Saturday, May 23, 2020

On FBI Inspections

Yesterday's announcement by current FBI Director Chris Wray that the FBI's Inspection Division would be, what else, inspecting bad behavior by the FBI in the Michael Flynn case was greeted with considerable derision. About time! was about the mildest comment.

Shipwreckedcrew is a former federal prosecutor who has become a bit of an overnight sensation on the conservative interwebs--deservedly so, since he offers knowledgeable insight on legal/prosecutive matters in an easily understood style. Noting the rough reception Wray's announcement received, shipwreckedcrew attempted to defend the FBI's Inspection Division. Judging from the tone of his article this morning at RedState, Visits By FBI Inspections Division Can Have Real Consequences — Heads Often Roll, it seems he must have received a fair amount of pushback from former agents. Deservedly so. Here's how the article begins:

The announcement on Friday that FBI Dir. Christopher Wray has ordered FBI Inspections Division to look into the FBI’s activity in the investigation of General Michael Flynn was met with quite a bit of skepticism and cynicism.  I made some efforts on Twitter to convince readers that within the FBI the Inspections Division is taken seriously, and their arrival at a particular field office is normally a circumstance filled with dread. 
Based on my own discussions with FBI agents over the years, the general sentiment from the “rank and file” in the offices subjected to inspections is that they believe the inspection team shows up knowing that certain people  have been targeted for “scrutiny”, and that a visit from the Inspections Division is really to “collect some scalps”. 
I think a bit of background on how inspections in the FBI are conducted might help readers understand why I have this view.

He goes on to explain how inspections are conducted--an accurate account in the "by the book" sense. He spends a fair amount of time describing how regular inspections of FBI Field Divisions are conducted. However, the Inspection Division is not confined to those types of inspections and can be called in for specific issues or to examine the handling of specific cases--such as the Flynn case. Here's his overview of the process, which can be tweaked to apply to most cases:

From an “objective” point of view, the role of the Inspectors might be described as looking over operations of the Field Office in order to confirm that all FBI policies and regulations are being complied with, and what better practices and habits might be suggested.  From a “subjective” point of view, the more common perspective is that the Inspectors arrive aware of problems based on previous reporting, and the purpose of the inspection is simply to document the misconduct and “bag” those responsible. The announcement of an inspection into the Flynn investigation sure sounds like the latter.
... They don’t arrive on the scene with an empty notebook, read through the case file and document what they discover. They arrive on the scene already armed with evidence of the likely misconduct that is the reason they were sent there.

In my day the FBI was pretty much unique among federal agencies in inspecting itself. Most agencies were inspected by outside inspectors, but the Hoover had convinced Congress that the Bureau's work was too sensitive to allow that. Whether the FBI is still unique I'm not sure. As happens in bureaucracies, the system developed into one that largely protected managers as long as they didn't screw up too badly. A few "scalps" would need to be collected, of course, to convince Congressional oversight that the FBI took inspections somewhat seriously, but rarely did anything drastic happen absent egregious screwups. Everything was graded on a curve, for the most part, with the average grade being a solid B. Actually, that made a lot of sense, when you think about it. Given that the FBI is the premier law enforcement and counter intelligence agency, how could it not be doing a premier job? Stands to reason. Moreover, if word got out that serious problems were regularly being uncovered then people might start reconsidering that "premier" designation.

Judging from recent OIG reports--for example, the one on handling of Confidential Human Sources--this system appears to still be in place and performing its function. In an organization that is largely operated by and for the benefit of the managers, the goal of it all is to basically protect and further the career aspirations of managers and make sure they advance in lock step. Screwups are weeded out, naturally, but also oddballs. The kind of people who ask questions like: But who will manage the managers? Asking questions like that automatically disqualifies one from the ranks of the managers.

All of this was pretty well understood by everyone. The longer you were in, the more inclined you were to greet an inspection with a yawn rather than any real trepidation. Unless you were a true screwup. Shipwreckedcrew provides the orthodox organizational view:

... members of the Inspection team are generally “motivated” to find problems. A supervisor who participates in an inspection, but fails to identify problems in need of correction might be considered to be insufficiently attuned to spotting operational deficiencies. The failure to find such problems as part of an inspection can be seen as an unfavorable attribute when the supervisor is considered for promotion — if he/she was unable to spot problems and correct them as an inspector, why would he/she be a good candidate to spot problems and correct them as a supervisor at the next level? So, the “bias” of an Inspector tends towards finding problems during the course of the inspection — not giving everyone a “clean bill of health.”

