Attkisson: The FBI’s Fractured Fairytale

FBI's Fractured Fairytale

This post was originally published on Real Clear Politics.

Once upon a time, the FBI said some thugs planned to rob a bank in town. Thugs are always looking to rob banks. They try all the time. But at this particular time, the FBI was hyper-focused on potential bank robberies in this particular town.

The best way to prevent the robbery — which is the goal, after all — would be for the FBI to alert all the banks in town. “Be on high alert for suspicious activity,” the FBI could tell the banks. “Report anything suspicious to us. We don’t want you to get robbed.”\

Instead, in this fractured fairytale, the FBI followed an oddly less effective, more time-consuming, costlier approach. It focused on just one bank. And, strangely, it picked the bank that was least likely to be robbed because nobody thought it would ever get elected president — excuse me, I mean, because it had almost no cash on hand. (Why would robbers want to rob the bank with no cash?)

Stranger still, this specially-selected bank the FBI wanted to protect above all others happened to be owned by a man who was hated inside and outside the FBI.

So, to protect this bank owned by the guy the FBI hated, the FBI secretly examined a list of bank employees and identified a few it claimed would be likely to help robbers — or, at least, would not stop a robbery. How did it select these targets? By profiling them based on their pasts.

These particular bank employees, the FBI said, were chosen because they worked long ago with customers who might have known bank robbers in the past — maybe not the particular robbers planning a bank robbery this time, but different people who knew people who were thought to have robbed banks in the past … or, perhaps, people who thought of robbing banks at some point but never got around to it.

So the FBI decided these particular bank employees, who may have known or met with suspicious people in the past, might be capable of committing a future crime.

Mind you, these targeted bank employees had never served time in prison, never been convicted of anything, never even been charged with a crime. If the FBI had just gone to them and said, “Hey, we think some people are going to rob this bank and we’ve got our eye on you, too,” the bank robbery probably would be avoided. Everybody would be watching out for the robbers.

Instead, the FBI secretly sent at least one spy — er, “informant” — to commingle with the bank employees and get info. Yes, you are thinking, it would seem to make a lot more sense to spy on the would-be robbers than their intended victims. But the FBI chose to spy on the victims. You know, for their own good.

At least one of the FBI informants/spies met with the targeted bank employees, pretending to be interested in them, and asked questions like “If you could have a million dollars tomorrow, what would you buy?” and “Would the owner of this bank be happy for you if you came across a sudden inheritance?” The FBI informant/spy then reported back to FBI headquarters that the bank employees were clearly thinking about robbing the bank, and that the owner of the bank was part of the scheme.

Next, because the FBI claimed these employees were clearly acting suspiciously and had criminal minds, the FBI unleashed the most intrusive, sensitive intel tools on them, tools that are rarely to be used against U.S. citizens — surveillance and wiretapping. FBI officials also leaked information about their investigation to the local press — not information that disparaged the robbers so much as cast suspicion on the bank’s owner and employees. In fact, it almost seemed like the FBI had forgotten all about the robbers.

And so, while all this was going on, the robbers robbed the bank.

Despite all the media innuendo, the secret surveillance and the spies/informants, the FBI said the robbers made off with a lot of cash. Even though the bank didn’t have much cash.

Afterward, the FBI stepped up its investigation of the bank employees. It couldn’t find solid proof the employees had anything to do with any bank robbery but claimed they were present a couple of times when the robbers cased the joint, so they must have known a robbery was going to happen. The owner must have known, too, the FBI concluded.

After digging deeply into the bank employees’ background, the FBI found other things: One bank employee hadn’t paid proper taxes six years before; another had been briefly accused of embezzling from a previous employer years ago but was never charged; a third said things in an FBI interview that the FBI concluded were untrue. The FBI charged them all with crimes and pressured them to become witnesses — not against the robbers, but against the bank owner.

In the end, the FBI held out hope that the townsfolk wouldn’t focus on the idea that all the FBI’s hard work and planning to supposedly protect the town’s banks only resulted in the utter failure of its stated mission: The bank got robbed, the cash would never be recovered, and the robbers would never serve time. Yet, some of the bank employees might — not for the robbery but for that other stuff.

The moral of the story: It’s a weird way to prevent a bank robbery.

On the other hand, if the FBI’s real goal — in this fractured fairytale — was to frame the hated owner of the bank and his employees, it all makes sense.

Sharyl Attkisson is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, and author of the New York Times bestsellers

This post was originally published on Real Clear Politics.