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FBI’s Demographics: No Pot Smokers, but Lots of Middle Aged White Men

Amid increasing clarity that lots of line FBI Agents are rooting for Trump to win Tuesday’s election, Josh Gerstein provides one explanation for why: FBI, demographically, looks like Trump’s electorate.

Largely overlooked in the imbroglio is how the fact that the FBI doesn’t look much like America is complicating Comey’s effort to extricate himself and his agency from the political firestorm.

According to numbers from August, 67 percent of FBI agents are white men. Fewer than 20 percent are women. The number of African-American agents hovers around 4.5 percent, with Asian-Americans about the same and Latinos at about 6.5 percent.

If Trump were running for president with an electorate that looked like that, he’d win in a landslide.

In the rest of his piece, Gerstein describes that his has actually gotten worse after Comey took over in 2013, though it is reversing somewhat this year.

While the FBI director has been mounting an aggressive drive to focus on the FBI’s shortcomings in diversity, it’s less clear if he anticipated how the make-up of his own work force would complicate the handling politically polarizing investigations.

However, he has described the demographic challenges in stark, urgent terms.

“We have a crisis in the FBI and it is this: slowly but steadily over the last decade or more, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing, … We are now 83 percent white in our special agent cadre,” the FBI director said in a July speech at historically black Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach. “I’ve got nothing against white people — especially tall, awkward, male white people — but that is a crisis for reasons that you get and that I’ve worked very hard to make sure the entire FBI understands. That is a path to fall down a flight of stairs.”

For the embattled FBI chief and former prosecutor, there is some good news. There are early signs that his focus on diversity — which includes displaying a rainbow flag on the FBI’s recruiting website — may be paying off.

The number of African-American agents climbed to 603 in August, up from 581 in March. However, both numbers are lower than the 652 the bureau had four years ago.

The number of Latinos also ticked up slightly, to 888 from 882 in March, but still well below the 983 the FBI had in 2012.

I want to view these demographics in conjunction with something else Comey has said, repeatedly this year.

To have a cyber special agent, you need three buckets of attributes. You need integrity, which is non-negotiable. You need physicality. We’re going to give you a gun on behalf of the United States of America, you need to be able to run, fight, and shoot. So there’s a physicality required. And obviously there’s an intelligence we need for any special agent, but to be a cyber special agent, we need a highly sophisticated, specialized technical expertise.

Those three buckets are rare to find in the same human being in nature. We will find people of great integrity, who have technical talent, and can’t squeeze out more than two or three push-ups. We may find people of great technical talent who want to smoke weed on the way to the interview. So we’re staring at that, asking ourselves, “Are there other ways to find this talent, to equip this talent, to grow this talent?” One of the things we’re looking at is, if we find people of integrity and physicality and high intelligence, can we grow our own cyber expertise inside the organization? Or can we change the mix in cyber squads? A cyber squad today is normally eight special agents—gun-carrying people with integrity, physicality, high intelligence, and technical expertise. Ought the mix to be something else? A smaller group of this, and a group of high-integrity people with technical expertise who are called cyber investigators?

In conjunction with hiring agents to focus on cybersecurity, Comey has described what he imagines as the “integrity” necessary to be an FBI Agent.

He always uses pot smoking as the example of someone who doesn’t have integrity (in spite of the fact that pot is legal in several states and will be in more after Tuesday). Yeah, what he really means by “integrity” is “can get security clearance.” But he describes that, consistently, as “integrity.”

Perhaps there’s a problem there? Perhaps the Director is creating a culture in which he casually impugns a wide swath of America as lacking integrity that just happens to favor hiring white men?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

26 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    This picture of the FBI looks eerily similar to the DOJ’s picture of the Ferguson MO PD or the Baltimore PD. Very white, very male, very military-minded, and most of all, very opposed to any kind of accountability to anyone but themselves.

    In Ferguson and Baltimore (and elsewhere), this is rightly seen as a problem. In the FBI, on the other hand, it’s appears that this is simply the Way It Ought To Be.

  2. wayoutwest says:

    These old White, and probably some minority, G-Men were brought up on the fable of the Untouchables but have spent their careers being manipulated by a mob like political class in and outside the FBI but they are now in a position to show some integrity and challenge the Bosses. If their insurrection isn’t crushed and the cone of silence isn’t reestablished they may get to retire and not feel as crooked as the politicians that managed them but some will probably need MM for their PTSD.

    If they get to slap the cuffs on the Crooked Red Queen while people chant ‘Lock Her UP’ more minorities might sign up for the FBI seeing that they can apply some  equal justice in our unjust society.

