The new FBI director needs to adapt to the current times
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Christopher A. Wray has finally been sworn in as the eighth Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). He assumes command of a Bureau recently rocked by President Trump’s firing of his predecessor, and amidst the public scarring of an agency once lauded for its apolitical mien and adherence to strict guidelines related to how it investigates.

Founded in 1908, with the taking of repurposed parts from the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, the modern FBI has seen its share of controversies across the decades. J. Edgar Hoover was appointed acting director on May 10, 1924, and led the FBI for some 48 years. He is viewed by some as a polarizing figure and a bully. But he transformed the FBI into, inarguably, the preeminent law enforcement agency of the 20th and 21st centuries.

However, the FBI currently finds itself at a crossroads.

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I was privileged to serve as an FBI Special Agent for twenty-five years. In that quarter-century, I served under four FBI Directors. Appointed as a Special Agent in early 1991, my career bridged the pre-9/11 Bureau and the post-9/11 refashioning of mission and priorities. I was assigned to a multitude of roles across investigative disciplines, in postings across the globe, and in leadership positions where the safety and the security of segments of the American populace hung in the balance of my decision-making.

 

Suffice it to say, I know the FBI.

Like many of my former colleagues now retired from service, we weep at the tarnishing of our badge and the unrelenting criticism — some warranted and some opportunistic — aimed at the Bureau. We chafe at the partisan shots at former Director James B. Comey, Jr., and we bristle at the unfounded accusations that the FBI has attempted to influence an election, selectively enforces the law, and is embroiled in turmoil.

There must also be an acknowledgement that the FBI needs to further adapt to the times and to take that metaphorical long, hard, look in the mirror.

The FBI I joined in 1991 was squarely fixed on tackling the threats it had expertly confronted for some eight decades  — kidnappings, bank robberies, organized crime, and narcotics. But as the old military adage goes about “Generals always fighting the last war,” it needed to adjust, to re-calibrate, and acknowledge the threat posed by terrorists sooner.

It took the events of September 11, 2001, and the appointment of Robert S. Mueller, III, to begin the transformation. Mueller, recently appointed as special prosecutor in the Russian collusion case currently engulfing Capitol Hill, is a no-nonsense former Marine who brought the Bureau, kicking and screaming into the computer age and reprioritized the FBI’s mission with “protecting the United States from terrorist attack” as its number one priority.

Working terrorism cases — or any case for that matter — requires the collection of intelligence. The secure storage of intelligence and the ability to rapidly retrieve same are hallmarks of the FBI and were originally viewed as a necessity by Hoover. But as the FBI adapted to a post-9/11 investigative landscape, intelligence-gathering became an identified core principle, and along with that came an expanded budget and the hiring of legions of Intelligence Analysts — professional support employees who didn’t carry a shield and duty sidearm, but supported the agents who were investigators in the field.

This new mission resulted in the creation of a new branch, the Intelligence Division, whose duties were eerily similar to those of Britain’s MI-5, where collecting intelligence to build up knowledge of a threat is their primary focus and responsibility.

Many FBI Agents have long felt that the post-9/11 Bureau should have bifurcated immediately into one criminal investigation agency — to include counter-terror cases — and a separate established intelligence-gathering agency akin to MI-5.

It’s not too late for Wray to consider this.

The FBI currently consists of some 35,000 employees with about a third of those being 1811’s, armed Special Agent investigators. Split the investigator pool in half and assign agents accordingly between the two, based on knowledge, skills, abilities and experiences.

And then, as has oft been discussed, allow the criminal investigatory agency that remains the FBI to subsume the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The skillsets that BATF Special Agents possess would be perfectly married to FBI criminal and terrorism investigations. And as so often occurs, there is a constant blurring of agency jurisdictional lines anyway, so numerous BATF cases already have nexus to FBI mission priorities.

With just over 2,600 armed BATF agents, these resources become part of the FBI mission.

Post-9/11, the FBI ceded back to the Drug Enforcement Agency much of United States Code Title 21 jurisdiction that includes counter-narcotics investigations. There will forever be investigative overlap, as drugs are often the “currency” of damn near every investigative category, but give DEA exclusive domain, and simply assign more FBI Special Agents to DEA task forces for collaboration and deconfliction purposes.

Next, get rid of the outdated and wholly ineffective Mueller-era policy to encourage FBI Special Agents to accept an assignment to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C. by mandating their removal from supervisory positions in the field. This program has caused a lot of disgruntled supervisors to retire early and has resulted in the nonsensical and counterproductive removal of FBI bosses who have connections to and roots in the communities they police. In light of the current chasm between law enforcement and some of the communities they’re sworn to protect and serve, this one is a “no-brainer.”

Director Wray, end “Up or Out” as a mandatory “incentive program” to “encourage” FBI leaders to advance in the agency. You will retain more of your onboard talent and experience if you consider this.

And finally, the fact that the Washington Post currently serves as the most accurate intelligence gathering agency for officer-involved-shootings is an utter disgrace. With the expanded resources available from the recommendations highlighted above, announce to Congress that the FBI will assume this vital role in harvesting, maintaining, and sharing this information.

And since the Trump administration has found the utility in tying federal grant funding to compliance with federal law enforcement vis-à-vis the “sanctuary city” imbroglio that has pitted the Department of Justice against a number of big city Democrat mayors, employ the same tactic against municipalities that refuse to report their shootings-by-police.

Wray, I humbly submit these recommendations for your consideration. Let’s combine the best of what the FBI has always done right with a forward-leaning posture that identifies threats before they metastasize and bring harm to our grand Republic.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.


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