Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What Went Wrong?

Apologies in advance if this post seems unduly self absorbed. I can't help it. To me it was personally important and I believe this history remains important to understanding the present. It's necessarily incomplete, but it's hopefully a start.


It's finally happening. Throughout the ongoing Russia Hoax coup attempt there has been no lack of criticism of the FBI. That's only natural, since two of the leading protagonists--as chronicled at this blog--have been the most recent two directors of the FBI: Robert Mueller and the now disgraced James Comey. However, much of the attention that the FBI has received has been focused more on the crimes and misdeeds of a limited group of indiviudals. It's true that many pundits have questioned the FBI's institutional culture--how could the FBI have gone so wrong? Usually this has played out within a narrative of "good" field Special Agents (SAs or simply "agents") versus "bad" HQ schemers. What's finally happening is that retired agents are beginning to speak out, offering a perspective on organizational developments that were part of led to a transformation of the FBI from its formerly pristine image (deserved or not) to the systemically corrupt organization that the nation now sees.

A major impetus to this willingness of retired agents to speak out--if only in short tweets--has been the 2018 article by retired Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) James Gagliano: Robert Mueller and the 'up or out' management policy that damaged the FBI.  Gagliano was certainly correct to draw attention to Mueller's role in the transformation of the FBI from its role as the "premier law enforcement agency" (and also the lead counterintelligence agency) in the United States to a major player in the globalist world of Deep State power politics. Unfortunately, Gagliano writes from a viewpoint that is more narrowly focused on the grievances of former Bureau managers. While those grievances are real, in my view a longer range historical perspective is necessary if we are to fully understand the significance of what has come to pass. What I think we are seeing is the end result of Congress' decision, following the death of Director Hoover, to integrate the FBI fully into the federal legal bureaucracy and, fatefully, after 9/11, the new centralized Deep State: The Intelligence Community. A key part of this process has been the decision to turn leadership of the FBI to former federal judges and career prosecutors who have imposed a managerial style ill suited to the real problems facing the FBI.

Perhaps a bit of autobiography will help get us started on this trip, moving from the past to the present.

I was born in 1950. That means I grew up, went through high school, college, and law school, during the decisive decades of cultural, societal, and constitutional upheaval that serve as the backdrop to the transformation of the FBI. I witnessed the beginnings of the Left's Long March through our constitutional and societal institutions. By the time I arrived at my first field office in January, 1979, America was irreversibly different from what it had been during my early years. That process continued apace throughout my years in the Bureau. That's an important point, because it's simply unrealistic to suppose that an organization like the FBI can continue to be counter-cultural indefinitely, when it must needs draw its recruits from the ambient culture--recruits who will largely reflect the values of that culture. Ultimately, we're now witnessing the results of that cultural revolution, but this account is not intended to be an indulgence in nostalgia. An account of the steps along the way may help explain the FBI as we're seeing it today.

In 1979 Judge Webster--he preferred that title to "Director"--was only a year into his tenure at the FBI. His great innovation, which fit with his strong background in corporate law, was to set the FBI on a new management path: Management By Objectives. Here's how Wikipedia describes the thinking behind MBO:

Management by objectives is the process of defining specific objectives within an organization that management can convey to organisation members, then deciding how to achieve each objective in sequence. ... This process ... helps organization members to see their accomplishments as they achieve each objective, which reinforces a positive work environment and a sense of achievement. An important part of MBO is the measurement and comparison of an employee's actual performance with the standards set. Ideally, when employees themselves have been involved with the goal-setting and choosing the course of action to be followed by them, they are more likely to fulfill their responsibilities. ..., the system of management by objectives can be described as a process whereby the superior and subordinate jointly identify common goals, define each individual's major areas of responsibility in terms of the results expected of him or her, and use these measures as guides for operating the unit and assessing the contribution of each of its members.

It was pretty apparent from the start that this was never going to work as envisioned--not in the real world of law enforcement or counterintelligence. For starters, the FBI--like every other government agency--is necessarily run in a top down management style. Input from employees as envisioned by MBO is not and cannot be part of a government agency's management style. The natural result, of course, was that the FBI, while adopting the forms of MBO, never committed to the substance. That was understandable in a government context, but there is a price to pay. Detractors of MBO had long noted what could result when the actual method was not deeply internalized:

... setting production targets will encourage workers to meet those targets through whatever means necessary, which usually results in poor quality.
... self-centered employees might be prone to distort results, falsely representing achievement of targets that were set in a short-term, narrow fashion. In this case, managing by objectives would be counterproductive.

