Mission Creep in Law Enforcement: Expanding Federal Fiefdoms

Law enforcement catching a child rapist? Good work. Federal authorities equipped to catch a man who made child porn on his phone? Awesome. Enter mission creep.

It is difficult to have a problem with federal authorities apprehending a grown man who recorded himself engaging in sex acts with a six-year-old and a ten-year-old — and this is exactly how the mission creep of federal agencies begins. When an agency intended to have authority in one area begins to do something noble in an entirely different area of law enforcement, critics come across as monsters for making an issue of the expansion of the particular agency involved. 

A recent case involving the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) provides and excellent example of such expansions. ICE, charged with immigration and customs enforcement, has a division named ICE HSI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations. The redundant division in the agency engaged in an investigative effort that previously would have been under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). They took on a case involving a child predator inside the U.S. who made videos of himself engaging in sex acts with children in Louisiana.

The agency issued a December 16, 2013 call for the public's help in identifying and capturing “John Doe” after videos surfaced with geo-tags indicating the videos were made in a specific area of Louisiana. The images were distributed to local law enforcement, and an arrest warrant was issued for “John Doe” in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. The effort worked, and the then-unknown suspect is now in custody.

The videos surfaced in Canada, and authorities there discovered two videos with embedded GPS coordinates revealing that they were made in Jonesboro, Louisiana on February 29, 2012 and March 2, 2012. The FBI was not brought in to lead the investigation because the videos were found in a foreign nation. With no indication that the Louisiana predator filmmaker traveled across international boundaries with his videos, ICE HSI took the investigation.

Why didn’t ICE inform the FBI of the matter and work with FBI special agents to arrest the predator in the United States? Why do two separate federal agencies have special agents doing the exact same jobs? The issue likely has to do with the need of fiefdoms and bureaucracies to perpetuate themselves and stay relevant.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) investigates and arrests suspects and organizations involved in the narcotics trade, as does the FBI. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms, and Explosives (BATFE, or more commonly known as the ATF) now investigates explosives, as does the FBI. ICE now investigates and arrests those suspected of making child porn within the U.S. borders, as does the FBI. I recently broke a case for Breitbart News that revealed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was credited in a task force described by authorities as existing to interdict narcotics shipments and investigate and arrest the individuals or organizations responsible.

The FBI has performed many investigations now handled by numerous other federal law enforcement agencies. The anatomy of mission creep can be seen by looking into how various federal agencies have begun taking on the same genres of investigation, but the mission creep of federal law enforcement as a whole can be seen by taking a brief look into the history of the FBI. Not only have federal law enforcement agencies encroached on each other, but federal law enforcement as a whole has encroached on the role of state law enforcement agencies in the same manner.

My own experiences prior to working with Breitbart News may help shed light on the mission creep of federal law enforcement agencies. I worked with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (FBI JTTF) as an undercover operational source, primarily in international terrorism investigations. One investigation I participated in pertained to the intentional burning down of the Texas Governor’s Mansion

A lone Molotov cocktail thrower climbed a gate and threw a single firebomb at the mansion, burning it to the ground. The State of Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) assigned their elite Texas Rangers Unit to the case. The inside issues between state and federal law enforcement agencies that ensued can only be described as a giant pissing match, crass though that sounds.

The State of Texas, like all U.S. states, has a state police force. These state forces are competent to investigate the majority of criminal issues that occur within their respective state boundaries — yet the FBI and other federal agencies routinely intervene and take jurisdiction over their cases. In the case of the Texas Governor’s Mansion arson, there were no indicators of the arsonist crossing state lines, there were no indicators of criminal behavior affecting interstate commerce, and there were no indicators of international terrorism. The Texas DPS and their Texas Rangers ultimately won out and were able to establish jurisdiction over the case, but only after months of conflict. The case is still unsolved to this day, with the statute of limitations quickly approaching. Would the case have been solved if a jurisdictional fight had not occurred in the beginning of the investigation? Would much needed evidence have been obtained early on, such as video recordings from nearby buildings and ATMs, had the jurisdictional fighting not occurred? Such questions can only be answered with speculation. My perspective from having been personally involved is that state law enforcement agencies become somewhat dependent on federal law enforcement agencies because federal agencies routinely encroach on what constitutionally should be state-led investigations.

Federal law enforcement begins encroaching into the mission of state police forces. Federal agencies then begin to expand their scope of interests and encroach upon each others' missions and scope of interests. All of this results in the initial agencies lacking the necessary funding to do what they were created to do, or otherwise having to compete with various agencies for a limited pool of funding. This is dangerous because the agencies then begin to determine what to investigate based on politics and what will please the people who decide where money goes. This is also dangerous because it dumbs down state law enforcement agencies who have often become dependent on the federal agencies funding and backing them, both in terms of dollars and in investigative expertise and internal infrastructure: “When the FBI has an amazing ballistics lab, why should an individual state government have one?" — ad nauseam.

Men and women of law enforcement, both federal and state, put their bodies in harm’s way for the rest of us. Understanding that mission creep usually comes on the back of something heroic or admirable is necessary to begin to address the issue and identify when it begins. From the FBI intervening in the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby, to ICE busting a child porn video maker in Louisiana, noble pursuits on the part of law enforcement have paved the way for their politically-appointed leaders to expand their missions, often at the expense of other agencies, the taxpayer, and the constitutional separation between state governments and the federal government. Perhaps worst of all, such encroachments have led to the atrophy of state law enforcement agencies and their ability to lead and build collaborative task forces with law enforcement agencies from other states — without dependency on the federal government.


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