The institution of the FBI is not in tatters, contrary to recent reports. That’s because the identity of the FBI is not located on the seventh floor at FBI headquarters. It resides within the hearts and minds of the brick agents.
The FBI had been immune to outside influences until Robert Mueller became director. Although the FBI reports to the Justice Department, we maintained an arm’s-length distance from that politically infested agency. Previous attorneys general attempted to shroud their partisanship, but recent appointees such as Loretta “Tarmac” Lynch have openly ripped Lady Justice’s blindfold off and dropped Lois Lerner on her scales.
So how did the FBI become politicized? During his 12-year term as FBI director, Robert Mueller slowly merged the FBI into Justice. Prior to his tenure, agents could investigate cases minus interference from the U.S. attorney. The agent would submit the investigation findings to Justice, which had three options: indict, decline or request additional evidence.
After Mr. Mueller’s tenure, Justice Department’s approval was required to open sensitive cases, informants and authorize investigative techniques. This additional bureaucratic layer would be a minor speed bump had Justice not engaged in selective prosecution based on personal belief systems.
I’m an Italian who spent eight years infiltrating the Mafia, but it never occurred to me to ignore criminal activity based on shared ethnicity. FBI agents must remain fact finders because if you act upon your bias, then you turn into Peter Strzok.
Special Agent Strzok and Deputy Director “Andy” McCabe soiled their FBI credentials. Mr. McCabe’s wife accepted political dollars from a Clinton bud, while Mr. McCabe was investigating Hillary. Mr. Strzok played verbal gymnastics with a federal statute allowing Hillary a pass. Retired agents are wondering, “What the hell happened to my FBI?”
The sole function of FBI headquarters should be to support the field. If HQ disappeared tomorrow the field can still fulfill our mission of putting bad people in jail. Brick agents view HQ as an obstruction to overcome. Delays have damaged cases and cost lives. Field divisions are staffed with Senior Executive Service-level agents who are capable of making many decisions now required by headquarters.
It appears that several HQ managers had allegedly schemed to influence the 2016 presidential election. Field agents are too busy protecting America to participate in attempted government overthrows. When FBI Director James Comey announced that field agents supported his decision not to prosecute Hillary, he was suffering from a severe case of Beltway delusion. A majority of agents in Tulsa and Pittsburgh believed his decision to be a travesty of justice.
Examples of failed leadership at headquarters abound, but the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case is especially troubling. One month prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Minnesota FBI agents were begging the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at headquarters for a FISA warrant. They sent HQ 70 emails warning of an “imminent” terrorist attack.
Evidence included intel from the Phoenix FBI that Osama bin Laden was sending agents to train in U.S. flight schools, a CIA warning that Moussaoui might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines,” and pointing out Moussaoui’s $83,000 in tuition cash.
The Radical Fundamentalist Unit’s reply to a possible attack on U.S. soil was, “That ain’t gonna ever happen.” Well, it happened, and nearly 3,000 Americans were killed.
After the attacks, the FBI found documents linking Moussaoui to 11 of the hijackers. Minnesota agents testified that the leadership void inside headquarters is due to a culture of decision avoidance. The Radical Fundamentalist Unit at HQ was guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism,” and that its opposition blocked “a serious opportunity to stop the 9/11 attacks.”
Messrs. Comey, Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein share a professional and personal history. In a questionable sequence of coincidences, Mr. Comey desires a special counsel and Mr. Rosenstein obliges by appointing their mutual bud Mr. Mueller, who then hires his buds, all of whom share a hatred for all things Trump. Had this team been vetted for jury duty, all would be excused for cause.
The above sequence of events does not pass the smell test. Politicians of both parties feel it suicide to fire Mr. Mueller. I disagree, since Mr. Mueller has violated several provisions of the statute which states that “the Special Counsel may be removed for a conflict of interest, or for even the ‘appearance,’ of a conflict of interest.”
Since Mr. Comey is both a witness and potential target in the Russia investigation, Mr. Mueller should immediately recuse himself or be fired for cause. In fact, this conflict of interest is so obvious that any decision made by the special counsel will be forever tainted.
The FBI is still the finest law enforcement agency on earth. We have some stress fractures, but we’ll survive and turn the page on this current crisis in leadership. We must return to our roots when the agents were viewed as knights in shining armor. I hope that Director Christopher Wray will reach out to the retired FBI ranks for some advice. I’m available.
• John Ligato is a retired FBI agent and former Marine who was the recipient of three Purple Hearts for action in Vietnam. His latest book is “The Near Enemy” (Post Hill Press, 2017).