Should the feds accept volunteers?
Former FBI agent supports use of 'untapped resources'

Editor’s Note: Last week, an article written by former FBI agent and founding president of the Patrick Henry Center Gary Aldrich that appeared in the Washington Times caught the eye of Geoff Metcalf. Shortly after the tragedy of Sept. 11, Metcalf received a phone call from an old friend, Bill Mallory. A retired Drug Enforcement Agency agent, Mallory suggested the same concept Aldrich had written about: Use untapped resources that have a wealth of experience and knowledge who, arguably, are willing to offer their services to a volunteer force, which would free up currently employed federal agents to investigate the recent terrorist attacks. On his radio-talk show, Metcalf discussed this concept with Aldrich.

By Geoff Metcalf

Q: Gary, what has been the reaction to this "A Few Untapped Resources" piece you wrote?

A: It has been amazingly positive, and I'm very pleased. This all started, as you may know, when many of the retired or former FBI agents approached FBI headquarters and asked, "How would you like us to come in and do some of the grunt work that normally falls to the agents to do. That would free up the agents to go out with badges and guns and subpoenas and do the real work of the FBI, which is on the street.”

Q: What was the reaction?

A: Well, FBI Headquarters claimed that they considered it carefully, but then for various ministerial reasons they just didn't think they would want to do it.

Q: A friend of mine is the former head of the FBI office in Sacramento, Calif., who called his old office with basically the same kind of offer. He was willing to come in and just answer phones or push papers to free up the other agents to do more important stuff. He hasn't even been given the courtesy of a return phone call to blow him off.

A: We are rather disappointed. I can't tell you the exact numbers, but we know there is somewhere near 10,000 retired and former FBI agents who keep membership in a society. We also know there are several thousand FBI agents who keep track of each other on a specialized chat area just for former FBI agents. I know there is quite a discussion out there about it and quite a lot of disappointment. At the same time, you will find those agents who will take the position, and they always will, "Don't question headquarters. They know what they are doing."

Q: Hey, everybody is questioning FBI headquarters these days. John Ashcroft is talking about this big sea change and the commingling of the FBI, CIA and Treasury with a partridge in a pear tree to come up with something new.

A: It's true Attorney General Ashcroft talked about dramatically altering the jurisdictional scope of the FBI, and I think it is well overdue. I think I may have told your audience before about the many ridiculous federal violations that have been trucked over to the FBI by the Congress and a willing White House -- load up the FBI with all kinds of gimmickry-type investigations that serve a “political” purpose and a constituency that demands we get some particular situation like “dead-beat dads.” You may recall in the last couple of years that happened to be one of our big national crises. How did that end up being such a big deal? Well, it happened to control runaway prices we had (that we didn't have) and to round up these dead-beat dads who were not paying child support. Half the reason they don't pay child support is because they don't have jobs. The other half is that nobody knows who the father is. It just becomes a ridiculous waste of resources of the federal government when it is really more of a state issue, or a local issue.

Q: Regarding this idea of using retired and former federal agents, when Mallory called me, he said all these guys would probably we willing to volunteer. I have done a very unscientific, grassroots poll, and everybody I have talked to about the idea says, "Yeah! We're good to go." They'd happily take a flight to Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles or whatever. I'd get on board with a piece.

A: Yes, you're talking about a large number of people who would do it just for country, and basically as a way of thanking the taxpayers and the government for allowing them the great career they had in the first place. I would do that for free, for nothing, as a volunteer, and I'd do it for the experience, and I'd do it too because I would feel I was making a contribution to the current cause, which is of course to defeat terrorism.

Q: I don't understand the reluctance of the government to even talk about this. I mean, if you crunch the numbers, this should be a no-brainer. If they put the sky marshals up, they've got to pay them at least fifty grand a year plus perks and benefits. If you stretch the numbers, you end up looking at billions of dollars vs. a volunteer pool of guys that are trained and experienced. Mallory told me his entire office and all the agent offices on the East Coast were cleaned out in the ‘70s when they had the last sky marshal demand. Until the government could hire and train a cadre, they used DEA and Treasury guys. These guys are willing to do it now. They've got the experience, the training and security clearances. I don't understand why the government doesn't seize this opportunity.

