A Hit Below the Belt

by a 25 year veteran of the FBI

A couple of weeks back, Kyra Phillips of CNN did a story about misconduct in the FBI citing disciplinary reports that delineated embarrassing accounts of incidents and missteps by FBI employees over the past three years.

A negative story about the FBI, to a veteran FBI agent, feels like a story about your “family” exposing some shortcomings and mistakes by members of that family. Naturally, it always causes pain, embarrassment and a gut reaction to, certainly not endorse or support the missteps but to try and put things in perspective and ask what could have happened or prompted that person to fall into the circumstances that brought about their misstep. We’ve all seen it on a number of occasions in all our personal lives, being human is often reason enough. We hope that the American people, we serve and work tirelessly to keep safe look at the issue on balance and from the larger perspective.

First of all, was Kyra Phillips story really newsworthy? Many said it was purely sensational and done to purposely embarrass the FBI. On the other hand, some believe it is important and deserving to know any and all missteps by those who are working for the American people and whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer and to that logic, one cannot argue. Obviously, someone passed the internal FBI document citing the findings of the FBI’s internal affairs division called the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) to Ms. Phillips. I guess it was alright for her to be complicit in the receipt of this sensitive document from her source which in and of itself is not only unethical but criminal. I wonder if she will report that person to the FBI’s OPR for investigation. That’s one story that all FBI employees would welcome but will not hold their breath in anticipation.

What did the report really cite? It showed first, an organization that is fearless in the protection of its standards and its vow to live by its core values and its motto of Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity. It also showed statistically that over 99% of all FBI employees take those words to heart and live by them each and every day. Yes, we are an organization of human beings; human beings that put their lives on the line each and every day in every corner of the globe, work endless hours to find that missing child or dangerous terrorists amongst us, human beings that skip soccer games, events and holidays with their families to get the job done. But it also showed that sometimes FBI employees slip into that human trap and make mistakes and some of them are stupid and embarrassing. I witnessed it in my career; good agents sometimes make mistakes and ultimately, suffer the consequences. But those agents and support people who make those mistakes represent less than 1% of FBI employees and less than 10% of that group or a total of less than 0.01% are actually terminated from employment because of their actions. The disciplinary process in the FBI is swift and merciless and no organization is more demanding and more unforgiving of bad behavior than the FBI. The FBI can put its personnel and its record up against any other law-enforcement agency or organization, public or private, in the world. FBI employees are chosen from the top of the professional ranks of law, accounting, the sciences, languages and the military. Their work ethic is without comparison and their personal sacrifice in the face of adversity is unmatched. So many could walk out the door and make twice the salary in the private sector but they don’t. One might call it loyalty, a vocation, a calling; many just call it Patriotism.

We have not had one terror attack on U.S. soil since 2001 and it is due, in large part, to the round the clock work of the men and women of the FBI; men and women who work seamlessly with their police and intelligence counterparts not only in the U.S. but in war zones and in every corner of the globe. FBI Director, Robert Mueller, has publicly stated, time and again, that terrorism is the FBI’s number one priority and that the FBI has short-circuited numerous attacks on American soil since 9/11 and have taken many terrorists off the streets of America. Americans read accounts of many of these cases in newspapers around the country every day but many more are part of a larger threat and they never make the press while the silent war goes on.

While FBI agents are covering the global terror threat, they are also tasked by our lawmakers and policy-makers in Washington to investigate, collect evidence and capture those that are victimizing children, those that are smuggling drugs, counterfeit software and pirated goods into the U.S., those that are fraudulently causing our insurance rates to skyrocket, those that are committing espionage against our government and our corporation’s secrets and on and on. All of these crimes and threats to the American people fall under the umbrella of more than 375 federal laws that the FBI is required by the President and Congress to enforce in its service to the American people. Give the FBI a break and look at the positive. Yes, we have slipped and shown our human side at times but we don’t sweep our mistakes under the rug. We confront them and deal with them, promptly, fairly and justly.

We have to. The American people expect it and deserve it.

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