"The FBI Is in Crisis" — And That's a Good Thing
A Time article made Drudge this morning with the headline "The FBI Is in Crisis. It's Worse Than You Think."
While the article does a good job of listing various real failures of the FBI (failing to properly vet employees, failing to respond to tips on individuals who would go on to commit mass shootings and other horrific high profile cases), the main thrust of the article is that the attacks waged at the FBI by President Trump have destroyed public trust in the bureau:
Trump makes a point of praising rank-and-file agents, but his punches have landed inside the FBI and out. Some worry the damage may take years to repair. “I fear Trump’s relentless attacks on the institution are having an effect on the public’s confidence in the FBI,” says Matthew S. Axelrod, a senior Justice Department official in the Obama Administration.
Mueller may play an outsize role in how his old agency gets through the current crisis. If the special counsel finds that Russia did collude with members of the Trump campaign–the central question in his investigation–and any perpetrators are charged and found guilty in court, it would rebut Trump’s charges of a “witch hunt.” If Mueller finds no evidence of collusion, or declines to make it public, it would open the door for Trump and his campaign to paint the FBI as a band of partisan hacks with a reputation, as he has tweeted, “in tatters.”
There may be no immediate way to fix a place with as many missions and masters as the FBI.
The article also offers the example of the Bundy case as an instance where even judges are questioning the integrity of the FBI:
The concerns about FBI testimony in a major terrorist prosecution underscore a larger question: Are people less likely to believe what the bureau says these days? In January, a federal judge threw out all the criminal charges against renegade Nevada cattleman Cliven Bundy, his two sons and a supporter who had been in an armed standoff over unpaid grazing fees. Judge Gloria Navarro accused the government of “outrageous” and “flagrant” misconduct, citing failures by both prosecutors and the FBI to produce at least 1,000 pages of required documents. The judge said the FBI misplaced–or “perhaps hid”–a thumb drive revealing the existence of snipers and a surveillance camera at the site of the standoff.
A related case in Oregon, growing out of the 2016 takeover of a wildlife refuge by Bundy’s sons and their followers, has not gone well for the FBI either. An agent at the scene, W. Joseph Astarita, is now charged with five criminal counts after prosecutors say he falsely denied shooting twice at an occupation leader who was fatally shot by police, who said he appeared to be reaching for his handgun during a roadside encounter. The Bundy sons and five supporters who helped in the takeover were found not guilty of conspiracy and weapons charges, in another jarring setback for the government.
This may be a sign of "crisis" for the FBI, but it's a win for the country and the rule of law. After all, the history of the FBI abusing its power to
President Trump’s firing of FBI chief James Comey on May 9 spurred much of the media and many Democrats to rally around America’s most powerful domestic federal agency. But the FBI has a long record of both deceit and incompetence. Five years ago, Americans learned that the FBI was teaching its agents that “the FBI has the ability to bend or suspend the law to impinge on the freedom of others.” This has practically been the Bureau’s motif since its creation in 1908.
(He goes on to offer a short history of the FBI's abuses, from WWI to the War on Terror.)
Of course defenders of the FBI may concede that the agency has not been perfect, but there is an obvious need for a Federal police force. Ryan McMaken does a great job debunking that in his article "Abolish the FBI":
It should be noted that the FBI was not created to fill a hole in law enforcement needs. On the contrary, it was created to usurp and displace a highly-efficient and effective private police force that already existed: the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
Writing in Private Investigation and Security Science: A Scientific Approach, Frank Machovec notes that "The FBI, founded in 1908, was modeled from Pinkerton's organization and methods," while Marie Gottschalk writes in The Prison and the Gallows that "In its early years, the FBI modeled itself after the Pinkertons and other private police agencies."...
Indeed, the rise of the FBI is very much the product of left-wing and labor unionist movements to curb the power of the Pinkertons in favor of the FBI and similar agencies.
A recent example of this line of thought can be found in Elizabeth Joh's 2006 article "The Forgotten Threat: Private Policing and the State."
As explained by Joh, the left was highly critical of the Pinkertons in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for their role in combating striking workers and for being employed by private organizations. While federal police forces such as the FBI would work only in the "public interest" it was assumed, organizations like the the Pinkertons functioned at the morally base level of seeking "profit."
The Pinkerton's however, never functioned with the sort of firepower, manpower, and legal immunity enjoyed by federal agencies today.
So if the FBI is in crisis, good. The solution is simple: abolish it.