Whither the FBI — and Us?

 

One evening in 1968, my father put down his newspaper and said to me, “Eugene McCarthy must be the cleanest man in American politics.” I was a little surprised. Dad was a pretty conventional Irish Catholic voter who made the transition from JFK to Reagan as the Democratic Party forced out people like us. That year I figured he would vote for LBJ (or Humphrey after LBJ dropped out). He was with the Civil Rights Division and worked on desegregation cases in Mississippi and Tennessee. He knew a number of FBI guys, as did any other DOJ attorney.

I asked, “How do you know that?”

“Because about a month ago, McCarthy called for the resignation of J. Edgar Hoover and made a campaign promise to replace him.”

“So?”

“Absolutely nothing bad about McCarthy’s personal life or finances has emerged since then, and Hoover would have destroyed him if he had anything.”

Apparently, Dad had no illusions about J. Edgar’s FBI.

The speaker at my high school graduation was Cartha DeLoach, an assistant FBI director. It was a weird speech, essentially listing categories of crimes and then telling us after each that we were not the type to do such things. In the finest FBI tradition, he is reported to have told the senior aide to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee that the bureau knew about the aide’s sexual indiscretions. Oddly enough, DeLoach did not cover blackmail in the graduation speech.

The FBI has always been a self-aware, self-interested, politically astute entity. The bureau invariably wins turf and appropriations battles when pitted against other law enforcement agencies. In 2002, when the Department of Homeland Security was created, many assumed that the FBI would be subsumed into it. Fat chance. Two programs were ceded to DHS, but the FBI budget increased by a whopping 25% that year and continues to increase every year. The current budget is now over $10 billion.

By 1992, I still assumed that despite the sordid political traditions at the top of the agency, the FBI was all about straight shooters and principled people. My brother’s Boston Irish political contacts were already laughing at the Boston FBI and the “elusive” Whitey Bulger at that time, but I did not believe it could possibly be as bad as it turned out to be.

My image of the FBI at that time was shaped by Robert Hanssen. We were acquainted because our sons were classmates and friends, and we had lots of mutual friends and acquaintances. Hanssen seemed slightly to the right of Moses on matters of faith and morality. I knew that he was in the section that combatted foreign spies but not much else about his work. If I had to make a list of everybody I ever knew in order of least likely to betray the USA to communists, Bob Hanssen would have been at the top of the list (except for my mother or maybe Pope John Paul II). Captain America might turn out to be a squish, but not Bob Hanssen. If he was typical of the bureau, then they were still the fiercely principled people in the popular image of the FBI.

In April of 1992, Hanssen was at our house for my son’s birthday party. I kidded him that he would have to get a new job now that the USSR was kaput (as of December ’91). He did not take it as a joke and said that in reality, nothing had changed. The same people would be doing the same things for the same reasons because that’s just how the world is. He was kind of animated about the whole thing. I changed the subject.

Little did I know that it was probably the temporary disruption of his traitorous sideline that had him so agitated back then. When my wife and I heard the TV news in 2001 that an FBI agent named Robert Hanssen had been arrested for espionage, we both assumed that it was quite a coincidence that there was another guy with the same name at the bureau. And then they flashed his picture. It was a gut punch for a lot of people.

The current FBI leadership seems to be entirely populated by weasels playing political games. The absurd overkill against the Jan. 6 “insurrections” and the vomitous disgrace of not acting to protect the girls abused by Larry Nassar are deeply disturbing. Infidelity, corruption, and partisan impropriety seem less and less like exceptions when the FBI is in the news.

But it simply cannot be that the bulk of 13,000 or so FBI special agents are more corrupt than the average American. I am at least as paranoid as anybody else who posts on Ricochet, but I don’t buy that. The FBI rank and file is still a pretty select bunch. But like the rest of America, the good guys are being betrayed by a lack of moral leadership, and betrayal can have insidious, lasting consequences. How do we fix that? And not just in the FBI.

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  1. Victor Tango Kilo Member
    Victor Tango Kilo
    @VtheK

    The curious thing about the FBI is how it was once the bete-noire of 1960’s radicals. Now that the sixties radicals have assumed power at every level of Government, the FBI is now their most esteemed institution. 

    • #1
  2. Postmodern Hoplite Coolidge
    Postmodern Hoplite
    @PostmodernHoplite

    The recent performance of the FBI over the last five years has led me to re-think my previous high opinion of the agency. I’m ready to support a complete overhaul of the Bureau, starting with the removal of every individual in a leadership position at the division level (Washington D.C.) or above the 56 field offices.

    More so, I find myself increasingly asking why do we need such an extensive Federal law enforcement community? What crimes are subject to FBI jurisdiction that wouldn’t be better enforced or prosecuted at the state level? What crimes are the FBI successfully deterring or controlling without compromising or abrogating Constitutional Rights?

    I’m open to discussion and persuasion, but it looks to me that the FBI as it currently operates is just another Federal bureaucracy seeking after its own institutional interest at the expense of the people it is supposed to serve.

