Faithless in Holy Week
While Jews and Christians celebrate Passover and Easter this week, it is increasingly obvious that large numbers of Americans are losing faith in our institutions and the people who have been running them. A bit of skepticism about government is always a healthy thing, to my way of thinking, but the cynicism and distrust is now at a higher level than I can recall.
Something the Attorney General Can Correct Right Now
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has authority over the FBI. If he’s paying attention, he might notice how far that agency’s credibility has fallen. This week, the Noor Salman jury refused to find her (the wife of the Pulse nightclub shooter) guilty of obstruction of justice and providing material support to a terrorist act. The jury foreman explained why, and if Sessions is paying attention, he can do something immediately to help restore faith in the agency. (Recall that the jury learned that the shooter’s father had been a longtime FBI informant and had persuaded the agency to disregard the obvious signs of his son’s intent.)
In the foreman’s post-verdict statement, he said: “I wish that the FBI had recorded their interviews with Ms. Salman as there were several significant inconsistencies with the written summaries of her statements.”
This is something FBI watchers have long criticized. The notion that in this age, it is sufficient to prosecute people based on an agent’s self-serving notes (302’s) sometimes written a considerable time after interviews, is ridiculous. We have read that 302’s forming the basis of some of Mueller’s investigations were changed by supervisors and the originals lost; we know that in the Libby case one agent present at his interview conceded at trial that the 302 of her co-agent (retired just as trial began) was inconsistent with her recollections, Videos of interviews are easy to do. They are used by police forces throughout the country and, to the best of my knowledge by Western law enforcement agencies outside the U.S. The attorney general should issue a directive scrapping further use of this 302 gambit. How would you like to face a grand jury with only your word versus the written account of the FBI agent who handled the interview? I wouldn’t. I’d never agree to an interview that was not videographed or transcribed by a stenographer.
Something Congress Can and Should Do
Shut down the FBI’s National Security Branch or force the FBI to significantly reshape its operations -- it’s useless and inconsistent with the FBI’s crimefighting mission where what’s important is not stopping crime, but gathering prosecution evidence of crime.
In 2005 the FBI was restructured to emphasize counterintelligence: As Robert Mueller (then head of the FBI) noted:
The National Security Branch structure took effect on September 12, 2005, in response to a directive from the President to the Attorney General. The NSB consists of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division (CTD), the Counterintelligence Division (CD), the Directorate of Intelligence (DI), and the new Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) Directorate. Combining our national security workforce and mission under one leadership umbrella enhances our contribution to the national intelligence effort and provides us with the opportunity to leverage resources from our U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) partners, as well as our federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners.
The mission of the Counterterrorism Division is to identify and disrupt potential terrorist plots by individuals or terror cells, freezing terrorist finances, sharing information with law enforcement and intelligence partners worldwide, and providing strategic and operational threat analysis to the wider intelligence community. Since the September 11 attacks, we have dramatically strengthened our ability to combat terrorism and have had success identifying, disrupting, and dismantling terrorist threats.
The FBI, which has in its ranks many good accountants, has apparently done a reasonable job on tracking terrorist finances. It has been a bust in “disrupting” terrorism. As noted, they missed the Pulse shooter. The undercover agent assigned to the group that tried to kill Pamela Geller encouraged them and never did a thing to stop them or even to alert authorities to the attack. Then there was the Tsarnaev case, where ignoring Russian warnings, the FBI sat by and the brothers murdered three men (and got away with it due to fumbling by the Boston law enforcement agencies) and proceeded in time to bomb a marathon route,
I won’t even go into the number of times where the FBI agents entrapped mentally deficient men into acts for which they then took credit for stopping. But there have been many such incidents: Jerry Drake Varnell, a paranoid schizphrenic, in 2017, the depressive Aby Rayyan in 2016, the delunsional Sami Osmakac in 2012, and Peyton Pruitt, who suffers from "mental retardation, autism, and attention deficit disorder," in 2015.
One former agent claims it is because the FBI is overwhelmed with investigating reports of insignificant threats:
The Tsarnaev case is prime example. The Justice Department Inspector General criticized shortcomings concerning the FBI’s assessment of Tsarnaev, most significantly the failure to ask about his travel plans to Russia or his knowledge of Chechen terrorist groups. Both the FBI and CIA placed Tsarnaev on watchlists, and though they “pinged” to alert authorities when he bought airline tickets, traveled to, and returned from Russia, he was not re-investigated or screened as requested at the airport because there were too many other watchlisted people of higher priority traveling that day.
These cases show an overloaded system unable to adequately track and capture the real terrorist threats in this country. Which is why it’s time to rethink how the FBI does its job.
Giving FBI agents more resources might be helpful, but only if the FBI’s investigative guidelines are tightened up to ensure they are focusing on real threats rather than chasing false alarms. Restoring standards requiring a reasonable factual indication of wrongdoing before conducting intrusive, resource intensive investigations will make the FBI more efficient -- and more effective.
As an FBI undercover agent in the 1990s, I infiltrated neo-Nazi and anti-government militia groups. The investigations were initiated based on a reasonable indication that people were engaging in precursor crimes, such as trafficking in illegal firearms and manufacturing explosives. This evidentiary standard forced me to focus on the people I had a reasonable basis to believe were engaging in criminal activity -- rather than the thousands who were saying things I didn’t like. Those cases successfully prevented terrorism by focusing on those most likely to commit it.