A: I don't either. And I'll tell you, if I was Democrat or a liberal, I would not want to do it because I'd want to federalize everything and ...

Q: You'd want more union workers.

A: Yeah. I'd want all union workers, all new voters for my party. I would know federal employees would more than likely vote to keep their own jobs, of course, and to keep their benefits high.

Q: Here's a startling concept: How about divorcing oneself from the politics for a moment and consider if the objective is to make the skies safer and/or to make the passengers “feel” safer. Why not take advantage of this already experienced, talented pool that isn't going to cost the taxpayer anything more?

A: It makes no sense to me either. And I'll tell you something you may already know. I'll tell your readers that the White House traditionally uses volunteers for a lot of their important work.

Q: I didn't know that.

A: Yes. And many of these volunteers come highly recommended by members of the White House staff who think these are good, stout fellows and good ladies to bring along on a presidential event. But when the president goes out and travels, many of the people you will see coming ahead of him and getting the place ready, staying with him and leaving with him, are trained volunteers. And if they do it enough, of course, they'll get that all-important FBI security clearance to get greater access to the event. Otherwise, they can be on the periphery with some semblance of a check, but the bottom line is they are working for the president of the United States. They are working for the White House, and the White House itself has many volunteers who are not paid. That works out quite nicely, and everybody is quite happy.

Q: The big focus right now is on anti-terrorism. Attorney General Ashcroft is reorganizing everything to focus on that. The military is being reorganized to focus on that. Everybody is focused on that big 'T' terrorism threat. We are hearing complaints from people in Justice that FBI agents are all committed to just one case right now. Everything else is on hold.

A: Yes, it's a big problem.

Q: It would seem that a volunteer pool of people already experienced would be something they would grab at. Is it an institutional “groupthink” that prevents them from embracing a good idea?

A: I believe that's a big part of it. I know that the agency I worked for took a significant hard line on anything new over the years. And when somebody came along with some change, it basically had to be forced upon them.

Q: Give me an example.

A: I am an avid user of computers, the Internet and all the wonderful things a computer can do for you, especially if you are an investigator. We had to basically bring older agents to the technology kicking and screaming. I think some were able to escape using a computer at all the last 10 years of their career by simply dodging the training or pretending that they somehow knew something about them when they really didn't.

Q: That's amazing. I would think especially under the squireship of Louis Freeh, everybody would have been brought up to snuff on the computer.

A: You can bring a horse to water ... But likewise, the administrative management of the FBI, in terms of purchasing these computers, was just as bad in that it took too long to order them. It took too long to research the concept of computers for FBI agents. By the time they got around to delivering the computers, there were not enough of them, and they were already obsolete. There was not a plan on the part of the FBI to upgrade the computers as time went by.

Meanwhile, at this time I'm over at the White House, and I'm seeing the White House bring in, as just part of their normal budget, a whole new boxcar load of computers for use by White House employees.

Q: That was one of the first things they did.

A: Yes, indeed. And the FBI is still using the old 386/486 computers. Meanwhile, the White House was on its way to Pentium 3, and the FBI is wondering why they can't get the work done. You scratch your head and you try to talk to these people about new technology and why it's so important for the bureau to get these machines and learn, and you get this fish-eyed stare from the older agents.

Q: Are things changing now? I mean, I know things are changing, but how difficult is it going to be for Gen. Ashcroft to drag the FBI along the path that he has apparently chosen?

A: I don't think any change goes down well with the FBI. It never has, and it probably never will. I say that because you have people who work there who were chosen because of the way they think. They want people at the FBI who are not boat rockers and not innovative. They seek people like that to hire them. They don't want boat rockers. They don't want forward thinkers. They just want you to go out and investigate the case and bring the evidence to the U.S. attorney's office, period.

Q: Yeah, but the mission statement has apparently changed and no longer is going to be about just solving crimes but about preventing crimes.

A: Well we've been down that road before, and I'm not really sure where that will lead us, unless you are talking about counterterrorism, counterintelligence and that kind of work. I would agree with that kind of concept. But pro-active relative to fighting crime didn't work before. We tried that when Clarence Kelley was director, and it was reduced to some guy going around the office displaying different kinds of deadbolt locks you could buy for your door. And that is certainly not effective.

