Forget for a moment the politics of what was going on inside the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the lead agency in domestic intelligence. Instead, let’s focus on the policy issues.
The FBI scandal is a serious breach of trust by a government institution, and may be one of the worst in the history of this republic. What’s scary is that they almost got away with it.
Why did several high-ranking FBI officials believe that they could actually get away with interfering in a presidential election? And if that failed, why did they believe it was ethical to destroy the legitimacy of then President-elect Donald Trump by giving his opposition ammunition to potentially impeach him?
The answer goes beyond mere arrogance. These officials acted corruptly because they thought nobody was watching. They believed that once they succeeded, no one would ever find out about their actions because they were hidden in the name of national security. They also knew that if Hillary Clinton was actually elected, knowledge about this unlawful scheme would have gone to the grave with them.
The FBI has become part of the deep state – totally detached from systems of accountability. They operate in so much secrecy that their officials have gone rogue. The FBI is detached from Congress, the very institution that has constitutional authority to oversee the intelligence community’s activities.
The initial refusal by the FBI to turn over text messages demanded by Congress was just the first indication of their superiority complex. They made it clear that every attempt to penetrate their wall of secrecy would face a fight.
The public generally trusts law enforcement and intelligence agencies. After all, they seem apolitical. Therefore, self-monitoring is the only real oversight mechanism and that failed at the FBI. Trust is a good thing, but there is nothing wrong with asking government to be transparent.
The extent of corruption inside the FBI is currently unknown. However, when words and phrases like “secret society” and “our plan” are used in texts messages between FBI employees, we have much to fear. Americans should not write off this corruption as simply limited to a few bad officials at the top. Like cancer, the culture of corruption can easily spread.
The FISA memo is only a symptom of greater problems that must be addressed.
Our oversight process failed the American people. This is the province of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and Congress. The lack of effective oversight allowed people in the FBI to behave corruptly. In fairness, Congress’ ineffective oversight on this issue makes some sense. Intelligence agents tend to classify too many documents about their activities as top secret. Over-classification prevents the discovery of illegal behavior by intelligence officials and impedes public criticism about it.
These agencies rely on top secret classification to hide things from the American people and Congress. Over-classification has been problematic since the 9-11 Commission Report to Congress.
It’s been so problematic that a presidential campaign was spied on during and after the 2016 election. This sensitive request should have been a red flag to the FISC judge, causing them to ask more probing questions. Because these hearings are sealed, it is impossible for us to ever know the full truth. Although this was not your average wiretap request, it appears that it got the usual rubber stamp approval.
It’s no wonder that Americans’ distrust of government is near an all time high. When people distrust their government, its very institutions begin to crumble. If the potential release of the FISA memo has taught us anything, it’s that some government officials may have abused their power.
We must step back from the distracting sound bites and focus on the actual policy issue at hand: more effective oversight and reform of the classification system regarding secret information. Although some members of Congress have rightfully recognized corruption in the deep state and the domestic intelligence community, they have failed to properly assert their power to ensure transparency.
And that’s what no one in D.C. is talking about: the tendency of officials to over-classify information as a mechanism to conceal the abuse of power by government officials.
The over-classification of government documents has long been an issue preventing congressional committees from dissecting and correcting security policies. In other words, over-classification has prevented America from achieving the ideal balance between protecting sensitive investigations and the right of people to engage in constitutionally protected activities such as elections.
I recognize the importance of maintaining domestic security in light of foreign threats, but I also know that classification status is overused and that declassifying certain documents for public release has not posed a significant threat to our national security in the past.
It’s time to cut through the political hogwash coming out of Washington. Congress and the American people deserve to know the truth. In order to do that, the government must redact pertinent information from documents and lean toward releasing more – not less – information on government activity to civil libertarian groups for public scrutiny.
Sheriff David Clarke is President of DAC Enterprises LLC and former Sheriff of Milwaukee County with nearly 40 years in law enforcement.