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Opinion Christopher Wray is getting away with doing a lousy job

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The MAGA right thinks FBI Director Christopher A. Wray is some sort of patsy for Democrats. But the problem is not that Wray, a Trump appointee, is showing favoritism to a Democratic administration. It’s that he is not doing his job when it comes to threats from right-wing authoritarianism.

Don’t take my word for it. The Government Accountability Office issued a report this week concerning the performance of multiple agencies and police units regarding the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Among its findings: The FBI “did not consistently follow agency policies or procedures for processing tips or potential threats because they did not have controls to ensure compliance with policies.”

The extent to which the FBI was aware of credible threats but did not prepare is breathtaking:

In the weeks preceding the January 6 attack on the Capitol, the FBI obtained information across other sources indicating potential threats. Through human source reporting, investigations, and observed activity, the FBI identified the increasing threat of violence at high profile special events, such as the 2020 election and 2021 presidential inauguration. FBI officials we spoke with said that from December 29, 2020, through January 6, 2021, they tracked domestic terrorism subjects that were traveling to Washington, D.C., and developed reports related to January 6 events. As of January 6, 2021, FBI officials noted that the Washington Field Office was tracking 18 domestic terrorism subjects as potential travelers to the D.C. area.
Other information came directly from social media platforms. From October 1, 2020, through January 5, 2021, officials from the FBI we spoke with said they obtained and reviewed 73 potential domestic terrorism related referrals from one social media platform, and obtained one referral on January 4, 2021, related to potential violence in Washington, D.C. on January 6. In addition, the FBI received information from another social media platform from late November 2020 through January 6, 2021, regarding potential violence at January 6 events.

Once the FBI had that information, it did not act upon it with the urgency required. “FBI personnel did not follow policies for processing some tips, resulting in them not being developed into reports that could have been shared with partners. Specifically, the FBI did not process all relevant information related to potential violence on January 6.”

The conclusion: “While the FBI identified and shared threat information, it did not process certain referrals from social media platforms according to policies and procedures and, as a result, it failed to share critical information with all relevant partners.”

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Worse, the bureau has not undertaken the kind of systematic self-evaluation needed to correct glaring inadequacies. “The ongoing FBI review of its actions during the weeks preceding January 6, 2021, has not included an assessment of how it processed information. Assessing this process will help determine if the mistakes we identified are isolated or due to a systemic cause.” (Emphasis added.)

After a debacle of this magnitude, that sort of passivity should alarm all Americans. Imagine if, after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the national security community did not evaluate how it missed the telltale signs of an imminent attack. The failure of leadership in the Jan. 6 case is inexcusable. Yet Wray has never been held to account for this delinquency.

We do not know whether the FBI suffered from implicit bias — this was, after all, a failure to understand the magnitude of a threat posed mainly by conservative White males — or whether there is some other cultural deficiency within the agency that makes it unable to properly address the threat from domestic terrorism. (Wray has been previously scolded for failing to following legal requirements to gather domestic terrorism data.) Proper oversight might help answer that question.

The Post’s recent report concerning FBI’s foot-dragging at Mar-a-Lago raises additional red flags. (“Starting in May, FBI agents in the Washington field office had sought to slow the probe, urging caution given its extraordinary sensitivity, the people said. Some of those field agents wanted to shutter the criminal investigation altogether in early June.”) Apparently, the FBI was acting out of perceived self-interest. The Post report continues:

The FBI agents’ caution also was rooted in the fact that mistakes in prior probes of Hillary Clinton and Trump had proved damaging to the FBI, and the cases subjected the bureau to sustained public attacks from partisans, the people said.
Prosecutors countered that the FBI failing to treat Trump as it had other government employees who were not truthful about classified records could threaten the nation’s security.

At times, the naivete of the nation’s leading law-enforcement agency borders on comical. (“Some FBI field agents then argued to prosecutors that they were inclined to believe [President Donald] Trump and his team had delivered everything the government sought to protect and said the bureau should close down its criminal investigation,” according to The Post.) Were they more concerned with their own image and public criticism than with their obligation to apply the rule of law to Trump?

Putting the incidents together — the Jan. 6 debacle, the failure to collect domestic terrorism data and the FBI’s undue resistance to enforcing a subpoena (that ultimately turned up a raft of documents not previously disclosed) — one is left wondering why the FBI seems disinclined to stand up to right-wing authoritarian movements and figures. Whatever the reason, the pattern reveals an unmistakable lack of effective leadership. And that in turn raises the question: Why is Wray still there?