Q: Barbara Olson's new book, “The Final Days.” has reminded several people of various pending lawsuits -- Filegate for one. Aren't you a part of that?

A: Let me talk about pending lawsuits in general and Filegate specifically. My partner Dennis Scalambrini was unfairly treated by the White House, FBI and Department of Justice after my book came out . Dennis has filed a lawsuit to recover at least some of what he lost by being forced to retire early. But that is a lawsuit that goes on and on and on.

Q: Why does it take so long for these things to reach some kind of conclusion?

A: Because it's a political decision that can be made by the president and the attorney general to either dispense with these because it is the fair thing to do -- to settle these out with the people who have filed the lawsuits, or they can dig their feet in and say, "Hey, we're the federal government, and we are not going to roll over when somebody sues us, no matter what reasons they have for doing it.”

Q: But we have a new administration. There's a new sheriff in town.

A: Yes, and I think that if pressure was brought to bear on the White House and the attorney general in relation to these cases, then I think the attorney general would make the right decision to do the right thing in these cases.

Q: What can readers do as individuals to help move the process?

A: They can simply identify the lawsuits they are concerned about, and I think they can find them on the Internet quite easily. I think most of them are Judicial Watch lawsuits. And I would say get the identity of those lawsuits of most interest, because you can't ask the administration to settle every lawsuit that was lodged during the Clinton administration. But we know of some that are very, very egregious situations that ought to be resolved. I think the Scalambrini matter is one, and I think Filegate is another. And I think those matters should be resolved in favor of the plaintiffs.

Q: Come to think of it, Monica Lewinsky was a volunteer.

A: That's a good point. Monica Lewinsky would never have happened in the Bush administration, nor would she have ever been allowed to happen during the Reagan administration. It was only in the Clinton administration that a 20-something-year-old intern could have been alone with the president of the United States in the Oval Office.

Q: I recall, and I don't think it was ever really resolved, but when the Clintons first came into office, there was a problem with a lot of people not being able to get security clearances. Either they had some minor drug conviction or something ...

A: Or major drug conviction..

Q: And was that ever resolved, or did the administration just arbitrarily decide they were not going to do security clearances?

A: They continued to conduct investigations and present reports to present the “perception” of a security-clearance process, but in fact, there wasn't very much done at all to screen employees coming into the Clinton White House.

Q: What if someone did not or could not qualify? Were they dismissed or moved into a less-secure area? What did they do with them?

A: You're asking what “normally” should happen? Sometimes when they want an employee, for whatever reason, they will give him a job at a different agency -- not the White House -- so that they can at least have some contact with the administration. But in the case of the Clinton administration, in that particular case, they got to work wherever in the world the Clinton administration wanted them to work, regardless of what came up in their background.

Q: I can remember when I went to the Infantry Officers Advanced Course at Fort Benning, some guys were not allowed to sit in on a lecture that was classified. If you didn't have at least a secret clearance, they would not allow you in the door.

A: That's the way it should be, and that's the way it used to be. When the Clintons came in, they relaxed all those rules for their political-type people. But the rules still applied to Joe-Nobody, who wanted to seek a job down at the Department of Defense.

Q: Gary, returning to your concept of using retired federal agents to assist with airline security, has anyone actually yet said that liability is one of the things they are concerned about that may prevent them from embracing a cool idea?

A: Not officially. I've heard some speculation as to why they might refuse volunteers, but that might raise the question of how many lawyers we need in the federal government to tell us why we can't do something. I'm certain these agents would sign whatever paperwork was necessary to hold the government harmless.

Q: The great example is your own experience. You were not armed. All you did was tell the stewardesses who you were and that you had a couple of decades-plus experience, and that alone seemed to make them feel warm and fuzzy.

A: Yes, and it did make them feel better. But it was actually more than that. As a former law-enforcement officer, I know from my experiences that most people aboard an aircraft, including the flight crew, really don't have any notion about how to protect themselves in the event of a hijack attempt. People don't come hard wired with instructions about what to do in the event that there is a violent crime occurring in their presence. But those of us who have had time either in law enforcement (federal, local or state) or are on duty (retired or former), those of us who have had time in the military in an enforcement-style role do know what to do in the event of violent attacks. Simply put, there are at least thousands of us out here that are ready, willing and able to assist airlines or whatever else.