None of this is to say that the FBI, even now, has totally succumbed to these problems. The FBI can never be a purely self enclosed organization. The real world will intrude, many employees remain dedicated to their investigative work--not least because immersion in productive investigative work serves to insulate them from the game playing of government style MBO and enhances their self respect.

However, there will always be those who see MBO in the government mode as the path to career advancement, beyond the level of the field investigator.

In the "old" Bureau, field supervisors (SSAs) typically rose through the ranks, more or less directly. They were ordinarily agents who had spent 10 years or more, mostly specializing in a specific field of work, attaining real expertise through bringing multiple cases to successful conclusions. In the "new" Bureau, after Webster's accession, that approach was increasingly deprecated, with a new emphasis on those seeking to join the ranks of management "going back to headquarters," gaining "headquarters experience," to understand the Bureau as a whole.

This meant two things. First, the candidate for management was basically a volunteer. Second, the candidate had to be willing to relocate--multiple times, because each step upward in management now entailed a geographic transfer. Thus, field agents commonly said that the only qualification for "administrative advancement" was a willingness to relocate--regardless of family hardships. Of course that wasn't entirely fair, and upper management took steps to guard against that type of careerism: the candidate for advancement had to demonstrate worthiness.

I think everyone knows what was bound to come next. First, any time an organization relies on volunteers to fill its management ranks it finds itself over a barrel in one way or another. The requirement of relocation automatically excludes many qualified candidates. As a result, in addition to highly motivated and qualified candidates who are able to rationalize relocating their families every few years, there will inevitably be other candidates who seek advancement from less worthy motives. But the need for candidates to fill positions means that the organization will end up accepting many less than ideal candidates. How much less than ideal can be divined from perusing OIG summary reports of disciplinary investigations.

Another very specific problem arises in the field of national security. In investigative work generally it can often be difficult to discern just how talented a given agent is--as opposed to being favored by fortune in a particular "big" case. In criminal work there are at least some measures that, over time, can prove to be relatively objective. However, in the fields of counterintelligence or counterterrorism, fields in which cases may last for many years or a break may occur through an unsolicited defection, it's far more difficult to measure the true worth of an agent. All these factors lead, in the context of the system for administrative advancement, to strong incentives to jigger with goals and objectives to allow candidates for advancement to claim accomplishments that might not stand up to strict scrutiny. An organization of the size and character of the FBI may be able to handle this for a time, but sooner or later this system will become significantly corrupt.

This brings us to the point in Gagliano's article where he praises Louis Freeh as Director. Among agents Freeh was best known for his pledge to move the Bureau's top heavy managerial complement (at that time 20% of the agent population) back to investigations:

Louis J. Freeh, had been wildly popular for defying the norms of a bureaucracy. He emptied out the management cubicles and unapologetically reassigned a large swath of headquarters denizens back to FBI field offices.

My recollection of that is a bit different. Freeh and Mueller, of course, are almost paradigmatic for post-Hoover directors--they each had some successes, but also had spectacularly wrongheaded failures. Freeh was an FBI agent from 1975 to 1981 in the New York City field office and at FBIHQ, but he believed his genius wasn't being recognized as quickly as it should have been. He moved on to a prosecutive career in the SDNY, achieved some notable successes, then became a federal judge. However, he jumped at the chance to become director of the agency that had wronged him.

When Freeh's scheme for reassigning the HQ people who had failed to bow down to him years ago was made known, I recall discussing the matter with my then supervisor. My supervisor's take was as follows: "All he's doing is getting rid of the old time HQ people so he can bring in his own people. And I'm gonna be one of them." Since my supervisor quickly rocketed up the management ladder and retired as an Assistant Director, I'm inclined to believe that he understood what Freeh was about. And what the FBI was about.

Freeh had a rocky eight years as director, and never did seem to get a handle on the national security aspects of the job. The Robert Hanssen case closed out his tenure, and a year later the Katrina Leung case exploded. Both unmitigated disasters had festered throughout his eight years as director, although both had started earlier. 

