The FBI published a training manual. In it, a bonehead author wrote that the FBI sometimes bends the law. This is obvious. Every bureaucracy bends the law. But the rule is this: “Don’t admit this officially.”
This was leaked, as documents usually are these days. Now the FBI is in damage control.
Yes, the manual says that agents can “bend or suspend the law” as they wiretap suspects. Now the FBI says it really did not mean it. It has removed the document from its counterterrorism training curriculum.
This means that the policy is still operational, but the manual is gone.
Unless Congress cuts the FBI’s budget next year and imposes an outside agency to supervise the FBI, nothing will change. Since neither of these steps will be taken, nothing will change.
“Dismissing this statement as ‘imprecise’ is a rather unsatisfying response given the very precise lines Congress and the courts have repeatedly drawn between what is and is not permissible, even in counterterrorism cases, over the past decade,” Steve Vladeck, a national-security law professor at American University, says. “It might technically be true that the FBI has certain authorities when conducting counterterrorism investigations that the Constitution otherwise forbids, but that’s good only so far as it goes.”
If Dr. Vladeck said this, he is as naive as a 10-term Congressman who still thinks Congress is in control of the executive’s bureaucracies. The words “that’s as far as it goes” should never be applied to any government agency. “That’s as far as it gies until someone gets caught” is more accurate.
The FBI at first stonewalled on providing the document, but then relented. Why not cooperate a little? The cat is out of the bag. Besides, nothing is going to be done about it.
The FBI refused to say which bonehead wrote it, and who the bonehead supervisor was who approved it, and who was in charge of counter-terrost training. Why should it provide such information? Why not make the media file a Freedom of Information Act complaint? Why not delay? This will all blow over. Every bureaucrat stalls. It’s a way of life. Usually, the fuss blows over. If it doesn’t, some junior-level employee is fired. No problem.
The FBI discovered the document, removed it from its curriculum, and allowed aides to the Senate Judiciary Committee to examine it as part of a six-month review into improper counterterrorism training spurred by Danger Room’s reporting. It was among hundreds of pages of training material — out of 160,000 reviewed, the FBI says — that the FBI took out of circulation for “imprecision”; inaccuracy; reliance on racial, ethnic or religious stereotypes; or conflating illegal behavior with constitutionally protected activities. No FBI official responsible for any of the discarded training material received disciplinary action.
Bureaucracies respond to only two things: the threat of budget cuts and the threat of outside supervision. Everything else is a temporary inconvenience.
Wired got its story. The FBI published its official explanation, said it was all a big mistake, stonewalled, and will wait for this to blow over.
This will blow over. Then it will be business as usual. But without the manual. From now on, the training on wiretapping will be verbal, the way it usually is.
Some poor bonehead will have his career sidetracked for being so dumb as to put existing policy into print.