Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Fixing the FBI

The latest Commentary has a review by James Q. Wilson that is packed with good sense on what ails the FBI and why the problem is larger than shuffling boxing on a bureaucratic org chart.
Powers summarizes the lesson of his history: "Any revelation that the Bureau kept any eye on anyone who had not yet committed a crime would be used against it." I would amend this slightly: any revelation that the Bureau was keeping an eye on left-wing groups would be used against it. Very few complaints were to be heard about the FBI’s having thoroughly infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan (at one time, about a fifth of the Klan’s members were Bureau informants), and a major movie was made about the success of an FBI agent in becoming a member of a Mafia organization. But if it penetrated the Weather Underground, or Citizens in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES), or the Black Panthers, the Bureau was in trouble.

On that score this old article from NRO is enlightening. Post-9/11 our political leadership is desperately eager to avoid "profiling" Muslims and is watchful of any "violation" of the privacy of the mosques-- even those led by virulent anti-American clerics. Yet, there was an uncanny silence when Clinton, Reno, and their Justice department investigated anti-abortion groups including the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
The FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies have long engaged in a massive surveillance operation of pro-life groups, including the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Christian Coalition, and Concerned Women for America. When FBI officials objected to the use of "intrusive investigative activity" in the "Full Investigation" of these non-violent organizations, higher-ups in the Justice Department overruled them. The data-collection operation, in which four federal agencies participated, is called VAAPCON: Violence Against Abortion Providers Conspiracy. In effect, Reno directed her minions to spend their time writing the unauthorized biography of Cardinal John O'Connor and the Reverend Jerry Falwell — all in the hopes of defusing the violent conspiracy of which they are the masterminds. Judicial Watch, which obtained the VAAPCON files through the freedom of information act, is still waiting on tens of thousands of documents, yet to be released.
This is not the only example of their willingness to investigate religious terrorists in the 1990's. In 1999 the FBI warned police chiefs to be aware of "the potential increase in the number of extremists willing to become martyrs." The extremists they had in mind were not al Qaeda-- but Christians who thought that Y2K would mark the start of the Apocalypse and the coming battle of Armageddon

Wilson also writes:
To all the current talk about changing the culture of the FBI, Powers has a withering reply: "The FBI can no more create its own culture independent of the rest of government and the rest of society than Rhode Island can create its own climate independent of Massachusetts." Whom will agents believe today, an FBI director who tells them what they may investigate, or their memory of senior officials facing jail time for having investigated too aggressively?
This problem goes beyond the FBI and it is not just Monday morning quarterbacking. In 1998 the International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence ran an article by Patrick R. Riley titled "The CIA and Its Discontents," (Fall, 1998 issue). In it Riley asked a pregnant question:

Can the CIA have clarity about what it should be doing when the official foreign policy establishment is confused about what it wants?

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