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FBI Veterans, Historians See Leaks As ‘Dangerous’ And ‘Unprecedented’

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FBI Veterans, Historians See Leaks As ‘Dangerous’ And ‘Unprecedented’


Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The recent FBI leaks about the bureau’s investigations surrounding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are “dangerous” for democracy and “unprecedented,” according to FBI historians and former agents who tell Media Matters that the leaks harm the FBI’s reputation and unfairly influence the presidential election.

FBI Director James Comey has been widely criticized for his decision to send a vague letter last Friday to Congress announcing that the FBI had identified and planned to review additional emails “that appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

In the wake of Comey’s letter, numerous leaks have emerged from the FBI. The Guardian reported that the leaks have been designed to hurt Clinton’s campaign, due to factions within the bureau that are “pro-Trump.” According to one agent quoted by the paper, “The FBI is Trumpland.”

Several historians and former agents spoke with Media Matters and said the unusual leaking of information and subsequent media reports can do damage not only to the current presidential election but also to the FBI’s effectiveness and the nation’s democracy.

“It is a big negative to the country. It pollutes the image of democracy. It is completely incompatible with democracy,” said Kenneth O’Reilly, the author of three FBI books and a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. “In the good old days, [leakers] were either fired or sent to a field office and you didn’t have so much of that as an issue. You have renegade agents and they are a lot harder to control. You are having these factions and there is one faction in there and their whole life mission is to get the Clintons.”

Sanford J. Ungar, a scholar in residence at Georgetown University and the author of FBI: An Uncensored Look Behind the Walls, agreed.

“If the bureau is perceived as being partisan, it loses credibility. People are less willing to talk with them and it is a major setback. It is just a bizarre development in the past few days,” he said. “The bureau’s reputation is quick to be weakened and hard to recover.”

He later added, “Now I have to wonder if there is somebody in a very influential, well-placed position at the FBI who has some very particularly strong feelings about this election, who wants to leak as much as possible to affect this election.”

Douglas Charles, a Penn State Greater Allegheny associate professor of history who has written three books on the FBI, said this kind of activity is not the normal course of FBI business — and for good reason.

“Most people understand leaks like this don’t happen very often for the FBI,” Charles said, later adding, “These leaks say to me there is some rift of some kind. In one way or another, it is influencing the election, for good or bad, which is something the FBI is not supposed to do or be involved in. There is a danger of the FBI becoming too involved in politics like the Hoover era. It was behind the scenes and quiet [back then], not so up front and blatant as this is. The worst that happens is the damage to its reputation, and its reputation is maybe one of its most important things because if it is damaged that affects it going forward.”

Tim Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and FBI historian, echoed that view.

“Normally, [the Department of] Justice would not be bad-mouthing the director of the FBI and the director of the FBI would not be discussing an investigation that at the time had barely been hatched,” he said. “It’s the power of the information that is disclosed that makes readers spit out their coffee in the morning.”

Nancy Savage, executive director of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, said not only are such leaks unacceptable among agents, but they are often wrong.

“That is pretty unprecedented,” Savage, who spent 35 years as an agent, said of the leaks. “Leaks are leaks — they aren’t necessarily accurate and sometimes you can get people who have their personal ax to grind and their own view of it.”

James Wedick, a former FBI agent who served for over three decades, also offered concern about the accuracy.

“There are some leaks now and I am dubious exactly how good the leaks are,” he said. “You don’t know who is providing the information and you don’t know if it is good information and it may have some effect on the election. These agents take their oaths seriously. You are not going to find many agents willing to leak information, so I am suspect of it. If it does happen, it is dangerous, it is bad.”

Leaking “does damage to the reputation of the agency,” said Binny Miller, a former Justice Department attorney and a professor at American University Washington College of Law. “I haven’t seen this kind of thing in the press about any other things the FBI has investigated. The problem with leaks is the people who make the leaks, you cannot asses it. A government agency needs to speak with one voice. You could compromise an investigation.”

Athan Theoharis, a professor emeritus and FBI historian at Marquette University, said it’s simply “really dangerous.”

“The Clinton leaks are particularly egregious because they occur in the midst of a presidential campaign. You shouldn’t be doing anything that has political ramifications,” he said in an interview.



  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 5, 2016

    The FBI’s indiscretions suggest that the spirit of J. Edgar Hoover has been resurrected in the guise of Comey and other parasitic agents within the Department. It is obvious that the election season has been indelibly tainted and democracy subverted, thanks to Comey et al. Unfortunately, the damage had long ago begun as presaged nearly a century ago by Shoghi Effendi in his comments and letters to the Baha’is of the United States in the 1930’s about the corruption that was then and now endemic in the American system of governance as a result of partisan politics, greed and materialism.

    For now, the next task, and one which sane Americans should insist on, is a complete purge and revamp of a rotten organization whose framework has rusted and whose beams are rotted out beyond repair.

    Trump is too corrupt, has too many questions regarding ties with Russia, and is too weak in the area of morality, integrity, and volition to affect such a clean-up.