Which brings us to Robert "Bob" Mueller. Mueller became director just days before 9/11--in fact, I, a lowly field agent, spoke with him on the phone the day before 9/11. Thus Mueller was faced with the task of virtually reinventing the Bureau as an agency whose primary focus was to be protecting the United States from terrorist attacks. Here I follow Gagliano's account:

The immediate order requiring an expansion of the counterterrorism division resulted in the forced-transfer of mid-career agents and managers from the criminal branch ranks to staff the vacancies.


There simply weren’t enough bureau managers at headquarters to handle oversight of the shifting caseload. 
In 2004, Mueller arrived at a solution. Recognizing that much of the bureau’s institutional knowledge and experience was located within the supervisory special agent ranks in FBI field divisions. He settled on a shortsighted plan to compel veteran agents off their “desks” — bureau parlance for supervisory oversight of a line squad — and force them down to headquarters, if they desired to remain part of management ranks.

The solution involved a concept borrowed from the military: up or out. Field supervisors would be compelled to move "up" to HQ or step down from their supervisory roles to the level of field agents. It didn't work the way Mueller expected--many field supervisors refused to participate. The result was that ever less experienced agents moved to HQ, while the vacancies in field supervisory positions were filled by even less experienced agents:

Mueller’s team began offering attractive financial incentives, such as housing allowances, per diem. And he also promised additional allowances and step-increases upon return, while reducing the time requirement for headquarters assignment from a standard 2 to 3-year tour, down to just 18 months. 
They also inexplicably allowed junior agents — some with just three years in the field — the opportunity to participate. This was a break from FBI tradition and culture which typically stipulated that an agent serve a decade in the field, learning the business and being successful case agents before considering a tour at headquarters and ascension up the career ladder. 
Many senior agents on field desks elected to retire, taking with them decades of experience. 
In government, immediate needs and instantaneous gratification by way of spreadsheets seldom fully consider the contraindications of policy decisions.
And so, in the early aughts, junior agents packed up in droves, taking advantage of the heretofore unseen financial incentives and shortened headquarters tour requirements, and flocked to D.C. 
So the program still exists, even under Comey’s successor Christopher A. Wray. It remains as wildly unpopular amongst the rank and file, except for those inexperienced and junior agents who have opportunistically reaped the benefits of premature advancement. 
The FBI’s “up or out” policy is celebrating its fourteenth birthday. The details and effects of it are certainly not part of the current public discussion of some troubling and fairly damning developments within the FBI’s senior executive ranks.

If you're wondering how an Andrew McCabe could have risen from a field agent to Deputy Director of the FBI in just 20 years--effectively running the day to day business of the Bureau--hopefully you'll have a better idea. Bill Priestap rocketed from field agent to Assistant Director in 17 years. Peter Strzok was running Counterespionage within 19 years of entry. I can think of several other agents I worked with who enjoyed equally "successful" careers in counterintelligence--throughout the Hanssen and Leung years. And now this--the FBI, under the leadership of ex-prosecutors who built their careers on unscrupulous and unethical prosecutive tactics, spearheading an attempted coup. What would Director Hoover say?

That's a question I can't answer, but here's what some retired agents (and one former prosecutor are saying):

Bobby Chacon

most of us career brick agents saw the disaster of this policy up close.  Any system that rewards ambition over experience, like this one does, will rot an organization from the inside out.
12:36 AM · May 26, 2020 
Linda Rarey
I was just thinking about this yesterday. The 5 year "up or out" policy Mueller instituted is to blame for a lot of the current leadership problems in HQ. It's why I always say HQ is different animal. Great article by @JamesAGagliano
5:29 PM · May 25, 2020 

Terrible policy.  Advancement based on volunteerism and willingness to relocate.  Led to poor performing agents being put in positions of supervising good agents.  
Yeah -- that's gonna work.
1:34 AM · May 26, 2020 

I wish I could end this with recommendations for the future of the Bureau. Unfortunately any solution will have to be as much--or most likely more--cultural as managerial. In that sense the problems of the Bureau are a microcosm of the our problems as a nation.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. It's very helpful understanding the drift of this once-proud organization.

    As a minor point of intersection, I'm an architect. My first project out of school I worked on the GSA's field staff overseeing the construction of the Washington DC FBI Field Office.

