are more equal than others?

Bad relations with Congress. The FBI needs to re-establish a climate of mutual respect with lawmakers. The “Gang of Eight”—congressional leaders and intelligence committee chiefs—is the time-tested vehicle for sharing sensitive information. The bureau should use it.

The only way the Bureau can be trusted to use it is with a 100% turnover of current FBI management.  And with a law requiring the FBI to turn over all materials subpoenaed—without redaction—within [24 hours] of the subpoena being issued.

A dysfunctional Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act process. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has said Congress will look at this after the midterm elections. But the FBI and Justice Department need not wait. They should adopt an internal standard to avoid the use of FISA to target an American citizen….

No.  Star Chambers, secretive or otherwise, have no place in a free republic. The FISA courts need to be done away with.  That should be the direction of Nunes’ “look at.”

A lack of emphasis on the Constitution. FBI special agents always have been instructed about the Constitution. But a new category of employee arose after 9/11. Intelligence analysts, who don’t directly interact with citizens in ways that touch on the Constitution’s guarantees, now play a major role in the bureau’s mission.  …  It is imperative that they, too, receive training about the Constitution.

No.  The FBI is a domestic police force, it is not a domestic spy agency.  Intelligence is the purview of the CIA, which already is enjoined (badly; enforcement needs to be stepped up) from domestic spying.  Leave the policing to the police and the spying to the spies.  Where there’s overlap, Congress and the public courts can work the question, Congress in the more general case and the courts on individual cases.

None of this will work though, without a wholesale replacement of FBI management from the middle layers all the way up.  Middle management on up and not just the leadership alluded to above because the cultural failure caused by the FBI’s politically appointed management has gone on for so long that it reaches that deep.  The fastest way to restore the FBI’s culture is to get rid of the current, dysfunctional culture’s practitioners and outright adherents.

It’s true enough that this will entail removal of some good people along with those who’ve failed their duty.  However, the failures within the Bureau are so rampant, wide, and deep that a scalpel cannot meet the task. The situation wants an axe.

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