FBI whistleblower says bureau using excessive tactics to ensure 'process is the punishment'

Special Agent Steven Friend says many of his colleague share his concerns: "We are supposed to be people of integrity."

Updated: October 17, 2022 - 1:21pm

An FBI agent in Florida says he chose to blow the whistle on his agency because it has not been following its own rules while investigating the Jan. 6 riot, designing cases to exaggerate the threat of domestic terrorism in America and using excessive tactics to ensure "the process is the punishment" even if a suspect is innocent.

"We took an oath, before our family and our friends and the Lord Almighty, and we are supposed to be people of integrity," suspended FBI Special Agent Steve Friend told Just the News in a wide-ranging interview. "And that's not a leisure pursuit. And if you are indeed a person of fidelity, bravery, integrity — the FBI motto — and you have to be willing to do things that aren't easy, especially when they're as simple as stepping up and pointing out when we are not meeting the standards that we have set out for ourselves."

Friend's security clearance has been suspended, leaving him sidelined on the job without pay after he filed a whistleblower complaint with Congress, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and the Justice Department inspector general. The complaint obtained by Just the News alleges the FBI is violating the 6th and 8th Amendment rights of Jan. 6 defendants and inflating the statistics for domestic extremism in the country by sending Jan. 6 Capitol riot cases to field offices instead of keeping them in Washington.

Friend said he had received outstanding ratings his entire career until he objected to being listed as a managing agent for Jan. 6 suspects in Florida when in fact the investigation was being run by other agents in Washington D.C. He said the construct violates the FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide that is the bible for all agents.

"That's when I said to myself, 'Look, we're not running these cases ourselves, and that's outside the rule, and we are setting ourselves up for a major fall,'" he recounted in an interview with the John Solomon Reports podcast set to air Monday. "So I brought that to my supervisor's attention about my concerns, about not following FBI rules. I brought my concerns about potentially abusing power to him." 

The agent said there is more than just a technical rules violation, because when cases go to trial the agent listed as leading the probe will have to testify he or she did none of the work.

"I just could foresee a pretty easily avoidable or bad situation where Steve Friend is the case agent on John Smith, who's being prosecuted for Jan. 6," he explained. "And then I'm put on the stand, because it's my case. And you know, the defense attorney says, 'Agent Friend, what did you do? You're the case agent.

"And I would say, 'I didn't do anything.' 'Well, did you make this decision?' 'No, I didn't.' 'Did your supervisor approve that?' 'No, he didn't.' And it just seemed like that was a to be a massive problem."

In the end, Friend said he declined to partcipate in any more Jan. 6 cases but told his supervisor he would do any other work as required.

The FBI told Just the News it cannot address specific personnel cases but has a policy and process it follows for instances like Friend's concerns.

"While we cannot comment on the specifics of personnel matters, all FBI employees understand they are held to the highest standards because their work is critical to fulfilling our mission of protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution of the United States," the FBI statement said.

"Employees who don't carry out their responsibilities are held accountable through an objective administrative process," it added. "FBI employees who report evidence of wrongdoing through a protected disclosure are protected from retaliation. Such reporting supports the FBI's mission and is fully consistent with our core values."

Friend, who served for five years on an FBI SWAT team in Omaha before transferring to Florida last year, said he also raised concerns about the use of tactical teams to arrest Jan. 6 defendants when there were less instrusive and less dangerous methods available.

"My objection was this is an individual who we'd been in contact with, who we knew already has an attorney, who had been cooperative with us," he explained. "That to me seems like a little bit of an overuse of SWAT. There's a lot of other mechanisms ... You could just straight go to the person's lawyer and say, 'Here's a summons to come to court.'

Friend recounted raising with superiors the specter of a dangerous standoff escalating to violence.

"One of our considerations is there is an unnecessary risk of danger," he said. "And I said, frankly, we've been fairly lucky that we haven't created a Ruby Ridge scenario where somebody is coming back from a hunting trip, and then all of a sudden, there's a tactical team at their door with a Bearcat. And that can be completely avoidable, especially if we have an open line of communication with this person, we've spoken to them, and they have counsel, and we could bring it to easy resolution."          

Friend said FBI management in Washington has been relentless in pursuing Jan. 6 cases, in some cases pursuing people without evidence of wrongdoing. He related an instance where he was required to visit a Florida man to inquire whether he went into the Capitol on Jan. 6. Other than an anonymous phone call, the FBI had no evidence the man did anything wrong or was even in Washington. When he visited the man, the suspect said he could not have been in Washington during the riot because he had attended his son's funeral on Jan. 6, 2021.

Friend said agents have been told the reason they are being assigned cases far from Washington D.C. is to get their "buy-in" to the notion there is a domestic extremism problem in America. He fears the bureau has created a scenario where investigating people has been designed to be part of the penalty.

"I felt like there was an aspect to it, that was the punishment is the process,” he said. "You know, even if somebody eventually is either acquitted, or say they even plead guilty to a misdemeanor, and they wind up spending, you know, a month in incarceration, the very fact that a tactical team was coming up on their lawn with a Bearcat, and at six o'clock in the morning, potentially throwing flash-bangs in their house, and terrorizing their family and alerting the neighborhood like that. That just seemed to me like a little bit of an overkill.”

The agent said when his supervisors began to move to suspend him they began to make claims like police officers were killed on Jan. 6 (none were, though a few died afterwards from suicide or health issues) and that his concerns about the Jan. 6 defendants' rights were "on the fringe."

Friend said Justice and FBI officials are now looking to expand the definition of the secure perimeter of the Capitol so they can charge more people with crimes even though they didn’t enter the building that day.

"There's a whole line now where they're going to extend the area outside of the Capitol — you know, the four walls of the Capitol, the perimeter — and say that the lawn is a restricted area, and then they're just going to come down with another wave of charges for misdemeanors for entering a restricted area," he said.

Friend said large numbers of current agents across the country share his concern.

"Whenever I've spoken to my colleagues — and granted, I don't know everybody in the FBI, but I do know a fair amount of them, as well as the retired agent population — to a man, everyone has said that they disagree with how this has gone on, which is one of the reasons that I kind of was shaking my head when my special agent in charge said that I held a fringe belief about this."

Friend said he simply believes Jan. 6 defendants should be treated like any other Americans facing criminal investigation.

"There's no question that the process is the punishment," he said. "I sat in an interview with somebody — I don't know if they're going to be charged with a crime — but the very fact that I was sitting there, and they were dealing with the stress of talking to FBI agents in a law office for an attorney who I'm sure was not free.

"If that gentleman doesn't get charged with a crime, he's still out, you know, having to pay his attorney. And he expressed to us he was going to be out of a job because his employer was upset with him being involved at all. So that's somebody whose life was completely turned upside down and that doesn't even begin to know if he's going to be sitting in an orange jumpsuit at some point."