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Advice for Next FBI Chief: Minimize the 'Noise'

Jun 01, 2017
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SMITH BRAIN TRUST – What's next for the FBI after the recent ouster of director James Comey? And who should be chosen to follow him? Lauren C. Anderson shared her thoughts recently with a public radio station in Minnesota.

Anderson teaches leadership through her consultancy and via the Executive Development Programs at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She also has led FBI offices.

She says the current political winds, plus related leaks to reporters, have "undermined some of the bureau's credibility in the public's eye."

In a recent Minnesota Public Radio appearance, Anderson noted that from her day-to-day conversations she detects "an erosion of trust" in the FBI. She says Americans increasingly see the bureau as partisan, or biased, and that marks a dramatic shift in how Americans have historically viewed the country's top federal law enforcement agency.

She said what's striking to her is the volume of leaks that are coming out of Washington. "Clearly some of the leaks are coming out of the FBI," she said. "And, historically, the FBI is not known as an organization that leaks like a sieve."

Robert Mueller as special counsel

As she looks to next steps for the FBI, Anderson said she is reassured by the appointment of former FBI director Robert Mueller, tapped to conduct a sweeping investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as special counsel. Mueller has been handed a broad investigative mandate that could encompass the actions of President Donald Trump's campaign and associates, and potentially Comey's sudden dismissal last month.

And, she said, that's a good thing. She says Mueller has the capability to develop and lead a team that will complete an investigation, then present and clarify the findings in a straightforward manner "that will demonstrate to the public that it still can trust the FBI and count on its transparency." At the same time, she added, he will protect any sensitive elements of the investigation – a priority that Anderson said she does not take lightly from having "worked counterintelligence investigations for much of my career."

How can the next director restore FBI credibility? "First, the men and women of the FBI are absolutely committed to doing their job without the politics involved," Anderson said. So, it's "imperative for the director be perceived as apolitical and totally focused on getting the job done and keeping the noise away."

Profiling the Next Director

The FBI's next director, moreover, should "have enormous integrity" and "a demonstrated career with some experience in law enforcement," Anderson said. The ideal candidate, she added, is "someone who is not afraid to speak his or her mind ... and someone who is viewed as very trustworthy by everyone around him. ... Any former politicians – no matter how highly regarded they are – would [be] a huge mistake."

Anderson said that although she did not always agree with Comey's disclosures, she describes him "fiercely independent and apolitical." And that was an asset in the role, she said. 

"Add the right amount of youthful vigor," said Anderson's former FBI colleague Ron Hosko, speaking in the same MPR segment. The segment was recorded shortly after 75-year-old former Senator Joe Lieberman formally withdrew his name from consideration for the post.

"To fulfill this massive, complex effort, over a 10-year term, the director who runs this organization – like a CEO – is spanning the globe, flying to overseas legal attaches [and to] 56 field offices domestically and dealing with incredibly complex issues," Hosko said.

Specific candidates? "I think very highly of the last several deputy directors [such as] acting DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg," Hosko said. "And [former Homeland Security Advisor] Fran Townsend ought to get strong consideration."

Anderson suggested Mary Jo White, who was chairwoman of the Securities and Exchange Commission during the Obama administration. "She has extraordinary experience," Anderson said, "and would bring what's needed to that job."

Related: Lauren C. Anderson provides further insight into the FBI, via the New York Times’ “Comey’s Memos Were a Product of a Culture of Note-Keeping.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and part-time MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, specialty master's, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.