FBI Imitates Minority Report and Moneyball

  • by:
  • Source: UncoverDC
  • 09/19/2023

The U.S. House of Representatives Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government convened this week and is scheduled to hold its first hearing. The FBI stands accused of a vast swath of abuses, such as labeling parents at school board meetings with terrorist threat tags, collusion with social media to monitor and censor Americans’ free speech, and identifying (with a high level of confidence) Catholics with a preference for Latin Mass as potential recruits for Racially or Ethnically Motivated Violent Extremist organizations. These assaults by the nation’s top law enforcement agency on American’s civil rights are legion (pun intended). Chairman Jim Jordan must triage the ever-expanding list of improprieties to hold the FBI accountable and propose meaningful reforms.

One area Mr. Jordan should prioritize is a review of the FBI’s Integrated Program Management (IPM) processes. Developed and implemented a decade ago, the FBI utilizes IPM to “prioritize threats, allocate resources, and measure performance.” On its face, the FBI attempts to operate like a large corporation with budgets and metrics for success. Heck, they have a colorful, consultant-approved chart to prove it.

IPM establishes a strict calendar during which FBI Headquarters engages in Threat Review Prioritization (TRP). Later, FBI executive managers and personnel in the field undertake Field Office Strategic Planning (FOSP). There is a seemingly endless stream of meetings, phone calls, and emails involving supervising agents, intelligence staff, program coordinators, and mission support analysts. The final product is a convoluted matrix marrying the FBI’s national, local, and standing threat priorities with mitigation criteria.

Clear as mud? Allow me to provide a simpler explanation. The FBI’s IPM process applies the principles of Minority Report to predict investigative and intelligence-gathering activities in the coming fiscal year. It combines these prophecies with analytics more appropriate for Moneyball to measure performance based on how many metrics are achieved. The problem is that, unlike the movies, we do not have the ability to accurately prognosticate criminal activity. Moreover, achieving predetermined benchmarks is tied to FBI executives’ compensation. Consequently, the FBI’s corrupted incentive structure favors case quantity over quality and encourages employees to deploy their creative faculties to game the system for artificial statistical accomplishments instead of focusing on true casework.

Moneyball, Analytics

Here are some examples of problems endemic to IPM. I will begin with program measures FBI Headquarters establishes for the Criminal, Cyber, Counterterrorism, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Counterintelligence, Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG), and Directorate of Intelligence branches.

CIRG requires each of the FBI’s fifty-six field offices to submit a certain number of cases to the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). BAU’s merits are hotly debated by the FBI. But the decision to use the BAU should rest solely with the investigator charged with managing a case. This mandate inevitably results in some cases being submitted to BAU, which might not benefit from its analyses. This wastes BAU’s resources and delays the progress of the investigations. It is essentially a government make-work project within a government agency that justifies the funding and existence of a small unit that has gained outsized publicity due to the success of CBS’ television drama series Criminal Minds.

CIRG also requires each field office to perform a certain number of surveillance operations. This metric must be met regardless of the number and composition of cases for a particular field office. Not all investigations benefit from surveillance. And doing too much surveillance on a specific case can compromise the investigation and place personnel at unnecessary risk. Once again, the decision to use a specific investigatory tool should rest with the case agent. Instead, the artificial measure creates unnecessary work which detracts from other productive activities. I have personally been tasked with driving by suspects’ residences on the way home from work or spending an evening on surveillance in order to “claim a stat.” In these situations, my activities did not progress the case but simply added to my field office’s total number of surveillance operations for the year.

A third nonsensical program measure comes from the Counterintelligence Division. Non-FBI task force members must author at least one document in a specific percentage of field offices’ cases. Obviously, task force officers are critical contributors to the FBI. The Counterintelligence Division likely wants to ensure that all task force members are productive teammates participating in casework. But if a field office can cosplay, it has a productive task force officer pool with one document in a case file. Is this truly an effective barometer for productivity?

Moving to threat measures. The field offices establish dozens of criteria for intelligence products, liaison efforts, informant interaction, and casework. But as was the case with program measures determined by FBI Headquarters, many of these metrics incentivize dubious behavior, distract from constructive investigative activity, and are deceptive and easily gamed.

In the interest of brevity (and my own sanity), I will examine “interruptions” to illustrate the pitfalls inherent to FOSP threat measures. This is an umbrella term for outcomes such as indictments, arrests, and convictions of criminal subjects. These are reasonable accomplishments to review when assessing performance. However, the FBI also tabulates “disruptions” as part of the interruption category. What is a “disruption?” These are events that disrupt criminal organizations- such as arrests. You might ask, “isn’t the FBI already counting arrests?” Yes, but the FBI wants to prioritize the disruption of illicit organizations and thus invented a statistical category to memorialize these events even if they are already catalogued. This is just the beginning.

Things get even stranger in claiming a “disruption” accomplishment. It requires an additional electronic communication document to be authored and placed in a case file. The document uses stock language to explain the actions taken and justifying the agents’ achievement of the desirable accomplishment. The document must be approved by three levels of management instead of a single frontline supervisor. The process may take weeks and require communications throughout a field office’s chain of command to and from FBI Headquarters to ensure that the correct Unit Chief approves the document.

“Disruptions” can only be achieved for cases involving a criminal enterprise of multiple individuals. Further, under most circumstances, only one disruption can be claimed per calendar day. This means that while it may be prudent to arrest multiple subjects for a particular crime on the same day, it benefits the field office’s statistical bottom line if subjects are arrested on separate days. As a personal example, I oversaw a public corruption investigation involving nine subjects. Once indicted, I could easily have delivered court summons to each defendant on the same day. From a statistical accomplishment standpoint, this would have achieved nine arrests and one disruption. Instead, I was encouraged to serve a summons to each subject on separate days because it would result in nine arrests and nine disruption accomplishments. At the time, my field office’s public corruption program was expected to attain ten “disruptions” for the fiscal year. By spreading delivery of the court summons over nine days, I was able to achieve 90% of this metric with one case. Work smarter, not harder.

Americans should anticipate and demand rigorous investigation by the Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The FBI’s malfeasance, ineptitude, and corruption are fruitful territories for subcommittee members to scrutinize. I submit that a full review of IPM, TRP, and FOSP should be prioritized ahead of other “sexier” issues like Hunter Biden’s misdeeds and Director Christopher Wray’s propensity to abuse his FBI private plane privileges. Many of the FBI’s problems are outgrowths from these processes and the perverse incentive structures they create. If the Judiciary Committee honestly seeks to hold the FBI accountable for its transgressions and rehabilitate the agency, Mr. Jordan would be wise to spotlight these issues.

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