March 26, 2018

IntelBrief: The FBI’s Focus

FBI Director Chris Wray speaks at his installation ceremony at the FBI Building (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik).
  • In an interview with NBC News, FBI Director Wray said the bureau is focused on several priorities as it weathers unprecedented public pressure from the White House.
  • President Trump routinely slams former Directors Comey and Mueller on Twitter, as well as former Deputy Director McCabe.
  • The bureau is currently working 3,000 open terrorism investigations including those related to the Islamic State and to domestic white supremacist groups.
  • In its role as the nation’s chief counterintelligence organization, the bureau is working hard against a persistent Chinese economic espionage campaign.


The approximately 35,000 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) have enormous responsibilities, ranging from counterterrorism to counterintelligence, as well as working on more ‘traditional crime’ such as bank robbery, kidnapping, and financial fraud. The last year has been one of unprecedented public criticism by the White House and administration supporters towards senior Bureau officials and towards the notion of independent law enforcement. Every government department and official should be scrutinized and criticized for shortcomings and poor performance, but the last year has been an attack on the professionalism and even the patriotism of the FBI workforce, who are routinely called part of the imaginary ‘dark state.’

In a March 21 interview with NBC News, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said the bureau remained focused on several priorities and that he does not see a ‘politicized organization’ when he looks at the FBI. A priority is counterterrorism, which has remained the main focus of the FBI since 2001 and has the bureau running at maximum capacity since the rise of the so-called Islamic State spawned a new era of inspired-and-directed terror attacks. Director Wray said the FBI is working over 3,000 open terrorism investigations, a staggering number, especially considering that does not include the huge number of tips and concerns the bureau regularly receives. The 3,000 open investigations range from Islamic-State related to white supremacist and anti-government groups that have seen a resurgence over the last several years.

Notably, Director Wray listed Chinese espionage as one of the FBI’s most pressing concerns. He said the threat of widespread and persistent economic espionage by the Chinese against U.S. companies has been underestimated; he noted that ‘there's no country that's even close’ when it came to the level of espionage aimed at U.S. trade secrets and intellectual property rights. Corporate espionage has been a long-running issue between the U.S. and China, as has its hacking campaigns, and is listed as a reason for new economic sanctions the White House announced on March 22. The reported tariffs on as much as $60 billion in Chinese imports would be a significant step in countering Chinese economic espionage, but also brings a very real risk of a spiraling trade war.

FBI Director Wray stated that he expects to serve the full ten-year term as Director. President Trump fired Director Comey in May 2017, an act that led to the creation of a special counsel investigation led by former FBI Director Mueller. President Trump has increased his public Twitter attacks on Comey and now Mueller, saying the investigation is a ‘witch hunt’ led by partisan Democrats, though none of the former officials are actually Democrats. As the investigation of the Special Counsel continues, the unprecedented and often personal criticism by the President of the United States questioning the honesty of certain FBI officials in particular, and the professionalism of the FBI in general, will likely increase.


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