While TIME magazine has published an article titled “The FBI is in crisis mode and it’s worse than you think,” veteran investigative journalist James Bovard told Spero News that in view of the revelations of the agency’s conduct of the last two years, it is “time to knock the FBI off its pedestal.” Bovard has spent much of his career covering the FBI. In the interview, he said that much of what afflicts the American public is the deference it pays to government. “The FBI,” he said, “uses that deference to cover up a lot of abuses.”
Among the abuses Bovard mentioned were reports that Seddique Mateen, the father of shooter Omar Mateen who killed 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in 2016, was an FBI informant for 10 years prior. “Why in heck do we not know until now? What other FBI outrages have we not heard about? I don’t know. That’s because the FBI does a good job of covering up abuses.” Saying that the Mateen case may be “just the tip of the iceberg,” Bovard recalled that the infamous Boston gangster and IRA gunrunner, Joseph “Whitey” Bulger, was an FBI informant for years while receiving inside information about his rivals, the Patriarca criminal family, in exchange.
In the past, Bovard has written about J. Edgar Hoover, who founded the FBI and ran it from 1924 until his death in 1972. Writing in USA Today, Bovard noted that Hoover built an agency that “utterly intimidated official Washington.” President Harry S Truman recognized the inherent danger, writing in a secret memo in 1945: "We want no Gestapo or secret police. FBI is tending in that direction. ... This must stop." The agency’s scope and power only increased, however, after the Internal Security Act was passed by Congress in 1950, which authorized investigations of suspected political dissidents. Hoover and the FBI put together a list of over 20,000 "potentially or actually dangerous" Americans subject to arrest and imprisonment at the president’s command. Moreover, Congress authorized and financed six detention camps for dissidents the 1950s.
Congress and the federal courts have rarely addressed the FBI’s power. Erstwhile House Majority Leader Hale Boggs (D-La.) said in 1971, "Our very fear of speaking out (against the FBI) has watered the roots and hastened the growth of a vine of tyranny. ... Our society ... cannot survive a planned and programmed fear of its own government bureaus and agencies."
Bovard also criticized the FBI for its COINTELPRO (counterintelligence programs) that it conducted between 1956 through 1971. He charges that the FBI incited street warfare between violent groups, smeared innocents by portraying them as government informants, crippled anti-war, leftist, communist, black nationalist, and white racist groups. It was only when activists seized documents after breaking into an FBI office that COINTELPRO was exposed.
Yet another instance of FBI misdeeds, according to Bovard, was the agency’s use of armored vehicles to breach the walls of the Branch Davidians’ complex near Waco, Texas in 1993. In that case, 80 men, women and children were killed after the FBI used CS gas and incendiary bombs to burn down the building where the Branch Davidians were holed up.
Among its failures, Bovard cited those that led to the 9/11 attacks. He reported that the FBI failed to notice suspicious foreigners receiving aviation training, while it committed other blunders that “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists," according to a 2002 congressional investigation.
Bovard has noted that FBI taught fledgling agents in the 1990s that subjects of investigations "have forfeited their right to the truth." “Making false statements” is the common name for the federal crime laid out in Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code (Federal False Statements Act), which generally prohibits knowingly and willfully making false or fraudulent statements, or concealing information "in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch of the Government of the United States, knowingly and willfully ... makes any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation." This includes even denying guilty when asked by a federal agent. This law provides considerable power to the FBI when questioning subjects.
Among notable persons who have been convicted under that section of federal law are former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, Scooter Libby (pardoned by President Trump in April 2018), and President Trump’s former national security advisor Michael Flynn. Likewise, publisher Martha Stewart was imprisoned — not for insider trading -- but for lying to FBI agents. The prosecutor in her case was James B. Comey, who went on to become FBI director under Barack Obama only to be fired by Trump.
Defense attorney H. Michael Steinberg summarized that the Federal False Statements Act makes it a crime to:
“1) knowingly and willfully;
“2) make any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation;
“3) in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch of the United States.”
On his website, Steinberg notes that while a falsehood must be “material,” the definition of the word is “so broad it can encompass almost anything relevant to an investigation.” “Material,” Steinberg notes, “means the statement has the ‘natural tendency to influence or [is] capable of influencing, the decision of the decision-making body to which it is addressed.’” Moreover, Steinberg notes: “It is NOT NECESSARY [his emphasis] for the United States Prosecutor to show that your particular lie ever really influenced anyone.” He noted that an important defense is that a subject “know that your statement is false at the time you make it in order to be guilty of this crime. However, having said that, you do not have to know that lying to the government is a crime or even that the matter you are lying about is ‘within the jurisdiction’ of a government agency.”
The arbitrary power of Form 302
Bovard singled out for criticism the FD-302 form, which according to the FBI is used by agents to "report or summarize the interviews that they conduct." “It’s as if the words written down by an FBI agent is like the word of God. It gives them arbitrary power over people they talk to. There are bad folks out there, and I’m not saying there are lying federal agents,” said Bovard, when he said that the FBI has long fought against having tape recordings of the interviews because “it prefer to point to a memo and have some FBI agent say ‘’And he told me this, therefore, he’s guilty, or he’s lying, or whatever.’”
Bovard said in the interview that the founders of the American republic “would be horrified by the power the FBI has captured. Maybe not Alexander Hamilton, but certainly Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison. They would be mortified to see a federal agency with that arbitrary power. And its secretive.”
Bovard said that if the FBI is allowed to exist, its powers should be drastically curtailed. The problem, he said, is that Congress continues to pass laws that are vague and overly expansive. Elsewhere in government, Bovard said he worries that there are too many agencies whose operations remain obscure, including the Pentagon, NSA, and the CIA.
Bovard is the author of several books dealing with the FBI and government. Among them are: Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty, Freedom Frauds, Shakedown, The Fair Trade Fraud, and Attention Deficit Democracy. He has received the Free Press Association's Mencken Award as Book of the Year award, the Lysander Spooner Award for the Best Book on Liberty, the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties, and the Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association.