FBI Special Agent Kyle Seraphin has been in counterintelligence since the mid-2010s, first in the Washington field office, then in the Special Ops surveillance group. But he is now suspended, in so-called career limbo, after realizing the FBI was violating its own policies and deciding to become a whistleblower. He has quite the inside story to tell.
On Thursday, he told it, or the first half of it, during Dan Bongino’s podcast. Part 2 airs Friday.
As background, he offered some description of what the investigation process is generally like. Once a case is deemed worthy to be “briefed up” to the counterterrorism level, he said, the field office agent becomes essentially an order-taker. Headquarters sends in the folks they prefer to have on it. But guys like him who “have a pulse and can sit in cars for a long time” can pick up a lot of useful information, and that’s mostly what he did. “A lot of times, it’s just containment, as much as anything else,” he said. It’s essentially “babysitting,” to make sure the guy “doesn’t do the thing you think he might do.” And they do this because “it briefs well” in their reports.
There’s a fundamental misunderstanding of what the FBI is, he said. Americans might see the FBI as America’s premiere law enforcement organization, but it sees itself primarily as an INTELLIGENCE AGENCY. So these are “intelligence analysts, intelligence people,” who have a totally different mindset than you find in a criminal investigative group. Their job was on-background, and, unlike many in the Bureau, he “couldn’t grasp the idea of knowledge for the sake of knowledge that was non-operational.” So he worked as more of a support agent, as opposed to being an active case agent.
He made the important point that “it’s not about getting the case done anymore.” Cases rarely end; the focus is more on intelligence-gathering as an end in itself. Many agents reaching leadership roles come from that background and “have never touched a criminal case.” (!) They know FISAs and NSLs (national security letters), but not law enforcement.
Kyle got the impression they feel entitled to the information they gather. (To be fair, it’s often used to clear people.) But it’s open-ended; people can be surveilled, totally unaware, for years. The first several cases he got in 2017 had been open for “6, 7, 8 years.” Every 90 days, some “new paper” had to be generated on these cases --- it’s called “papering the file.” So, “these cases just exist to meet an administrative burden.” But he’d look through them and think, there’s really not anything more to do here, as there’s no indication of wrongdoing.
So he’d do a “ruse interview” with the subject, getting close enough to the topic to pick up what he needed to. Then he’d close the case. (When FBI agents drop by for a chat, he warned, “they’re probably not really talking about what they’re talking about.”)
What might cause a case to be opened? It could be something very subtle, not necessarily indicative of crime. You won’t know you’re being checked on. Maybe you’re just in someone’s circle of contacts, maybe you just “had breakfast once or twice,” or “wrote a term paper together.” Maybe you’re slightly connected through FB or LinkedIn. So, they want to find out: are you receiving money from somewhere? Do you have any contact?
Tips get called in to the National Hotline, etc. “One way or another, it ends up on your desk as an agent.” Hopefully, an agent just does a little research with the “tools” in the toolbox –- again, the target doesn’t know –- and determines these aren’t federal cases and tosses them.
My question: Since, according to Kyle, “none of these things even touch criminality at all,” does the FBI have to get a subpoena to check you out? Because it’s not a criminal investigation, the answer appears to be...no, they don’t.
When you’re doing a criminal investigation, he said, you have to show probable cause. For CT (counterterrorism), “the bar is different.” It’s “not meant for public consumption.” But those CT methods are “building blocks.” If you do find something criminal, you have to retrace your steps to rebuild the case, so as not to reveal sources and methods.
After years of this, the agent comes to a crossroads. He either thinks, “This is disgusting” and bails (“and there are a lot of really good people that have left the FBI”), or he thinks, I’ve done 10 years, I can retire in another 10 and get a pension of $50-60,000 a year plus benefits (this is called “the Golden Handcuff” for agents with a mortgage and kids), so, what the heck, I’ll play along.
But Kyle said there are more agents leaving than we might think. As for himself, he was indefinitely suspended on June 1, “just shy of 6 years.” Here’s how he got there:
In October 2021, while working in the New Mexico field office, he heard a couple of agents talking about an email and got it forwarded to him. This was the email sent to Jim Jordan about using the “Patriot Act tools” (counterterrorism resources) to “threat-tag” parents at school board meetings (an EDUOFFICIALS “threat tag” would initiate an investigation). He knew the attorney general had denied they were doing this.
