Not too many years before the declining quality of its cars forced the Oldsmobile division of General Motors to disband, the company launched a catchy but ultimately unsuccessful ad campaign – “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.”
Today’s FBI is not your father’s FBI.
The FBI with which I worked during my tenure as the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986 to 1990, was a law enforcement agency widely recognized as the country’s best. The Bureau’s investigative jurisdiction extended to hundreds of federal crimes — from the well-known bank robberies and counterespionage cases to highly technical and complex computer crimes.
Rarely in those days was there evidence that the Bureau’s investigations were politically motivated. In fact, at times, the Bureau was hesitant to launch or continue investigations precisely because it feared appearing partisan.
FBI special agents were well-trained in the use of firearms and in the most appropriate tactics for effecting arrests and serving subpoenas or search warrants. Its special agents and leadership had learned the hard way over the decades to be prepared for any eventuality when undertaking such actions. Excessive shows of firepower, however (firepower exhibited for its own sake or to “make a point”), was neither the norm nor the acceptable exception.
How times have changed.
As the American public has repeatedly witnessed in recent years, and not just since President Biden’s swearing-in nearly two years ago, dramatic and over-the-top exhibition of firepower in arrests of high-profile or controversial individuals, has become an accepted if not normal Bureau practice. Just ask Roger Stone, whose pre-dawn arrest at his home in early 2019, was carried out by a team of heavily armed and FBI special agents in military garb.
This well-known political operative’s offense which warranted such a show of force was neither terrorism nor drug running. Stone was indicted for the very white-collar and non-violent crime of allegedly lying to the Congress and related offenses.
Since Stone’s military-style arrest, other FBI raids targeting conservative-leaning individuals have come to light (indeed, the Bureau wants the American public to be aware of them). Special agents very publicly raided Project Veritas’ founder, James O’Keefe’s home and office in late 2021 essentially for no reason whatsoever other than for the government to make a point. O’Keefe had already turned over the declared object of the search – Ashley Biden’s alleged diary – over to law enforcement.
The list of such actions by the government’s top law enforcement agency does not end with Stone and O’Keefe. It continues apace; including targets such as former Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani and former Trump Justice Department official Jeff Clark. Just late last month, a the FBI arrested pro-life activist, Mark Houck, recalling the unnecessary Roger Stone-style armed arrest.
Such raids, whether based on dubious reasons (as with O’Keefe’s) or carried out with an absurd show of force (Roger Stone’s arrest), diminish the credibility of, and citizens’ confidence in, the FBI, its parent, the United States Department of Justice and by association all federal law enforcement agencies. In the long run, this negatively impacts these very agencies’ ability to do their job, which in large measure depends on the public’s willingness to support and even assist their efforts.
This trend of overtly partisan and needlessly militarized law enforcement actions did not start with the Biden or the Trump administrations. It represents a long and very slippery slope, whose roots can be traced back at least to the arrogant, uncaring, and deadly government-initiated tragedies at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas just one year later.
Once a federal law enforcement agency can carry out such acts without any meaningful negative consequences, it becomes a small step to institutionalizing practices we now see all too frequently, such as the targeting political foes, using armed force just to prove they can do so, and lying to a federal judge in order to seize money from innocent individuals.
It all comes down to accountability, and there hasn’t been any of that for far too long.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.