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The FBI's Identity Crisis

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

PARIS -- The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation seems to be dreaming of foreign lands. Poland, to be exact. Circa World War II.

In an article for the Washington Post adapted from a speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, FBI Director James Comey wrote, "In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn't do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do."


Oh, but what's the harm in picking at the historical scabs of an ally? Ask the U.S. ambassador to Poland, Stephen Mull, who remarked in the wake of Comey's comments, "I now have a lot of work before me to make things right in this situation."

Way to create a diplomatic incident. And this is why the FBI needs to stay out of foreign affairs (but totally won't).

It's ridiculous, for example, that the FBI should be in charge of managing the "Most Wanted Terrorists" list, particularly when all of the individuals on it are somewhere overseas. Punt that over to the Central Intelligence Agency. It's not as if the FBI has ever been able to make that list any shorter, and there's already a lot of work to do on the home front. Enforce the laws at home, and you may find that national security increases as a result.

Not to say that if the FBI locates a terrorist on U.S. soil, it shouldn't do something about it. But the question is whether the volume of domestic terrorists is sufficient to keep the FBI in the manner to which it has become accustomed when it makes its regular pilgrimage to Casa de Taxpayer. Are there a lot of terrorists in America? How many domestic terrorists does the FBI think that it would need to capture in order to keep the same level of funding? Is it possible to get a domestic terrorist quota from Congress? Because maybe there are other things to do to protect America, and once the quota has been reached for any given fiscal year, the FBI could devote its attention to other domestic national-security matters.


One of the more recent demonstrations of the FBI in action deep in the realm of non-accountability was during last December's Sony Pictures Entertainment email breach, when the bureau suddenly became an expert on North Korea. We're still waiting for actual evidence tying the breach to North Korea -- or even proof that it was an act of hacking, as opposed to an act of internal sabotage.

Federal agencies generally would do well to follow the French example of division of labor for security and intelligence services. It keeps everyone accountable for concrete returns on investment, and with more compartmentalized and narrow mandates.

The French FBI equivalent, the DGSI, reports to the same government ministry as the French police: the Interior Ministry. The French CIA equivalent, the DGSE, reports to the Ministry of Defense. So if the French military is busy liquidating radical Islamic terrorists somewhere in the Middle East, the DGSE is expected to be in the mix, collecting any intelligence that gets kicked up in the sandstorm. Meanwhile, the DGSI is at home holding down the fort and liaising with police.

There are similar mandates and reporting structures in Britain with MI5 domestic and MI6 foreign security and intelligence agencies, reporting to England's home secretary and the secretary for foreign affairs respectively. In the event that MI5 needs information from overseas, it's shared by MI6. This allows MI5 to focus on issues at home.


Why does this matter? Because when federal entities don't stick to their mandates and stay in their lane, it means that there are jobs being left undone while others are being unnecessarily duplicated. It's like hiring a pool boy and a chef, and the pool boy winds up in your kitchen, crying, "I don't want to clean pools!" I want to cook because that pays more!"

I get it -- dabbling in foreign affairs and posing as international men of mystery is sexy. It also pays better. Sitting around crinkling McDonald's wrappers while trying to unravel Ponzi schemes isn't something that, if included in your profile, will get you many hot dates.

We understand. (Not really.) But please just suck it up for God and country.

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