Ethical reporters and FBI agents have much in common — and we need them
'Dear Attorney General Barr': Advice from insiders
Some notable Department of Justice (DOJ) and intelligence community officials have been very vocal with their views on everything from investigations to politics. No doubt the nation's new attorney general, William Barr, has watched people such as former CIA Director John Brennan, ex-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (now a CNN analyst), Obama U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power or former national security adviser Susan Rice on cable TV, "60 Minutes" or giving congressional testimony.
Maybe he has read the books written by ex-FBI directors James Comey and Andrew McCabe. And if he follows some of these people on social media, he knows in real time just how they feel and where they come down on current controversies.
But, as he certainly knows, there is always more than one side to a story.
There are many experienced intel officials with a lot to say about what they've seen and experienced on the inside. But they don't have a public platform. They don't appear on TV. They don't tweet. Nobody of consequence asks for their advice. And they won't have the chance to tell Attorney General Barr in person what they think. Yet, they do have some thoughts as to what should be his immediate priorities.
In order for them to be able to speak frankly and without repercussions, they prefer that their names not be made public. Two of them specifically offered that some former intel officials should "go to prison" or "belong in jail" for offenses they have committed. One commented on what he called their "wanton lawlessness and unconstitutional actions."
What seems important is that these are not the opinions of random, fly-by-night government employees.
So who are they?
Each has decades of intelligence experience working under Democrat and Republican administrations. Their experience includes field agent and managerial positions. They have served in a Cabinet-level office under former President Obama, as an FBI unit chief, as an FBI attorney, as a senior-level CIA official, as a two-star military officer, as an NSA forensics expert and as officers in the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Obviously, Barr is free to factor in or to disregard their comments as he pleases; they are simply the responses provided when asked, "What should be Attorney General Barr's top priorities?"
Their 21 recommended priorities, some of it in their own words:
- Review Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) transactions from the Obama administration.
- Assign handpicked Inspector General investigators to conduct a broader review of the FBI's handling of the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's classified email.
- Review the FBI's conduct in the Russia investigation.
- Identify everyone in the Department of Justice - not through an organizational chart, but personally - who is closely associated with departing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
- Ask special counsel Robert Mueller to promptly complete his report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
- Declassify and release as much information as soon as possible, "because if Donald Trump loses in 2020, all the dirt will never see the light of day."
- Review the leadership of the FBI and "act as necessary to ensure that any and all procedures are in place to counter the corruption at the top under Comey, McCabe, et. al."
- Vigorously prosecute any and all of those who may have violated the law in the upper echelon of the FBI. "Chris Wray appears to be doing a good job ... but FBI indictments are needed against any/all former FBI officials that undertook actions to undermine the proper role of the FBI in 2016-2017."
- Focus on enforcement of immigration laws. It is essential, notwithstanding the political noise surrounding illegal immigration. The laws must be enforced and enforced vigorously as they pertain to illegal immigration.
- Review FISA and, as appropriate, ensure that the provisions set to expire in 2019 are extended.
- Move aggressively to ensure the First Step Act is implemented.
- Revisit Justice Department cybersecurity policy as it pertains to "back door" cyber demands by law enforcement, i.e., iPhone and the San Bernardino Islamic extremist terror shooting and FBI demands on Apple. "Those cyber back doors, while understandably of high interest to the FBI, are awful for the American people and the security of their data since adversaries will also use those same back door accesses. It is simply bad policy."
- Prosecution of top former officials is unrealistic for many reasons. "Instead, we need something like a Truth Commission with full amnesty upfront for everyone involved if they come clean and tell the truth. Until we know all of what really happened, there's no way for DOJ or any other public institution to rebuild its credibility and for the country at large to reconcile."
- "The U.S. government has to stop bulk-collecting the metadata (and often full content) from, among other things, every phone call, email, text message, social media post, GPS location and credit card transactions of every American citizen on a 24/7/365 basis."
- "The FISA Court needs to stop rubber-stamping the Executive Branch's requests."
- "We need a restoration of the Fourth Amendment in the digital age."
- There probably should be more high-profile firings and a few high-level prosecutions, but "it would be quite a feat to thread the needle politically. If I were the AG, I'd resist going down that path for fear it may sabotage the rest of my priorities."
- Through legitimate activity and correction of known problems, Barr should restore confidence of all Americans that DOJ:
- "Consistently enforces justice for all. No multiple tiers of who gets prosecuted;
- "Is an independent entity without a political agenda;
- "Does not violate any individual rights guaranteed by our Constitution."
- Initiate a comprehensive internal review of DOJ practices, including those related to FISA, to fix problems. "This calls for a nonpartisan oversight body who reports directly to the AG" and would report progress periodically to Congress.
- "Conclude the ongoing special counsel investigation and follow through on recommendations without any appearance of political bias."
- "Just. Follow. The. Existing. FOIA [Freedom of Information Act]. Law."
Good luck, Mr. Attorney General.
Sharyl Attkisson is an Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist, author of The New York Times best-sellers "The Smear" and "Stonewalled," and host of Sinclair's Sunday TV program, "Full Measure." Follow her on Twitter @SharylAttkisson.