Why did the FBI drag out its email investigation on Hillary Clinton for so long?

Michael T Flynn, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, a 33-year career military intelligence officer and currently a close adviser to Donald Trump, tweeted this following the FBI’s notification that its review of emails has been completed and its July conclusion remains unchanged:


This is the level of dismay one might expect from someone who is completely ignorant about information technology.

Perhaps this is how Flynn pictures the FBI’s email review process:

 

Or maybe not.

Flynn followed up with an indication he is aware some highfalutin “smart machines” could have been at work, but he remains skeptical about the lightning speed of the analysis:


Let’s see… If it takes one year to review 60,000 emails it should take a decade to review 650,000 — is that what you’re thinking, general?

It turns out, the FBI has a whole division devoted to Operational Technology with stacks and stacks of smart machines at its headquarters in Quantico, Virginia. The bureau acknowledges, “While OTD’s work doesn’t typically make the news, the fruits of its labor are evident in the busted child pornography ring, the exposed computer hacker, the prevented bombing, the averted terrorist plot, and the prosecuted corrupt official.”

The Washington Post drills deep into the information retrieval technicalities of the latest investigation and confirms that it did indeed involve the use of “special software.” (Lead investigator to Comey: “How can we go through 650,000 emails fast enough?!” Comey: “You’ll need to use the special software.”)

We live in an era where roughly two billion people have access to Google. The content of about 50 billion web pages is continuously being indexed by the search giant and information from that index can be retrieved in a fraction of a second. Most people haven’t the faintest idea how search technology works, but everyone knows this: it’s super fast.

So Flynn is right: something doesn’t jive.

If 650,000 emails could be reviewed in 8 days, why did the FBI dawdle for a year over its analysis of 60,000 emails?

It turned out that the recent review was mostly an exercise in matching duplicate documents, i.e. it was highly suited to automated data processing.

The first sweep was much more analytical and interpretative and clearly required more eyeballs and deliberation, considering both content and intent.

Nevertheless, what has become evident over the last ten days is that the FBI is a highly politicized government agency. It appears that among its ranks there are a significant number of individuals who believe they are entitled to use their considerable power to influence the outcome of a presidential election.

For that reason, it’s fair to ask now whether the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server was dragged out for as long as possible precisely so that it could yield the greatest damage to her campaign — irrespective of the investigation’s findings.

If that was the intention, it seems likely this effort will ultimately fail. Instead, the FBI has profoundly damaged its own credibility as a politically impartial institution serving the interests of the American people.

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Comments

  1. Nice turn-about, and exactly the right question to ask. And once asked, it seems like it has only one answer.

    Roughly along these lines, it’s remarkable that Comey managed the whole thing without overtly releasing a single fact. Yet we somehow know (or think we know) the story, down to its details, due to a strategic pattern of leaks. This suggests some level of organization and perhaps premeditation in playing the press contacts.