    • bmaz says:

      Ah yes, “…and probably some minority”.

      Always nice to see you check in with such telling tidbits when there are actual demographic breakdowns cited in the main post delineating the absurd concentration in the ranks of the FBI. But, hey, why deal with that, right?

      And, as someone who works in an area where you would expect far more minorities, which you REALLY would in a broader melting pot like New York, the lack of diversity is truly stunning. I am sure that is not a convenient narrative for deranged nut baggers insistent on referring to Mrs. Clinton as only the “Red Queen”.

    • John Casper says:

      wayout,

      WRT bmaz’s comment, especially, “I am sure that is not a convenient narrative for deranged nut baggers insistent on referring to Mrs. Clinton as only the “Red Queen,” I look forward to your response.

  3. P J Evans says:

    I suspect it’s a holdover from Hoover; the people hiring and training agents under Hoover taught their successors his mindset as well. And it’s still being propagated. (How much actual physicality is needed by most agents? Especially the ones who are supposed to be dealing with “cyber”? Shouldn’t they be thinking about the future of their agency in a world where computers are more likely to be used in crimes than muscle?)

    • bmaz says:

      Interesting. Could be, but I dunno. Hoover was gone in 1972. How much did Gray, then Sessions and Webster carry Hooverism forward into then Freeh and the modern day? Great question.

      But I would probably come closer to saying that Feebs are no different than any other authoritarian cops. Their existence and training teaches them that they ARE authority and that is pretty immutable. Is that at a higher level in the FBI than with local cops? Sure.

      But it is also more ingrained and promised with the badge given. And history proves it out. There simply IS NO substantive accountability for FBI agents. They are left to run rogue free. See the Bulger agents. Revisit how the Todashev killing was blatantly whitewashed. It is one constant of the FBI – they act with almost total impunity. And Comey will never seek to curb that. He isn’t that guy.

      • greengiant says:

        Yes check out Sibel Edmond’s story of her FBI experience.   Boat rockers and whiners are not tolerated.    And those are the ones held “accountable”.     I think it is the same with most multi level marketing schemes of control.    Take IBM,   the branch manager was “GOD”,  or the military.

  4. bloopie2 says:

    Many government agencies are subject to “diversity” hiring requirements. Is the FBI? If so, who enforces that? If not, why not? And for what it’s worth, I can’t believe there are not enough non-white-male people who would be good at the work. Is it the “culture” that makes them stay away, or that makes them leave quickly”? We know that women and minorities will quickly leave a “white boys’ club”.

  5. Anon says:

    I would take that statement about G men having integrity, physicality and technical expertise with a block of Himalayan pink salt. I’m not really in a position to say anything about their integrity one way or the other. Nor their physicality, although maybe they should test for androgens along with those pot tests. But I have worked with the law enforcement wing of another agency, and from my experience there, I would have major doubts about their technical expertise. At best they might be experts at fraud. As for the laws they enforce and the expertise in financial or other fields related to crimes, I just can’t imagine they have much depth at all. Mostly LEOs just want to be cowboys and bust prostitution or drug rings and hang around on stake outs or in the gym (which they get to use on the clock). Analyzing complex documents … Not so much. They usually need experts to cut their meat up for them into tiny bites, and then if they still can’t understand it, they toss it away.

    • bmaz says:

      Yes. The concept that every FBI employee and analyst “HAS TO BE” a gun toting lethal field agent of death is patently laughable.

      • lefty665 says:

        Back into prehistory there has been informed opinion there was not much of anyone at the FBI who was very bright. Hurt you if you if you pissed them off, but needed a paid informant to find a place to piss. Doesn’t seem like that’s changed much. Mostly big dumb white guys with accounting or law degrees who liked to carry guns.

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The FBI has always been best at waging war with its own PR.  Hoover’s lifelong tenure is the best example of that.  Never having used handcuffs or his weapon in anger, today, he would never be hired, let alone acquire a security clearance.  I suspect Mr. Hoover’s abundant racism and sexism has never been cleansed from his FBI stables, regardless of the number of Hercules it claims to have hired.  And what of his double standards?  What’s good for Mr. Hoover was always good for his FBI.  He accepted free annual hotel stays in San Diego so that he could be near his favorite Del Mar race track, at which he usually won. He used the FBI to upgrade, landscape and paint his DC home.  He used countless field agents to intimidate and defame his personal critics.  He set his hounds loose on those who even privately questioned his sexual preference.  He abused the law for decades while paying court to Washington politicians.  He abused the Constitution in pursuit of an America as white, male, conservative, constipated and conformist as any 1950’s TV show.  That he did so for decades attests to his utility for those in power. Our national political police have many important jobs, some of which they do well.  But policing their own conformity, in the fashion of any big city police department, seems to be their job one.

