The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

FBI Gets íFí in Security

April 14, 2001

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 2, Issue 19

This article appeared on on Thursday, April 11, 2002.

When President Lyndon B. Johnson sought to reassure a nervous public that he had quality people working in his White House, he turned to the agency that had established the gold standard in personnel screening. He asked J. Edgar Hoover, FBI director, to send FBI special agents over to help screen White House employees.

In 1964, Johnsonís chief of staff, Walter Jenkins, was arrested in a public menís bathroom while engaged in a sexual liaison with a total stranger. It was not his first arrest. President Johnson demanded to know if there were others working in his White House who might embarrass the administration by infamous or outrageous conduct.

Jenkins was no spy. His conduct, while troublesome and shameful, was not devastating to national security, but it could have been if hostile agents of a foreign government learned of his weakness for seeking sex with other men in public bathrooms. Such odd sexual behavior will always serve as a tool to blackmail a high-level White House official who would, understandably, want to keep such grotesque activities secret.

The nationís mind was set at ease after the FBIís system of personnel screening was adopted, and for 30 years, until the arrival of Bill Clinton, the security system at the White House fulfilled its mission.

Unknown to the White House, or apparently any oversight committee tasked with watching agencies like the FBI, a steady erosion of the FBIís own personnel screening and security system was well underway. Evidently, nobody was watching the "watchers."

In 1993, when FBI street agents like me tried to get the attention of FBI managers about the breakdown of security procedures at the Clinton White House, we were soundly rebuffed. I was puzzled as to why FBI managers at the field office level and at FBI Headquarters were not more concerned. After all, the FBI has a responsibility to protect national security – itís one of its primary missions.

In addition, as the lead agency in the screening of all the presidentís high-level cabinet appointees, federal judges, including Supreme Court Justices and members of boards assembled to investigate and access the nationís most important work – requiring high-level security clearances – the FBI was a full partner, not just a concerned bystander, in the process of screening White House employees.

But the FBI was never an enthusiastic partner with the Secret Service and the White House Counselís office in this very important work. People in the FBI made no effort to conceal their hatred and disgust for screening positions. Now, because of the Webster Report just released, we know that FBI management had little interest in finding and removing troubled employees from its own ranks.

I was well aware of the poor attitudes expressed by the average FBI manager relative to the "dreaded" applicant work. Agents who were sent to applicant assignments were considered victims of a cruel fate or lesser agents, or were suspected of poor performance in other FBI assignments. Ironically, thoughtless or clueless top-level FBI managers would often use applicant squads as "dumping grounds" for misbehaving agents. It was well-known that personnel security received no respect.

Of course, those who took personnel screening seriously strongly objected. But upper management ignored our concerns. If we persisted, complaining that we didnít want the officesí "problem agents" dumped on us, we would be punished for rocking the boat.

This remarkable attitude, so terribly destructive to the quality of the FBIís own working force, was a direct result of high-level FBI management attitudes. Once, attending a reception at FBI Headquarters for a manager who had finally "escaped" the applicant units for more "worthwhile" work, the FBI assistant director turned to me and said, "Aldrich, when are you going to get wise and get out of this applicant business? Only somebody remarkably stupid would try to stay in this miserable line of work."

But FBI agents like me who chose to take these assignments saw benefits others could not see. For example, I would no longer be forced to deal with lousy and dishonest defense attorneys, arrogant federal judges and endless waves of criminals and their victims. Iíd had a 20-year career of that, and although I was good at it, I was tired of it.

I also joined those who had an understanding of the importance of screening presidential appointments. Working at the White House was an assignment that offered a chance to finish my career around semi-normal people! I mean, how normal are politicians? At least they were more normal than the folks I previously associated with!

That is, until Bill Clinton and his gang came to town.

Nevertheless, FBI agents like me were greeted with suspicion by agents who believed kicking in doors and arresting felons was the only worthwhile work of an FBI agent.

My partner at the White House was an accomplished FBI agent in his own right and a Vietnam veteran. It was his lifelong dream to catch a real spy, and that is why he wanted to work at the White House. He wanted to be the first FBI agent to catch a spy working for a president. Apparently, I was one of a few at the FBI who thought that was a great idea.

How sad that my partnerís dream was not appreciated by FBI managers. They could have used a dozen like him over at FBI Headquarters. Maybe he, who also was made to suffer for taking his job so seriously, would have caught Richard Hanssen.

The FBI can follow all the Webster Commission recommendations, establish new rules, pass new laws and warn agents daily, but until FBI management is forced to change their awful attitude about "applicant" work, they wonít prevent another Richard Hanssen.