“In the real FBI,” he said, “there’s no time for threats from some guy who’s yelling at a school board...mostly, this is a state and local issue.” But when he opted not to participate, that’s when things started getting awkward (my thought: it must’ve been like many Thanksgiving dinners in this hyper-partisan age). He told Bongino the order had been signed by assistant directors of both the criminal and counterterrorism divisions.
Fortuitously, he had just completed his whistleblower training, and ended up being one of two people who disclosed the order. He went to his congresswoman with email in hand and said he wanted to make a protected disclosure. This was new to her and her staff, as she was a freshman in Congress, so they brought in a law enforcement contact (now one of Kyle’s best friends), who likewise was unfamiliar with it. Kyle explained that he had a right to petition and wanted to disclose the email to show a violation of their policy in targeting these parents.
They had “a long conversation” with lots of note-taking. “The one that was published was not mine,” he said, adding that this made no difference to him. Anyway, the word got out in mid-November.
Around this time, he started building a group to share information, on this issue and also the FBI's COVID vaccination policy (a story for another time). They now number almost 400, and he still talks to them daily, going through intermediaries for some, he said, trying to protect their identities. Yes, he’s concerned about retaliation, especially after hearing from the chiefs of staff of two members of Congress who advised him to reconsider. “You should assume that people will come after you,” they said, though they were talking about social media, etc., not necessarily physical danger.
The day someone came into his office and casually asked, “Hey, you’re a whistleblower, right?,” he decided to just own up and say “Yeah.” As he told Bongino, “The fastest way to lose your job is lack of candor.”
Bongino made the point that what would’ve sounded wacko 10 years ago is now real. Kyle does worry, but he said that if senior levels retaliate against him, all it will do is prove what he’s saying. He noted that some of the supervisors’ names on his cases were the ones we know: Peter Strzok, Andy McCabe.
When Kyle and his colleagues sit around at lunch, he said, there are three topics: 1) “bitching about management,” 2) complaining about structure, and 3) “It’s not like it used to be. This is not what we signed up for.”
There was political pressure to do this stuff, he said, and “that’s when you get political hatchet jobs, and I didn’t sign up for that. And nobody I know signed up for that, either.”
“I think this country broke on January 6,” he said, “in so many different ways. The FBI has bought in, 100 percent, to the hype of January 6.” It’s the biggest investigation they’ve ever done, including 9/11. Kyle was given the leads that came out of those cases in the days afterwards. “I have friends who were gonna go down there,” he said, “...and just for logistical reasons didn’t make it.” So just because of that “mishap,” they’re able to retire safely instead of being put under investigation themselves. He said he knows two agents who simply attended the rally and have been suspended without pay and their security clearances revoked “because they showed up to hear the President of the United States.”
RELATED NEWS: In light of the above story, take a look at this opinion piece from JUDICIAL WATCH about the latest “open letter” from former government officials, this one signed by eight former U.S. defense secretaries and five former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The title: “To Support and Defend: Principles of CIVILIAN CONTROL and Best Practices of Civil-Military Relations.” [Emphasis ours.]
As JUDICIAL WATCH points out, “This letter comes five days on the heels of President Biden declaring, ‘MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law,’ and condemning half the American electorate as ‘represent[ing] an extremism that threatens the very foundation of our republic.’”
JW’s piece cautions us by citing the very order FBI Kyle Seraphin blew the whistle on, the one done in collaboration with the National School Board Association in which agents were supposed to investigate angry parents speaking up in school board meetings as if they were domestic terrorists. Is that the kind of “civilian control” our military wants to see?
One particular sentence in the “open letter” should leap off the page: “Politically, military professionals confront an extremely adverse environment characterized by the divisiveness of affective polarization that culminated in the first election in over a century when the peaceful transition of political power was disrupted and in doubt.”
Ah, we get it. Trump supporters are the problem. If it’s true that the FBI has bought in, 100 percent, to January 6, it appears the military has, too. See for yourself…