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Top 10 Greatest FBI FAILs of All Time

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has a reputation for being one of the most infallible government agencies in the country. They've become a symbol of success and secrecy in both domestic and international crime and continue to prove their badassery on a daily basis. But everyone makes mistakes. This list of notorious FBI fails proves that pretty conclusively.

 It's not easy finding the top FBI fails in the agency's history because, obviously, some of these incidents are embarrassing and have been swept under the rug as much as possible. Nonetheless, we put on our windbreakers and investigated. Here are 10 shining examples of failure in the FBI.

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  1. 1

    Conspicuous SSID Fail

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    A tragedy of Columbine proportions was narrowly avoided as Tampa police detained angsty 17-year-old Jared Michael Cano before he was able to set off a bomb on some of his classmates.

    There was a multitude of evidence against this kid's mental stability long before his bust, including several catch-and-releases in which Jared was charged with fire-arm burglary, felony-level weapons offenses, grand larceny, and several misdemeanor drug crimes. In it's infinite wisdom, Florida decided to take little or no action and dismissed most of the cases, even as his Facebook page depicted him holding a machete and quoting the nihilistic movie Law Abiding Citizen, "Lessons not learned in blood are soon forgotten." As Florida's credo states, "Boys will be boys."

    Now, I have to give the FBI some credit for stepping in and not allowing Cano to kill anyone. Following a confidential informant's tip, the authorities searched Jared's room and found a wealth of bomb making materials and a journal which included minute-by-minute plans of how he was going to out-casualty any other school massacre, as well as some evil, evil marijuana.

    Any credit the FBI earned is quickly face-palmed away, however, after reading Cano's Facebook status update only a few days prior to the raid, "The weirdest thing happened today ... when my homie was trying to connect to a wireless network the connections list came up and one of them was called: FBI_SURVEILLANCE_VAN… It was weird..." For a government agency that's built its sterling reputation on being secretive, that's pretty bad.

    How lucky that Cano didn't absorb any deduction skills in his no-doubt high quality Florida education and move his plan of mayhem forward before he was caught. This FBI fail probably would have resulted in the biggest tragedy ever caused from not hiding a SSID. Well, that and the time I forgot to secure my own wireless network and my neighbors started torrenting. That was just awful.

  2. 2

    The Case of Mistaken Whiteys

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    In a rare, ratings-inducing move, the FBI asked Germany's longest-running crime show Aktenzeichen XY for help in tracking down former mafioso James "Whitey" Bulger by broadcasting some supposedly recent photos of Bulger and his girlfriend, believed to be on the lam in Europe some time in 2008. What they didn't do was check these photos for accuracy.

    Taken by a tourist in Italy the previous year, the photo featured an elderly couple that everyone in the FBI pretty much agreed resembled the infamous gangster and his girlfriend. Shown alongside some vintage pictures, they warned Bulger was wanted in connection with as many as 19 murders and "the couple may be armed and is extremely dangerous."

    When calls started flooding the German airwaves with reported sightings of this "extremely dangerous" couple, the FBI was no doubt overjoyed about their new leads and probable vacation time in Germany. However, one call squashed all hopes of wearing lederhosen and eating bratwurst forever when it was revealed that the photo the FBI chose to broadcast was of his parents, nonthreatening retirees who were shocked to find themselves the center of an international manhunt.

    The FBI waited five long days to remove the pictures from it's website, perplexed over which photo to use next because all old people look the same.

    Two months ago, Whitey was arrested at his home in Santa Monica, and it is still unknown whether he and his girlfriend were even overseas at the time of the broadcast.

  3. 3

    Search, Seizure, and Surrender

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    Protip: When raiding someone's house, don't forget those important classified documents and surveillance photos you came in with.

    In September 2010, the FBI did just that while ransacking the home of Mick Kelly and his partner, Linden Gawboy. The FBI made such a mess for Kelly, an outspoken political activist and member of the Committee to Stop FBI Repression, that it took almost seven months for the confidential government operations order to be discovered amongst the thousands of disarrayed pages of the couple's personal effects.

