The once-venerated Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which prided itself on being a field-driven law enforcement agency, has increasingly become centralized political police.
A whistleblower recently warned the House Judiciary Committee that the FBI’s powerful Washington Field Office (WFO) was directing agents in field offices where alleged J6 participants resided to open cases, only to have the actual investigation conducted inside the beltway by the WFO.
Washington also instructed field agents to ignore child sexual abuse cases in favor of hunting down allegations of “white supremacy,” even as FBI agents tell the Washington Times the demand for white supremacy far outstrips the supply.
The WFO is often confused with FBI headquarters (FBIHQ). FBIHQ is supposed to support and oversee field office investigations. The WFO is supposed to function as any other field agency but has long been notorious inside the FBI as a place where careerists and accomplished bureaucrats manipulate their way into deputy director positions. Dedicated agents who joined the FBI to catch bad guys have said they would rather be transferred anywhere in the world than the WFO, because of the poisonous politicized culture the office exudes.
In a way we should not be surprised. At its most fundamental, law enforcement is about the prevention and investigation of crimes, which by their nature take place at specific real-world locations which are very different from one another. The law enforcement environment, including the type and nature of offenses, and of perpetrators, will never be the same nationwide. Omaha and Pittsburgh don’t have the same food or musical tastes, why would they have the same criminals?
As the FBI’s own website says regarding its field offices, “Our local FBI offices are all about protecting your communities.” But protecting local communities isn’t something that can be centrally directed from within the Beltway by bureaucrats operating on a narrative drafted in the White House.
Is it possible that there are areas within the United States where individuals motivated by white supremacy represent the greatest threat of political violence? Of course, although conversations with local law enforcement in many areas confirm claims by FBI whistleblowers that it just isn’t as large a threat as some in academia and the media insist. But any assessment of threats should be done locally and regionally and should consider the views of state and local officers, who know best the streets they patrol.
If the FBI as an institution wishes to survive the growing backlash against its politicization, a future director would need to permanently sever the unhealthy grip the WFO has on the careers and advancement of good agents and stop incentivizing administrative double-dealing over solid law enforcement work. FBI field offices should again be directed locally to address the federal crimes most impacting their areas. Congress should consider making field office Special Agent-in-Charge positions Senate confirmable, similar to U.S. Deputy Marshals who oversee a particular region. A future president might even consider appointing accomplished local or state law enforcement officers to those positions, instead of politicized apparatchiks.
As with much else ailing the United States, the solution to FBI politicization is to be found in a new and strengthened federalism, which recognizes the uniqueness of the country’s different states and regions.
Having squandered its institutional cache as the country’s premiere law enforcement agency, the FBI should get back to being a “field-driven” investigative service, one that exists to help local law enforcement crack the difficult cases.
If they can’t or won’t, the new incoming Congress should make clear that their replacements will.
EDITORS NOTE: This Center for Security Policy column is republished with permission. All rights reserved.