    Later in my career I was the lead designer for the joint FBI-DoD CJIS Biometric Technology Center in West Virginia.

  2. Thanks for these wise macro insights Mark. Depressing as hell. Should be required reading for Wray's successor. Hope you know someone with PDJT's ear. Or Barr's.

  3. Mark, it’s not self absorbed, it’s testimony of your experience and the wisdom that accumulated.

    Counterintuitively, stating you do not have a solution is wisdom.

    - TexasDude

  4. Super informative post. I knew nothing about any of this until reading it just now.

    With respect to your closing paragraph, seems like you probably hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately.

  5. One more thing ... OK ... a couple ...

    Generically, any system of managing an organization is dependent upon the morality of those within. Once compromised by enough folks, it does not matter how good it is. Yet, some ways are more prone to abuse and corruption than others.

    This was not just an FBI thing, though. It was ... is ... institutional corruption across all US government, all branches. Nothing has been spared.

    - TexasDude

    1. Couldn't agree more. The FBI occupies such a critical position in the federal justice system that the effect of all this gets magnified. As its problems have increased so too has the reach of the surveillance state. That's a troubling combination.

  6. Well done, Mr. Wauck. My father-in-law was a SA with the FBI, some of the bureaucratic stories he could tell would curl one's hair. Is there at least hope the Bureau will or can change for the better?

  7. Mr Wauck
    It mirrors what has happened (accelerated) across the federal government agencies & departments over the past 25-30 years. One thing you did not mention is that those that move up In the system tend to suppress strong, competent people and promote “yes” people. It’s a self-perpetuating reinforcement of failure.

    1. Very true. They tend to promote people in their own image.

    2. People who won't be a threat to them.

  8. Mark

    Your thoughts about 'how we got here' and 'what went wrong' are most appreciated. What we talk about daily here on your blog: its all connected. You have given us much to consider. Thank you.

    Here is a link to another fascinating memoir -- if you will -- which also covers some of the history of the FBI. I first watched it in 2017 when Rosenstein nominated Mueller and I was trying to figure out who Mueller was and why I should believe 'he's a good man'.

    In it Mueller describes the transformation of the FBI from a merely criminal investigative agency to a 'national security and intelligence' agency. He touches on many of the personnel, management and culture issues that arose in the transformation.

    Watching Mueller it seems to me it may have been a short leap from undertaking the perhaps legitimate intelligence responsibilities which Mueller describes (for example, anti-terrorism following 9/11) to the illegitimate political surveillance activities of Comey, McCabe, et al. His discussion around and following 30:00 of the Patriot Act, the FISA Act, civil liberties and the rule of law is illuminating. A few minutes later he discusses power and the risk of abuse of power and its relation to investigations, predication and probable cause. Towards the end he discusses the importance of developing leadership.

    I can't help but also note the enormous difference between the speaker's presentation skills displayed in this 2009 video and his performance before Congress last year. There is an element of honest and human self-evaluation in this video which was apparently missing last year.

    Even so, he admits, tellingly: "You know what you learn in this business? You learn how to duck questions."

    1. Of course Mueller is blowing smoke. The FBI from its earliest days was a national security and intel organization. That history actually makes fascinating reading, but the Bureau's rep was initially made on its anti-gangster activities.

    2. Two points. Mueller states that being a lawyer is antithetical to being a good manager. When was the last non-lawyer running the FBI?

      Just past 30 he says re the FBI: Everybody below you wants to tell you how good things are; finding out how bad things are is the real challenge.

      Well, I was in the position of being the guy trying to tell him how bad things are. I sent him a VERY long email to that effect. He called me on the phone, said he'd take care of things, and that was the end of it. You could say that this happened within days of him starting the job and literally the day before 9/11. Nevertheless, these were matters that are still, nearly two decades later, recognized as having been and still being "crucial to the well being of the Bureau." And then I found out that the Bureau lied to OIG. About me.

    3. For the avoidance of doubt (probably not necessary but...) I didn't post the link to the Mueller video to credit Mueller with...anything. To me, watching him explain and justify and defend himself and his actions just adds to the mosaic of information.

      I'm not surprised he lied. The lying (there and elsewhere) seemed...and be endemic. Of course I encountered it in my career, too, with some nearly fatal consequences...but that's a story for another day.

