Free Minds & Free Markets

Why FBI Directors Want to Be Autonomous and Unaccountable: New at Reason

Even if FBI directors might prefer to operate without guidance from presidents, but that set-up would render the FBI unaccountable.

Caro / Marc Meyerbroeker/NewscomCaro / Marc Meyerbroeker/NewscomWhen James Q. Wilson died in 2012, he was remembered primarily for his influential 1982 Atlantic article with George Kelling, "Broken Windows: The Police And Neighborhood Safety," advocating police tactics focused on maintaining order and reducing fear.

It turns out, though, that Wilson—whose colleagues in the government department at Harvard included Henry Kissinger and Daniel Patrick Moynihan—also wrote a whole book about the FBI.

That book, The Investigators: Managing FBI And Narcotics Agents, was published in 1978 by Basic Books and funded in part by a grant from Irving Kristol's company, National Affairs, Inc. It is based on in part on Professor Wilson's personal experience as an adviser to FBI director Clarence Kelley, who served from 1973 to 1978.

Its insights relevant to Comey and Mueller come in a chapter considering the motivation of FBI executives, and of government officials in general. Wilson writes, "In my view, it is the desire for autonomy, and not for large budgets, new powers, or additional employees, that is the dominant motive of public executives."

The nice thing about this "autonomy" theory of the FBI is that it potentially explains both the bureau's leaks about Hillary Clinton in 2016 and its reaction to Donald Trump in 2017 and 2018, writes Ira Stoll.

Photo Credit: Caro / Marc Meyerbroeker/Newscom


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