November 2, 2022

In Brief: How to Fix the FBI

The bureau has been given contradictory missions of law enforcement and foreign counterintelligence.

The FBI has real problems, and former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy argues that they run deeper than corruption at the top or errant and politicized raids or investigations. The problem, he says, is contradictory missions.

Consider this possibility: What if the best thing we can say about the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s abominable performance in Russiagate is that the bureau was a willing participant in the most audacious political dirty trick in American history? That is, the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign developed a scheme to portray Donald Trump — the rival candidate and subsequently the president — as a clandestine agent of Russia, and the FBI collaborated, mostly nod and wink, trying here and there to cover its tracks but leaving enough of a trail that we can see that its collusion was purposeful.

This would be condemnable. A free, functioning democracy cannot abide intrusion into its electoral politics of unaccountable partisan bureaucrats who wield the government’s investigative powers and leak their suspicions and cherry-picked “evidence” to complaisant journalists. Such an abomination would not just call for the purging of bureau officials complicit in the scheme. Also in order would be a full-blown congressional probe, akin to the Church Committee’s deep dive in the 1970s into intelligence abuses, to assess whether the bureau’s mission ought to be rethought. …

With respect to the FBI, the question is whether the critical mission of serving as America’s domestic-security service, responsible for counterintelligence operations against agents of foreign powers, is one we can prudently assign to what is also supposed to be the nation’s leading federal law-enforcement agency. Critical as both security missions are, foreign counterintelligence and domestic law enforcement are not just different; they are in many ways at cross-purposes.

At length, McCarthy recounts the bureau’s incessant cultural aggrandizing, as well as the abuses and corruption of its founder, J. Edgar Hoover, for whom its headquarters is still named. He then discusses why the mission of law enforcement is contradictory to intelligence work, and how those missions came into play.

“The objective of policing is to respond to crime,” he says in concise summary, while “the objective of domestic security is to prevent potential threats from metastasizing into attacks, coups, or similar catastrophes.” Response versus prevention, and that gets really hairy when political dissension gets swept up in prevention.

“Russiagate is the fallout,” he says.

McCarthy concludes:

Enough is enough. It is not the FBI’s fault that it has been asked to perform contradictory missions. But the bureau is to blame for performing the domestic-security mission in a politicized, mendacious, and incompetent manner, and for the fact that this malfeasance has deeply compromised its credibility as a law-enforcement agency. For now, we await Special Counsel [John] Durham’s comprehensive final report on Russiagate. After that, the next Congress must be prepared to conduct a searching bipartisan investigation of the FBI. Lawmakers should be prepared to confine the bureau to its law-enforcement mission, which is vital. The domestic-security mission should be handled by a pure intelligence agency with no law-enforcement powers, in a manner similar to Britain’s MI5. That intelligence agency should be subjected to extensive congressional and Justice Department oversight, with highly restricted liaison to law enforcement, limited to significant national-security threats.

Russiagate is a dark chapter, but one that shouldn’t shock us. Its harbingers have flashed for decades. Learning its lessons could save the FBI.

The nation needs the FBI to be a monument to the rule of law.

That’s going to take some work.

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