Special counsel John Durham on Monday released his report on the FBI’s role in investigating the 2016 Donald Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia. This investigation, codenamed “Crossfire Hurricane,” had been—according to Durham’s report—”swiftly” opened as a full-blown investigation in response to “unevaluated intelligence information” by FBI personnel “without ever having spoken to the persons who provided the information.”
Durham shows that the investigation had been pushed forward largely by FBI agent Peter Strzok, a man known to be politically hostile to candidate Trump. Durham also notes a curious difference between the FBI’s enthusiasm for investigating Trump, and the agency’s more cautious procedures used in investigating the Hillary Clinton campaign:
The speed and manner in which the FBI opened and investigated Crossfire Hurricane during the presidential election season based on raw, unanalyzed, and uncorroborated intelligence also reflected a noticeable departure from how it approached prior matters involving possible attempted foreign election interference plans aimed at the Clinton campaign.
Durham went on to conclude that
An objective and honest assessment of these strands of information should have caused the FBI to question not only the predication for Crossfire Hurricane, but also to reflect on whether the FBI was being manipulated for political or other purposes. Unfortunately, it did not.
Rather, the FBI engaged in a “lack of analytical rigor, apparent confirmation bias, and an over-willingness to rely on information from individuals connected to political opponents.”
All in all, the Durham report paints a picture of a highly unprofessional FBI that apparently greenlights investigations based on agents’ political agendas and on politically convenient rumors. Durham sums it up: The FBI and Justice Department “failed to uphold their mission of strict fidelity to the law.”
The report was so damning that even CNN’s Jake Tapper admitted it is “devastating to the FBI,” and that the report’s conclusions serve as additional reminders that FBI agents—including many in leadership—played key roles in promoting the “Russiagate” myth. This was the false narrative that the Trump administration had worked with the Russian regime to rig the 2016 election. The myth fueled years of Congressional investigations. The media used the FBI investigation as justification for years of speculative attacks on the Trump administration. The debunked Russiagate story even earned some reporters a Pulitzer prize.
The whole affair has helped illustrate how FBI agents—like central bankers, CDC bureaucrats and Pentagon generals—are highly political technocrats, and hardly dispassionate “public servants” slavishly devoted to professionalism and accuracy. Maintaining this façade, however, has long been an important aspect of FBI training and policy. Durham himself takes as a given that the FBI should act to “reduc[e] the risk of reputational damage” to the FBI. Not surprisingly, then, one aspect of Durhams condemnation of the FBI is the “severe reputational harm” done of the bureau as a result of its participation in promoting the myth of Trump-Russia collusion.
Let’s hope Durham is correct. Severe reputation damage for the FBI is just what is needed since the FBI generally enjoys a high degree of public approval that is wholly unjustified. It is well past time for a more realistic assessment of the FBI for what it is: an unnecessary, unconstitutional, and incompetent agency. Moreover, FBI agents have long displayed a contempt for basic human rights, and instead function as a partisan federal “secret police” designed to protect the powerful at the expense of ordinary Americans. This organization should be decentralized, defunded, stripped of its powers, and ultimately abolished. There is nothing the FBI does that military intelligence and state and local police cannot do on their own.
The FBI: A Long Record of Criminality and Failure
The long FBI tradition of disregarding the law to get the “bad guys” provides far too many examples to fully recount here. James Bovard, however, in his article, “The FBI’s Forgotten Criminal Record” reminds us of many shameful FBI efforts from arresting dissenters during wars, to burning women and children to death at Waco. There was also, of course the illegal FBI efforts against peace activists under COINTELPRO and countless cases of blackmail, intimidation, and illegal spying.
Bovard has also cataloged how the FBI routinely ignores the law in its own investigations, and instead employs tactics long used by organizations we could accurately describe as “secret police.” He writes:
According to Politifact, the FBI is not a “secret police agency” because “the FBI is run by laws, not by whim.” But we learned five years ago that the FBI explicitly teaches its agents that “the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” No FBI official was fired or punished when that factoid leaked out because this has been the Bureau’s tacit code for eons. Similarly, an FBI academy ethics course taught new agents that subjects of FBI investigations have “forfeited their right to the truth.”
Arguably even worse than the FBI’s routine casual relationship with the law is the FBI’s record of failure against real criminals. Most notable, of course, is how the FBI botched investigations of Al-Qaida. In his book Enemies of Intelligence: Knowledge and Power in American National Security, Richard K. Betts notes that the CIA had a central role in the federal government’s failure to prevent 9/11, yet the FBI’s incompetence was perhaps the most extensive. He writes:
FBI fell down the most. … FBI failed to mount a full investigation of [al-Qaeda member and 9/11 conspirator] Zacarias Moussaoui, a student at a Minnesota flight school. Agents found that he had jihadist beliefs, a large amount of money in the bank, and a suspicious record of travel in and around Pakistan. …Nevertheless, FBI agents did not obtain a warrant to conduct a search of Moussaoui’s computer because they could not find probable cause sufficient to meet what they thought were required legal standards. Their understanding of legal limitations were later revealed to be incorrect.
