From the time I was 7-years-old until I was about 20, I was in love with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In second grade, while other kids wanted to be firemen, I wanted to be a special agent (and I could have told you what one was, what they did, and what the requirements were to become one). In the early 1990s, my favorite show was “FBI: The Untold Stories,” and if we were not home from Cub Scouts in time for it to air, there was a tantrum on the way. I did a book report on a J. Edgar Hoover biography in middle school.
My zeal mellowed as I grew older but never entirely disappeared. As I began my career looking at counterterrorism policy, I meticulously studied the FBI’s extensive investigation of the Holy Land Foundation, the largest Islamic charity in the country, which was successfully convicted of financing the terror group Hamas after more than a decade of FBI investigation (I’ve written two short monographs about aspects of the case).
Later I had the pleasure of providing a three-hour briefing on the ideology of Islamist terrorists for an FBI-led group of Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) agents, which included one of the agents who worked the Holy Land Foundation case. Several of my colleagues have signed certifications from the FBI in recognition of their work in counterterrorism education.
I say all this to establish that I am not some dyed-in-the-wool civil libertarian who has always had it in for federal law enforcement. I have spent most of my adult life trying to educate people about the serious national security threats this country faces. The United States has very real enemies, both foreign and domestic, and it requires defending.
Nevertheless, the FBI must be abolished.
The solution to the abuses we now endure is not just to subject the FBI to another fruitless inspector general investigation but to dismantle it completely. The bureau cannot be the focus of yet another congressional hearing. FBI Director Christopher Wray, like his predecessors, is more than happy to sit smirking while a handful of grandstanding congressmen and senators pound the table and yell on C-SPAN. Then he’ll jet off for a holiday vacation on a taxpayer-funded private jet while the same congressmen vote to increase his budget. Again.
No, the FBI must be rendered into component parts and distributed to the four winds.
The bureau has always had its problems and its detractors. Since the days of J. Edgar Hoover keeping his own “private” files on elected politicians and famous persons, the FBI has had a political streak. As an agency it has always been savvy about its reputation, bureaucratically out-dueling federal departments that sought to infringe on the bureau’s perceived preeminence in the fields of federal law enforcement and counterintelligence. But most of the FBI’s politicization had to do with maintaining its own administrative superiority and independence, not serving as muscle for a particular political party.
That’s no longer the case.
The FBI’s actions over the past six years make perfectly clear that the FBI is more than willing to serve as the enforcement arm of the Democratic Party. It serves as its patron’s shield in matters large and small. It exonerated Hillary Clinton for her illicit server. It raided James O’Keefe and Project Veritas when Joe Biden’s daughter lost her diary. It eliminated investigation into Black Lives Matter and other black identity extremists because those pursuits annoyed the Democrats’ Congressional Black Caucus. It refuses even to utter the word “Antifa” while churches and pregnancy centers are fire-bombed. It continues to cover up for Hunter Biden’s corrupt dealings with enemy nations, along with his indulgence in criminal prostitution and drug abuse.
But the FBI has also served as the Democrats’ sword as well. It knowingly laundered the Russian collusion hoax, lying in order to secure FISA warrants. It ambushed the president’s sitting national security advisor in a nonsense perjury trap. The FBI hunts down January 6 protesters while dodging congressional inquiries about the role of federal agents in provoking the incident. The FBI ginned up a fake kidnapping plot in Michigan to instill fear of right-wing terrorism, manhandled the former president’s lawyer, and shackled one of his former high-level aides.
And it has now raided the former president’s home under a mere pretext, while the Democrats openly crow on cable news about using a political prosecution to prevent Trump from ever again being able to serve in office.
Other attempts to rein in the FBI short of its abolition have failed. The FBI shows nothing but contempt for those authorized to oversee it. It routinely ignores inspector general investigations. It fails to prosecute or punish those who overtly violate established policies. It refuses to answer legitimate questions from Republican committee members. It doesn’t even respond to congressional letters of inquiry. It punishes FBI whistleblowers and seeks to purge from its midst those agents who aren’t in lockstep with its new praetorian guard role.
Break It Up Responsibly
Assuming the political will existed to do so, how might the FBI be dismembered in a way that would not expose the country to unnecessary security risks?
Begin by separating out the FBI’s component parts. The FBI’s crime lab, statistical services, and National Crime Information Center service could be pulled out and left as independent agencies with the sole job of supporting other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies with their scientific and data capabilities.
Parcel out the FBI’s criminal justice division and its tasks to the various state-level bureaus of investigation. Provide direct federal funding to compensate for the extra workload. Let them primarily make state-level cases, in state court, for the crimes committed within the physical boundaries of their states. It’s not as though kidnapping, bank robbery, drug dealing, or racketeering went unpunished before the FBI came along. White collar, financial, and cybercrimes can be handled by the U.S. Secret Service. Federal crimes whose perpetrators directly cross state lines can be given to the U.S. Marshals Service to track down. Unlike the FBI, the U.S. Marshals are largely scandal-free, and have a long history of cooperating successfully with state and local law enforcement.
For the disgraced national security division, divide up the FBI’s counterterrorism portfolio among the remaining federal law enforcement and homeland security agencies with a role to play, and the various state and regional JTTFs.
Who Has the Stomach for This Work?
The FBI’s stranglehold on counterintelligence is perhaps the most important to break. It is within this division that the FBI spied on the Trump campaign at the behest of the Democratic Party.
Even before it willingly embraced the role of partisan opposition researcher, FBI counterintelligence had few memorable successes (Anna Chapman and Operation Ghost Stories being a recent one) but multiple crushing failures, the most notable of which was Robert Hanssen. The struggle to conduct professional counterintelligence has always been driven by a tension between the FBI’s responsibility as a law enforcement agency with the intent and the authority to jail citizens for crimes, and the practice of counterintelligence, a discipline that requires strategic patience and analysis.
The FBI’s responsibility for counterintelligence should be taken away and vested in the National Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX). Its mandate should not be targeting American citizens (especially elected officials!), but rather policing the intelligence services themselves, rooting out evidence of foreign penetration within their ranks, exploiting and manipulating foreign intelligence services for American national security interests. They do not need law enforcement powers or wide-ranging FISA Court warrants for this job.
Admittedly, a GOP-majority Congress may not have the stomach for even the lightest pushback against the bureau. Expect even the promise of ineffectual hearings to fade as soon as the midterm elections are over. After all, few congressmen are as popular with their voters as Donald Trump is with his base, and if the FBI can slander and investigate a sitting president, what couldn’t it do to a freshman congressman?
But imagine how the walls of the deep state might begin to show cracks were Congress to hold fast and declare at the outset, one way or the other, the FBI is finished, with no quarter given. Then you might see bureaucrats looking for soft landings, crawling out of the woodwork with tales about FBI bad behavior and who to hold responsible. You might have a few good apples stand up and speak out if they knew with certainty that their superiors would no longer hold the keys to some future employment. Indeed, there may be any number of agents in far-flung field offices across the country who might rejoice to see themselves rehired by another law enforcement agency that actually cares about enforcing the law. But the FBI itself, as an institution, cannot be saved.
To save the rule of law, the bureau must be destroyed.