First off, Happy Holidays to everyone! I’m still off researching and writing but taking a brief break before Christmas.
One of the books I’ve been going through recently for some reference material is The Art of Intelligence, by Henry Compton, who played a lead role in early field CIA operations in Afghanistan. However, well before that he spent a good bit of time assigned working inside and with joint FBI operations. He was struck by the major differences in outlook and approach between the two agencies and goes into comparing them at some length. For those of us who spend a good deal of time with FBI and CIA documents, and FBI investigations, it provides some interest context and may explain some of the things that look “strange” from the outside. So I’ll list a few of his comparisons below:
FBI is geared to respond to crimes, hence its basically reactive- it tends to collect intelligence seriously only after a crime of some sort has been committed, and then it is very specifically targeted towards the crime. If may get informant reports and leads all the time but generally they just sit in local field office files until a crime happens, and if none does they get pitched after set period of time. In contrast the CIA lives on written reports. Now if you have somebody like an organized crime figure who has committed crimes, they you may run up a few thousand pages of surveillance files, but again that is after the fact of the first criminal act.
FBI agents focus on oral communications, not written; if they write something down it makes it available to defense counsels under due diligence – which compromises the information and possibly sources as well. The feel they are reducing their flexibility if they write down too much – and written information can be used against the prosecution in court. Agents are recruited and trained to investigate and make arrests, not write reports. (which may explain why we see lots of reports from headquarters by SAIC’s on investigations but not a lot going on until their is a crime in play). The CIA is built around analysis of reports and has always had a better system of communications – and of course normally has no concern about reports being used against them. Reports are the life of the intelligence side of the Agency.
The FBI never had a good or even workable communication system. All their information was in local field office files and if someone wanted to get the big picture they had to travel to multiple offices and spend weeks in the files. That was exacerbated by the lack of any routine reporting until a crime was being investigated.
The FBI loved sources but only if they could tie them to probable crimes and their paid informants were actually recruited on the basis of being asked to give testimony in court cases. Of course they had other classes of informants but they were all somewhat provisional until they got to the point of being potentially useful in a criminal action. Obviously this is a totally different approach than the CIA, who loves sources of all kinds, the more the better and the more they have they more they can feed their data mill for the analysts. On the other and, the FBI folks are paranoid about somehow undermining the prosecution.
Of special importance is the fact that major FBI offices often held their evidence files locally, to support Federal prosecutions; it was not all necessarily shared with headquarters. So – when we are forced to rely on headquarters files we may be missing the good stuff. In he CIA, everything went to headquarters because their span of interest was much broader geographically.
The FBI lived on investigations of crimes or suspected crimes, to their investigations were often after the fact – and what limited reporting was done, was done then. If they were following something it was pretty much oral, no crime, no paper. The exception would be when they were somehow involved with other agencies, which I suppose explains why so many of the items we find are mulch-agency distribution.
Of course none of this hard and fast I’m sure but it does seem to explain a lot of what we document geeks turn up – or don’t turn up. You begin to appreciate why why you find from the FBI only supports the planned prosecutors case rather than running around in other leads…it’s SOP to support court cases.