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It’s Long Past Time For Congress To Break Up The FBI

FBI building Washington DC
Image CreditScott / Flickr / CC By SA 2.0, cropped

The D.C. bureaucracy and specifically the intelligence agencies have long become powers unto themselves, and a threat to our democracy.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s long history of abusing its power is once again prominent amid the continued expose by Special Counsel John Durham. His prosecution is demonstrating the FBI’s use of its power to deploy federal intelligence assets against political opponents of Democrats.

The FBI routinely intervenes in politics, such as when the FBI assisted the Hillary Clinton campaign in painting former President Donald Trump as a Russian intelligence asset, as Durham’s investigation is emphasizing with more evidence. By getting a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on Carter Page, the FBI also likely spied on Trump and his inner circle via something called the two-hop rule.

Stunningly, it appears the FBI’s animus for Trump was rooted in disagreements about the foreign policy that Trump campaigned on. Spygate, however, is only a more recent manifestation of a long history of FBI abuses that Congress must rein in as soon as possible.

A Long History of Impropriety

The FBI has a long history of impropriety. Ever since the War on Terror started, the FBI has targeted Muslim communities with informants, who receive $100,000 or more for their work and may be engaged in illegal activities that go unaddressed.

Trevor Aaronson analyzed thousands of FBI cases and found that, “Of these defendants caught up in FBI terrorism sting operations, an FBI informant was the person who led one of every three terrorist plots, and the FBI also provided all of the necessary weapons, money, and transportation.”

The most infamous example is when an FBI agent told a soon-to-be shooter to “Tear up Texas,” right before that person shot up a crowded hall. Even the San Bernadino shooter had contact with people “on the FBI’s radar.” More recently, there were allegations that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock’s girlfriend was an FBI informant.

Since Trump was elected, the FBI’s focus has shifted away from Islamic terror toward supposed far-right terror. Even Sen. Ted Cruz called the January 6 attack “terrorism” (he later apologized for this terminology).

Just like the FBI’s role in Muslim communities after 9/11, the plot involving Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, timed to take place heading into the 2020 election, involved mostly FBI informants and agents. Journalist Glenn Greenwald has asked similar questions about the FBI’s involvement in the January 6 U.S. Capitol riot, given the number of persons named in government court documents who are not being prosecuted.

In a major abuse of power, the Biden administration mobilized FBI counterterrorism resources to investigate parents for expressing concerns at local school board meetings. Now, the FBI’s 2022 budget has the largest funding increase request under the category of combatting “domestic terrorism,” which includes the addition of many more agents and informants.

To top all this off, the FBI has a reputation of protecting the powerful and trampling on justice. The latest example is the FBI protecting sex predator Larry Nassar because of his powerful position in the U.S. gymnastics program. And don’t forget the likely intelligence agency involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein affair, where Epstein’s predations were allowed because this allowed blackmail to increase the power of U.S. intelligence agencies, including the FBI.

Break Up the FBI

To preserve our democratic republic, the FBI needs serious reform. But serious reform ideas are lacking on the conservative right. Meanwhile, Democrats, who traditionally questioned intelligence agency power, are increasingly aligned with these intelligence bureaucracies against their political enemies.

While many right-wing politicians call for “investigation,” regular folks need to realize that these are useless fundraising ploys. History-minded traditionalists might believe that in a perfect world the FBI would be ended entirely, with its duties given back to state police forces, but try finding support even among Republican House and Senate members for that idea.

A radical, impactful, but also politically workable solution is to instead break up the FBI into many smaller components—at least one-dozen separate agencies. These smaller components would have less power and prestige, and allow Congress greater oversight over the specific results and actions at each newly independent organization. Further, Congress would have far greater ability to tweak funding for these separate smaller agencies based on results, and the priorities of the American people.

Most important, splitting the FBI into smaller and more focused organizations would allow the White House—the president, elected by the people—direct control over the goings-on of each individual agency. This is more desirable because politicians are answerable to the people, while the bureaucracy is not. The smaller agencies would also carry far less weight and prestige than the former behemoth that was the FBI, which limits their ability—even that of the standalone counterterror or counterintel agencies—to intervene in domestic politics.

Some will argue that breaking the FBI into smaller organizations just creates more problems. But this ignores the benefits of less complexity and the additional oversight and control granted to Congress and the executive, respectively.

Others will argue that greater presidential control is dangerous. Yet this is already the status quo, but only if the president is a Democrat. And the whole problem with our intelligence bureaucracies today is that the bureaucracy is a government unto itself, unaccountable to elected officials.

Here’s the Roadmap

When breaking up the FBI, locate the headquarters of those agencies across America, especially in the Midwest, rustbelt, and southeastern United States. The organized crime agency can be placed in Indiana, the counterterrorism agency in Raleigh, North Carolina, and the anti-human trafficking agency in Kansas City. The heads of all these new, smaller, agencies will still be appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate.

The upside is obvious. The FBI’s roughly $10 billion budget can be apportioned across these agencies, but the creation of separate agencies allows Congress much more control over funding.

For example, relative to the problem, fighting human trafficking and child exploitation and abuse is completely under-resourced in the FBI. Yet the FBI’s politicization has it adding agents to go after political opponents, instead of adding more resources to protect children.

Specifically, create a separate anti-trafficking agency altogether, headquartered in the heartland. The FBI’s additional “domestic terrorism” agents should be removed and replaced with new roles in the anti-trafficking agency.

In other words, this new framework would create more direct and less opaque accountability to Congress and the president. This then would allow the public—who are actually smarter than the politicians—to better hold the government accountable.

The public would be stunned to know how little our federal government spends on measures to fight against trafficking and child exploitation. The public would also be stunned to know how much more we are spending on entrapping people in the name of fighting “domestic terrorism,” which the public would rightly judge far less a problem than the human trafficking problem. So let the sunlight in.

Finally, if Republicans are dissatisfied with this plan, let them come up with something better. But too often our elected politicians hide behind rhetoric of outrage while failing to craft any real hard-nosed policy solutions to fix the thing they are supposedly outraged about. Now is the hour for action, and talk is incredibly cheap.

The whole point of America’s founding documents is that too much power concentrated in too few hands is always corrupting, especially when this power is unaccountable to the people. The D.C. bureaucracy and specifically the intelligence agencies have long become powers unto themselves, and a threat to our democracy. The FBI is a poster child for this perversion of our system, and no political movement will save our democratic republic without reforming it.