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FBI Executive Management's Deadly Blindspot: The FBI Intelligence Branch

Three Terrorists in San Bernardino planned attacks, immigrated, communicated, practiced assault skills, amassed a deadly arsenal and built bombs all directly under the nose of the FBI's humongous Intelligence bureaucracy! 

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How?  Because FBI Executive Management has constructed a dysfunctional, bloated and distracted Intelligence infrastructure.  Their Intelligence scheme often misses attack planning or is impotent to detect it.  Executives helplessly claim in the immediate aftermath of an attack that there was simply no way to have discovered the plot.  Then in the following months, details trickle out about all the missed clues. The truth is that FBI Executives have naively mis-focused FBI analysts and brick agents on far too many bullshit distractions, silenced critical input from front line troops,  and stubbornly promoted the incompetent Executives who were responsible for failures in its Intelligence structure.

The L.A. Times quoted a  senior federal government official who said that Farook was in contact with a small number of suspected extremists and there were indications that the 28-year-old gunman communicated with at least one person who is currently being monitored as a potential terror suspect.

Each year FBIHQ approves scores of agents to be detailed, for weeks at a time, providing security for private Hollywood entertainment shows like the Academy Awards.  FBI Executives deployed so many taxpayer-funded FBI employees in 2015 to assist billion dollar for-profit entertainment corporations to secure the Academy Awards show, that FBIHQ provided a special funding designation and code name for their efforts, dubbing them, "Operation Oscars".  Of course, police authorities need support from the FBI for events like the Academy Awards. But FBI Executives distractingly go over-the-top with the scope and magnitude of their response to these mostly meaningless events.  Too often they do so only to prospect and network for retirement jobs. Entertainment companies are filled with former FBI employees working as security and compliance employees. Many of them were part of this FBI-private industry job trade program.  Meanwhile, The Underground wonders what Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik were doing on the night of February 22, 2015, the date of the last Academy Awards ceremony.  While just a few miles away from their Redlands home, FBI Executives had deployed a huge cast of taxpayer funded employees, most fully costumed in formal attire and accompanied by their SWAT Team, executing "Operation Oscar."  Malik filed her application for Permanent Residency in September 2014 and her Green Card was issued after FBI background checks in July 2015.  We bet FBI Execs were busy planning staffing for the February 2015 Academy Awards while the Malik's background check was ongoing.   And we wonder what Farook and Malik were doing on all those other occasions when FBI Executives were distracted deploying significant, FREE, use of FBI personnel and equipment to Hollywood movie sets as technical advisors to for-profit film and television corporations .   FBI Executives have gone so far as to establish an entire Unit at FBIHQ dedicated to nothing other than pandering to Hollywood billionaires who request advice from on-duty, taxpayer funded FBI personnel.  

Illustration from a 2015 "Hollywood Reporter" story on Oscar Security.

Illustration from a 2015 "Hollywood Reporter" story on Oscar Security.

Hunting Down Brick Agents

FBI Insiders overwhelmingly agree: the suffocating, multi-billion dollar bureaucracy that is the FBI Intelligence Branch is a catastrophe.  Critical lynchpins in the decade-long debacle are that FBI Executive Managers do not want to hear honest, constructive criticism from brick agents about their Intelligence program failures.  And worse, Executives work diligently to identify, marginalize and silence employees who dare to speak-up.  That is ironic too, because the FBI constantly reminds citizens, "If you see something, say something."  But when FBI brick agents see something wrong within the FBI intelligence collection bureaucracy, if they say ANYTHING, Executive Management marks them for attack.   Constructive criticism is deemed a threat by FBI Executives.  Most Executives build their programs in a vacuum.  They obtain buy-in from a few other incompetent Executives who are similarly too inexperienced to realize that a particular program would never work.  By the time the program is force-fed down the throats of brick agents to implement it is far too late for it to be criticized.  By that time, too many Executives would be embarrassed that they had invented or supported such nonsense, so they take the much simpler path of destroying employees who speak up about the calamity.    When Brick-Agents do candidly discuss their concerns among themselves, it is in hushed tones, usually well out of the earshot of a vindictive and retaliatory Executive Management structure.  And with the clear inference that the Executives are too naive or arrogant anyway to take meaningful action on program shortcomings.  

