Progressives of old (which are the progressives today on steroids) believed and believe the Constitution is a malleable document. When the FBI was formed in 1908, they adopted the attitude that civil liberties were optional. They did not come into their own until the Espionage and Sedition Acts were passed during the administration of America’s first fascist president- Woodrow Wilson- during World War I. Dissenters were prosecuted and the FBI engaged in massive domestic surveillance resulting in arrests simply because some did not believe entry into a European war was in the interests of the United States at the time. Since then, whole books have written about the sins committed by the FBI. Their performance at Ruby Ridge and Waco are two examples of where things went seriously wrong and let us not forget about their shameful performance in Boston where they allowed organized crime to fester and their relentless investigation of Richard Jewell where they failed to solve the Atlanta terrorist bombing.
The events of 9/11 and its aftermath are what really sets the FBI apart as being known as “Famous But Incompetent.” Despite reports that Saudi nationals were taking flying lessons, they failed to act. Has the anthrax scare ever been solved? Some of their terrorist arrests, to great fanfare, were nothing short of entrapment. But 9/11 also opened the floodgates for the FBI to surveil domestic targets having nothing to do with terrorism and they learned to game and abuse the FISA system with aplomb. In one analysis, we learned that the FISC rubber-stamped something like 97% of all FISA warrant applications. That is one hell of a record of “reasonable cause.” In effect, the FBI of the television series and the movies of noble “G-men” had transformed into something approximating the East German Stasi or something Stalin cooked up.
In a previous job which I left last June, I had the opportunity to work with law enforcement and the FBI, in particular, one four occasions. One was a terrorist financing investigation, two for money laundering, and one because some people happened to have a particular tattoo (they were suspected on being white supremacists). The agents themselves were focused and professional. The agents themselves are not the problem at the FBI.
It is the upper echelons of the agency, epitomized by the pompous and smug James Comey, where the problem lies. Catching bad guys is no longer enough for them. Today, they view themselves as the self-appointed guardians of the American way. Comey’s title of his book- A Higher Loyalty- says it all: they answer only to God Almighty. They now seem determined to intervene whenever and wherever they see a threat to “democracy” as they define “democracy.” This self-righteousness has led the FBI to pursue the Russiagate and Spygate saga from 2016 that resonates to this day. Colleges, think tanks, and corporations are loaded with Chinese spies stealing secrets from the United States, but people like Peter Strozk, Andrew McCabe, and James Comey were too busy trying to frame third-tier Trump campaign operatives.
Getting rid of Christopher Wray as the current FBI chieftain would be a nice first step since he seems steeped in the rot that defines the FBI, but it will not solve the systemic rot in the agency. The entire culture in the FBI must be stamped out root and stem and the only way to do that is with a healthy dose of legislative RoundUp- kill the FBI. The FBI can be broken up into different agencies each with their own particular mission. For example, one can be dedicated to counterintelligence/intelligence, another with white collar/financial crimes, one for cybercrimes, etc. Each would be held accountable for their performance in each area. It would also prevent the rearrangement of “chairs on the deck” where someone is cybercrimes one year and criminal investigations two years later.
Unfortunately, that might only spread abuses across many agencies. They would have to be kept on a very short leash. Congressional oversight has, as we have seen, been transformed into partisan political advantage (Adam Schiff, Jerrold Nadler, et. al.). Perhaps non-law enforcement leaders dedicated to the protection of civil liberties is the answer (I don’t know).
One thing is, however, certain: The FBI or any incarnation of federal law enforcement must be made to realize that they are not the ultimate guardians of democracy and the Republic. They have no existential role to play here. No one else other than the people and their elected leaders are the only true guardians of democracy, the Republic, and our civil liberties.