Last summer, after the in-FBI-custody shooting of Ibragim Todashev, a friend of the elder Boston bomber, the Bureau told the same story they have been telling since 1993 – this was justified. Furthermore, documents acquired by The New York Times last June showed that there were more than 150 FBI shootings by agents in the last 20 years – almost half fatal – and every single one was ruled justified after internal investigations.
There was some outcry after this Times revelation, because it sounds impossibly rosy a conclusion. (The agency whose agent killed Randy Weaver’s unarmed wife while she held her baby at Ruby Ridge went from mother-murderers in 1992 directly into a flawless 20-year justified shooting streak? Hrmph.) But though these figures raised some alarm, an endless parade of National Security Agency (NSA) leak revelations and other signs of the dangerous state of the federal government distracted the public from much lingering alarm over the FBI. There are simply too many instances of federal (and state, and local) surveillance, or shootings, or dirty dealings for most of us to even track, much less know how to fix.
This week the Boston Globe finally revealed the identity of the FBI agent who shot Todashev as Aaron McFarlane, 41. McFarlane, turns out is a former Oakland, California police officer who had a concerning and controversial career at that concerning and controversial police department. Shooting Todashev after he reportedly flipped a table and attacked agents with a metal broom handle could have been justified in the moment. But it’s a hell of a lot harder to feel sure about that after months of lying and evasion by the FBI about the case, as well as their continued refusal to release unredacted documents or Agent McFarlane’s name. (Counterpunch is much more skeptical of the entire Bureau story, including the self-defense excuse. Go read the whole piece.)
Whether you trust the FBI’s story (this time) or assume it’s a big fat lie, what we can always trust is that we shouldn’t ever assume the truth is being told. Certainly, the FBI shouldn’t be hiring cops from a police department that the feds themselves very nearly took over because of numerous rights violations and failures to introduce mandated reforms. But then the presence of a bad cop in federal law enforcement only hints at the larger problem of secrecy, spying, and a complete lack of accountability from nearly all government agencies. Again, this is all too big to comprehend, so how are we ever supposed to stop it?
The bipartisan-backed bill to reign in the NSA that was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last week is already being criticized by some civil liberties advocates as toothless. Ideally, some reform is better than none, but unfortunately shallow reform can sometimes be pointed to as a grand excuse to continue without more substantial, deep fixes. And at the end of the day, the big question is whether even eliminating the NSA will fix the stranglehold that national security, law and order, and militarization has over American society. For one such example of the conspiracy of spying redundancy, turns out the CIA and the FBI are building a database of millions of international financial transactions from Americans. It uses section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to give itself legality, just like most of the NSA spying does.