The Threat | Andrew G. McCabe

Summary of: The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump
By: Andrew G. McCabe


In the wake of September 11, 2001, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) underwent a radical transformation in order to adapt to the new world shaped by terrorism. In ‘The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump’, Andrew G. McCabe recounts the Bureau’s shift in focus from high-level criminal activities to preventing acts of terrorism. This summary explores the expansion and restructuring of the Counterterrorism Division, the impact of terrorism on the FBI’s internal culture, and the investigative techniques employed by the agency. Moreover, it examines the changing strategies of FBI agents and the challenges presented by modern technology and the current political climate.

FBI’s Transformation Post 9/11

The September 11 attacks brought about a significant change in the US Federal Law Enforcement Agency, the FBI. The FBI had always investigated terrorists, but after the incident, it shifted its central focus to prevent terrorism and protect American citizens. Overnight, the funding and resources for counterterrorism operations grew exponentially, and dozens of counterterrorism units were created. The attacks also unified the FBI’s culture, which was previously divided along departmental and interpersonal lines.

Enterprise Theory

The FBI has always been dedicated to keeping Americans safe, and that includes combating organized crime and terrorism. Enterprise Theory is a method used by the FBI to target entire organizations instead of just individual criminals. With this technique, agents can prosecute members of criminal networks for all crimes committed by the group. The first step is to prove the existence of the enterprise by gathering evidence of connections between individuals. The second step is to link specific members to two or more crimes committed by the organization. To gather evidence, the FBI uses traditional methods such as witness testimony and more advanced techniques such as inserting undercover agents into criminal groups. These undercover agents, known as undercover employees, are highly skilled in gaining the trust of a criminal network. Enterprise theory is a powerful tool in the fight against organized crime, and the FBI continues to use this technique to keep America safe.

The FBI’s Paradigm Shift

The FBI’s need for both intelligence and strength has led to a shift in their tactical approach. Muscling methods that explore every minor lead to gather intelligence have given way to targeting techniques that employ smart and precise data gathering for investigations. In contrast to the resource-heavy muscling approach that opens multiple cases, targeting involves building a database of potential suspects and their associates, querying the data, and searching for significant connections. This new approach has proved to be a more efficient and productive way of identifying suspects, confirming their involvement, and ultimately making an arrest.

Obama’s Solution To Abusive Interrogations

Following public and international condemnation of the torture and ill-treatment of terrorist suspects at the notorious Guantánamo Bay detention facility, President Obama established the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) in 2009. This newly created organization aimed to introduce professionalism and accountability to the questioning of terrorist suspects. The HIG was limited to using only legal and humane interrogation tactics that are already permitted by the FBI or listed in the US Army Field Manual. It categorized its targets into predesignated and pop-up, with the latter becoming a crucial interrogation target after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009. The HIG implemented a new protocol in which all FBI interrogations became a part of criminal investigations. This strategically-placed group ensured transparency in intelligence gathering and maintained the safety of the American public.

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