Noticed last month by McClanahan, ForeignPolicy.com reports that the fact sheet used to list the “primary function” of the FBI as being “law enforcement.” The new fact sheet indicates that it is “national security.”
McClanahan believes this is part of an effort to “rebrand” the FBI. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.”
FP’s John Hudson obtained this official comment from an FBI spokesperson:
Although a spokesman with the agency declined to weigh in on the timing of the change, he said the agency is just keeping up with the times. “When our mission changed after 9/11, our fact sheet changed to reflect that,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told Foreign Policy. He noted that the FBI’s website has long-emphasized the agency’s national security focus. “We rank our top 10 priorities and CT [counterterrorism] is first, counterintel is second, cyber is third,” he said. “So it is certainly accurate to say our primary function is national security.” On numerous occasions, former FBI Director Robert Mueller also emphasized the FBI’s national security focus in speeches and statements.
This is widely understood. Like Hudson explores, counterterrorism helped to ensure those perpetrating financial crimes would escape the FBI.
Since 9/11, the FBI has engaged in numerous sting operations where young Muslim males are targeted by informants or undercover agents. The young Muslim males are encouraged to develop a terrorism plot and the informants or undercover agents help them get explosives or weapons. When they go to commit the attack, they are arrested and put on trial for terrorism charges.
That is one of the more glaring examples of how the FBI has been functioning as a “national security” and not a “law enforcement” agency for the past decade. Also, given the fact this “change” in mission is being discussed because of a fact sheet in a FOIA response from the FBI, it should be noted the professed function will likely help the FBI keep more information secret.
McClanahan recognizes, “If you tie yourself to national security, you get funding and you get exemptions on disclosure cases.”
It already is very difficult to extract information that is in the public interest from the agency through FOIA.
For example, Ryan Shapiro, MIT doctoral candidate, has been fighting the FBI to release nearly 350,000 pages of files for “academic research on the history of the animal rights movement,” according to Matt Sledge of Huffington Post. They are denying “public records requests about why it keeps denying public records requests.”
The FBI won’t provide him records because, as argued in a court filing, “his requests could create a ‘mosaic’ of information that could ‘significantly and irreparably damage national security.'”
In 2011, the FBI was sanctioned for lying to a judge about whether certain surveillance records existed. The Electronic Frontier Foundation had requested records on the FBI’s operations, which targeted Muslims.
The government argued it was allowed to “mislead” when revealing information would “compromise national security,” which the US District Court for the Central District of California rejected:
The Government argues that there are times when the interests of national security require the Government to mislead the Court. The Court strongly disagrees. The Government’s duty of honesty to the Court can never be excused, no matter what the circumstance. The Court is charged with the humbling task of defending the Constitution and ensuring that the Government does not falsely accuse people, needlessly invade their privacy or wrongfully deprive them of their liberty. The Court simply cannot perform this important task if the Government lies to it. Deception perverts justice. Truth always promotes it.
Nevertheless, it is clear that the FBI increasingly sees lying and improperly withholding material in FOIA requests as part of fulfilling its “primary function”—protecting “national security.”
From GPS tracking memos to how it uses Executive Order 12333 to conduct surveillance of Americans’ international communications, “national security” is the go-to argument for government attorneys arguing against releasing information to the public. And, in many cases “national security” as a justification is accepted by judges as having merit.
What does all this secrecy get Americans? Does it give society an agency that truly is capable of thwarting terrorism? Or does it make it an even more abusive domestic intelligence enterprise?
As the American Civil Liberties Union highlighted in a report it released last year, the cases of Tamerlan Tsanaev, Nidal Hasan, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad and David Headley each involve people who were known to the FBI before they committed attacks.
[The] cases show critical information is still falling through the cracks at the FBI, even after years of expanding resources and investigative authorities. These cases demonstrate that the FBI’s increased data collection activities may be doing more harm than good, as the constant response to false leads resulting from dubious “suspicious activity reports” and data mining programs makes it more difficult for agents to identify true threats that come into the FBI.
Resources are going into manufacturing terrorists rather than perfecting the systems within the agency that are supposed to detect and prevent real and actual (but typically rare) instances of terrorism.
The FBI’s focus on “national security” or “counterterrorism” guarantees an increasing amount of crime being committed is actually not being investigated and stopped. Similarly, the NYPD has this problem.
Recent stories in the New York Daily News show how the New York Police Department has neglected murder cases in outer boroughs of New York City.
Part of the reason is the lack of manpower in these boroughs. Eight hundred detectives were shifted into a counterterrorism unit after 9/11. This would include operations where officers are spying on Muslims and creating “demographic” maps of communities that will supposedly help keep New York safe from terrorism. It cannot be proven that NYPD has managed to thwart any terrorist attacks.
But, this is the creep of counterterrorism into law enforcement, which bases operations on a flawed understanding of radicalization.
As agencies at all levels of government put resources into increasingly functioning as militarized domestic spy agencies, all in the name of fighting terrorism, lawlessness and crime that is not investigated proliferates. Criminal corruption amongst mega-corporations and the richest 1%, as well as felonies committed by government officials, are not investigated. The War on Terrorism (and the War on Drugs) dominates agency objectives. And how those objectives are achieved—whether it involves illegal spying or undercover agents/officers infiltrating groups—that is not to be known to Americans because of “national security.”
Badge from FBI.gov