The reality is more complex. A balance is usually preferred. Yes, find problems, but not really serious problems unless you've been tasked to do so. The reason is obvious enough. If as an inspector you go into a Field Division and cause problems for the SAC or ASAC who greatly outrank you, you might well be harming your career. The junior inspector needs to be attuned to what his role is in any given inspection. So, absent special circumstances--which is a category we have to assume the Flynn case falls under--the question of what problems to find and how those problems are written up becomes a matter of negotiation between the local management and those who are running the inspection. Freelancing "headhunters" are frowned upon as a general rule.

On the other hand, joining the inspection staff was--and I'm sure still is--an essential step in administrative advancement. As shipwreckedcrew correctly describes it, there are definite advantages to being on the inspection staff, in terms of lobbying for advancement:

Inspections by the "Insp. Div." are conducted by supervisors from other offices. Same happens with US Attorneys Offices. The reason is that "supervisors" are supposed to know how things are done the right way, and they will recognize deficiencies.  
Participating in inspections is a "box" supervisors have to check if they want to promote up to the next level. So in almost all cases supervisors volunteer to be part of planned inspections. It means a couple weeks in a nice hotel in a different city, nice per diem to eat.  
And the opportunity to "network" with other supervisors in offices around the country. But if you are an "inspector", and you're evaluations of the offices you are sent to inspect always turns up no problems--a white-wash to to speak--that suggests you don't recognize problems. 

None of that is to suggest that the Inspection Division is unable to do a capable job when called upon--the foregoing is offered simply as perspective. If directed at a real problem that is harming the Bureau's public image--such as the framing of Michael Flynn--I'm quite sure they may well collect some scalps. I assume Barr/Durham will be urging the FBI on, so we should probably expect results.


  1. Wray has learned that Durham intends to indict former and current FBI staff (can't keep a secret in DC forever) and he's attempting a preemptive strike to limit the damage.

    Wray is every bit the weasel that Comey was, and his continued presence atop the FBI is both a disgrace and assures that no real remedy or change will ever by implemented on his watch. He has until November 4th to continue his subterfuge and treachery.

    And to date, Wray has never even acknowledged the severity of the criminality that pervaded the FBI during the prior Administration. There can be no redemption without confession.

  2. now we have a pretty good rough outline of the framing of General Flynn, and we know that it was basically a crime committed by managers. So, the system that you describe does not inspire confidence.

    Given all that I have learned of Wray, he seems like the archetypal swamp denizen, so when he initiates an action that sounds like accountability, I feel compelled to pass it through my swamp filter first.

    Since an FBI mea culpa seems the least likely motivation, the swamp filter suggests that he's either doing what's expected of him as minimally as possible or this is a counter-move to force Barr/Durham's hand in some fashion - perhaps in hopes of obtaining information and sources that they are reviewing with the hope of a controlled leaking program designed to minimize their impact or forewarn his co-conspirators.

    While this latter seems to fit the last few years to a tee, I assume Durham would be holding that information close to the vest.

    That leaves 'doing what's expected of him' as the likely motivation, but with a twist. If he's unable to obtain incriminating evidence held by Durham, then he can broadcast the findings of an inspection that finds little to no evidence of wrongdoing, thereby furthering the narrative that Barr/Durham are engaged in a political prosecution.

    1. Swalwell said all I need to know about Wray: "I trust FBI & Director Wray" (linking to Grenell's response: A Swalwell endorsement? Basically a "kill shot" on Wray's reputation in my book! -- MR

      p.s. I look forward to the future and Mark referring to him as "disgraced former director Wray" :-)

  3. Keyword in Wray's statement:
    "Any current on-board employees"

    And U.S. Attorney John Durham didn’t enter the picture until May 2019 per CT. Wray has been there since 2017.

    And if you do a search, no mention in Shipwreckedcrew article of Dana Boente.

    Echos of Lindsay Graham's actions on investigating Obamagate.

  4. A day late and a dollar short. Tasking the Insp Div division is a cover to preempt answering questions until the whitewash can be applied, or Durham's indictments fall--whichever occurs first. Must be Wray got word that the Senate would be asking questions...

    Think about it, when EVER has the ordering of the Insp Div to look into a matter made national media news? The events in question regarding Flynn occurred in 2016 and early 2017. My calendar says May 2020. That's not exactly finger-on-the-pulse responsiveness--that's glacial speed.

