Americans are, once again, debating what is “age appropriate” sex education in light of the rise of the prominence of issues around gender, identity, and sexuality. And while much of the “groomer” rhetorical fire has been aimed at entertainment giant Disney, the reality is that it’s been less than three years since the 100+ year old Boy Scouts of America–a cultural icon for many on the political and religious right–filed for bankruptcy in the wake of tens of thousands of child sexual abuse claims since the 1980s. In June 2022, more than 90 women who were sexually assaulted by former USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar sued the FBI under the Federal Tort Claims Act for failing to stop Nassar’s sexual predation when it was first reported to the Bureau in July 2015.
The child sex abuse that was rampant in those two organizations is the type of crime FBI agents and their supervisors, as well as the country’s 96 U.S. Attorneys, should’ve been spending their time uncovering and prosecuting. So where was the FBI when all of this was going on?
In the absence of a full-scale audit by the Department of Justice’s Inspector General, or Congress’s Government Accountability Office, we don’t have a comprehensive answer to that critical question. We do, however, have a revealing snapshot of the misplaced priorities of one FBI field office during this period.
Just a month before the sex assault claims began to come into the Bureau about Nassar, and even as more Cub and Boy Scouts were being molested around the country, the FBI Omaha Field Office (FO) was introducing a local Cub Scout pack to the FBI’s Special Agent Bomb Technician (SABT) program.
In light of the number of school shootings that had happened by 2015, I cannot fathom how anyone in the FBI Omaha FO ever thought that giving a bomb threat demo to a group of extremely young school children was a good idea.
As is so often the case with FBI documents released via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to Cato and other civil society organizations, the FBI Omaha FO report on “Organization Outside of the FBI” was heavily redacted. Among the FOIA exemptions invoked was one known as a “(b)(3)” exemption, which pertains to various nondisclosure provisions that are contained in other federal statutes. In this case, the (b)(3) statute in question is 50 USC § 3024 (i)(1) regarding the protection of “intelligence sources and methods from unauthorized disclosure.”
Given the fact that neither the 29 five-to-ten-year-old Cub Scouts, nor their adult pack leader, who attended the FBI bomb threat demo were authorized to receive classified information, it naturally raises the question as to what the FBI is trying to conceal here. An examination of the FBI FD-999 form gives us clues.
The “Case ID #” is one of the “sources and methods” redactions, and in this instance it refers to one of the many FBI Investigative Classifications the Bureau uses to characterize a particular crime or activity. In light of the nature of the FBI Omaha FO’s interaction with this group of Cub Scouts–a discussion and/or demo of bomb threats–the case ID likely is in one of the terrorism-related categories.
However, there is another potential explanation for the FBI’s “sources and methods” invocation: the bomb threat demo was part of a domestic intelligence gathering exercise.
In 2015, the Brennan Center uncovered this FBI practice through their own FOIA work. In that instance, the records pertained to FBI efforts to win over members of the Arab- and Muslim American communities while simultaneously engaging in surveillance of those same communities. I have no idea whether any of the Cub Scouts, or their adult chaperones, fall into a racial, ethnic, or religious group currently under FBI scrutiny. But the fact that the FBI has seen fit to label what it’s doing in this case as involving “intelligence sources and methods” is deeply disturbing…and very much worthy of a Congressional inquiry.