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OPINION

Proposed TN Legislation Bars Local Cops From FBI Terrorism Investigations

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
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AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

Last Tuesday, Tennessee legislators heard proposed legislation which purports to “limit activities and coordination of Tennessee law enforcement agencies with the FBI in cases that are non-criminal in nature, such as surveillance on Tennessee residents.” However, House Bill 2912 is another in a growing line of reactionary, populist responses to FBI overreach.  

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HB 2912 is understandable in light of recent FBI missteps, weaponization, and blundering. But, this proposed legislation is ultimately counterproductive to its stated aim, curtailing FBI abuses and empowering state and local law enforcement. 

An UncoverDC piece detailed portions of former FBI Agent Steve Friend and Tennessean Paul Vaughn’s public testimony in support of HB 2912. The FBI arrested Vaughn in 2021, and in February 2024 a Tennessee jury convicted Vaughn and five others of violating the FACE Act by blocking the entrance at an abortion clinic outside Nashville. He currently faces an outrageous sentence of up to 10.5 years. 

Steve Friend testified, in part, that including local law enforcement (LE) in classified investigations potentially precludes a Sheriff or other LE executive from knowing what his or her employees are up to. “This practice disempowers the chief elected law enforcement officer in counties and prevents them from knowing what their employees are investigating. This bill before you will force the FBI to bring legitimate counterterrorism cases to an elected sheriff and seek his approval to partner on an investigation.” 

The bill is an attempt to exclude Tennessee LE from FBI national security and terrorism investigations by prohibiting participation in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The JTTF was established by the FBI at the New York Field Office in 1980. Since that time, especially after 9/11, the JTTF has been utilized by the FBI to pool the investigative talents and resources of state and local LE as well as various intelligence assets. Today, there are JTTFs in all 56 of the FBI’s field offices. 

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The JTTF has served as a nexus between federal law enforcement, and local LE expert in the intricacies of applying law enforcement objectives to the delicate interests of civil rights, which they navigate on a daily basis. 

FBI agents simply do not routinely do their work in such close proximity to real time decision making, which requires the application of Constitutional principles to living, evolving fact patterns. In other words, street cops know how to do their jobs in line with civil liberties like no other element of American law enforcement. 

In sophomoric fashion, Friend argued for the elimination of this vast pool of practical experience from FBI investigations and operations.  

The proposed bill states explicitly, “The nominee [local LE] shall not assist the FBI in national security investigations or operations. Further, the nominee shall not be a member of an FBI joint terrorism task force.” 

In light of FBI weaponization concerns, why would one argue for the exclusion of local LE who are situated to influence the outcome of national security and terrorism cases? (especially those focused on anti-government, and anti-authority violent extremism) Though the ultimate disposition of those cases rests in the hands of Department of Justice attorneys, JTTF participants are positioned to influence their federal LE partners through the discursive process of case management — as any experienced FBI case agent can say, it’s very much a team sport. 

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Moreover, these individuals are best situated to whistleblow on constitutional violations. Additionally, JTTF members aren’t employed by the FBI, they’re ultimately accountable to their local or state jurisdictions and are, therefore, immune from any financial considerations linked to retaliatory measures.

Steve Friend and his deeply unhappy associates are fond of decrying the “golden handcuffs” that allegedly restrain the vast majority of FBI employees from marching to the discordant beat of the “Suspendables” drum. The truth is far less opprobrious. They lack support simply because their methods, ideas, and motives do not inspire emulation or support from the professional or retired FBI community. But more to the point, JTTF members don’t have the alleged “golden handcuffs” problem.  

In any case, what happens to Tennessee citizens if their local LE aren’t part of national security investigations or surveillance operations? Though a Sheriff may not be privy to the details of an investigation because of classification and “need to know,” that doesn’t preclude his employees from removing themselves from a JTTF, and reporting to their executive that they feel civil rights are being violated. Nothing would restrain a Sheriff from publicizing the incident. And, from what I know of the vast majority of America’s sheriffs, there could hardly be more strident and vociferous advocates for the Constitution. 

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HB 2912 is an instance of cutting off your nose to spite your face. 

The fundamental danger lies in legislators and policy makers relying on purported experts who do not have the experience or acumen to swim in the deep end of the pool. What Friend and his inverted-badge-wearing cronies do is make it almost impossible for policy makers to arrive at sound conclusions, solutions, and effective legislative remedies. The issues are simply too clouded by personal animus, and a pervasive derangement syndrome that sweeps everyone along in a river of bile. 

For instance, the Tennessee Conservative is parroting a particularly ludicrous canard. The piece states that criminal investigations are fundamentally “linear” and intelligence investigations are “circular.” Therefore, intelligence investigations are somehow an illegitimate FBI function.This concept has been formulated out of sheer “Suspendables” naiveté. Anyone who has actually worked an FBI Counterintelligence investigation can tell you that a criminal charge is the ultimate objective. 

In point of fact, it has been the unique union of FBI criminal and counterintelligence mandates that has, up until recently and only because of extreme liberal malfeasance, done much toward preserving civil liberties. 

It’s this kind of misinformation that blocks the way to real solutions.  

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Tennessee HB 2912’s primary sponsor is Todd Warner (R-D92), and you can follow the progress of the proposed bill here. Whether you’re pro or con, take the time to voice your opinion. 

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