Feb 232013

Today was another working Saturday, with appointments starting at nine and running until seven.  That was enough for me, to be sure, and more than enough for Gretchen, who asked if she could leave at five in order to get an early start on her evening plans, consisting of a dinner date in Georgetown followed by an extended club crawl in Adams Morgan.  So I was receiving clients myself at six, when I conducted a consultation with Special Agent Reginald Proctor Monitor from the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility. 
“Mr. Collins,” he sighed as he sunk into the couch by the picture window in my office, “I guess I don’t have to tell you about the Bureau’s latest major problem.”
“That would be your agents and other employees behaving badly in new and inventive ways,” I supposed, “such as transmitting nude pictures of themselves over the Internet using FBI-issued Blackberries?”
“Um…” my guest stuttered, “ahem… not… exactly…”
“Oh,” I assumed, “you’re actually more concerned with the recent revelations that your employees use FBI equipment to conduct illegal surveillance of their spouses, lovers, relatives and even their own supervisors?”
“Er… ” he continued uncertainly, “that is… uh…”
“Or is it the publication of stories about FBI employees conducting illegal searches on government computer databases for their own purposes, perhaps?”
“Well, in fact,” he attempted, “it’s… ah…”
“Or is it the resounding hue and cry concerning FBI employees committing fraud, abusing their status as federal agents for personal gain, withdrawing funds with stolen bank cards, marrying drug dealers, purchasing the services of prostitutes, shoplifting  and engaging in tax evasion?”
“Actually,” he began, “now don’t get me wrong, the Bureau is solidly against all of that stuff, but our… um… primary concern is this God-awful fuss the media are making lately about our All Employees Quarterly Email.  Its intent is, ultimately, a noble one – to show how much trouble you can get into at the FBI if you don’t follow the strait and narrow like a good member of the FBI family should.  Every three months, we at FBI OPR take some… notable examples… of disciplinary infractions and… um… expurgate their content so as to protect the identities of the miscreants.  Then we put them all in the Quarterly Email and distribute it to FBI staff everywhere in the United States over the FBI intranet system.  And OPR management believes the Quarterly does a good job of scaring FBI employees into behaving themselves, too.  But when somebody like CNN gets hold of it, on the other hand, it’s a different story entirely.”
“The Quarterly Email is unclassified, however,” I noted, “isn’t it?  So it’s not like they have to obtain it in an underhanded or secretive manner – all they have to do is file a Freedom of Information Act request and wait a few months while the Bureau processes it.”
“That’s correct,” he admitted.  “The Freedom of Information Act says unclassified federal government information has to be free.  It doesn’t say it has to be particularly fast.”
“Actually, it does,” I pointed out.  “The statutory requirement for a response is twenty federal business days,  although I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who filed a FOIA request and received what they asked for in anything remotely close to that period of time.”
“We can file for an automatic ten day extension,” my guest shrugged.  “Which we always do, automatically.  Then there are exceptional circumstances, including backlogs, considerations of the volume of information requested, and the need to consult with other federal agencies prior to release of the requested information.  And, of course, the requirement is for a response, not necessarily the information itself.”
“Which is why,” I observed, “the most recent publicly available version of the FBI OPR All Employees Quarterly Email is from October, 2012.”
“Nevertheless,” he responded with a highly sincere tone of irritation, “the media talk about all these things as though they happened yesterday, and, I might add, as if the Bureau were coddling these people in some way or another, which, if you ask me, couldn’t be further from the truth!”
“Some might consider that debatable,” I demurred as I pulled up a copy of the document from the Internet and displayed it on my computer screen.  “How about this – one of your agents got into a fight with their spouse, broke the spouse’s Kindle in half, then pointed their gun at the family dog’s head while it was sitting in their spouse’s lap.  Did you fire that person?  No, they only got a forty-five day suspension.”
“Oh, come on,” my guest protested.  “Being an FBI agent is a tough job!  The agent was doubtless under a lot of stress, and there were mitigating circumstances, which we duly noted in the Quarterly Email – they agreed to marriage counseling, and besides, it says right there, the agent had been struggling with mental health issues.”
