The Cable

In Reversal, FBI Now Emphasizes Role in Law Enforcement

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has decided to revise a controversial fact sheet that declared its primary mission to be "national security," following criticism that the agency seemed to be moving away from its longstanding role as the nation's preeminent law enforcement agency.

The change emphasizes that stopping terrorism and battling more conventional domestic criminal activity are both "primary functions" of the FBI. The lightning-fast revision should dispel any notion that large bureaucratic organizations can only operate at a snail's pace: The fact sheet was updated less than 48 hours after a report on it in Foreign Policy went viral last week. An FBI official confirmed that the change was a direct result of the article.

"It's most accurate to say our primary functions are law enforcement and national security and that's probably what it should've said all along," FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told FP. "We've always been both."

The changes come after FP reported Jan. 5 that that FBI fact sheets declared "the primary function of the FBI is national security."

Two days later, on Jan. 7, the language changed to "the primary functions of the FBI are national security and law enforcement."

"That has to be some kind of a record," said Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based attorney who alerted FP to the original fact sheet revisions. "Doing this so quickly and so obviously cover your ass-y seems beneath them."

For some critics of the U.S. national security state, the FBI's creeping advance into counterterrorism since the 9/11 attacks has come at the cost of investigating other illegal activities such as mortgage fraud, financial fraud, violent crime, and bank robberies. Those critics seized on last week's report as evidence of the FBI's further drift toward counterterrorism.

"If the FBI's primary mission is ‘national security,' what's the Department of Homeland Security's mission?" asked the Government Accountability Project's Jesselyn Radack.

Others accused the agency of rebranding itself in order to extract more funding from Congress. "How many terror plots are there in this country? Not that many, but that's where the big bucks are," said Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks webcast. The article was also picked up by the Drudge Report and the massive link-sharing site Reddit.

Bresson said critics were wrongly confusing a small change on a fact sheet with a substantive change in priorities.

"You're talking about a fact sheet, not a change in policy," he said. "The FBI's mission today, and throughout the course of our history, has been law enforcement and national security."

This may not be the final word on the issue. The fact sheets accompany every response the agency gives to Freedom of Information Act requests. The latest change was discovered by FOIA expert Shawn Musgrave who has already filed a public records request for the internal memos related to the fact sheet revisions. We'll keep you posted.

Update:  FBI Director James Comey addressed the issue of the edited fact sheet during a talk he gave at an FBI field office in Birmingham, Alabama. "Someone eight levels down from me changed a form and as soon as I found out about it, I changed it back," he said. "Now it says what we are: A national security and law-enforcement agency." 

Foreign Policy

National Security

With the White House’s Blessing, Rand Moves to Formally End the Iraq War

It's been more than two years since U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq. But a loophole in the 2002 Iraq War Resolution allows future presidents to re-invade Iraq anytime they want. Now, Republican Senator Rand Paul wants to change that.

On Tuesday, the Kentucky libertarian is set to formally introduce a bill to repeal the Authorization of the Use of Military Force in Iraq. The bill, obtained by The Cable, has the support of a handful of Republicans and Democrats. But, in a bit of a surprise, it also has the support of the White House -- at least in principle.

"The Administration supports the repeal of the Iraq AUMF since it is no longer used for any U.S. Government activities," White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. "We understand that some in Congress are considering legislation related to the Iraq AUMF, and we will certainly examine these proposals as they come forward."

An administration official made clear that repealing the Iraq AUMF was not a priority for the White House because the effect would be largely symbolic. But the statement may provide cover for other Democrats who voted against Paul's attempt to repeal the Iraq AUMF in 2011 due to concerns that it would hamstring the administration. (At the time, Paul's repeal effort failed by a landslide 30-67 vote).

"The war in Iraq is officially over," Paul said in a statement. "With the practical side of the mission concluded, I feel it is appropriate to bring this conflict to an official, legal end."

The bill is now backed by a bipartisan group of co-sponsors including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jeff Merkeley (D-OR).

One reason the administration may be offering tacit support for Paul's bill now is to emphasize the limits of future U.S. involvement in Iraq. Al Qaeda's takeover of Fallujah and Ramadi earlier this month have led to questions about Obama's willingness to put boots on the ground to dispel militants from areas where U.S. troops fought costly battles during the troop surge in 2007. The U.S. continues to rule out the deployment of troops.

"This is their fight," Secretary of State John Kerry said this month. "We are not contemplating putting boots on the ground." Instead, the U.S. has expedited shipments of Scan Eagle surveillance drones and Hellfire missiles now being used by Iraqi propeller planes in military operations against Al Qaeda.

Even if the Iraq AUMF were repealed, the administration could technically take military action in Iraq -- thanks to the resurgence of Al Qaeda there.  The AUMF signed by President George W. Bush in 2001 gives the White House broad, broad latitude to strike almost anywhere the terror group or its allies are operating.  It's an irony not lost on Sam Brannen of the Center for Strategic and international Studies. "In 2003, it was incredibly disingenuous to link the Iraq invasion to al Qaeda," he told The Cable. "Now it would would be disingenuous not link an invasion to al Qaeda given the group's prominence there."

President Obama has signaled a willingness to revisit the language of the 2001 AUMF amid pressure by Paul and a small group of lawmakers. Thus far, little progress has been made in the House and Senate.

A copy of the bill Paul plans to introduce today appears below:

Iraq AUMF Repeal

 

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