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House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) presides over a hearing of the Weaponization of the Federal Government Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on Feb. 09, 2023. The subcommittee was created by a sharply divided Congress to scrutinize what Republican members have charged is an effort by the federal government to target and silence conservatives. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), who chairs the House Judiciary Committee and eschews suit jackets like Bud Light at a rodeo, probably knows that he has one shot at reforming an FBI he believes is out to get conservatives in America. So far, it’s not going well, and that’s too bad.  

The FBI has logged an inglorious stretch of investigative actions over the past few years that many perceive to be overtly biased. Consequently, there is certainly room to explore sober, carefully considered reform.  

Do we want an FBI that targets a presidential campaign based on made-up research from the opposition? No.  

Do we want an FBI that recommends Twitter consider turning off the accounts of certain Americans?  No.  

Do we want an FBI that ignores a pro-life protester’s offer to turn himself in and, instead, opts for a full tactical early-morning arrest at his home? No, no we don’t. 

Sadly, I could go on.

Truth be told, most FBI agents do not want an FBI like that and would welcome meaningful reforms that would blunt the kind of imprudent decisions, made by a few, that have trespassed on constitutional rights and harmed the bureau’s reputation. 

But that’s not what we’re getting. What we’re getting, so far, is pure politics, an emotional fanning of some admittedly bad events into a fearsome bogeyman. Instead of prudent reform, we’re getting a fundraising brochure. 

Let’s start with the name of Chairman Jordan’s House Judiciary subcommittee, the “Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government.” Sounds sufficiently ominous. “Weaponization” is a fashionable term these days, applied to many things, from court filings to internet memes. Its overuse has rendered it smirk-worthy. “The FBI has been weaponized against the right” is the familiar mantra. The sentiment may be understandable but it is now a cliché that unnecessarily evokes a sense of lethality and fear disproportionate to reality. It’s a melodramatic distraction that doesn’t help accomplish true reform.

Casting the FBI as weaponized against Americans also has led to a kind of foaming demonization of the FBI by a number of politicians and political commentators. “The FBI is corrupt to its core!” “The Fascist Bureau of Investigation” and “FBI agents are thugs and leftists!”   

This is reckless rhetoric that is feeding a current state where almost everything the bureau does is viewed with suspicion among perhaps half the country. Yes, the FBI has taken dead aim at its own foot — several times — but more and more, a perverse amplification of bureau misdeeds is being applied that makes you wonder if real reform is the goal or just more manipulative politics.

Demonization is a risky bedfellow. Like it or not, the FBI is vitally important to the viability of our republic. It may feel good and attract attention to equate the bureau with “fascism” and — dumbest of all — call for its abolition, but the very real downside is a tragic loss of FBI effectiveness when we really need it. And we do need it, desperately, for actual crimes such as human trafficking, child exploitation, terror attacks, and galloping fraud in health care and against seniors.  

The FBI’s traditional success has depended heavily on the goodwill cooperation of everyday folks. An FBI demonized in exchange for fleeting moments of political gamesmanship or media clicks risks larger consequences. Where FBI agents once got cooperation, more and more they are getting dirty looks. We’re trading transitory feel-good indignation for less safety. That’s not real reform. 

So, why is hyperbolic weaponization and demonization nonsense crowding out any evidence of movement toward true reform? To be blunt, it’s because money is polluting the process. I’ll give you an example: A friend’s 90-something father lost some natural discretion filters, as age will do to a person, and began writing small checks to every political mailer that floated into the house. This opened the floodgates and soon he was receiving enough solicitations from high-profile politicians to wallpaper his den.  

Many of the mailers originated from sitting members of Congress from districts and states far away from his own. The common denominator was notoriety. These politicians, from both parties, were well known thanks to their frequent appearances on major cable TV news shows.   

Their tactics were of the “scare” variety because that’s what gets people to write checks. Of note, FBI “sins” were a frequent motivator, with faux-handwriting in blue ink scrawled across the outside of the envelope asking for money to help prevent the FBI from arresting parents protesting against school boards or snooping on citizen phone calls and emails. Turns out, exacerbating FBI errors is good fundraising business.  

Chairman Jordan has a choice to make. Continue to mine the FBI’s excesses for political advantage or seize the opportunity to enact wise reforms that will box out the kind of biased decisions that have undermined Americans’ trust in the FBI. Working FBI agents will welcome that kind of reform. 

Calling more “whistleblowers” to flog the FBI and subpoenaing records that will take months to produce is a feeble strategy. We already know the areas of concern. It’s time to focus on steps that should be taken to fix them.

Unless, of course, this is really just about political power and raising enough money to keep that power.  

Kevin R. Brock is a former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI and principal deputy director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). He independently consults with private companies and public-safety agencies on strategic mission technologies.

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