The FBI certainly has a lot of investigations going on these days, don’t they? (But to be fair, that’s sort of their job and it’s right in their name.) They’re looking into both Hillary Clinton’s emails and the entire Clinton Foundation. In other offices they’re delving into Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. But now there’s a new target of their inquiries. The FBI is investigating… the FBI. Not the entire bureau, of course, but they’re at least taking a look at one of their social media accounts to see if they’ve been meddling in the election to Donald Trump’s benefit. (Government Executive)
Suddenly renewed activity on an FBI Twitter account publicizing Freedom of Information Act releases has prompted an internal bureau review of the propriety of such activity so close to the Nov. 8 election, according to a source involved in the matter.
In emails obtained by Government Executive sent to an ex-investigative reporter who filed complaints, the deputy at the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility on Tuesday revealed that the complaint about possible political favoritism in tweeting has been referred to the FBI’s Inspection Division.
“Upon the completion of its investigation, the matter will be referred to my office for adjudication,” wrote Candice Will, assistant director of the Office of Professional Responsibility to Jonathan Hutson, a former investigative reporter and now a media consultant. He received a similar email from Nancy McNamara, assistant director of the FBI’s Inspection Division, with two more FBI employees copied.
The activity is primarily focused on the FBI Records Vault twitter account. Following a complaint from a Democrat supporting group the media began scrutinizing this feed. For reasons unknown, the records vault account had been dormant since October 8, 2015. Then, on October 30th, it suddenly came back to life, issuing a flurry of 21 tweets over the next three days, beginning with one releasing details of an investigation of Donald Trump’s father. The tweet describes him as a “real estate developer and philanthropist.”
Fred C. Trump: Fred C. Trump (1905-1999) was a real estate developer and philanthropist. This release consists of… https://t.co/21KgtPpmzk
— FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) October 30, 2016
The final one, going out on Tuesday, was a record of their investigation into the pardon of Marc Rich by Bill Clinton.
William J. Clinton Foundation: This initial release consists of material from the FBI's files related to the Will… https://t.co/Y4nz3aRSmG
— FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) November 1, 2016
After that the account fell silent again. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this is curious. The agency describes this account as more of an “automated” function which releases the results of Freedom of Information Act inquiries in a “first in, first out” order. But surely they get such requests all the time, so there’s no good reason why the account would have posted nothing for an entire year. And the fact that they began this sudden surge of activity with a positive sounding review of Trump’s dad and finished with a Marc Rich pardon investigation sounds like there’s a political lean in the mix.
But at the same time, the rest of the tweets were primarily unrelated to anything having to do with the election. In fact, it’s a rather eclectic mix of cases dating back to the cold war, such as this one having to do with a top secret program which embedded agents in Alaska in case they had to fight off Russian invaders.
Stay-Behind Special Agent Program in Alaska: Between 1950 and 1951, the FBI was involved in planning for and begi… https://t.co/usFtnFk6nq
— FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) October 30, 2016
In case you’re interested, that’s a pretty fascinating story about a plan known as the Stay Behind Special Agent Program.
Stay-Behind Special Agent Program in Alaska
Between 1950 and 1951, the FBI was involved in planning for and beginning to implement a program to identify and train personnel who would act in a clandestine capacity in Alaska should the USSR invade the area. This Stay Behind Agent Program, also called STAGE by the FBI, was to be done in concert with other government agencies. The FBI abruptly ended its involvement in September of 1951; the reason why is not indicated in the materials released.
One analyst at the Sunlight Foundation isn’t making a call in either direction, but allows that this could just be business as usual.
Alex Howard, a senior analyst at the Sunlight Foundation, said the FBI has some flexibility in releasing documents. “Agencies are mandated to acknowledge a FOIA request in 20 days, although many in practice do not. Unless an agency is under instruction by a judge to release records responsive to a FOIA lawsuit on a specified timeline or by a given deadline, however, agencies can have some discretion in when they disclose records to a requester, unless their FOIA regulations specify otherwise. The “first in, first out” standard is one such rule: some agencies have pending FOIA requests going back over a decade.”
I’d normally tend to blow off these accusations surrounding the twitter account as more partisan hyperbole in the closing hours of an election, but this probably merits some scrutiny. If this was just some sort of coincidence involving an agency office drone realizing they were behind on their tweeting it came at an awfully peculiar time. And if that’s the case, why only tweet the results of 21 requests? And why stop after three days? I’m not saying there’s definitely something fishy going on but it’s obviously worth a look.