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.