    • #2
  3. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt
    @DouglasPratt

    Reading this (and thank you for an excellent post) right after reading Kevin Williamson’s article on NRO about the gangs within the LA police department makes me wonder: are there any heroes left? Is there anyone out there that we can hold up as a role model to young people, or even to ourselves? I don’t need a super-human, I just need someone to admire. They don’t have to be perfect, they just have to not betray my trust.

    • #3
  4. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Why do we have an FBI at all? Fingerprints, facial recognition, DNA and other forensics – one division.  Investigate robberies of banks – another division. But what then?

    • #4
  5. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Douglas Pratt (View Comment):
    Is there anyone out there that we can hold up as a role model to young people, or even to ourselves? I don’t need a super-human, I just need someone to admire. They don’t have to be perfect, they just have to not betray my trust.

    That used to seem like a really low bar, didn’t it?

    • #5
  6. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Minor quibble – the first sentence is about 1968 not 1972.

    • #6
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn
    @SusanQuinn

    Great post, OB. And tragic, too. It seems like there is little we can do to make things better; the current administration won’t have it, and even with a Republican administration, it’s unlikely anything would change. I really hate the state of affairs.

    • #7
  8. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Richard Easton (View Comment):

    Minor quibble – the first sentence is about 1968 not 1972.

    Correct. I will fix.  

    • #8
  9. DonG (2+2=5. Say it!) Coolidge
    DonG (2+2=5. Say it!)
    @DonG

    Old Bathos: But it simply cannot be that the bulk of 13,000 or so FBI special agents are more corrupt than the average American.  I am at least a paranoid as anybody else who posts on Ricochet but I don’t buy that. The FBI rank and file is still a pretty select bunch. 

    If they are “selecting” for corrupt agents, then the FBI will be more corrupt than average.  Or, perhaps the power corrupts and new hires are rapidly corrupted. 

    I think the FBI does a good job of having a database of fibers and paint samples.  They are bad at everything else.  What did the FBI doing about priest abuse scandal?   Decades of interstate corruption and nothing.  Heck, they are not even a good balance to the corrupt CIA. 

    • #9
  10. crogg Coolidge
    crogg
    @crogg

    Great post. Thanks for sharing. However, I think you buried the lede with your Robert Hanssen connection.  Incredible.

    • #10
  11. Instugator Thatcher
    Instugator
    @Instugator

    Holy Crap OB – you knew Hanssen???!!!

    Wow.

    • #11
  12. Dr Steve Member
    Dr Steve
    @DrSteve

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Holy Crap OB – you knew Hanssen???!!!

    Wow.

    I went to grad school with Hanssen’s daughter. I watched her go from proud of her father to absolutely ashamed. A terrible time for that family.

    • #12
  13. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    The FBI is by far the most popular federal agency.  There are at least three prime time TV shows about FBI agents – and they’re all beautiful, fit, honest, compassionate, and dedicated.  

    Kinda weird when you think about it…

    • #13
  14. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Old Bathos: But it simply cannot be that the bulk of 13,000 or so FBI special agents are more corrupt than the average American.

    Sure it can.

    • #14
  15. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Dr Steve (View Comment):

    Instugator (View Comment):

    Holy Crap OB – you knew Hanssen???!!!

    Wow.

    I went to grad school with Hanssen’s daughter. I watched her go from proud of her father to absolutely ashamed. A terrible time for that family.

    I went to college with Nixon’s niece.  Same thing.  

    • #15
  16. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: But it simply cannot be that the bulk of 13,000 or so FBI special agents are more corrupt than the average American.

    Sure it can.

    Harsh.

    • #16
  17. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    The FBI is by far the most popular federal agency. There are at least three prime time TV shows about FBI agents – and they’re all beautiful, fit, honest, compassionate, and dedicated.

    Kinda weird when you think about it…

    Well, when most NYC homicide detectives appear to be former runway models, anything is possible.

    • #17
  18. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    Dr. Bastiat: There are at least three prime time TV shows about FBI agents – and they’re all beautiful, fit, honest, compassionate, and dedicated.  

    They are also very woke. Every criminal on those shows are right wing nut jobs and militia groups. Every one in a real position of authority is a woman and the male lead is a Muslim who graduated from West Point. It’s everything the Left wants the FBI to be.

    • #18
  19. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: But it simply cannot be that the bulk of 13,000 or so FBI special agents are more corrupt than the average American.

    Sure it can.

    Harsh.

    I just go where the Acton is.

    • #19
  20. Dr. Bastiat Member
    Dr. Bastiat
    @drbastiat

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Old Bathos (View Comment):

    Basil Fawlty (View Comment):

    Old Bathos: But it simply cannot be that the bulk of 13,000 or so FBI special agents are more corrupt than the average American.

    Sure it can.

    Harsh.

    I just go where the Acton is.

    Ok, that was pretty good…

    • #20
  21. Unsk Member
    Unsk
    @Unsk

    Interesting post. 

