Reviewed 4/04/2019

The Threat, by Andrew G. McCabe

How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump
Andrew G. McCabe
New York: St. Martin's Press, February 2019




ISBN-13 978-1-250-20757-9
ISBN 1-250-20757-6 273pp. HC $29.99

It is a point of urgency for Americans to understand what the FBI really does, and why it matters, so that the citizens of this country can join together for the common good, to protect our common interests and our common concerns against very real and rising threats by those in foreign governments, and in our own, who intend to unravel the rule of law in the United States.

Let me state the proposition openly: The work of the FBI is being undermined by the current president. He and his partisan supporters have become corrosive to the organization.

– Page 20

The story this book tells begins1 on 9 May 2017 with Trump's abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey. At the time, Comey was at the Los Angeles FBI field office, and he learned of his firing from a report on CNN that evening.2 Andrew McCabe moved from Deputy Director to Acting Director at that point, and served in that role until he too was fired some twelve months later.

The book does include some biographical details, but it is less a memoir than a historical sketch of the FBI and a description of the ways it works to protect America. It also goes into detail about the Bureau's interactions with Congress and various administrations during which McCabe served over twenty years — most especially the Trump administration.

A graduate of Duke University, McCabe worked in a private law firm before being accepted to the FBI in 1996. After graduating from the Academy at Quantico, Virginia, he was assigned to the New York field office. There he worked on organized crime: first La Cosa Nostra, but primarily the Vory v zakone: criminal syndicates made up of Russians. After the attacks of 11 September 2001, he transferred to counterterrorism and was instrumental in bringing other terrorists to justice: notably the Boston Marathon bombers.

In 2009, President Obama directed FBI director Robert Mueller to form an organization to make the practice of interrogation more professional and effective, to end the abuses of the George W. Bush years. This organization was given the designation "HIG" — for the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group. It would be made up of personnel from the CIA, Defense Department, and FBI, and Mueller tapped McCabe to head it. McCabe quotes him as follows: "The new president wants to do things differently. There's been a study about this, and a recommendation that came about as a result, and we've been asked to take charge. And we're going to do it. And you're going to do it. You're going to build it."

As McCabe describes it, this effort succeeded, but not without some setbacks and turf battles. It stands to reason that following the GW Bush administration — home to David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, Porter Goss, and John Yoo — many in Congress would remain dedicated to maintaining Guantánamo and the "black sites" and would oppose any attempt to end the use of "enhanced interrogation" or to try terrorists in U.S. courts and house those convicted in stateside maximum-security prisons.3 The Obama administration faced a Republican House majority from 2011-2019, and a Republican Senate majority from 2015 to date. Thus, while it was able to stop the use of torture and release many of the detainees, it was unable to close Guantánamo or move many convicted terrorists from there to U.S. prisons.

Then Trump came in touting torture, vowing to keep Gitmo open and to "load it up with some bad dudes" — and the battle over HIG had to be fought all over again.

"After eight years of finding ways to hold, interrogate, and prosecute terrorists that did not involve sending them to Cuba—eight years of doing these things successfully, with a track record that "enhanced" methods have not matched—we found ourselves having these conversations all over again. And needing to justify our success all over again. And arguing once again that torture, in addition to being wrong, was not necessary—and not even helpful—to the project of collecting the best, most reliable intelligence from subjects. And trying to persuade policy makers yet again that confinement for life in maximum-security federal prisons—from which no one has ever escaped—without the possibility of parole was a pretty reliable way to keep terrorists from harming anyone. All the facts were on our side, but I got the distinct feeling that we might lose the argument this time."

– Pages 119-20

This is an illuminating revelation of Andrew McCabe's career and character — both commendable — and another must-read account of how far off the rails this administration has gone with Trump running things.4 McCabe writes well; he has given us a very readable book with few errors, a good index, and an essential message.

1 There is a Prologue containing Andrew McCabe's reconstruction of his FD-302, the record of his entrance evaluation. But this is peripheral, and mostly redundant because he recounts the issues involved in Chapter 2.
2 Trump objected strenuously to Comey being allowed to ride back to DC on a government airplane — a burst of spite to which McCabe was exposed, and about which he has more to say.
3 Despite that, U.S. prisons hold more than 440 terrorists, both foreign and domestic.
4 Next to Trump himself, Jeff Sessions comes off the worst. See e.g. page 222 for the discussion of Spin Ghul.
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This page was last modified on 4 April 2019.