A Consistent History of FBI Executive Stupidity

It began with VCF and the FIGs
FBI Executives have consistently mishandled their Intelligence responsibilities and after a decade of incompetence, employees on the front lines are fed up and sick of it.  In 2004, The 9/11 Commission found "there were significant inadequacies in the capabilities and management of the FBI, in particular with respect to its domestic intelligence mission and its role within the US Intelligence Community, (which) contributed to the USG’s failure in preventing the 9/11 attacks."    FBI Executives responded by building a gigantic, anemic, expensive bureaucracy of epic and nearly worthless proportions.  Executives began by moving to a computer-based investigative and intelligence system, Virtual Case File (VCF) but were hopelessly inept in its design and implementation.   Rather than having line-level employees design VCF, Executives hired expensive Beltway consultants as the VCF's architects.  After squandering four years with feeble missteps and wasting $170 million of taxpayer money, VCF was mercifully abandoned in 2005, but few FBI Executives responsible were held accountable.  Some of the most culpable for the failure were promoted!  

FBI Executives then moved on to construct another hair brained idea they ceremoniously christened "Field Intelligence Groups" (FIGs).    FIGs were stifling bureaucracies with mind-numbing operational guidelines that FBI Execs ensconced in every FBI Field Office.  The FIGs were often heavily staffed with lower pay-grade FBI clerical employees that Executives let cash in by converting from their lower paying positions to suddenly, overnight becoming highly paid FBI, "Subject Matter Experts" in the FIG.   The 9/11 Review Commission called it, "disruption from the rapid infusion of minimally trained analysts.”  This initial infusion of subpar staff by Executives operates as a huge impediment today to the FBI for hiring and retaining talented analysts.  Once the FBI finally abandoned promoting insiders to analyst positions, newly hired, talented analysts, quickly realized that many of their earlier hired co-workers were inept and lazy.  There were revolts by the new, talented analysts who were assigned to be supervised by one of the early hires because they were now supervisors who been around long enough to manipulate a promotion.  The new, competent analyst cadre wanted no part of being associated with these prior hires, and so they jumped ship to other agencies or applied to be FBI agents.    

Meanwhile, in the trenches, Brick-Agents quietly grumbled that they were harshly tasked by the FIG scheme, having to divert massive amounts of time away from their investigations to feed a huge paper tiger created by the legions of staff masquerading as intelligence officers in the FIG.  Agents were careful not to voice those grumblings too loudly as an environment of fear and intimidation was openly promoted by  Executives and FBIHQ to silence any employees questioning the FIG scheme.  FBI Executives made it clear to Brick-Agents, keep your mouths shut, play along with the FIG scheme, or get steamrolled.  FBI Execs deviously put brick agent grumblings to good use too by twisting what they grumbled about.  Brick agents had complained that the Intelligence apparatus constructed by Execs was stifling and ineffective.  Execs prostituted those brick agent complaints for their own benefit by telling the media, Congress and whoever else would listen that the FIG process they designed was perfect, but they were facing challenges from implementation because seasoned criminal agents refused to support them!!  

Among the weak points in the FIG structure found by an FBI internal study were:

  insufficient number and quality of intelligence sources; a lack of understanding of what information should be collected; intelligence officers with limited awareness of their local areas; and quality-control problems with analysis.  

FBI Counter Terrorism Chief Dale Watson, video deposition broadcast on John Stewart's Daily show while Stewart lampooned Watson and FBI Executives.

FBI Counter Terrorism Chief Dale Watson, video deposition broadcast on John Stewart's Daily show while Stewart lampooned Watson and FBI Executives.

One FBI counterterrorism agent, Bassem Youssef, tried pointing out to FBI Executives that they might be better off understanding intelligence collected on Middle Eastern Terrorism organizations if they used Middle-Eastern, Arabic-speaking FBI agents to have more prominent roles in counterterrorism investigations.  Youssef was born into a Coptic Christian family in Egypt, where Islam is the dominant religion. According to testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBIHQ Executives quickly went on the attack to isolate and marginalize Youssef.  FBI Executive Michael J. Heimbach was the executive in charge of the FBI International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) when the FBI was responding to Youssef's suggestions.  Heimbach's ITOS was the FBI Section with responsibility for countering Sunni extremist groups worldwide.  Heimbach and other FBI Executives were ridiculed after giving stunning sworn declarations on behalf of the FBI in an official responses to Youssef's suggestions.  Heimbach said that FBI agents assigned to ITOS having an ability to speak Arabic were of no use!   Heimbach said that as the top ITOS Executive,  "he was responsible for developing and executing an integrated investigative and intelligence strategy to identify and Qaeda and other Sunni extremist organizations."  He famously then declared that no agent in ITOS uses Arabic and that ITOS vacancy announcements do not list experience in the Middle East as either a mandatory or preferred qualification!  In a classic statement, he swore that FBI Executive positions within ITOS (like the position he occupied) do not even list a requirement that FBI Executives have experience in Counterterrorism at all!!!   FBI Counter Terrorism Executive Dale Watson was lampooned by comedian Jon Stewart on his Daily Show.  Stewart showed a video from a deposition given by Watson in the Youssef case.  Watson pontificated the same ignorant points as had Heimbach.    Can you imagine being a brick agent in a meeting with Watson and Heimbach trying to warn them about what they were planning on saying?  What would happen to you for telling them the truth?  For telling them what they needed to hear rather than just jumping to attention and saluting their brilliance?  Your career would have been over! What's a disgrace is that Watson, Heimbach and other FBI Executives had parroted these uninformed beliefs into their Senior Executive Service echo chamber for so long that they never realized how dumb any of them would sound by saying it to the outside world.    

