An FBI Veteran On Why Our National Security Is At Risk

As lawmakers move forward with a second impeachment process against President Donald Trump, many are calling him a threat to national security as long as he remains in office. 

With the inauguration less than a week away, KCM connected with Frank Figliuzzi, who worked for the FBI for nearly three decades — serving as the bureau’s assistant director for counterintelligence before retiring in 2012. He also just happened to write a book, The FBI Way, about the “ethical guardrails” within the FBI. 

He told us what’s at stake in the United States right now, and what’s likely happening behind-the-scenes as members of law enforcement resign and the FBI continues arresting rioters…

KCM: Many were in shock about how the Capitol breach was handled by law enforcement. What happened here? 

Frank Figliuzzi: This wasn’t an intelligence failure, but rather a security failure. You and I could’ve sat at home over the last two weeks and watched all of this play out on social media. The FBI actually shared its intelligence concerns with the local police departments beforehand.

I cringed at what I saw from a law enforcement perspective. And there need to be consequences. We need to know whether this was merely a bad security decision, or whether there was a deliberate strategy by the police to have a low profile during the breach. 

What needs to happen to prevent a similar attack from happening in the future? 

Now it’s time to do what we did after 9/11, which was pass a comprehensive set of laws that gave law enforcement the tools they need to counter the threat. When the FBI director gets on Capitol Hill and testifies at least two times in the last year or so, that the number one threat is now domestic terrorism, we’ve got to pay attention to what he’s saying.

The country still doesn’t have a domestic terrorism law. The investigative techniques that are available to the FBI when there’s an international terrorism case, allow them to go undercover in chatrooms, get electronic surveillance of communications, and to put informants inside groups, so you can proactively prevent violence from happening. 

However, There are very valid civil liberty and privacy concerns about passing this type of law.

What is the FBI doing right now behind-the-scenes, as they track down these rioters? 

There is an all hands on deck, national effort. Every field office is working 24/7 to grab these people. Well over a dozen arrests of the most prolific actors that we saw inside the building have occurred. 

But there’s this very interesting dynamic and a dramatic tension going on, between the race for the clock, because the inauguration is coming — people are already on social media talking about planning violence in Washington, D.C. again —  and between developing the strongest case possible against these individuals. 

What are the nation’s biggest security concerns right now? 

I view things through the lens of how our adversaries look at things. And I can tell you that this is much bigger than the Capitol building. Now, if we’re sitting around as Americans saying, “Hey, who’s in charge? How in the world did this happen? How weak are we right now?” Well, guess what? Our adversaries in Moscow, Beijing, Tehran and North Korea are all in classified sessions right now. 

They are wondering if this is the moment in time where they can move against us. Plus, we just went through the largest cyber intrusion and compromise in U.S. history. Correctly, we’ve blamed it on the Russian intelligence service, but I’m here to tell you that that pales in comparison to what the Russians, Chinese or the Iranians could do in a cyber battle, if they really wanted to. 

Is anybody home in Washington D.C. right now? Are they all focused on the inauguration? Is anybody in charge? This is bigger than just the Capitol interaction. This is a national security threat. And I believe this president poses a national security threat until he is out of office. 

Within the FBI, there are “ethical guardrails” to counter any issues with people’s behavior. Could you describe how these guardrails work? 

The message of my book is that the FBI is able to operate at an extremely high level of excellence, especially when the stakes are the highest. You don’t need to spend 25 years in the FBI to take away the lessons learned of how they execute, what I call, “values-based performance.” I’ve distilled it down into seven themes, and together, they form the “FBI Way.”

However, if people think this is a book that claims the FBI is perfect, this isn’t that book. In fact, one of the parts of the FBI way is credibility, which is not about being perfect, but about being passionate about getting it right. You need transparency, to hold yourself accountable and to publicly announce that you’re going to fix it. Another important theme is “conservancy,” the concept that we’re all responsible for something greater than ourselves. 

I think on a national level, we’ve gotten to the point where some of us think someone else is going to preserve our democracy, right? And the book’s message is the FBI doesn’t act that way, internally. The FBI says, “No, it’s all of us together that are responsible for each other and for preserving core values.”

How can people and businesses apply the “FBI Way” to their own systems? What’s the first step to implementing their own code of excellence? 

You’ve got to understand and identify your core values, from which your code will fall. So many companies truly don’t know what they stand for internally: What is the line that can’t be crossed? What is the conduct we demand of ourselves and our employees? What are the core values in your own life? I think people can go through life not truly ever wrestling with what they stand for, what they will do, and what they would never do. I think as a nation, we’re seeing that lack of code right now, in people who voted for someone who actually led an insurrection. 

Lastly, how have you seen the FBI morph in the years since you left in 2012? 

It’s been able to change itself as needed to face threats to the country. The best example I can give you from my career is 9/11. It had to pivot from the world’s premier investigative agency to an intelligence agency that could prevent bad things from happening in the first place. It was a massive change and a bureaucratic shift. But now, over the course of the last eight years, the new battlefield is cyber without a doubt. 

This interview was edited and condensed. 

Written and reported by staff writer Amanda Svachula.