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New FBI Director

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 1 Issue 32 May 22, 2001

This is not an exercise designed to review the many FBI lapses which have occurred in the last several years, mostly under the “leadership” of Janet Renoís Department of Justice. There have been many more huge FBI successes, but that is not the point of this editorial. The FBI has its die-hard detractors, as well as its many blind loyalists. Iíd like to think this is a time for close examinations.

I was an FBI Agent for 26 years, and while I did not achieve high rank, my assignments kept me in close touch with the FBI management. In fact, I was detailed to FBI Headquarters and served as a manager for some time, and I was also acting manager of a very sensitive squad of 40 agents and staff in the Washington, DC Metropolitan field office.

I retired in 1995 in good stead, and a picture of that occasion is hung on my wall, with a beaming Aldrich family standing with a smiling Louis Freeh. At the moment I stood there with Director Freeh, I both admired him and felt bad, as I knew better than most that the Clinton Administration had "rolled" my agency.

Freeh and senior management had been conned like so many others. Freeh later admitted that the Clinton White House had betrayed a trust with the FBI. But, the betrayal did not happen in a vacuum. There were those at the FBI who knew how corrupt the Clinton White House was proving to be -- and they were some of the managers working directly under Louis Freeh.

That was in 1995. By the end of 1996 it appeared that a badly burned FBI Director had finally understood what he was up against, and was no longer listening to wimpy bureau-crats, or a political siren song coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

But while Director Freeh was busy playing catch up ball, learning what his ignored street agents already knew and reported, much damage to national security was done. Also, some honest FBI agents lost their positions in the White House, some 1000 confidential files were misdirected to political operatives in the Clinton White House, and a criminally minded president was reelected for another awful, disgusting four years, resulting in House Impeachment in 1999.

The single biggest complaint I had about Director Freeh was that the FBI management had not changed for the better under his leadership. Indeed, many of the problems with the Clinton Administration were glossed over by some senior FBI management for reasons they have yet to explain. They have never been called to account for their actions or inaction in this regard. Why not?

Iíve often wondered about that. Louis Freeh came into the FBI with the best of intentions, and he was well liked and well respected. One of his goals was to fix FBI management problems. What went wrong?

Perhaps itís as simple as expecting a man – a very ethical, smart, good man – to take over an agency rife with management problems - some obvious and some not so obvious - when the single biggest management challenge he had handled in the recent past had been to supervise about half a dozen hand-picked and highly qualified federal court employees. And, Iím sure he had an excellent chief of staff to help him with that task.

He also went from a budget of perhaps a million dollars, to a multibillion dollar budget; overnight. Imagine a successful manager of a car dealership being expected to come in and run General Motors. Maybe the analogy is a poor one, but perhaps you get my point.

In the last few days, a well-respected member of the former Reagan Justice Department has suggested in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that selecting an FBI Director should have little to do with management skills, proven or imagined.With respect, I do not understand the logic of this position.

The FBI has more than 25,000 employees, with half of those carrying weapons with the license to take human life. The 13,000 plus FBI agents also can cause enormous damage to individuals and businesses with an arrest, a single subpoena, or a single search warrant served, or even a door-to-door inquiry in someoneís neighborhood.

Ask Richard Jewell or Billy Dale what can happen to you when the FBI investigative trolley leaves the track.

To suggest that these powerful individuals do not need excellent leadership and close management from the top down, is incomprehensible. It is likewise unwise to believe that the agency can run quite well – thank you very much -- without a director, as some have suggested. The implication here is that at all times the agency is run so well that it needs a mere ethical figurehead.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I donít suggest that a CEO who has proven management skills should be considered for this important post. Any applicant for this job needs significant law enforcement experience in their background. But I do think systemic management flaws in the FBI can only be addressed by someone who understands the bigger picture of massive federal government bureaucracy weaknesses, and failings.

I would not want to see a politician in this important slot. However, anyone needing to take on the White House from time to time, or expected to cross swords with the slippery federal bureaucracy, better have great political instincts.

Choir boy types or those who worship at the altar of law enforcement should not apply, in my opinion. They will just end up doing more harm than good, and they may very well be blinded by the mythology of an "agency that can do no wrong."

The FBI is a tool. Granted, its a finely made tool with excellent trained, superbly selected men and women, and also all the assets to get the job done. But like any other powerful tool, the FBI can be dangerous and destructive if misused or mismanaged.

You would never let the untrained use a chainsaw, would you? Why then would we give the very powerful, very big and growing FBI to an unseasoned, unproven, untrained manager, and expect that he or she will effectively manage 25,000 unique, independent, very active individuals, and at the same time spend billions of dollars efficiently and effectively?

Does rising to the level of the federal bench qualify one to be an FBI Director?

Recent history at the FBI states otherwise, and when you have 46 out of 56 FBI field offices dropping the ball on one of the countryís most important investigations, that sir, with all due respect, is a very serious management problem that starts at the top. The former federal judge didnít see it coming, apparently.

I think we should pay attention to Director Freeh when he says he takes full responsibility for the McVeigh case documents snafu. These are not mere words, but good evidence of his excellent character, which is not in dispute.

Maybe nobody can run the FBI anymore - maybe itís too big! Perhaps weíd better find out.

What happened at the FBI in the McVeigh case was not just a mere computer glitch, as some have tried to argue. Itís a serious management problem.

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