  5. My military experience was that the HQ staffs were the worst. While they (HQ) inspected all subordinate commands to ensure compliance and that formal guidance and directives were up-to-date, they themselves were never inspected and thus the rot set in. It was the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality. Lack of accountability at the top is a sure way to eventually cripple an organization. Wray has yet to even begin cutting out the rot at the FBI; and the we'll do better next time training is nothing but a band aid in an attempt to show he's doing something, even half-heartedly. He isn't fooling anyone.


    1. All bureaucracies basically work that way.

    2. And therein lies the problem.


  6. Love your blog. I believe that Joe Digenova (if I'm not mistaken) made a side remark in a recent interview that the FBI was having difficulties in getting convictions recently. This would not surprise me, as many have a very low opinion of the FBI (me included). Is there any word on the street, or .fedgov statistics, that might confirm or refute Joe's remark?

    1. FBI doesn't "get convictions". In the smallest of nutshells: FBI investigates alleged violations of federal law and refers "substantiated" cases to a U.S. Attorney who "gets convictions" or doesn't, such as the case may, or may not, be.

  7. @Mark

    "Screwups are weeded out, naturally, but also oddballs. The kind of people who ask questions like: But who will manage the managers? Asking questions like that automatically disqualifies one from the ranks of the managers."

    I have to laugh! Joseph Heller couldn't have said it better! If you really have an idea how the managers could manage better, you can't be a manager!

    Here's how Joseph Heller described the phenomenon in Catch 22:

    “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

    "That's some catch, that Catch-22," he observed.

    "It's the best there is," Doc Daneeka agreed.”

    Come to think of it, over the past few years we have seriously descended into Joseph Heller's world, haven't we?

    1. LOL. I think every bureaucracy has the tendency to foster a one size fits all version of the managerial personality.

  8. If Wray really wants to get to the bottom of things why doesn't he task line agents with investigating whether current or former agents or officers of the FBI committed crimes when they framed LTG Flynn for a 1001 based on fake allegations?

    Actually, I'm kinda hoping Durham or Jensen is already doing that.

    Given his utter ineptitude and the shame he has brought on the FBI, Wray, if he had any dignity, should simply resign.

    Or commit seppuku.

    1. I'd be very disappointed if he lasts past the election.

    2. If you've read anything of his background before getting the job.

    3. Hah! I've read everything, I think.

      Of course he is one of 'them' and deserves to go...and should never have been appointed.

      Trump's poor record on appointments, however understandable given his outsider and even pariah status, will surely go down in the record books as one of the factors which has led to the constant troubles he has encountered throughout his first term.

      I would add, regarding Wray, that while I do not consider myself a member of the Establishment (always been too much of a maverick for that), I and members of my immediate family have been privileged to attend one or more of all of the once great schools (Buckley School, Phillips Andover, and Yale) which Christopher Wray attended on his way to his exalted position in the Government and in our Establishment.

      These were...truly...once great schools where a student lucky enough to attend them could not only learn much but (if you were paying attention) leave them with an abiding sense of right and wrong.

      He should know better. And I am personally deeply ashamed.

    4. Cassander, you, of all people, shouldn't be ashamed.

      DJT's problems getting trustable people "will surely go down in the record books, as one of the factors which has led to the constant troubles...."

      Well, if this DJT weakness *lured* his foes to expose themselves, and if Barr/ Durham get it done, such that the country must face the magnitude of the evil of this crowd, this DJT weakness will've become a disguised blessing!

    5. Swalwell said all I need to know about Wray ("I trust FBI & Director Wray" linking to Grenell's response: Basically a "kill shot" on Wray's reputation in my book! -- MR

      p.s. I look forward to the future and Mark referring to him as "disgraced former director Wray" :-)

  9. Seems to me the FBI has a cultural issue built over decades. Culture being a blend of accountability, authority, and decision-making. Cultures in institutions like unions, education system, etc... are extremely difficult to change. FBI is no different. This isn't going to change overnight. This takes years to address. Suspicions, grievances, trust are all challenges to overcome during cultural shifts. My confidence level for the FBI to improve is low, inspection processes or other means of accountability.

    1. Think J Edgar Hoover, pretty much a saint over the there it appears. Mark can verify if so.

      How many files did he have on people over the decades?

      - TexasDude