That’s one explanation. Another might be that the head of the agency was so eager to curry favor with President Obama and the phony islamophobia charges by radical Islamist groups that he purged from the FBI manual references to Islamic terrorism and field officers went along with the fictional peaceful intentions of those who went on to attack us.
As FBI director, Mueller bent over backwards to please radical Islamist groups and caved into their demands. The agency eliminated the valuable anti-terrorism training material and curricula after Mueller met with various Islamist organizations, including those with documented ties to terrorism. Among them were two organizations -- Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) -- named by the U.S. government as unindicted co-conspirators in the 2007 Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing case. CAIR is a terrorist front group with extensive links to foreign and domestic Islamists. It was founded in 1994 by three Middle Eastern extremists (Omar Ahmad, Nihad Awad and Rafeeq Jaber) who ran the American propaganda wing of Hamas, known then as the Islamic Association for Palestine.
The records obtained as part of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit show that Mueller, who served 12 years as FBI chief, met with the Islamist organizations on February 8, 2012 to hear their demands. Shortly later the director assured the Muslim groups that he had ordered the removal of presentations and curricula on Islam from FBI offices nationwide. The purge was part of a broader Islamist operation designed to influence the opinions and actions of persons, institutions, governments and the public at-large...
Here are some of the reasons provided by Mueller’s FBI for getting rid of “offensive” training documents: “Article is highly inflammatory and inaccurately argues the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization.” It’s crucial to note that Mueller himself had previously described the Muslim Brotherhood as a group that supports terrorism in the U.S. and overseas when his agency provided this ludicrous explanation. Here’s more training material that offended the terrorist groups, according to the FBI files provided to Judicial Watch: An article claiming Al Qaeda is “clearly linked” to the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing; The Qur’an is not the teachings of the Prophet, but the revealed word of God; Sweeping generality of ‘Those who fit the terrorist profile best (for the present at least) are young male immigrants of Middle Eastern appearance;’ conflating Islamic Militancy with terrorism. The list goes on and on.
Mueller’s actions have had a widespread effect because many local law enforcement agencies followed the FBI’s lead in allowing Islamic groups like CAIR to dictate what anti-terrorism material could be used to train officers.
And last but not least, the counterintelligence function was instrumental in the coordinated FBI-DOJ forwarding to the FISC the nonsensical Steele dossier (certainly a product in large part of Russian disinformation) to surveil the Trump campaign.
In sum, the FBI appears to have been has been more efficient at creating make-believe boogeymen than it has been at stopping real jihadists on our soil.
Cleaning Up the Corruption in the FBI
The same man – Mueller -- who headed the agency when all this was going on keeps chasing the nonexistent Russian collusion with Trump. This week, the FBI confronted Ted Malloch as he returned from a trip to London, separating him from his wife as they interrogated him, and seizing his mobile phone.
In the meantime the attorney general announced that he had appointed the U.S. Attorney from Utah, John Huber, to lead a federal investigation into the sale of Uranium One, the Clinton Foundation, and acts by the DOJ and FBI in 2016-2017 which seem to have abused the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He is not appointing a special counsel now but has reserved the right to do so if the facts warrant it. Reactions to this announcement have been mixed. Personally I think the entire notion of a special counsel -- at least under the present law (which unlike the one under which Ken Starr operated which was overseen by a panel of the Court of Appeals) -- is a monstrous distortion of the Constitution, so I’m inclined to believe the OIG, congressional committees, and the operation of our criminal justice system should be sufficient to deal with what appears to have been substantial illegality in the DOJ and FBI, the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium One. Apparently the grand jury, which Huber is managing here in the District of Columbia, is getting cooperation from a number of people inside the Deep State.
We now know Attorney General Jeff Sessions and DAG Rod Rosenstein assigned federal prosecutor John W. Huber to that task. However, even without knowing his name, we always knew the existence of the parallel prosecutor because the fingerprints of his tasks were evident.
The IG couldn’t simultaneously report on his discovery of criminal conduct and yet construct the parameters for cooperation and compliance with his investigation. IG Horowitz doesn’t have that authority, that’s a federal prosecutors job.
So if people within the FBI and DOJ were cooperating with an internal investigation that was discovering criminal conduct, someone from within the DOJ had to be cutting the deals. Jeff Sessions told us yesterday that person is John Huber.[snip]
♦COOPERATING GROUP -- FBI Agent Peter Strzok, FBI/DOJ lawyer Lisa Page, DOJ Attorney Bruce Ohr, DOJ-NSD Deputy Asst. Attorney General George Toscas; FBI Chief Legal Counsel James Baker and Asst. FBI Director in charge of Counterintelligence Bill Priestap, are all still employed within the system. Strzok, Page, Ohr, and Baker have been removed from responsibilities, but there are still there. Bill Priestap is still in responsibility and still there.
♦NOT COOPERATING GROUP -- FBI Communications Director Mike Kortan (quit), DOJ-NSD Deputy Asst. Attorney General David Laufman (quit), AG Loretta Lynch AAG Sally Yates, DOJ-NSD Asst Attorney General Mary McCord (quit), FBI Director James Comey (fired), Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe (fired), FBI Director Chief-of-staff James Rybicki (quit).
Like Professor Jonathan Turley, I’m inclined to think this is a smart move, but we shall have to wait and see how this shakes out. In the meantime Robert Mueller, with the same doggedness and blind faith which caused him to pursue the wrong man, Hatfill, in the anthrax case, wasting millions of man-hours and our money, continues on like Inspector Clouseau.