Friday, August 31, 2001
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Wednesday, August 29, 2001
Monday, August 27, 2001
The FBI Can't Be Trusted to Vet Judges
a spy agency knows personal secrets, it has the potential to influence judicial
By STEPHEN YAGMAN, Stephen Yagman, a Venice Beach federal civil
rights lawyer, was special prosecutor for the state of Idaho in the Ruby Ridge
prosecution of an FBI sniper
whether it is appropriate for the FBI to continue to be the agency that vets our
In the past 10 years, the FBI has brought itself into
disrepute and disgrace, yet its false pride continues unabated.
not go back to the days of yesteryear to question the bureau's competency and
integrity. Back then, J. Edgar Hoover's FBI not only Red-baited, it denied that
the mob existed and refused to investigate federal civil rights violations--all
the while righteously blowing its own horn.
For years, the most glaring
example of bureau misconduct was the famed Rosenberg espionage trial, where, in
an attempt to influence the outcome and ensure the death penalty, Hoover had
illegal conversations with the judge overseeing the case.
The FBI today
continues to be an incredibly effective propaganda machine, having mastered the
techniques it learned from its erstwhile paper tiger enemy--the Soviet
Some recent examples:
* Ruby Ridge. On Aug. 22,
1992, FBI agents surrounded a broken-down cabin in northern Idaho and killed an
unarmed woman holding a 10-month-old baby by shooting the woman in the
No legal consequences befell the sniper who fired the fatal shot,
nor were his superiors punished for writing clearly unconstitutional rules of
engagement that made the fatal shot possible.
* Waco, Texas. On
April 19, 1993, the FBI stormed the Branch Davidian compound. When it was done,
more than 80 men, women and small children were dead.
Gen. Janet Reno took full responsibility for what the FBI did, it later became
clear that Reno had been duped by the agency into believing the actions it
proposed taking had little risk.
* Wen Ho Lee. In 1998, the FBI
caused the jailing--mostly in shackled solitary confinement--of Taiwan-born
American scientist Wen Ho Lee.
When Lee finally got his freedom after
nine months, the federal judge chastised the FBI, among other government
agencies, for misleading him.
* Robert Philip Hanssen. In 2000, it
was learned that long-time FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Philip Hanssen
was a Russian spy whom the bureau itself had been unable to identify or catch
and whose spying had resulted in a number of assassinations.
was caught and charged, the FBI made sure a quick plea bargain was worked out so
that the fiasco would go away quickly and quietly.
* Timothy McVeigh.
The FBI, unconstitutionally and in violation of a federal judge's order,
concealed evidence from Oklahoma City mass murderer Timothy McVeigh that should
have been available to his defense team.
Throughout all this, the FBI has
been the agency responsible--using both retired and active agents--for
investigating and vetting federal judicial nominees.
In that vetting, the
FBI interrogates not only the nominees, but also their families, friends,
neighbors and business associates. It gets their tax returns. It learns the most
intimate details of nominees' lives and puts all this information into its
The peccadilloes or idiosyncrasies of those headed for judicial
office--such as the homosexuality of G. Harrold Carswell, the federal appeals
judge from Florida whom President Nixon nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court--can
be held confidentially, or not.
Once a nominee is confirmed and seated on
the bench, just knowing that the FBI possessed such information could influence
his or her decisions.
There is no legitimate reason to, and many good
reasons not to, let the FBI continue to investigate federal judicial
It is too difficult to know how the agency might use the
confidential information it gets. Its powers are too great, its mentality and
institutional history too blemished and its competence and credibility too
Any confidence in its integrity is clearly unwarranted.
is good reason to establish an independent, joint executive-legislative branch
office to vet federal judicial nominees.
This would ensure that when FBI
agents make their frequent appearances before federal judges to obtain arrest,
search and eavesdropping warrants and to give testimony in criminal trials,
these judges won't feel an inclination or an obligation to do whatever the FBI
tells them to do.