The Strategic Execution Team Debacle

FBI Executives responded to the collapse of the FIG scheme by doing what they do best: doubling down with an even more enormous waste of time and money, which they dubbed, "Strategic Execution Teams" (SET).   SET was also short-lived, extremely expensive and quickly abandoned.  Of course, FBIHQ SET architects weren't held accountable for the failure.  According to an article published in the Wall Street Journal:  

"In 2007, (Director) Mueller hired consulting firm McKinsey & Co. to help the Bureau develop a program to strengthen intelligence, which became known as the Strategic Execution Team. The initiative identified the bureau's weak points and drew up plans to address them. Among the major changes would be standardizing intelligence operations in the 56 field offices. One FBI manager said while he supports the program's goal, details are vague. Several current and former officials said the program has produced pages of diagrams in consultant-speak that some analysts view as not useful".   

SET was another in a long line of untouchable FBI Intelligence programs that, like FIGs, was forbidden to be criticized by brick agents even as it was failing miserably in plain sight of all.  Prior to its roll-out, for over a year, SET was all FBIHQ ever talked about and then suddenly,  it was never mentioned again.  After all the money and resources Execs threw at building FIGs and on SET, The Underground couldn't find even one mention of them on the current FBI Intelligence Branch website! 

FBI's Intelligence  Branch website, December 2015. Not a word can be found about FIGs or SETs in use, after tens of millions of dollars were wasted on those programs. 

FBI's Intelligence  Branch website, December 2015. Not a word can be found about FIGs or SETs in use, after tens of millions of dollars were wasted on those programs. 

Ft. Hood Failures cause 2010 Bureaucratic Reshuffling of the National Security Branch

After the Ft. Hood terrorist attack by Army Major Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Senate committee report was released while the FBI was yet again retooling its Intelligence infrastructure.  The Senate report found that the FBI’s handling of information that it (possessed) concerning Hasan was “impeded by division among its field offices, insufficient use of intelligence analysis, and outdated tradecraft.”    In other words, monumental mismanagement by FBI Executives!   The 9/11 Review Commission also reported that  "the FBI first learned of Major Hasan through an e-mail that he sent to the US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi on December 17, 2008.  Despite the fact that an active-duty US Army Major was e-mailing a known al-Qa’ida ideologue and facilitator who was the subject of an ongoing FBI investigation, the e-mail generated little concern in the context of what the Webster Commission later called a “crushing” volume of data."    

FBI Executives Response to the Ft. Hood Failures?  Reshuffling the Org Chart Twice and Creating a New Bureaucracy! 

After the Ft. Hood Intelligence failures there were more failures to detect terrorist operations, most notably the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.  So FBI Execs haplessly responded by yet again reshuffling their Intelligence org chart.  When the 2013 reshuffle failed, Execs wasted more money and resources and arrogantly, with flourishes and fanfare, announced in August 2014 that rather than simply reorganizing the 2013 org chart yet again, that they had learned their lesson, and that in place of simply reshuffling the org chart this time, they had made the command decision to instead jump straight to creating an entirely new, huge FBI bureaucracy!  Thus was born The FBI Intelligence Branch.  The Intelligence Branch bureaucracy birth in August 2014,  just in time for the arrival in the United States of Ms. Tashfeen Malik, one of the San Bernardino terrorists, and thus we can all see just how effective FBI Executive Management's thoughtful leadership worked out.  Plus, predictably, the FBI promoted many of those Exec's responsible for the failings surrounding the 2013 reorganization, with some receiving cushy jobs in the new 2014 Intelligence Branch bureaucracy. One brick agent quipped to The Underground recently that the only analysis that is now permitted to be released by the FBI's monolithic Intelligence bureaucracy are carefully restricted products that allow room for Executives to claim victory regardless of whether an event occurs and if the wording is such that it covers all possible outcomes.  An Editorial Cartoon recently published has a double meaning on this point. The cartoon, meant to relay that Americans are vulnerable to attack anywhere in the U.S.,  has been circulated among intelligence professionals as reflective of FBI Executive's, "cover all bases so we can be right" mentality. 