    The operations order detailed the plan for the raid, photographs, and potential interview questions for Kelly and other activists deemed "dangerous" by the FBI, primarily due to suspected socialist ties. Of the nature of the questions, Kelly said they conveyed a "disturbingly odd 1950s red scare tone."

    When asked how the FBI would be so incompetent as to leave critical internal documents behind while seizing half a household, and then not even realize what had happened until seven months later when the documents were posted online, FBI Special Agent Steve Warfield refused to comment.

    Read more about this fail here.

  4. 4

    Today's FBI. It's for you.

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    The FBI is so committed to diversity in it's workforce that even its employment web site has compiled a multitude of different ethnicities to prove how multicultural it is. Their "American Indian/Native Alaskan" initiative, however, was a little lacking.

    In 2009, that page featured a picture of former special agent Elizabeth Morris, who alleges that part of the reason she lost her job with the Bureau was filing a complaint of workplace prejudice. She claims she was relieved from her position after she brought to light some unethical practices made by another agent and against her supervisor, who made racially insensitive remarks. Oh the irony!

    And it wasn't like this just happened and they were a little slow on taking down the snapshot. No, her photo was featured in 2009, a full TWO YEARS after she was fired for allegedly being the victim of the very behavior the FBI hoped to disassociate themselves with.

    Apparently they had trouble choosing a photo to represent the ethnic background, because they thought all American Indians/Native Alaskans looked the same.

  5. 5


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    Sure, we've all forgotten to pay a bill here and there. You pay the late fee, maybe go without lights for a few weeks; no big deal, right? It's cool...unless you're an agency of the American government in charge of monitoring the country's security and you get the lines cut on your primary means of surveillance. Then, yeah, it's kind of a big deal.

    In 2008, the FBI had their phone service shut down during a national security investigation and missed countless other opportunities to collect key evidence because they failed to pay their phone bills in a timely manner.

    According to a report by the Justice Department, "We analyzed 990 telecommunication surveillance payments made by five field divisions, and found that over half of these payments were not made on time." If, that is, they were paid at all. One primary carrier sent a list detailing $66k in unpaid bills resulting from surveillance activity. know you're in a financial crisis when even the government's calling collect.

  6. 6

    He's Wearing a (Non-functioning) Wire!

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    There are two things you'd expect an undercover FBI agent posing as an assassin to do during the middle of a sting: (1) face the man asking you to put a bullet in someone's head so your spy camera can get a clear picture, and (2) make sure you have functioning audio equipment.

    The FBI branch in Denver, Colorado garners a place on this list for failing not one, but BOTH of these common sense covert practices. Brooks Kellogg was accused last year of trying to hire a hit man to murder a former coworker who sued him for $2.5 million, but almost got off the hook because the FBI admitted to using a video camera that didn't record audio and captured nothing of visual relevance.

    Add that to the fact that the witness they chose to hinge their entire case on was a convicted felon and mistress and you have a plot worthy of only the finest Law and Order episode.

    After showing Kellogg a photo of his ex-business partner, the undercover agent allegedly told Kellogg, "You're the customer here," and "You want him killed?" Ugh. With dialogue of this caliber, maybe they should shoot for only the finest episode of NCIS.

  7. 7

    Driver's Ed

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    I'm sure FBI agent Fred Kingston was just being cautious when taking this recently recovered top-of-the-line Ferrari F50 out for a test drive before returning it to it's rightful owner. You know, for safety and stuff. But crashing it into a bush and refusing to pay $750,000 in repairs? That has "fail" written all over it.

    The vehicle was reported stolen in 2003 from a dealer in Pennsylvania, and found five years later, apparently still in prime driving condition. It was being held in Lexington, Kentucky, as part of a continuing investigation into the theft when Kingston was named in charge of moving it from it's garage in 2009. He promptly grabbed driving buddy and Assistant US Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson and (allegedly) commenced burning some rubber.