    Make America Great Again?? Indeed. America will be trashed beyond recognition once Donald and his cronies are given the chance to further eviscerate America beyond what he’s already begun.

    1. Mama Bear November 5, 2016

      Amen, and as always, well expressed.

      1. Barbarablewis1 November 6, 2016

        Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj304d:
        On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
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  2. A. D. Reed November 5, 2016

    One of the widely quoted attributes of James Comey is that his reputation as “Boy Scout” is more important to him than the actual decision-making that would earn him that reputation. In other words, if it makes him look good and honorable, he’ll do it, even if the “it” is dishonorable.

    Maybe this is a time he could actually live up to that false reputation: on Wednesday, after Mrs. Clinton is elected president by a solid majority of voters and a huge majority in the electoral college, he should fire all the agents in NY who report to, and swear fealty to, Rudolph Giuliani instead of the United States of America; and then he should step down himself, with the statement that he recognizes he has failed in his leadership and that it’s time for someone fresh and untainted to take over the Bureau.

    That’s what a real person of honor would do. But he won’t. Because he is more interested in looking like one than being one.

    1. Daniel Jones November 5, 2016

      Can we legally change this prickly’s name to Fudge?

  3. Daniel Jones November 5, 2016


  4. AgLander November 5, 2016

    Late movement among voters indicates Trump will win this election comfortably.
    Continuing FBI probe yields overwhelming evidence of a massive criminal enterprise
    at the Clinton Foundation.
    Hilary Clinton is indicted.

    1. I Am Helpy November 5, 2016

      I love watching you failures lose your goddam minds.

      1. A. D. Reed November 5, 2016

        Me, too.

        Ag’s “overwhelming evidence” is the book “Clinton Cash,” whose author is a protege and former employee of Steve Bannon, of Breitbart, and Trump’s campaign chairman. That book — whose publisher has already had to retract certain claims proven false or wholly made up — is the entire basis of the NY Mafia (whoops, I mean FBI) office’s “investigation” of the Clinton Foundation. Which even such a weak-willed nobody as Jim Comey has dismissed as nothing.

        Like you, Helpy, I cannot WAIT to read Ag’s posts on Wednesday, after Hillary has taken 50.5 % of the popular vote and at least 332 electorals, while the Drumpf has gotten 42% (max) and 206 (or fewer).

        And you know what? If I’m wrong, I’ll come on and say “I was wrong.” If I’m right, Ag wiil either hide his/her face or come on and say “They cheated! IT WAS StOLEN!!! Big Bad Donnie’s gonna sue!!!!”


        1. Independent1 November 5, 2016

          I sure hope your prediction on the election comes to pass. And my guess is, if Trump does lose and decides to sue, he’s going to have to work something out with his creditors because when he loses a number of the felony cases currently pending against him, along with the several elections related felonies he’s committed just while campaigning – any suing Trump should be able to do should be from the pauper’s section of one of America’s maximum security prisons.

        2. The lucky one November 6, 2016

          We don’t have to wait. The election’s not over and Trump and his knuckle draggers are already whining about being robbed.

    2. Independent1 November 5, 2016

      Have you even thought about voting time? Given that Trump has developed virtually no ground game in America, who’s going to be out there ensuring all those supposed Trump voters are going to get to the polls? (Aside of course from the few thousand that attend is mindless rallies which when you’re talking about needing at least 50 million votes, those campaign rally supporters Trump draws won’t amount to bubble when it comes voting day 11/8. I’m still a bit nervous but Hillary has amassed probably the biggest electoral ground game (people actually devoted to getting voters to the polls) across America in the history of our country.

    3. Independent1 November 5, 2016

      If anyone needs to be locked up it’s Trump. Are you aware of his 916 million in tax fraud? Yup! He committed tax fraud in that 1990s tax return that’s allowed him supposedly to pay zero taxes for the past 18 years. He recorded debt which was forgiven by banks as loses when they should have been recorded as income. So he should have had to possibly defer some tax payments over those 18 years, paying millions each year to add up to 916 million; not declaring the 916 million as a loss and then paying zero. And there is no statute of limitations with the IRS. So they may come knocking on Donald’s door. (Al Capone got 11 years for failing to pay $215,000 so with Trump defrauding the government of 916 million, or something close to that. it’s anyone’s guess how many years Trump may get.)

    4. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 6, 2016

      Agatha, Abdu’l Baha wrote something interesting about human beings and their inherent nature and how it can become defiled. A partial remark is the following:

      “Know thou that every soul is fashioned after the nature of God, each being pure and holy at his birth. Afterwards, however, the individuals will vary according to what they acquire of virtues or vices in this world. Although all existent beings are in their very nature created in ranks or degrees, for capacities are various, nevertheless every individual is born holy and pure, and only thereafter may he become defiled….”
      In light of the above, we all have become defiled, but you go out of your way to defile yourself, which is a sign of a person having lost control of their mind and their emotions. Your vice is Hillary, emails, and an addiction to conspiracy theories. No mature individual would allow such a defilement of reasoning to happen on the scale you’ve set out to let happen. Partisan politics and being a slave to conservatism will be your epitaph, unless you can start removing so much stain you’ve acquired, young lady.