                                                                             Editorial cartoon L.A. Times (under Fair Use).

                                                                             Editorial cartoon L.A. Times (under Fair Use).

FBI Execs Abandon Leadership Dealing with DHS, White House and The State Department
FBI Execs lack leadership or are too frightened to address glaring incompetence and intelligence gaps at other agencies, even when it substantially affects protecting the American public.  They aren't interested in rocking the bureaucracy boat at other agencies fearing that it will invite reciprocal criticism of their own misconceived programs at the FBI.  Some of the biggest Executive offenders at other agencies are jealous fighters for their turf, and they don't take kindly to FBI Execs voicing concerns on behalf of FBI and DHS brick agents to them.  It would take a forceful, competent FBI Executive and a substantial investment in time to force changes at other agencies.  Most FBI Executives simply walk away from their responsibility and refuse to address serious situations pointed out by brick agents of both the FBI and those other agencies.  A recent, widely reported example is the vetting process stubbornly employed for Visa applicants.  Other government agencies refused to allow social media accounts of Visa applicants to be reviewed, even when the applicant was from a country like Pakistan where anti-American sentiment was high for what citizens viewed as the U.S. government "invasion" of their country to kill Osama Bin Ladin.  These other U.S. government agencies are major players in the area of counterterrorism along with the FBI, but they often operate first to serve questionable agendas instead of first serving a security role.  And officials at the State Department and the White House are famous for turning FBI Execs into cowering, whimpering fools unless their message matches the approved rhetoric.  FBI Execs are ill- suited to confront misguided policies at other agencies and are extremely reluctant to take any chance whatsoever with their career by doing so.  Consequently, Intelligence failures abound due to this systemic Executive disorder. Failings which FBI Execs then dump on brick agents to overcome out on the street.  

The Real Police

In Garland, Texas, FBI Executives rushed in like carnival hucksters holding up one of thousands of meaningless white noise bulletins the Intelligence Directorate spews out weekly, embarrassingly trying to claim they had predicted the attack. 

At least twice in 2015 during terrorist attacks, the real police saved citizen's lives and the FBI's ass.  It was the real police who quickly located and then risked their lives stopping the San Bernardino terrorists from further deadly rampage.  And it was the real police in Garland, Texas too who alertly engaged and killed terrorist attackers there.   Several command level Florida police officials complained to the Underground that FBI Execs had thrown the Garland Police Department under the bus with their grandstanding about having predicted the attack.   Local police had noticed how fast FBI Executives had tried to deflect blame to the local authorities with that move.

Still Not Getting It Right as Late as March 2015

The FBI's Intelligence schemes designed by FBI Executives were scrutinized again in 2015 by Congress through the Review Commission investigation.  Telling their report concluded:

"Fundamentally, however, the Review Commission’s report highlights a significant gap between the articulated principles of the Bureau’s intelligence programs and their effectiveness in practice. The Bureau needs to accelerate its pursuit of its stated goals for intelligence as a matter of increased urgency.   In the Bureau’s critical years ahead, visionary leadership will matter more than ever." 

A graph in the Report illustrated the failure of FBI Executives to establish sound strategic Intelligence plans:

FBI Directorate of Intelligence Strategy flunked three out of four categories.  Having a green Management Strategy means Execs talk a good game but the other flunking marks prove that Executives don't deliver.

FBI Directorate of Intelligence Strategy flunked three out of four categories.  Having a green Management Strategy means Execs talk a good game but the other flunking marks prove that Executives don't deliver.

The Review Commission issued an ominous, prescient warning in March to FBI Executives:  

"In 2015, the FBI faces an increasingly complicated and dangerous global threat environment that will demand an accelerated commitment to reform.  Everything is moving faster".  

The Underground would add to that warning:  unfortunately, everything is moving faster except FBI Executive Management. 


Holding FBI Management Accountable Through Transparency