The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

FBI Turf War is Way Overblown

by Gary Aldrich
October 19, 2001- Volume 1 Issue 44

This article ran exclusively on Friday, October 19, 2001 at

In recent days there have been media accounts of an alleged turf war between the FBI and certain local law enforcement - that some claim may hamper the FBI’s ability to solve our terrorist problems. Having walked a 26-year mile in the shoes of the FBI, I can relate to the real concerns they have about sharing too much information with "the locals."

The differences between "the federals" and "the locals" are vast. One key difference is that every FBI agent has been through an extensive background investigation and was granted a "Top Secret" clearance before assuming official duties. Access to U.S. government secrets is not only a necessity, but also holds tremendous legal implications. We cannot ask the FBI to simply "waive" federal law, even in the face of this most horrific threat. But, if Congress and the Executive Branch want to do this, they have the power -- the FBI does not.

Secondly, you cannot have a "blanket" policy to share highly confidential information with the locals. Despite the fact that the United States has had a decade-long national policy of local law enforcement enhancements in education and salary benefits to ensure high quality officers and leadership, it’s a sad fact that in too many police departments the incompetence still runs wide and deep. Nevertheless, in most major cities with good departments, the FBI has already set up task forces to work hand-in-hand with the locals. In my years of service I have worked with local and state officers in several jurisdictions, and these fine officers had background investigations, clearances, and access to FBI office space on a daily basis.

So, to make a claim that the FBI is not working with locals is bogus. Any cooperation is carefully thought out so that the investigation -- and national security -- is protected.

Consider that when the FBI "shuns" the locals’ offers of help and mutual cooperation, there may be good reason. Yes, it’s true that "the locals" have more officers and usually have a firmer grasp of who’s in the neighborhood. They many even know who could be a terrorist or a terrorist sympathizer, but how would the FBI ever control thousands of local police officers if they were all briefed with the best information known only to the FBI? The fact is they could not.

Moreover, if a local police officer or police chief has important information to give to the FBI, it would be incomprehensible for them to refuse to reveal the information because of some perceived "snit" that a local police chief or politician thinks he is having with the feds. So we’ll assume that the local police chiefs can order their officers to turn over every rock to find these terrorist swine. The FBI, to my knowledge, has not asked any locals to "back off" on their investigations, and even if they did, I am not sure the FBI has the power to stop a local investigation. Only a United States Attorney can do that.

Regardless of the scope of local/federal cooperation, the FBI is the agency that will get the "blame" if something about the investigation goes sour. Consider what happened in Atlanta during the 1996 summer Olympics - a bomb killed and maimed citizens after someone left a backpack bomb in a public square. The Clinton Administration ordered a joint task-force to investigate this horrible crime and the FBI was ordered to work with state and local officers, as well as many federal agencies, including the ATF.

Within a very short time, a suspect was developed and the FBI turned its laser focus in Richard Jewell’s direction. Almost immediately the national news media received a tip that Jewell could be the bomber, and their collective attention turned Jewell’s life into a living nightmare. Richard Jewell’s reputation was ruined, and no matter how much time goes by, the Atlanta bombing can never be mentioned without including Richard Jewell’s name in the same breath.

Did the FBI leak Jewell’s identity to the news media? There is not a shred of evidence that the FBI was responsible for this leak, and it is well known that there were hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement officers involved in the investigation -- not to mention dozens of prosecutors and quite a few politicians as well. Regardless, the FBI got the blame for this very damaging leak and will forever be held responsible for ruining Richard Jewell’s life.

Is it possible that certain key FBI managers’ fear that the same thing can and probably will happen again? This current case is the most important case the FBI has ever investigated and has real potential for allowing the FBI to regain much lost credibility and popularity. By the same token, it has the obvious potential of ruining the agency’s reputation for all time, if things go seriously wrong. The FBI cannot afford another misstep - especially this case.

It’s one thing to give key information to somebody you know and trust. It’s quite another thing to trust that your most important case is safe in the hands of a stranger - badge or no badge. I would suggest that the current criticism of the FBI - even if printed in the editorial pages of the mighty Washington Post today -- is gratuitous. There are appropriate times to criticize our nation’s premier law enforcement agency (everybody knows I am not blindly loyal to my former employer) but I know the difference between honest, constructive criticism and reflexive bashing.

I fear the average citizen cannot tell the difference, and I know that our enemies and the conspiracy "wing nuts" are rubbing their hands together in glee at this latest unfair attack on the FBI. Cooler heads will resist a temptation of piling on an agency that has its hands full right now, helping to save our skins.