    • Phil Perspective says:

      I suspect Mr. Hoover’s abundant racism and sexism has never been cleansed from his FBI stables, …..

       

       

      Isn’t the FBI building in DC still named after that asshole?

  7. Ben says:

    11% of Americans use marijuana for one reason or another.

    Only 20% of the female gender are FBI?

    The cannabis ceiling is far behind the gender gap.

  8. Rayne says:

    So as of this afternoon — Sunday before the election — we also know the FBI’s demographics included white guys who think we’re technology Luddites who’ll actually believe their bullshit story about needing time to write a script to check the emails.

    It smelled to high heaven last week, and now that Comey has admitted the emails were duplicates, we know it’s rotten to the core. As if we are supposed to believe a simple check for matches of metadata couldn’t have been done inside minutes using a simple Find feature across a .txt or .csv file without having to look through emails’ content itself.

    • dakine01 says:

      Well, I’m not at all convinced they have the expertise to actually get things converted to a .txt file in the first place…

  9. P J Evans says:

    Hoover was gone in 1972. How much did Gray, then Sessions and Webster carry Hooverism forward into then Freeh and the modern day? Great question.

    I worked at a company where a lot of employees, at all levels, had been there 20 to 40 years. It guarantees that the culture changes slowly. (It was amusing, when a corporate VP was kidding with our mid-level manager about who had worked there longer, when they retired in the same month.)

  10. martin says:

    bmaz said: quote: “Revisit how the Todashev killing was blatantly whitewashed. It is one constant of the FBI – they act with almost total impunity. And Comey will never seek to curb that. He isn’t that guy.”

    Indeed. Meanwhile, Comey touts.”integrity as non-negotiable”. right. Let’s take a look at his so called “non-negotiable” integrity.. as demonstrated by the killer of Ibragim Todashev.

    quote:”Aaron McFarlane has been a special agent of the FBI since 2008. Prior to working for the FBI, he was a police officer at the Oakland Police Department in California. While working at the Oakland Police Department, McFarlane was the subject of two police-brutality lawsuits and four internal-affairs investigations.
    c. In 2003, McFarlane testified for the defense in California v. Siapno, a.k.a the “Riders” case. After the prosecution implied McFarlane falsified police reports, he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self- incrimination and subsequently testified under immunity.
    d. In 2004, McFarlane retired from the Oakland Police Department, claiming disability and, thereupon, began receiving disability payments. He was still receiving disability payments at the time he was hired by the FBI for active duty and continued to do so up through the time he shot Todashev.”
    Integrity redefined.
    http://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2015/03/02/family-of-ibragim-todashev-files-suit-against-the-fbi
    Comey is a fucking dickwad.

      • martin says:

        Let’s not forget the integrity of those ATF/FBI/Military whores who relished the authorization of Janet Reno’s redefinition of “rules of engagement” to terrorize men, women, and children.. for 51 days prior to incinerating them …WITH IMPUNITY.    Imagine what those children were experiencing at the final moment the USG, sent a fucking TANK, to inject chemical weapons into the heart of that building, notwithstanding dropping incendiary weapons on the roof.   Today.. Janet Reno died.  If you read today’s commentary on any given MSM comment section..you’d think she was a legal god.  I say she was a fucking pathetic psychotic who never bore a child.

  11. RL in FL says:

    In the 90s a drunk FBI agent drove the wrong way on the Interstate near Fort Lauderdale. He hit another car head-on killing two brothers. They were African American. Highway Patrol blame them initially for the accident. FBI agents essentially commandeered the emergency room where their brother agent was being treated, using threats and intimidation to keep the press and others at bay.

    Eventually the truth came out and the agent was sentenced to prison. I’m sure there was no disciplinary action against the agents for abusing their positions. I think the investigating Trooper even committed suicide. Whatever his personal demons, this case was the last straw.

     

  12. bloopie2 says:

    Passing the physical fitness exam is a requirement for Special Agent applicants, but not for Intelligence Analyst applicants.  Special Agents applicants get firearms training, Intelligence Analyst applicants don’t.  And, of course, integrity is key!

  13. bloopie2 says:

    I’ve finally distilled this election down to three questions. Do you think men should rule over women? Do you think whites should rule over other races? Do you think the United States of America should rule the world?

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