Q: Give us an example, please

A: If airlines encouraged former law enforcement or military people who had that kind of training to check in at the counter and identify themselves before they got on the flight, the flight crew could know who they are, could possibly even move them to a better location or seat and also tell the pilots that there is somebody with prior law-enforcement experience. All that is valuable information in the event something does go wrong on the flight.

Q: Have you seen this piece floating through cyberspace by former FedEx pilot John Burnett?

A: I'm not sure I've seen the same piece, but if you describe it a little better, I might know it.

Q: He takes a very hard-nosed, draconian position, and he referenced a situation in a FedEx aircraft where a guy was a member of the crew and took a hammer and started wacking guys out. What he was basically saying was pilots have to recognize now that things have changed since Sept. 11, and not to go with your training, but that if or when (God forbid) confronted with a situation like this, to put the bad guy down and out for good. Certain law enforcement might not appreciate that, because they have to be able to interrogate and find out a variety of things they want to find out. But this was a pilot and a cop.

A: I'm not so certain that's the best thing to say, Geoff, simply because you use the amount of force necessary to resolve the situation and take control of the conflict. If that means deadly force, then that means deadly force. If it means to cave the guy’s head in so he never breathes another breath, I think a certain number of us would say yes to that. But really, as a civilized society, we don't do that. And we would do whatever it takes to control an attempted hijack and arrest them and turn them over to the proper authorities. If it happens to be a military tribunal, so be it. But no, I don't think we can become executioners.

Q: The specific case he referenced had the pilot and crew initially successfully subdue the guy. They knocked him out. The pilot assumed he was out and got up to finish flying the plane, and the bad guy recovered and came after him again.

A: This sounds like a bad grade-B movie. Here's a circumstance where the pilot really knows nothing about taking someone out, nor would he know that the next thing he should do after knocking him out is to handcuff him with something or to tie him down with duck tape or whatever. This just points out what I said previously: It's very valuable to have someone on the plane who knows something about the enforcement of the law and how to make an arrest.

Q: I'm curious, and I don't mean necessarily replacing some new cadre they want to hire of sky marshals, but to either compliment or supplement them with former experienced people. I mean, the more eyes and ears (and yeah, guns) you have, the better.

A: I totally agree with this concept. Not just in the circumstance of a jet hijacking or airline security, but also in our daily lives as well. I'm an advocate for HR 218, which simply says that former law-enforcement people ought to have the right to carry a concealed weapon, and they ought to be able to do that across state lines with state reciprocity so that their education, their experience, their talent and their knowledge could be used if it is necessary.

Q: It has been a constant frustration that the work Dr. John Lott has done demonstrates statistically an axiom, really, that the people on the left are loath to accept: More guns mean less crime. Bad guys don't want to encounter anyone that is armed.

A: That's true. And I will go a step further and just say that the left never has liked law enforcement. They didn't like us when they were emerging as a powerful political radical group in the ‘60s, and they like us even less today. And that's one of the reasons they don't want us armed -- because they don't like us. That would be giving us something we want, you see. Whereas they do like the fire department, of course, and if they get mugged, they do like the police at that moment in time. Everybody else in the society likes us, and they'd like to see us participate more as a homeland defense force. But the left controls the media -- most of it, as you know -- and so far, they are controlling the Congress on this issue.

Q: Everyone is now talking about “homeland defense.” I can remember the old civil-defense drills back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Have they made any real effort toward structuring or coming up with an actual TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) for this homeland-defense system, or is it just kind of out there in the ether?

A: The latest reports I've heard about it is the coordinator -- the gentleman who has been selected to head this up, Gov. Ridge -- is happy to be a "coordinator." And that's his term for it. I'm not sure exactly what that means..

Q: He means he doesn't have any authority and can't really do Jack-spit.

A: It is my concern that we may have created another position without any real authority or power. I know that in the case of the Drug Czar, that's what happened there. The Drug Czar was announced, I guess, as a balm to sooth some people who were screaming for more effective ideas relative to the “War on Drugs,” so we created the Drug Czar post that was supposed to be cabinet level. That went back and forth and back and forth. The Drug Czar never really was in charge of very much..