“But the Bureau let them keep their gun?” I pressed.  “You must admit, that sort of thing is definitely grist for the journalists’ mill, is it not?”
“I suppose maybe it is,” he conceded, “but that’s just my point – journalists take things from the Quarterly Email entirely out of context and blow them all out of proportion.”
“Here’s one where an FBI agent bought a used car from a confidential informant,” I continued, “and all he got was a three day suspension.”
“It says right there,” my guest protested as he gestured toward the screen, “that the agent paid a fair market price for the car!”
“How about this one,” I offered, “where an FBI employee emailed a nude photograph of herself to her ex-boyfriend’s wife?  Do you think most people would find a three day suspension appropriate disciplinary action?”
“Look,” he rationalized, “she didn’t use a Bureau computer to send the picture, okay?  And it says right there, she was depressed because the guy dumped her.  Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, we all know that, don’t we?”
“Consider this, then,” I suggested.  “One of your agents – not the sharpest tool in the shed, I’m guessing, left an FBI shotgun, camera and laptop in his FBI vehicle overnight, from which they were all stolen, and he only got a five day suspension.”
“Heck,” my client objected, “it says right there that neither the camera or the laptop had any sensitive FBI information on them.”
“And, perhaps, the shotgun didn’t have any FBI ammunition in it?” I dryly inquired.  “It also says there were prior incidents where the agent had lost FBI property.”
“The Bureau,” he explained, “takes these things on a case-by-case basis.  And let me tell you, losing a week’s pay is no picnic, no matter how you slice it.”
“And getting arrested for walking around drunk with a loaded FBI weapon,” I asked, “like this next one did, only merits a seven day suspension?”
“As it clearly states,” he countered, “he had a previously unblemished sixteen year career.  What was the Bureau supposed to do, fire him?  What’s more, we do, in fact, fire plenty of people!  Look at all these other ones here – multiple DUIs; bugging their supervisor’s office; possession of child pornography; fighting with police while armed at his mistress’s apartment; destroying FBI evidence; committing perjury during investigation of their debit card fraud – they all got fired for what they did!”
“As well they should have,” I noted.  “But that kind of behavior ought to get officers fired from their jobs at the Mayberry Police Department, much less the FBI.”
“Agreed, maybe you could point to a few cases that look like the Bureau isn’t going hard enough on wrongdoers,” he acknowledged.  “But as I said, the media takes them out of context and makes us seem much worse than we are.  Look at this whole ‘epidemic of sexting at the FBI’ spin they’re harping on, for example.  Epidemic?  Really?  Who do they think they’re fooling anyway?”
“Do you think,” I wondered, “if he were alive and the Director of the FBI today, that J. Edgar Hoover would have used a Bureau Blackberry to send pictures of himself in drag to Clyde Tolson?”
“Absolutely not!” Special Agent Reginald Proctor Monitor indignantly snapped.  “And what’s more, he never would have needed to, because everybody at the Bureau knows that Hoover only dressed up like that at his home, and only for Tolson – and only on special occasions, too.”
“But you must certainly be able to see,” I chided, “with that sort of history, any time there’s a chance to mention the FBI in a salacious light or with a kinky angle, the media’s going to be all over it like white on rice.”
“So you’re saying,” he reasoned, “that Hoover and those dresses of his are what’s behind… well, heck, it doesn’t matter, does it?  I mean, we can’t go back and change history, now can we?”
“Maybe you can’t change history,” I conceded, “but it’s certainly possible to reinterpret it.  I know it’s part of the received FBI mythology that Hoover only dressed up in drag for Tolson at their home here in Washington, but tell me – there’s no proof that he never went outside like that, now is there?”
“Of course not,” my guest murmured quietly, his mind obviously working at high speed, “you can’t prove a negative.  But wouldn’t somebody have noticed?”
“Not,” I suggested, “if the dress was a masterful disguise.”
“Oh, oh, my God,” he exclaimed as he excitedly rose from the couch and made for the door, “I never thought of that!  Not a minute to lose – got to get down to OPR with this right away!  I’m sure they’ll know exactly what to do with it!”
“I’m certain,” I agreed, “they will.”