    Robert Hanssen spied for the Russians for over 20 years. Allegedly his motivation was financial. He converted to Catholicism  after he married , became a member of Opus Dei, and seemingly was a staunch conservative. Was this all an act?  It seems his family didn’t know of his activities, which kinda begs the question of how much money was he given,  where did it all go and was it all worth it?

    Since we have at least a couple of people who are more than  familiar with Hanssen, maybe you could shed some light on what really motivated him. 

    • #21
  22. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: There are at least three prime time TV shows about FBI agents – and they’re all beautiful, fit, honest, compassionate, and dedicated.

    They are also very woke. Every criminal on those shows are right wing nut jobs and militia groups. Every one in a real position of authority is a woman and the male lead is a Muslim who graduated from West Point. It’s everything the Left wants the FBI to be.

    I thought it was the Naval Academy.  The communists graduate from West Point. 

    • #22
  23. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    I too have lost trust in government and it’s institutions in the past 5 years. Perhaps rank and file FBI agents aren’t corrupt in the traditional sense. But what about those that operate in the gray zones at the margins of legality? How pure would you be if you knew your superiors would sweep under the rug any wrongdoing that wasn’t totally egregious?

    To this ordinary citizen’s eyes, there is clearly a two tier justice system with separate rules and exceptions for elites and government apparatchiks of the left. Equal justice under the law is a joke now. Only fools believe that now.

    • #23
  24. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Dr. Bastiat (View Comment):

    The FBI is by far the most popular federal agency. There are at least three prime time TV shows about FBI agents – and they’re all beautiful, fit, honest, compassionate, and dedicated.

    Kinda weird when you think about it…

    I believe the rank and file are truly interested in fighting crimes and solving cases.  It’s the leadership that’s corrupt.  A fish rots from the head down.

    This past December, we lost a friend who was a forensic expert with the FBI for 40 years.  Listening to his work stories bolstered my respect for the organization, but only for the “grunts” who got the job done.  Sadly, the public face of the organization is upper management, and it stinks . . .

    • #24
  25. Rightfromthestart Coolidge
    Rightfromthestart
    @Rightfromthestart

    EJHill (View Comment):

    Dr. Bastiat: There are at least three prime time TV shows about FBI agents – and they’re all beautiful, fit, honest, compassionate, and dedicated.

    They are also very woke. Every criminal on those shows are right wing nut jobs and militia groups. Every one in a real position of authority is a woman and the male lead is a Muslim who graduated from West Point. It’s everything the Left wants the FBI to be.

    Exactly why I never watched it, I saw the two leads and never bothered, American TV drama is basically unwatchable propaganda.

    • #25
  26. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Stad (View Comment):
    A fish rots from the head down

    And it keeps rotting until the head is removed.

    • #26
  27. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    From Wikipedia I learned, “After going to prison, Hanssen claimed he periodically admitted his espionage to priests in Confession.”

    One of the severe errors that priests make is thinking that hearing a confession means that forgiveness must be given.  As devout as this loon seems to have been, I wonder if the priest had refused to grant forgiveness unless he performed a penance of public confession and a term in jail, would our country have been safer (and to you religious folk, his “soul” might have been more protected).

    • #27
  28. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Unsk (View Comment):

    Interesting post.

    Robert Hanssen spied for the Russians for over 20 years. Allegedly his motivation was financial. He converted to Catholicism after he married , became a member of Opus Dei, and seemingly was a staunch conservative. Was this all an act? It seems his family didn’t know of his activities, which kinda begs the question of how much money was he given, where did it all go and was it all worth it?

    Since we have at least a couple of people who are more than familiar with Hanssen, maybe you could shed some light on what really motivated him.

    I think the motive was not just money but enormous ego, to prove that he was not given his due given his cleverness.  

    I don’t think the rest was an act. He was sick enough to think he was doing both without contradiction. But what do I really know? He fooled me along with a lot of people who knew him far better.

    • #28
  29. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Old Bathos (View Comment):
    I think the motive was not just money but enormous ego, to prove that he was not given his due given his cleverness.  

    Like Mark Felt?

    • #29
  30. Old Bathos Moderator
    Old Bathos
    @OldBathos

    Skyler (View Comment):

    From Wikipedia I learned, “After going to prison, Hanssen claimed he periodically admitted his espionage to priests in Confession.”

    One of the severe errors that priests make is thinking that hearing a confession means that forgiveness must be given. As devout as this loon seems to have been, I wonder if the priest had refused to grant forgiveness unless he performed a penance of public confession and a term in jail, would our country have been safer (and to you religious folk, his “soul” might have been more protected).

    Doesn’t really work like that. If the penitent admits the sin, asks forgiveness and promises to try to do better that’s it. Priests can’t refuse, rat him out or impose a penance that involves a disclosure. If the confession is insincere or done by a sociopath, that’s for God to work out…

    Scott Peck’s book People of the Lie offered a lot of insights into how making a lie a central fixture of your life and trying to force everything and everyone around to accommodate it is the essence of evil. Not exactly sure how Hanssen saw himself. But what he built around that one distortion was truly bizarre. 

    • #30