Q: I'll give you my opinion on the Ridge appointment. I think as structured, he allegedly has some responsibility but no authority. You know that the FBI for sure, the CIA, any of the other cabinet positions are not going to give up anything, they control budgets. Ridge apparently doesn't control a budget. He has access to resources and is supposed to "coordinate." I think he's just in a holding pattern. My prediction is that once Dick Cheney does retire, Ridge is going to be the next vice president, and he's in a holding pattern until that time. That's my call.

A: That's an interesting theory. I would go on to say if the president of the United States needs to hear what the latest concern is relative to homeland defense. He probably ought to hear it from the horse's mouth. That is the agency that has the most to do and say about the issue, whether it's the FBI or the CIA or whoever it is. The president probably ought to hear it firsthand from the director of that agency and not from some third party who might misinterpret what is being said. On the other hand, if Ridge is supposed to be a clearinghouse for such information from different agencies, why have we already got the National Security Council? And I wonder what, then, is the National Security Council's role in the White House? I thought that is what they are supposed to do?

Q: Organizationally, it is like he is neither fish nor foul.

A: And I don't know exactly what he can do, magic-wand wise, that everybody isn't already thinking to do. You know that regardless of any criticism for the CIA or FBI or other agencies, they are performing as good as they can right now. As time goes by, they may shift into old habits that are not exactly what we like, but I can assure you that right now these agencies are running fast as they possibly can. If they need to run faster, it is not because of lack of effort or heart. It may be because they are ill-structured, management-wise, or don't have the right equipment or whatever. But it won't be because they are not trying.

Q: One of the territorial battles that always went on between the FBI and the CIA was the FBI had CONUS -- Continental United States. That was yours. Anything outside of CONUS, that was the CIA. There was an ongoing turf feud, and they wouldn't share -- or I was getting the impression as an outsider that they weren't sharing information, and when they did it was like pulling teeth. Now Gen. Ashcroft comes along and says that it will be a matter of policy that the FBI, the CIA and Treasury are going to be working in a new homogenous goo. Is that going to work if there isn't some real strong leadership and management?

A: I think it will work as well as it has worked in the past, frankly, and I would say it was only in certain circumstances that the FBI and CIA refused to work together. But in most circumstances, they did. There would be select cases where they made a case where the information was so hot, so sensitive, that to take it out to another agency would increase the odds too greatly of information being leaked or mishandled in some fashion. And we had cases that have gone on for decades that the CIA never knew about, but by God, the White House did. Because I know reports were made to the president on some of these cases.

Q: Abuse of power under the color of authority was the norm under Clinton. Notwithstanding the warm feelings for this administration, a lot of folks are still hinky about prospect of same-ol’, same-ol’ from this administration.

A: I'm with my good friend Bob Barr on this. I don't like any new power given to the government because I can't trust the government after eight years of Bill Clinton. I could barely trust it, if I did, before Bill Clinton. What has happened with Clinton is he has destroyed any trust we had in the federal government or the government's ability to restrain itself from violating the rights of its own citizens. Sadly, the new administration that has come behind has not done anything, really, except be there, show up. They haven't done anything to reassure a lot of people that much has changed. So the federal government comes along and says now we have a new president, and we want all these new powers. And a lot of people are saying “No. We can't trust you.”

Q: We've been there and done that and been burned..

A: Yeah. You haven't rolled back the excesses of the Clinton administration. In fact, you haven't even made a comment about the excesses of the Clinton administration. One of the things you asked earlier, Geoff, was what about these lawsuits and shouldn't they be settled? People sued because they were abused by the Clinton administration, and I say “yes” to that. They should be settled, and this would be one sure way for the new administration to say to the general public and the people who have been wrong, "Hey, we understand the prior administration was abusive, and we think the government was wrong in these cases. That's why we are settling these."

Q: Even though I do not like a lot of things in this new anti-terrorism bill, I do like that they at least recognized that it had to be sunsetted.

A: But they didn't spontaneously include those things in the bill. They had to be beat about the head and shoulders to get their attention on these matters. There wasn't a large group of people on Capitol Hill saying, "Oh yeah, don't forget to put in the sunset clause." No sir! There were a lot of people in this city of Washington, D.C., who expended enormous political capital to make sure that those sunsetting provisions where in there.