Soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed four top deputies as part of a major restructuring. Two years later, all four have quit. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution says the division assigned to crack down on al-Qaida and other terrorist groups has gone through three assistant directors in 14 months. Overall, more than han three dozen senior-level agents, assistant directors, and section chiefs have left the bureau in what some agents call a “brain drain.”
More are likely to follow soon. The current 197 senior agents have an average service time of 19 years and four months–eight months shy of the 20 years of service required to retire with full pension benefits.
Reasons for leaving include money, burnout from the grueling pace, mandatory retirement at 57, frustration with criticism from Capitol Hill, or simply the desire for a new opportunity. The Journal-Constitution says the jobs the retirees take range from assisting the head of a Las Vegas gambling empire to homeland security consulting to helping the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops after child molestation scandals.
“The amount of institutional memory and experience at the FBI is evaporating,” said Kris Kolesnik of the National Whistle Blower Center in Washington. “I think it has had a tremendous impact on the war on terror.”
FBI officials disagree, citing a tradition of cross-training agents to fill a variety of roles. “While many executives have left the bureau after long and exemplary careers, the FBI’s efforts on the war on terrorism and other investigative efforts continue to be effective because of the talented people the FBI continues to employ, train and develop,” said Cassandra Chandler, assistant director of public affairs.
Mueller has waived the age 57-retirement rule three times for Dave Szady, the assistant director of counter-intelligence.
The loss of agents with experience tracking terrorist groups is “alarming,” said Dennis Lormel, ex-chief of the bureau’s terrorist finance section who left for a global energy company in Virginia. “But in the same token, there is enough talent there that certainly the institution goes on and thrives.”