The FBI remains an awful organization

One of the most irritating things about politics and the media in the US is their reflexive adoption of the maxim that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’. Nowhere is this switch more obvious than in the way the various parties view intelligence agencies such as the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. At any given moment, how they are viewed seems to depend upon what their immediate agenda is. At the current moment it seems like the Democrats and liberal media are fawning over these agencies and praising them for their independence and integrity, seemingly because they think that they are in the best position to obtain and release information damaging to Donald Trump. Conversely, the Republicans and the conservative media are attacking those same agencies for the same reason.

But let us never forget that the history of all three agencies is truly awful and has always been awful, engaging in acts against the interests of ordinary people at home and abroad in the service of the anti-democratic and imperialist agendas of elements in the US government. This is not to say that there are not individual people, especially at the lower levels, who are honorable and who joined the agency out of noble motives about service and the like. But the truth is that they don’t count. They are there as foot soldiers to do the grunt work and to provide cover for what is really going on.

I am not going to list all the reasons why the FBI, CIA, and NSA should be considered objectively terrible institutions. The history of the organizations speaks for itself, despite repeated exposures of their atrocities and vows to rectify mistakes. And the evidence against them keeps growing. Alice Speri reports on the continuing problems the FBI has on issues of race, and how they responded to a whistleblower Terry Albury, an FBI field agent assigned to the Minneapolis offce, when he revealed information about its racist policies. As his lawyers said in a statement

“For Terry, the only African-American field agent in the Minneapolis office, the problem of racism both within the FBI and in its interactions with minority communities was especially pronounced. The situation became even more acute for him when, having previously served a tour for the FBI in Iraq, he was assigned to the counter-terrorism squad, and was required first-hand to implement FBI investigation directives that profiled and intimidated minority communities in Minnesota and other locations in which Terry served.”

“Witnessing all this, and, as an African-American being subjected to it himself directly in some instances, profoundly affected Terry professionally and personally,” the statement continues. “The tensions and conflicts within him became unbearable, and he acted.”

Members of Minneapolis’s large Somali community — a major target of FBI’s efforts there — told The Intercept that the documents Albury was accused of leaking helped shed light on the profiling and harassment many in that community regularly experience at the hands of the FBI, and said that they were grateful for the former agent’s courage in making them public.

Government agencies often respond more harshly to whistleblowers whose disclosures embarrass them than to those who put national security at risk. Perhaps the best example of that is former CIA Director David Petraeus, who pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor — and served no jail time — for sharing his highly classified journals with his biographer and lover and then lying to the FBI about it.

“Powerful people often get off with a slap on the wrist for talking about these things, but less powerful people often get the book thrown at them,” Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, told The Intercept. “Terry Albury is literally going to face jail for doing something that was in the public interest and an act of conscience.”

In fact, some of those facing the harshest consequences for leaking documents have been people of color. Stephen Kim, a Korean-American former State Department official, spent 10 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to leaking classified information about North Korea to a reporter. And Jeffrey Sterling, a black former CIA agent,was released to a halfway house in January after serving more than two years of a 42-month sentence. Sterling was convicted under the Espionage Act of sharing classified information with New York Times reporter James Risen — now at The Intercept — about a botched CIA program. Prosecutors had tried to force Risen to disclose his source, but he refused.

For Sterling, there was no doubt that race played a fundamental role in the hostility with which the government pursued charges against him. He had left the CIA years earlier, after having lodged first an internal racial discrimination complaint and later, a lawsuit alleging retaliation because of that complaint. In a post-conviction motion, Sterling’s attorneys compared his treatment with that of James Cartwright, a retired Marine Corps general who, around the time of the Sterling trial, was under investigation for providing classified information to a different Times journalist. Cartwright eventually pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation, but Obama pardoned him before his sentence.

“The only difference between the two cases,” Sterling’s attorneys wrote at the time, “is that General Cartwright is a white high-ranking official and Jeffrey Sterling is an African-American man who became an outcast at the CIA following his publically-filed employment discrimination claim.”

It should not matter what your attitude towards Trump is. The FBI, CIA, and NSA are not your friends when it comes to protecting the civil and human rights of people, especially the poor and marginalized.


  1. says

    Most Americans seem to have forgotten COINTELPRO and have forgotten that all the stuff Edward Snowden was disclosing was re-violation of the laws that had been put in place after COINTELPRO was disclosed. The FBI has been the “American Black Chamber” since its inception, and it is one of the great enemies of democracy. Right up there with the Stasi and the Gestapo.

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