Special agent Clarice Starling is a new FBI recruit determined to make a name for herself in the agency. Her mentor at the agency is Jack Crawford, who recognises her talent and supports her. Agent Starling is up against a formidable opponent – Jame Gumb, a serial killer who is stitching a garment for himself from the skin of his female victims. In order to track down this monster, Starling must enlist the help of another – Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a former psychiatrist jailed for murder and infamous for eating the flesh of his victims.
This is fiction, famously made into the 1991 film ‘Silence of the Lambs’ starring Jodie Foster as Clarice Starling and Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. That is Hollywood FBI at its best, with fearless, dedicated agents fighting syndicated crime and serial killers, as exemplified by any number of American TV serials and movies portraying FBI agents in ‘good-vs-evil scenarios.’
But the final weeks of the bitterly-fought US election campaign revealed the real FBI, very different from the ‘Hollywood FBI’ familiar to film and TV viewers all over the world – a virulently politicised, pro-Donald Trump agency filled with agents who saw Hilary Clinton as their monster, and doing their best to de-stabilise her campaign and destroy her politically. They succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.
FBI Director James B. Coney announced just two weeks before the election that Hilary Clinton would be open to investigation over her emails. Her lead in surveys dropped dramatically after this. The week after, he announced there would be no investigation, but the damage had been done already. One can argue now that Trump would have won anyway, befuddling all liberal forecasts, but there can be no argument that the FBI announcement did considerable damage to Hilary Clinton at a crucial time and that the agency was vehemently opposed to her and her agenda.
It may be too much to call the FBI alt-right but the agency is hardly liberal when it comes to its politics. Supposed to be above politics, it is obviously very much to the right of the centre in a country which has never been run by any left-of centre politician or party. What matters here is not whether the FBI’s inner politics is left, right or centre, but its obvious willingness to be partisan and influence the course of American politics.
The FBI is a national security organisation, not a police force, and has a law enforcement function. Both the FBI and CIA are part of the US intelligence community, but the latter has no law enforcement function. The FBI’s hard-line inner politics is perhaps best exemplified by J. Edgar Hoover, a lawyer and former librarian who rose rapidly in the law enforcement ranks during the ‘Red Scare’ of 1919-20 following the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. Working closely with Attorney General (AG) Mitchell Palmer, Hoover set up a card index system listing every left-of-centre leader, organisation or publication in the US. By 1921, the collection amounted to 450,000 files. Although the AG drew criticism for abuse of power, Hoover escaped sanction and became Acting Director of the Bureau in 1924.
Hoover created an efficient crime-busting organisation, fighting notorious gangsters such as John Dillinger in the 1930s and the agency gained public adulation. But its dark side went largely unnoticed – Hoover, vehemently anti-communist, used the FBI to create files on millions of Americans suspected of ‘dissident’ activity (Novelist Ernest Hemingway was one such suspect), working closely with the notorious Sen. Joseph McCarthy and the House of Un-American Activities Committee, which ruined the lives of thousands of Americans for the sin of being members of trade unions or having left-wing sympathies.
In 1956, Hoover introduced a clandestine counterintelligence programme called OINTELPRO which spied on, infiltrated and disrupted the Communist Party and all radical organisations. It was used against the white extremist Ku Klux Klan too, but worked at the same time against African-American civil rights and anti-Vietnam war groups. Martin Luther King Jr. was continuously harassed by the FBI.
By 1969, there was a media and public backlash and the FBI, Hoover and his hawkish methods, and the Congress passed laws requiring Senate confirmation of future FBI directors and limiting their tenure for ten years. Hoover died of a heart-attack just weeks before the Watergate scandal broke out in 1972. It soon became clear that the FBI had covered up for President Richard Nixon, and the agency was exhaustively investigated by the US Congress.
But Hoover’s legacy is writ large within the FBI. It remains deeply suspicious of anything or anyone even remotely liberal. Hilary Clinton is no socialist but the FBI did its best to deliver her the coup de grace.
"FBI Director James B. Coney announced just two weeks before the election that Hilary would be open to investigation over her emails. Her lead in surveys dropped dramatically
The agency has other core problems apart from its anti-left hysteria. According to a 2009 survey, it has 35,000 employees including 13,455 special agents. Gender wise, its 80% male and only 20% female. The picture is bleaker when it comes to race. Only 4.7% of FBI special agents are African-Americans while Hispanics constitute 6.8 per cent. In other words, 83% of all special agents are white.
Remarking on this disparity, Director Comey said: “It is imperative for all of us in law enforcement to try to reflect the communities we serve. Big challenge for the FBI – the FBI is overwhelmingly white and male among my agent force…. I have to change the numbers.”
But, as one retired African-American put it sardonically: “It is kind of hilarious that the director of the FBI would be giving local police advice, since the bureau has been dealing with that kind of issue for years. It amazes me how you can give advice, but you don’t use the advice you give.”
Initially, the agency had no African-American agents and Hoover was pressured into hiring them. White agents openly harassed their black colleagues, and in one infamous case, African-American agent Donald Rochon successfully sued the agency in the 1980s when he found the image of an ape’s head pasted over a photograph of his son. After this and other successful lawsuits, such open discrimination has disappeared, but the numbers tell the story – African-Americans simply don’t trust the FBI to treat them fairly.
After the political destruction of Hilary Clinton, there would be many others of all colours and political persuasions who share that view. If Clarice Starling actually existed, she might actually hate Clinton’s guts as much as she hated serial killer Jame Gumb.