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The reputation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in the tank and I see little reason for optimism for the future. And FBI Director Christopher Wray is only making the situation worse. Following IG Michael Horowitz’s report on FISA abuse, Wray promptly called for sweeping changes of the FBI’s procedures in submitting applications to the FISA court.
Actually, that’s not true. Wray’s proposed changes ensure that nothing much will change, primarily because he hasn’t dealt with the root problems.
Here is a summary of the changes that Wray proposed (with my comments in italics):
- First, we are modifying our processes under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), both for initial applications and renewals, to enhance accuracy and completeness. Please notice the use of the words “enhance accuracy and completeness.” Enhancing sounds like window-dressing.
- The FBI is a field-based law enforcement organization, and the vast majority of our investigations should continue to be worked by our field offices. Moving forward, in the very rare instance when FBI Headquarters runs a sensitive investigation, we are requiring prior approval by the FBI Deputy Director and consultation with the Assistant Director in Charge or Special Agent in Charge of the affected field offices. For some reason, I am not reassured by Wray’s requiring high-level directors to approve Headquarters’ running a “sensitive investigation.” We’ve already seen that many of those people are not trustworthy.
- Many FBI investigations rely on human sources, but the investigative value derived from CHS-provided information rests in part on the CHS’s credibility, which demands rigorous assessment of the source. [CHS is a Confidential Human Source.] “Rigorous assessments” have been required in the FBI previously. I suspect that this requirement will also be compromised, depending on the agenda of investigators.
- Fourth, I am establishing new protocols for the FBI’s participation in Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI)-led counterintelligence transition briefings (i.e., strategic intelligence briefings) provided to presidential nominees. The FBI’s role in these briefings should be for national security purposes and not for investigative purposes. So they’re adding another level of bureaucracy. That always has successful outcomes.
- Fifth, I am mandating a specialized, semiannual training requirement for FBI personnel at all levels who handle FISA and CHS matters. My only response is, another training program? Good grief.
I suspect I’m not the only person who is not just skeptical but cynical about the promise of these proposals. We have already seen people intentionally ignore or bypass strict FBI requirements for their own nefarious purposes, with little or no accountability. Christopher Wray, who has done nothing but soft-pedal his responses to criticisms of his department lacks the credibility and intensity of a person who must be called to make drastic changes. If he seriously wants to restore the credibility and performance of the FBI, he will have to do much, much more. Maybe the Barr/Durham report will provide the impetus to Wray’s making critical and hard-hitting decisions. Even then, how does a person change a culture that has become so infested with malfeasance and arrogance?
In closing, Director Wray wrote the following:
Finally, we will review the performance and conduct of certain FBI employees who were referenced in the Report’s recommendations — including managers, supervisors, and senior officials at the time. The FBI will take appropriate disciplinary action where warranted. Notably, many of the employees described in the report are no longer employed at the FBI.
The root problems I referred to in my opening are lack of accountability and hard-hitting solutions. The only satisfactory action will be to fire those who remain, Director Wray.
Then maybe I will believe you are serious about transforming the FBI, restoring its credibility and reassuring the country that you mean business.