Not only does the FBI disregard the law when the law stands in the way of blackmailing law-abiding citizens, but the FBI doesn’t even know the law when it comes to investigating actual terrorists. Compare this lackadaisical attitude toward Moussaoui with the alacrity and gusto with which the FBI went after the non-terrorists in Waco, or how the FBI has gone after small-time trespassers and vandals who participated in the January 6 riot.
Not much has improved at the FBI in the 20-plus years since 9/11. The FBI never took any responsibility for its 9/11 failures, and its ineffectiveness and incompetence was rewarded with larger budgets and more power. The FBI now spends its time targeting parents who express political views to school boards in a way the FBI doesn’t like. The FBI also spies on Catholic parishes deemed to be engaging in various thought crimes.
Not satisfied with its own lack of accountability and corruption, the FBI also provides means for local police forces to skirt the law. In recent decades many local governments have attempted to enhance police accountability by putting limits on police immunity and requiring the use of devices such as body cams. The FBI, however, provides local police with a way of getting around these laws. The Federal government has invented “joint task forces” which deputize local police to work with the FBI and other federal agencies. Simone Weichselbaum notes how these de facto federal agents need not use body cams and employ a lower standard in the use of force. It’s also a cash cow for local bureaucrats, as USAToday has shown:
the nation’s more than 1,100 joint task forces include thousands of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers cross-deputized as federal agents who collaborate with federal officers. Local and state officers who serve on federal task forces are still on their employing agency’s payroll but can easily earn overtime paid by the federal government.
Given the special treatment that FBI agents enjoy, it’s not a shock that it turns out many FBI agents are straight-up thieves. For example, the FBI seized an estimated $86 million in cash from hundreds of safe deposit boxes at U.S. Private Vaults in a March 2021 raid. Court documents now show that in order to get the warrant to pull of this heist, the FBI lied to the judge who issued the warrant. Moreover, the FBI “omitted from their warrant request a central part of the FBI’s plan: Permanent confiscation of everything inside every box containing at least $5,000 in cash or goods, a senior FBI agent recently testified.” It is unclear whether anyone was actually charged with any real crimes as a result of this mass seizure of property. This enthusiasm for seizing private property without any criminal conviction is not rare. The FBI has been central to the Federal government’s seizure of $50 billion of private property from private citizens, most of it with no judicial oversight.
When it’s not stealing cremated ashes and family heirlooms, the FBI is busy pushing crackpot theories such as “911 call analysis.” The FBI has spent years hosting “trainings” for local police officers in which police personnel are taught that 911 calls can analyzed to determine the guilt of people who call to report the deaths of loved ones. There is zero research or science behind this FBI-endorsed fad.
Of course, if you’re concerned about real criminals, don’t expect any help from the FBI. The FBI has recently settled with families and victims of the 2018 Parkland, Florida shootings following the FBI’s failure to follow up on tips about the gunman. The FBI admits it didn’t follow its own protocols. Perhaps most notorious in recent years is the FBI refusal to investigate Larry Nassar, the man now serving 100 years in prison for sexually assaulting underage girls. The FBI ignored pleas to investigate for two years, and victims are now suing for $130 million in damages.
In response to all this, the FBI is always full of excuses about how they are reforming things, and putting new “policies” into place that will fix everything. Senior officials, however, are virtually never fired or disciplined, and the FBI enjoys growing budgets year after year. The true record, however, is of an unresponsive agency that ignores real crime and focuses on politically expedient and politically rewarding non-crimes such as “seditious conspiracy.”
This is all the more distressing because the FBI is so thoroughly unnecessary and pointless. Even if we ignore the fact that there is no provision in the US constitution for a federal police force, it is nonetheless apparent that the FBI, which now bills itself primarily as an intelligence organization, is simply duplicating the work of countless other organizations in this respect. There are at least 18 intelligence organizations current being funded by US taxpayers.
Further, prosecuting any real crime does not require an additional layer of federal law. Fraud, theft, murder, and assault are all already illegal in every single US state. If a huge continent-spanning police force is necessary to keep law and order, how is it that Europe somehow manages to survive without a Europe-wide police? Data sharing organizations like INTERPOL—which is staffed by agents with no power to arrest or launch their own investigations—somehow manage to work. The FBI will no doubt argue that it brings valuable resources to cash-strapped police forces when more resources are needed. The FBI only has access to these resources, however, because the federal government extracts more than $10 billion dollars from state and local taxpayers first, and then hands it over to the FBI to “help” the locals.
The Durham report is only the latest indication that the true nature of the FBI. In a 2020 essay, Angelo Codevilla examined the rot at the core of the FBI. He goes far too easy on the FBI in early decades, but he was right enough when it came to the present state of the agency. He wrote:
Thus FBI officers became standard bureaucrats who learned to operate on the assumption that all Americans were equally likely as not to be proper targets of investigation. They replaced the distinctions by which they had previously operated with the classic bureaucratic imperative: look out for yourselves by making sure to please the powerful.
This assessment is now more correct than ever.
Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.