20 August,


Next FBI director must avoid James Comey mistakes

Analytical Wing

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Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information as secretary of State and the Trump campaign’s interaction with the Russian government both created vulnerabilities in our national security that foreign intelligence agents could, and likely did, exploit. The FBI investigations into both were efforts to counter these threats and safeguard U.S. national security. But former FBI director James Comey appeared to struggle with remaining apolitical. That must be a top goal for his successor.
 
Counterintelligence — identifying and neutralizing the activities of foreign adversaries like Russia, China and Iran to gain access and influence to the U.S. government — is a critical mission for the FBI. Whether it's a federal employee or campaign aide who leaks national security information to the media, sets up and uses unsecured email servers or has secret meetings with foreign governments, each of these leaves our national security apparatus vulnerable to coercion and exploitation.
 
The next FBI director must understand that all investigations of foreign influence among government employees must continue and be properly concluded. Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has already stated publicly that the Russia investigation will go on. If he isn't tapped to replace Comey, whoever gets the job must follow his lead and resist political influence.
 
Foreign intelligence services work diligently to gain access to information at the highest level of government, as does the United States when working abroad. If there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, this leaves the involved parties open to coercion by Russian intelligence services, and they must be identified and actions taken to ensure they have no further access to sensitive information.
 
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The Russia investigation revealed personal vulnerabilities created by former national security adviser Michael Flynn and possibly others. In the Clinton email investigation we see both personal and technical vulnerabilities. The FBI determined that it was common practice when Clinton was secretary of State for her and key aides to use non-governmental computers and smartphones, sending and receiving emails with classified information included.
 
 
Yet even after concluding there was “evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information,” and that Clinton and her staff were “extremely careless" in handling it, Comey said that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” And no actions were taken.
 
This astonished many of us in the FBI and intelligence community. A political hot potato like this needed to be investigated thoroughly — as it was — then reviewed by Justice Department staff for possible prosecution  and by the Director of National Intelligence (to determine if security clearances should be revoked or involved personnel ineligible for future access to classified information). If the involved parties had been low-level government employees, there would have been an entirely different outcome.
 
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In the Trump investigation, Flynn reportedly discussed economic sanctions with the Russian ambassador and suggested relations would be better when Trump took office. Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified that Flynn was vulnerable to coercion by the Russians because he lied about the conversations to Vice President Pence, and this is true. However, if he had not been outed by a leaker, Flynn’s secret discussions with the Russians would have remained another vulnerability — possibly leaving him open to coercion later.
 
Yet another vulnerability is the person who leaked Flynn’s name to The Washington Post. This person had access to this very sensitive information known to very few people — and likely still has access to, or memory of, other sensitive information. Foreign intelligence officers would love to find this person and coerce him or her to tell more secrets or be outed to the FBI. This is why the FBI must find this person before a foreign intelligence agency does. Similarly, and still important, Clinton’s aides remain susceptible to blackmail because the FBI may not have uncovered all of the classified information or where it may have been sent outside the U.S. government.
 
These are some of the huge challenges facing the next FBI Director. This person will be more than the face of the agency to Congress and the media. He or she will be the head of more than 35,000 federal law enforcement agents, intelligence officers and staff. They deserve the best the U.S. has to offer — without regard to politics. (USA Today)
 

 

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