Oversight Unable To Discover Which FBI Agents Leaked Clinton Investigation Info Because Goddamn Everyone Was Leaking Stuff

from the selective-transparency dept

Selective leaking has always been a part of the federal government’s day-to-day business. When there are narratives to massage, controlled leaking is tolerated. Leaks that make the government look bad tend to result in prosecutions, but leaks that act as highly unofficial PR or align with the motivations of the agencies they’re leaked from are largely ignored.

Every so often, though, oversight is asked to keep an eye on leaking, if only to make it appear that all leaks are considered equal. In the interest of perceived fairness, the FBI’s Office of the Inspector General has taken a look at the incidents surrounding the selective release of information about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server during her stint at the State Department under Barack Obama.

There were questions about political motivations — ones not helped at all by selective leaks about the investigation. This was on top of supposedly official actions, like then-FBI director James Comey’s decision to hold a press conference to announce the outcome of the FBI’s investigation. In the agency’s determination, what Clinton did was unwise and gave the appearance of impropriety, but was not illegal.

That would have been it. But shortly before the 2016 election, James Comey decided it was time for him to act unwisely and give off an air of impropriety by announcing the FBI would be reopening its investigation of Clinton and her email server, thanks to developments in an unrelated case. Comey’s actions were also questionable, but apparently not actually illegal.

The OIG tried to dig into the FBI’s use of selective leaking during this time period. And it has arrived at the conclusion that it’s almost impossible to accurately point fingers, much less discourage powerful federal agencies from doing whatever the hell they want to, policies and laws notwithstanding. (h/t Brad Heath)

The report [PDF] leads off with a summary of the undoubtedly frustrating investigation. First, it points out how things should be handled…

Among the issues we reviewed in that report were allegations that FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information regarding the FBI’s investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. FBI policies strictly limit the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, and require all other employees to coordinate with or obtain approval from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) in connection with such communications.

And follows that up with a resigned statement about how things actually are…

Nonetheless, as described in our 2016 pre-election report, we found that these policies appeared to be widely ignored during the period we reviewed. Specifically, in our analysis of FBI telephone records, FBI email records, FBI text, and Microsoft Lync instant messages, we identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.

The Federal Bureau of Sunk Ships (feat. Loose Lips). This would be a national embarrassment if it weren’t so hilarious. The FBI screws over public records requesters on a regular basis and issues tight-lipped “no comments” or Glomars whenever it’s being scrutinized by critics. But apparently everyone on staff is handing out secrets to half the Rolodex whenever they’re feeling particularly chatty about politically-tinged investigations.

And if this seems damning, imagine what the OIG would have found if it was actually engaged in an investigation determined to root out criminal activity.

Because this was a non-criminal administrative misconduct review, there was no legal basis to seek a court order to compel Internet service providers to produce to the OIG the content of any personal email communications for these FBI employees.

As much as I’d like to see some federal agents suddenly jobless, I appreciate the restraint of the OIG, which would have been treading into First Amendment waters by seeking content of communications with journalists. All the same, it appears the FBI doesn’t really need to keep paying people to staff its Public Relations department. It has all the unofficial help it needs to get the word out.

Those who were caught chatting it up with reporters tended to pass the buck, offering the Inspector General facts not in evidence to justify their casual disregard of FBI policy.

Employees interviewed by the OIG generally claimed that they believed their contacts were either authorized by OPA or a field office Special Agent in Charge (SAC) or Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) to provide background about an FBI initiative or completed investigation, or were personal in nature. Given the absence, in most instances, of any documentary evidence reflecting the substance of these communications, the OIG was unable to determine whether these communications were consistent with the explanations provided by the FBI employees or instead involved the sharing of non-public information with reporters.

Behold the Federal Office of the Future! It’s not just telecommuting and flexible staffing. It’s also paper trail-less, which probably helps the environment in some way. God bless America.

In conclusion: holy shit.

Our ability to identify individuals who have improperly disclosed non-public information is often hampered by two significant factors. First, we frequently find that the universe of Department and FBI employees who had access to sensitive information that has been leaked is substantial, often involving dozens, and in some instances, more than 100 people.

Second, although FBI policy strictly limits the employees who are authorized to speak to the media, we found that this policy appeared to be widely ignored during the period we reviewed. We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters. The large number of FBI employees who were in contact with journalists during this time period impacted our ability to identify the sources of leaks. For example, during the periods we reviewed, we identified dozens of FBI employees that had contact with members of the media.

Forget FOIA. Maybe all anyone needs is a barely targeted “request for comment.” And it would be ridiculous to believe the FBI is the only agency that behaves this way. The federal government — as multiple presidents have discovered — is staffed by the leakiest bunch of leakers who ever leaked. The problem isn’t the leaks. It’s the selective prosecution of leaks. If the leaks serve the government, they’re just part of the public service infrastructure. But if they embarrass the government or expose wrongdoing, they’re suddenly criminal acts. And that unequal treatment cannot be addressed by internal investigations. It’s a mindset problem — one the government has no intention of changing, no matter who’s occupying the Oval Office.

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Comments on “Oversight Unable To Discover Which FBI Agents Leaked Clinton Investigation Info Because Goddamn Everyone Was Leaking Stuff”

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This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bloof (profile) says:

And then many of the people who leaked information to try and damage Clinton would be decried as deep state leftists by the person they helped put in power. He was considerably more corrupt and decidedly unfit for office, but in their mind republicans are generally good for law enforcement as there’s always some manufactured crisis thay requires more funding and powers be granted to them, and instead they got targets placed on their backs because they made convenient scapegoats and distractions from the rampant corruption of his regime.

You reap what you sow, folks.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Well, US alphabet soup agencies have been compromised by whoever is in power for a long time now. Though it’s pretty telling that when democrats are in power what emerges is usually a spin on factual truth and when the republicans are in power what emerges is – not rarely, alas – utter falsehood. Like Iraqi WMD reports and what was dug up by the Church commission back in the day.

Bluegrass Geek (profile) says:

Re: The Durham Report is finally coming out

The problem is, how do you stop them?

Because it’s not just a few agents, it’s the whole damn organization. You can’t just shut it down, the FBI serves a vital part of the Executive branch prosecuting federal law. And you can’t just replace it whole-cloth: you’d either end up rehiring the same corrupt people into the new org, or you’d spend a decade getting an entirely new staff up to speed (and they’d likely still have ties to the old staff).

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Durham Report is finally coming out

the FBI serves a vital part of the Executive branch prosecuting federal law

Actually, no. DOJ and the various US Attys and deputies do that. The FBI finds or manufactures evidence, and sometimes crimes, for prosecution. From the days of Hoover, the organization has been corrupt and unreliable.

Yes, Hoover was the first FBI director. The FBI is a relatively recent invention without which we got along fine for many years.

ECA (profile) says:

anyone get he idea

That it has taken along time to get things this strange for this country?
How so many departments cant/Wont do their own jobs.
Everytime you turn around its Some person placed into jobs they dont know?
JObs given tot he corps they are supposed to monitor and keep things FAIR?
Making contracts/giving money, with expectations, and Never getting what our gov. asked for?
Our gov. has given so much money out to SAVE old corps, Airlines, banks, Cable, ISPS, and every corp around. But who is paying for this?
WE pay taxes going to them.
We pay the corps for services.
But, arent most of these services getting to the point of necessary?
Isnt there a consideration in our gov. about this and Copyrights? Even patents?

Anyone think its time to Take our gov. and DISCUSS a few things?

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