By Kevin McKenna
The FBI’s unique role in the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and the challenges it faces were the central themes of an afternoon discussion on Wednesday, October 7th, co-hosted by the Center for Security Policy Studies (CSPS) and the Michael V. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security. Dean Mark Rozell of the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government provided welcoming remarks and introduced CSPS Director Ellen Laipson and former Acting Director and Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and current Hayden Center Fellow, Michael Morell as the moderators of an insightful and poignant conversation with former Deputy Director of the FBI, and current senior visiting fellow at CSPS, Andrew McCabe.
McCabe, whose career in the FBI spanned more than two decades, outlined the core mission of the FBI, highlighting its dual responsibilities to investigate violations of criminal law and threats to national security. In its role within the national security enterprise, the FBI represents the nation’s premier domestic intelligence service. McCabe said it places the highest priority on counterterrorism (CT) and counterintelligence (CI) investigations. With regard to the latter, he noted that before 9/11, the siloed organizational structure within the FBI led to significant gaps in intelligence, saying “intelligence agents were not allowed to talk to criminal investigators.” At the time, there was talk about potentially removing the intelligence responsibility from the bureau and creating a separate domestic intelligence agency. McCabe recalled then-director Robert Mueller’s vehement opposition to the idea, citing his rationale that leveraging the bureau’s unique strengths of its combined intelligence and criminal investigation authorities could help prevent future intelligence failures.
With regard to the Bureau’s CI mission, Morell asked about the differences between these investigations and normal criminal investigations. McCabe offered a thorough explanation of the FBI’s procedural steps for all domestic investigative operations and provided the minimum standard for opening a full-field investigation. As an example, he described how the FBI opened CI investigation – codenamed Crossfire Hurricane – into potential links between the 2016 Trump presidential campaign and the Russian government. Morell asked whether McCabe had any doubt that it met the standard for opening a full-field investigation. McCabe replied, “not only did it meet the standard, [the FBI was] obligated to open an investigation” based on the preponderance of the evidence.
Professor Laipson noted that McCabe’s recent book offers a dramatic account of the conduct of the investigation, and asked him to comment on the resulting political pressure levied against FBI leadership by the Trump administration. McCabe acknowledged that the work was incredibly challenging: “You don’t learn at Quantico how to investigate a candidate for president.” Despite the challenges, McCabe emphasized how incredibly rewarding it was to work in an agency full of consummate professionals dedicated to serving the nation.
In light of the recent nationwide protests for racial justice and law enforcement reform, Laipson asked McCabe whether the FBI’s recruiting practices reflect a commitment to an inclusive workforce. McCabe said that, although things are improving, “the FBI is exceedingly white and exceedingly male,” and the lack of diversity is detrimental to the effectiveness of the bureau. He said the FBI “should look like the country [it] protects.”
Video of the full event is available at the Hayden Center’s YouTube channel.
Kevin McKenna is a volunteer at the Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy, and International Security and a current student in the Master’s in International Security program at the George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government.