The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

Whos Watching the Watchers?

May 9, 2001

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 2, Issue 25

This article appeared on on Wednesday, May 8, 2002.

Everyone understands that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is fully engaged in a desperate search to catch terrorists before they’re able to commit more atrocities. We all want assurances that we will not have a repeat of September 11, 2001. Recent news accounts of small explosives placed in rural mailboxes has everyone nervous and looking for quick solutions.

So, with all these serious national concerns why should anyone raise an issue about an internal management review at the FBI that’s being conducted by an outside consultant?

When President Bush took office in January 2001 there was a well-founded perception that the FBI needed a top-to-bottom review. There had been many publicized FBI “missteps” during the Clinton administration, and when examinations were conducted in an effort to determine the cause and prevent future mistakes, inevitably, the finger of responsibility was pointed again and again at the management of the FBI.

Even when the FBI, under the leadership of Louis Freeh, arrested major league spy Robert Hanssen, who was himself an FBI manager, it was determined that Hanssen had long been under suspicion for his odd behavior and free-spending habits. His brother-in-law, himself an FBI special agent serving in the Chicago office, turned him in, stating to FBI supervisors that he believed Hanssen was a spy for the Soviets. They didn’t act on this remarkable inside information, yet there is no evidence that any FBI manager was ever punished for this amazing lack of action on a most serious allegation.

As if that were not enough, Soviet officials complained to the FBI in 1993 that an FBI special agent was trying to sell them big secrets, and still the FBI managers could not put the clues together to pinpoint Hanssen as the traitor.

There have been so many FBI management foul-ups in the recent past, that no one can claim with a straight face that these problems have somehow been fixed. Even with the appointment of a new FBI director, any who have experience in large federal bureaucracies know with certainty that mediocre FBI managers have not “gone away” in some mysterious and miraculous fashion.

The FBI is at the top of its game right now, and 9/11 reminds all the good FBI agents of why they joined the elite federal force. Just as the Department of Defense places their fighter pilots where they can best be applied, you can bet that the FBI has moved its “fighter pilots” into key positions in their battle against terrorism. Many seasoned law enforcement watchers are predicting an efficient, effective and dramatic outcome from the most important criminal investigation ever entrusted to J. Edgar Hoover’s highly admired law enforcement agency.

But, even if the FBI and Department of Justice are fully occupied saving our world, and even if the FBI eventually receives high marks on this one key investigation, why would Department officials insist that Arthur Andersen continue working on an independent study of FBI management, a project initiated before the disgrace and destruction of Enron? Will an Arthur Andersen review of the FBI provide more than late night material for Jay Leno or David Letterman? Right now, the answer to that question seems so obvious.

Everybody knows that Arthur Andersen, the accounting and management giant, was hired to monitor the books and records of one of the country’s largest corporations. Over a period of time, Arthur Andersen apparently began to let their ethics bend and twist to the degree that Enron stockholders and employees were fooled into believing that Enron was much stronger financially than was actually true. Certain key decisions were not made by Enron managers to save the company because their minds were set at ease knowing they enjoyed the “cover” of a respected auditing firm.

Billions were lost, and individual fortunes were wiped out, including many who depended on Enron holdings to finance their retirement needs. The question is this: when did Arthur Andersens ethical practices fall by the wayside, and, is Enron the only corporation that has enjoyed “flexibility” when it comes to audits and advice from Arthur Andersen? Nobody knows, but that question is very important when you consider what the Justice Department is asking Arthur Andersen to do.

The Department of Justice is expecting Arthur Andersen to conduct a management audit and offer conclusions and advice about the nation’s largest, most powerful law enforcement agency. Amazingly, few seem interested in the glaring conflict of interest that this relationship between Arthur Andersen and the FBI represents.

FBI managers are in place to ensure that street agents toe the line – and then they report to the FBI Director, the Department of Justice and to congressional oversight committees that “all is well” at the FBI. A comprehensive overview of the agency’s work serves to assure a worried population that competent people are managing the FBI. But, when people are told over and over again that matters are a mess at a critically important federal agency, they get nervous, and rightfully so.

Citizens want to know why thousands of highly educated, highly trained men and women with guns and badges cannot be more tightly controlled. Citizens have a right to know that the best and the brightest are earning those high salaries and protecting us from further terrorist attack, or even from the major drug dealer down the street. Citizens want to know they are getting what they are paying for, and they are entitled to serious answers to their well-founded concerns.

Why in the world would Department of Justice officials pay attention to the audit of the FBI when it is conducted by a corporation that has already pled guilty to the destruction of evidence, and is currently standing trial for a variety of unethical and illegal acts? Isn’t anybody in a position of leadership worried about the potential for blackmail or “watered down” findings put together to curry favor with the same agency that is looking into Arthur Andersen’s alleged illegal activities?

Can anybody make a case that Arthur Andersen has credibility enough to take on this important task? Out of a sense of shame, and in the best interest of the nation, Arthur Andersen executives should withdraw from the contract or at least delay the examination until we are sure a second Arthur Andersen shoe is not going to drop.