      1. Anna Maria Yoakum November 6, 2016

        I’ve always thought of AgLander as one of Putin’s Russian shills, trolling the internet and spreading propaganda so Putin’s li’l buddy Trumpty-Dumpty could win the presidency. Putin would love to have a fool like Trumpty as his puppet in the White House.

        1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 6, 2016

          Putin is licking his chops by now with keen anticipation that his favorite dupe, Trump, might be crowned “King of America”.
          Imperialist minds think so much alike, except that Putin is far more intelligent and astute than Donald.

      2. AgLander November 6, 2016

        Current temperature in your beloved Oman is 84 degrees at 11:31PM local time. Skies are clear.
        Despite the wonderful weather conditions, women continue to be discriminated against in the Personal Status Laws that governs family law in matters of divorce, inheritance, child custody, and legal guardianship, granting men privileged status in these areas.
        Oman has made several contributions to the Clinton Foundation which may explain why Hillary Clinton, who claims to be the leading champion of women’s rights, has not uttered a word about the legal imbalance of life for women in Oman.
        And now she want to be a president??? I don’t thinks so!!

        1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth November 6, 2016

          You’ve convinced us of your serious mental breakdown. We don’t need further confirmation of what was evident a year ago.
          But thanks anyway for your twisted and misguided obsession with Oman’s temperature. Such infantile behavior is astounding, and Trump would love to shoot marbles with you. He’ll have lots of time for that soon.

    5. Dan S November 6, 2016

      If you believe that lie then you are truly in Trumps camp

    6. Bill P November 6, 2016

      Thanks for my afternoon laugh, as usual you just write whatever unfounded thought that winds its way through your low information brain. Latest poll has Hillary up 5%. Before you lock someone up, you need evidence to get an indictment then go through a trial,get a conviction before someone is found guilty. I guess you trolls don’t believe in the US judicial system.

  5. Box November 5, 2016

    Leaks? The FBI made the worst one of all. People on all sides would appreciate this interesting article on what the email case is really about–the FBI leaking to Huma.

    When police investigate something, they dont tell you anything, they only pull information from you. The email case went wrong at the very start when Huma asked the FBI who-what-why and they told her. The case was more against Obama than Hillary because as Secy of State she would have, and im sure did, check with Obama about everything and not take actions on her own. Benghazi? Obama would have confirmed her actions and then she took the actions. Thats why the FBI was interested in Obama more than Hillary. Everything starts with the boss and they know it.

    But the FBI told that to Huma during her questioning and she quickly thought, Hey wait a minute, if the boss can take an action, isnt that impunity for the staff below? So she shut up and there went the case. When later the FBI raised issues specifically with Huma and Hillary, they could only move those cases if Obama were openly implicated as well. They didnt want to do that so there was nothing else do to. Ever since that early investigation they have hoped for direct testimony to first accuse Obama with but nobody would give it, not out of loyalty but the sense that “if the boss can do something, Im protected.” Thats what the up and down in this case has been about. The FBI’s own leaks blew everything. Do you see? If Hillary accuses Obama, then the sht has to all rain back on her and Huma. If they just shut up, all go free, and all because the FBI told Huma what the case was about instead of simply extracting info from her and then build the case. Amazing.


    Upshot is that everyone gets away on a system technical problem (whatever you want to call it), not because they were innocent. I despise Hillary but I must be fair and commend her for strategically using the laws on the books to get free. Well done!

    1. I Am Helpy November 5, 2016


      Sorry your unelectable candidate is losing!

    2. Independent1 November 5, 2016

      I hope there aren’t many, if any, sane NM posters who would actually would waste their time reading through the fantasies that you post!! What a waste!!!! (You can be sure I didn’t waste 2 seconds reading your mindless propaganda. All I had to to was look at the moniker and it was clear what was coming next was just more right-wing biased filth.)

    3. CrankyToo November 6, 2016

      I’m Donald Trump, and I approve this stinking pile of horsesh!t…

    4. iamproteus November 7, 2016

      Hey, Box! I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you have crossed the Rubicon into total insanity! For your own sake, seek professional help immediately.

  6. The lucky one November 6, 2016

    According to one agent quoted by the paper, “The FBI is Trumpland.” Well so much for the FBI agents being the cream of the cop world and their inability to track down the leakers indicates they are not much of an investigative agency either.

  7. Jon November 6, 2016

    Comey and/or his FBI obviously told Rudy Giuliani that the letter was going to be sent to the bloodthirsty Jason Chaffetz and others at least 2 days before he sent it. It was very clear that the new emails were either correspondence between Huma and Hillary or copies of emails the FBI had already seen. Yet Chaffetz and Trump joined by fellow Republicans immediately began making outrageous baseless claims that Comey would never have sent that letter unless the FBI had hard evidence of criminal activity by Hillary. Trump announced that this was much bigger than Watergate. Comey knew exactly how the rabid Republicans would use his letter.


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