from the accountability-is-still-mostly-theoretical dept
The FBI has a long history of misconduct, dating back to the J. Edgar Hoover years when agents were writing letters to civil rights leaders encouraging them to kill themselves.
Since then, investigations and leaks have exposed the FBI’s insular attitude that values incremental law enforcement wins over respect for enshrined rights. The addition of the FBI to the national security matrix following the 9/11 attacks hasn’t made the agency better. It’s only given them more venues for misbehavior.
The FBI radicalizes societal misfits and people with mental health issues to ensure a steady stream of counter-terrorism wins. It refuses to abandon junk science simply because it’s so much easier to obtain convictions by ignoring actual science. And it oversteps constitutional bounds with alarming frequency to make it appear the agency is super-productive when it comes to fighting crime.
Who can reform this agency? One would have hoped Attorney General Merrick Garland could rein in the worst impulses of FBI agents. But that hasn’t happened, even if the Biden’s AG has at least instituted some positive, if incremental, changes.
The problem is one that every employer faces: when employees are caught doing bad things, there’s nothing stopping them from quitting, rather than facing the consequences of their actions. That’s the case here, where a whistleblower has provided information on the FBI’s apparently endemic sexual harassment problem.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he obtained internal records from a whistleblower alleging 665 FBI employees retired or resigned following misconduct investigations to avoid receiving final disciplinary letters.
Grassley said the whistleblower — whom he did not name — provided an internal Justice Department report that indicated the employees left between 2004 and 2020 and included 45 senior-level employees.
“The allegations and records paint a disgraceful picture of abuse that women within the FBI have had to live with for many years,” Grassley wrote in a letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The exit of 45 senior-level employees may not seem like much, especially when spread over a 15-year period. But the problem isn’t limited to those at the upper end of the org chart. Following up on a 2020 Associated Press report — one that showed the upper echelon did little to discipline violators — Sen. Grassley is now demanding answers from the FBI about the mass exit of employees accused of misconduct.
As the AP report noted, FBI officials did little more than stand by while employees quit to avoid accountability. In some cases, the employees retained their full pensions and benefits, despite resigning before investigations could be completed. The FBI also allowed the accused to avoid having the results of investigations being added to their permanent record, allowing them to seek government employment elsewhere without the stigma of sustained misconduct allegations.
The 45 senior-level officials are only a very small percentage of the whole. The letter [PDF] sent to Attorney General Merrick Garland cites a much higher number of exiting employees.
The Justice Department reviewed 8,686 summaries in Javelin and found that from 2004 to December 23, 2020, “665 FBI employees, including 45 [Senior Executive Service (SES)]-level employees have retired or resigned following an FBI or [Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG)] investigation into alleged misconduct, but prior to [the Office of Professional Responsibility’s (OPR)] issuance of a final disciplinary letter.” Although the text is limited to “alleged misconduct,” it’s been alleged to my office that the data involved an element of sexual misconduct, which comports with the purpose of the Javelin review that was done because of the Associated Press article.
That number — as high as it is — only includes those who have resigned following the completion of an investigation. The number of FBI employees fleeing accountability is likely much, much larger.
Importantly, the document also notes, “[t]his dataset does not include retirements or resignations which occurred during an ongoing misconduct investigation or prior to the initiation of a formal investigation.” In other words, it appears that the number of retirements and resignations could be much higher than 665 individuals.
The letter from Grassley makes a number of demands from the AG, including a full audit of misconduct complaints and an updating of the policies the FBI uses to engage in investigations and discipline those found to have engaged in misconduct.
Unfortunately, while this may result in an accurate reporting of the actual scale of the FBI’s sexual misconduct problem (the area Grassley has chosen to focus on), it likely won’t change anything about FBI employees’ ability to simply walk away from taking responsibility for their actions. As the FBI notes in its statement to The Hill, there’s almost nothing the FBI can legally do to keep this from happening.
“The FBI cannot legally stop someone from resigning or retiring,” the agency said. “It is infuriating that we are left with little disciplinary recourse when people leave before their case is adjudicated.”
True, the FBI may not be able to keep employees from quitting. But it can ensure employees with sustained complaints have that noted on their permanent law enforcement record. And it can proactively provide this information to other government and law enforcement agencies that are seeking to hire (or have already hired) problematic feds.