Mises Wire

Dismantle the FBI, and Give its Money Back to the States

With James Comey’s firing, we’re told the FBI is in turmoil, and Washington DC cocktail parties are all atwitter over the excitement of the scandal. But don’t worry about the FBI. If history has proved anything, the Bureau, no matter how much chaos it may endure, can always rely on a fat check from Congress — funded by the American taxpayers. 

But why does the US need a huge national police force at all? Can’t state police forces do just as well? The FBI continues to assert never-proven claims that bigger governments are better at law enforcement than smaller onces. This myth is not only untrue, but very expensive for taxpayers. 

The FBI’s Gravy Train

The FBI is very well paid. The 2017 budget request for the FBI, for instance, is for $8.7 billion. That’s up from 2014’s budget of $8.4 billion. That may not seem like a lot compared to say, the Defense Department’s typical haul of $500 to $600 billion. But as far as law enforcement agencies in the United States go, the FBI is awash in money.  

It’s so much money, in fact, that if the FBI were abolished, and the sum were divided up into 50 even portions for the states, each state would receive $174 million dollars.

That’s not chump change. The entire public safety budget for the Illinois State Police in 2016, for example, was $242 million. Even if every state got an equal share of the FBI’s budget back, the Illinois state Police could increase their public safety budget by 71 percent. 

Illinois, though, is the sixth largest state (by population) in the Union. Just imagine what smaller states could do with a similar amount were those monies not used to pay for the FBI’s latest efforts to raid peaceful political gatherings in Texas, or provide private luxury jets for politicians.  The total budget of the Colorado State Patrol, for instance — including everything from salaries to public relations — is $144 million.

But what a great racket the FBI has going. As an arm of a federal government that prints its own money, the FBI need never worry about any meaningful budget cut. Moreover, it keeps getting bigger budgets regardless of its ineptitude. And ineptitude is easy to find. As James Bovard reported this week in USAToday:

Before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI dismally failed to connect the dots on suspicious foreigners engaged in domestic aviation training. Though Congress had deluged the FBI with $1.7 billion to upgrade its computers, many FBI agents had old machines incapable of searching the Web or emailing photos. One FBI agent observed that the bureau ethos is that “real men don’t type. ... The computer revolution just passed us by.”

The FBI’s pre-9/11 blunders “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists,” according to a 2002 congressional investigation. (The FBI also lost track of a key informant at the heart of the cabal that detonated a truck bomb beneath the World Trade Center in 1993.)

In the late 1990s, the FBI Academy taught agents that subjects of investigations “have forfeited their right to the truth.“ This doctrine helped fuel pervasive entrapment operations after 9/11. Trevor Aaronson, author of The Terror Factory: Inside the FBI’s Manufactured War on Terrorism, estimated that only about 1% of the 500 people charged with international terrorism offenses in the decade after 9/11 were bona fide threats. Thirty times as many were induced by the FBI to behave in ways that prompted their arrest. The bureau’s informant program extends far beyond Muslims.

It bankrolled an extremist right-wing New Jersey blogger and radio host for five years before his 2009 arrest for threatening federal judges.

And then there are the other scandals — the perpetual false testimony from the FBI crime lab, its use of National Security Letters and other surveillance tools to illegally vacuum up Americans’ personal info, its whitewashing of every shooting by an FBI agent between 1993 and 2011, and its operation of dozens of child porn websites (another entrapment operation gone awry).

But don’t worry, the FBI still has plenty of time to spy on ordinary peaceful Americans and antagonize them. Bovard continues:

From 1956 through 1971, the FBI’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence programs) conducted thousands of covert operations to incite street warfare between violent groups, to get people fired, to smear innocent people by portraying them as government informants, and to cripple or destroy left-wing, black, communist, white racist and anti-war organizations. FBI agents also busied themselves forging “poison pen” letters to wreck activists’ marriages. COINTELPRO was exposed only after a handful of activists burglarized an FBI office in a Philadelphia suburb, seized FBI files, and leaked the damning documents to journalists.

But, the FBI’s defenders will surely tell you that every penny of that 8.7 billion is there to keep you “safe.” This naive position relies on the decades-old mythology behind a government agency that has long been, as Bovard has called it, a “stasi for America.” Last year, I noted

Of all federal police forces, the FBI is the most romanticized, and every FBI agent is assumed to be the modern embodiment of a fictionalized version of Eliot Ness: incorruptible, professional, and efficient. Decades of pop culture has driven this home with TV series and movies such as The UntouchablesThe FBI Story, and This Is Your FBI have long perpetuated the idea that when local police fail, the FBI will step in to be more effective and simply better than every other law enforcement agency. Corruption cannot touch the FBI, we are told, and they apply the law equally to everyone. 

This mythology was necessary to overcome decades-long opposition to a federal police force which was long properly viewed an an unconstitutional usurpation of state and local prerogatives. 

We Don’t Need Vast Government Agencies for Quality Policing

The advocates for national police also often claim that without a national police force, the individual states of the US would be overrun by criminals. The US states are too small and weak, we are told, to mount any effective opposition to sophisticated crime operations. 

So, by this reasoning, small countries should have more criminal activity than larger, more powerful countries. 

But where’s the evidence for this? Is Switzerland crime infested while much-larger Mexico is crime free? Nope. Does Poland have sky-high homicide rates while much-more-powerful Russia is serenely peaceful? Wrong again. Indeed, no relationship whatsoever has been demonstrated between the size and scope of a country’s regime, and the amount of crime it has. Brazil, after all, is an immense state both in geography and in regulatory vigor. Yet crime there is a major problem. 

Moreover, even if there were some optimum minimum size for countries (which there is not) many US states have more than enough wealth, population, and power to fund immense police operations. 

Texas, for instance, has approximately the same GDP and population size as Australia. If Australia is not ruled by drug runners and terrorists — as we’re supposed to believe would happen to Texas without the FBI — why is Texas too small to obtain the same level and quality of law enforcement? With more than 20 million inhabitants, Florida and New York have GDPs similar to those of a mid-sized European country. Pennsylvania has a GDP equal to that of Switzerland. California has both a population and a GDP larger than that of Canada. 

Moreover, without the FBI not even very small US states would be on their own since no FBI is necessary to coordinate information-sharing between states. INTERPOL, of course, has been around for decades as a body that helps police organizations share information and apprehend suspects. INTERPOL itself, however, has no agents who make arrests, and INTERPOL’s budget is much, much smaller than that of the FBI.

Not even the European Union has gone so far as to create a police force that resembles the FBI in its vast power. Europol, like INTERPOL, assists in coordination among police agencies, but Europol officers do not conduct independent investigations in member countries as the FBI does in American states. Europol’s budget is only a small fraction of the FBI’s. 

So why is the FBI necessary? If you’re a DC politician, the FBI may be quite useful in terms of settling scores, finding cushy jobs for your friends, and for living out one’s control-freak fantasies as appears to be the case with Jeff Sessions’ revived drug war. 

For ordinary Americans, though, the FBI doesn’t do anything that smaller and more responsive governments can’t do on their own. 

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