    4. Mark, when "the Bureau lied to OIG. About me", do you believe that Mueller pushed this, or at least knew of it?
      Has any of this been reported in the MSM, or in "solid" righty places, e.g. GWP?

    5. Look in the addendum:

    6. I read your post back in December of last year but don't remember if I read the addendum. Shameful; just shameful.

      I had a very small incident, nothing compared to yours. It wasn't a crime or violation in any manner. I had moved onto a new project by invitation. I was on a team that was breaking up, due to its mission being absorbed by a larger group.

      My old supervisor, John, wanted to help place a reliable colleague, Jeff, onto my new project and starting inserting Jeff into my efforts. Jeff's supervisor took umbrage and called out John in an email, on which I was cc'ed. John responded that this wasn't his doing; it was all Joe (me). I was stunned at his flat out lie.

    7. RE: Mark's 1010 comment

      "Well, I was in the position of being the guy trying to tell him how bad things are."

      Could be that he did look into what you told him. You viewed it as flawed policy or practice leading to bad consequences/outcomes. he looked and said to himself, "Lying, cheating, backstabbing in the cause of career climbing. I can use that." Where one person sees corruption the corrupt sees a feature.

      It's not that America was convinced that Satan doesn't exist. It's that he has been given cover by being made into a childish cartoon character by allotting him magical powers over the physical world. His interest is in the human heart and that alone. Every tool he needs for his purposes lies within every human being. He simply whispers the excuses people need to let those tools (fear, envy, spite, lust) well up and be put to use. Too many listen.

      It's all about choices. My parents and grandparents thought Flip Wilson's shtick about "the devil made me do it" was hilarious. They could laugh at it because it was ridiculous on its face. The devil can't "make" anyone do anything. We all make choices. Mueller should draw his last breath behind bars.
      Tom S.

    8. There's not much doubt that--over a span of quite a few years--Mueller saw those character defects in Andrew Weissmann as features rather than flaws.

  9. Mr. Wauck,

    Good post. I agree with the other commenters. I've seen the same thing at my agency in my 30-plus years.

    It's also incestuous the way senior leaders leave the agency, go to work for a contractor (or start their own company) and then come back to our agency or a different agency. There's too much old boy culture.

    1. That aspect has gotten much worse in the last decade or so. That used to be relatively unheard of at the FBI, but exploded under Mueller.

  10. I am simply amazed how the FBI shows little in the way of the fundamentals of good common sense and ability to document. To keep "302's" on a spreadsheet is simply a bad practice. There should be "case management" tools available to document and to provide audit traceability as necessary. The original 302 Pientka created that Strzok changed will never be found as Strzok simmply overwrote the original spreadsheet. Version control, records management, etc.. should all be methods of best practices used by our premier law enforcement agency. Sad reflection on practices. If your former supervisor had documented your interaction re: Hanson statements to him then at least there would have been a record.

    1. From what I have read, the 302’s are, in essence, witness statements from the agent on what transpired in an interview. It reminds me of what local law enforcement does in a case report in that you describe what each subject states and what you observed. I am not sure if the agents puts in those documents what they believe occurred based on what they heard or observed.

      These documents are inherently legal documents and subject to discovery in a criminal trial. Even hand scribbles, investigator notes, are required to be turned in for discovery.

      I am truly surprised no audio/visual recordings were ever made. Even though the first interview was consensual and Comey didn’t want to tip off Flynn to this pretext interview, due to the serious of the investigation, it should have been recorded.

      If you mislead or out right lie in a case report, that’s bad, bad, bad. The case report must accurately reflect what occurred which can be verified by written witness statements from all subjects you talked to and by you body camera, in car camera, and/or interview room camera. This is done to “lock in” people’s statements. This also locks in the law enforcement officer unless the officer was just repeating what he was told.

      Since case reports, witness statements, FBI’s 302s, are the foundation for a probable cause statement as to why a person was arrested on the spot or why a warrant is needed, there must be official systems in place to store, secure, and retrieved them physical and digital. Although, one might be legally allowed to just store digitally, it would be better if you did both.

      I seriously doubt the FBI does not have this in place. Digitally, the servers should be redundant as in a RAID system and I would not be surprised physical documents have copies that go here, there, elsewhere.

      No, the lost 302 exists or was purposely destroyed or not even put into the system in the first place.

      - TexasDude