Andrew McCabe, Part 1: Super Sleuth

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Andrew McCabe began his career in the FBI being assigned to the New York City field office in 1996.  Five years later, he became a supervisory special agent in the office’s Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force (Russian mafia).  He later joined the FBI unit dedicated to counterterrorism and in 2009 was part of the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group tasked with interrogating terrorists.

In 2013, McCabe was instrumental in the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing.  When the FBI formed a task force, McCabe was named the Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC).  The special agents who reported to McCabe kept tripping over McCabe’s fingerprints as they investigated the terrorist bombing.  When agents accessed databases looking for suspects, they were surprised to find that McCabe was already there.  They turned to financial records and bank account information and again McCabe had already been there also.  Supervising agents and ASACs rarely, if ever, roll up their sleeves and get involved in the nitty-gritty of an investigation, but McCabe had a pattern of doing just that.

By the third day after the bombing, two brothers- Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev- had been identified as the key suspects.  By the time agents went into data files of suspect databases of people from Chechnya and Kyrgyzstan, agents discovered that McCabe had already been there.  In fact, any inquiry of suspects from any country with a Russian link was accessed by McCabe.  One agent said that McCabe was always one step ahead, but that he never shared any leads with any agents.  Another agent described it as “bizarre.”

It was not only bizarre, it was right out of the Robert Hanssen playbook.  Hanssen was an FBI employee who for 22 years rose through the ranks of the agency all while selling secrets to the Soviet Union/Russia from 1979 to 2001.  He is serving 15 consecutive life sentences.  In the aftermath of the embarrassment to the bureau, Robert Mueller, then the Director, created the PARM program which was designed to catch the next Robert Hanssen.  Hanssen was accessing FBI files on anything they were investigating involving Russia, whether permitted or not.  The PARM system was supposed to set off alarm bells, throw up red flags, and set off internal audits.  Hanssen did it for money, but no one within the FBI could understand McCabe’s motivations.

Robert Levinson was a former FBI agent who was captured while in Iran and held captive by the government.  This was another case where McCabe was one of the supervisors in charge, but his inquiries, like in the Boston Marathon bombing case, preceded those of the actual investigating agents.  Apparently, McCabe briefed neither Mueller or Comey about his efforts.  Once again, McCabe had his hands on FBI files involving Russia.

At the time, Levinson was likely working as a CIA agent according to many sources when he disappeared off the Kish Island.  It was believed he was going to be used as bait for any future deal with Iran on a nuclear agreement.  When it was determined he was alive and in Iranian captivity, the FBI reassembled their task force.  US diplomatic relations were a minefield ever since the 1979 takeover of the US embassy.  The FBI began to reach out to Russian sources who had deep diplomatic and economic ties to Iran to create back-channel communications to negotiate for his release.   They reached out to Russian mobsters, contacts, and former rats.  

Agents working the case soon learned that McCabe had already talked to some Russian sources.  Eventually, sometime in 2010, Oleg Deripaska offered to front $1 million to help search for Levinson using contacts in Iran.  He held a large stake in a mining interest in the country, but asked that the effort remain secret.  According to FBI sources, “the shit hit the fan” when it was discovered Deripaska was involved and McCabe inserted himself more heavily into the case.  

Whatever the motivation, it grated on the agents working the case.  At the time, Deripaska was being denied a visa to enter the United States because of his ties to Russian organized crime.  Said one FBI agent: “I always felt that no matter what we did it was being delayed or obstructed…like they wanted to keep him there for some reason.  Or getting him back was in the way of something else happening.  We could have done more.”  When alternatives were offered to get Levinson back, they were often shot down by McCabe or others.  Whatever the reason, it is still unknown.  What we do know is that Comey was basically silent and asleep at the wheel.

Next: More on McCabe