    Thompson has since denied any improper handling, telling the insurance company that the car began sliding "Just a few seconds after we left the parking lot," and 'The agent tried to regain control but the car fishtailed and slid sideways up onto the curb." Right...Because racing cars sometimes just split in two when going around corners. More information pertaining to the crash was requested, but has since been denied.

    The Justice Department responded to the request for damages by saying they are not liable for certain goods when they're in the hands of law enforcement.

    Get the full story here.

  8. 8

    FBI Gets Down in It


    After weather balloons carried a super 8 camera containing sketchy characters surrounding a presumably dead youth in an alley across some corn fields, the local law in Burhop, Michigan was hot on the case of what was surely a gruesome cult murder.

    Over a year was spent determining the whereabouts of the crime scene and attempting to identify the subjects of the low budget video before the FBI was called in for help. After studying the tape, they broadcast some of the footage on national television, appealing to the public for help in solving this difficult and bizarre crime, when they probably should have been asking their kids.

    Then came the horrendous embarrassment of being out-foxed by an art student, of all people, who informed them that the so-called "murder victim" was actually Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor working on a music video for their single "Down in It." And then the further shame of asking him to come to Chicago and verify that he wasn't dead, but just had some corn starch on his face.

    In this Hard Copy video circa 1990, we are taken into investigational journalism at it's finest, where hard rock videos are described as "just as insidious" as a gang killing (6:00) and NIN is hailed as "Nine Inch Noise" (3:36) alongside some of the greatest reenactments ever televised.

    While authorities and the good folks at Hard Copy were busy defending the flubs of the FBI and demonizing Reznor as "A man with a flare for wearing jewelry. In his nose. And a total disregard for what police have to go through every day of their lives," (6:20) Eric Zimmerman, who worked on the video, had this to say at 7:47, "It's interesting that our top government agency, the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, couldn't crack the super 8 code." A valid point, even if he did just prove that he probably knows as little about the Bureau as the Bureau knows about him.

  9. 9

    Osama bin Llamazares?

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    Imagine waking up one morning to see pieces of your likeness used as a wanted poster for arguably the most hated living man in the world. That's what Gaspar Llamazares had to deal with in 2008 when the FBI was unable to produce an updated image of Osama bin Laden based on old photographs.

    Before Bin Laden was killed earlier this year, the government was still desperate to find his whereabouts, and struggled to provide an accurate photo because most of their prior wanted posters were now a decade old. So, when they weren't satisfied with their results simply by "aging" the outdated pictures, they turned to Google Images for help, borrowing facial similarities primarily from Llamazeres, a member of Spanish parliament with numerous campaign photos ripe for the harvesting of facial features.

    "I was surprised and angered because it's the most shameless use of a real person to make up the image of a terrorist," said Llamazares, adding that he would no longer feel safe in the United States knowing that his wrinkles, hair, and jaw-line were linked to the September, 11th terrorist attacks.

    The Frankenstein image of Gaspar and Osama appeared on the State Department website, but after it was pointed out that using features from one person to convey another's suspected appearance may lead to the capture of the wrong man, they FBI agreed to remove the photo. Is it finally safe to say the FBI does not handle the use of photos of minorities very well?

  10. 10

    Fantasy Tape Deemed Torture...For Listeners

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    It's hard to say where the biggest aspect of fail lies in the case of Tennessee Circuit Judge John B. Hagler, who made a "fantasy tape" with recordings so sensational the FBI mistook it for a torture session and linked it to an unsolved murder case. The tape, however, spurned no charges against the Judge, and police admitted he is not a suspect in any investigation.

    The tape, which was brought to authorities by a recently fired secretary over two years before it's existence was made public in 2008, contained graphic erotic situations intertwined with legal dictation made by now former Judge Hagler. While this is undeniably intriguing, why did the FBI keep it private for over two years while Hagler heard family court cases if they believed him to be dangerous? If they believed him guilty of nothing more than an overactive imagination, why distribute the tape at all?

    The tape was ultimately leaked by an unidentified source to the media which forced Hagler, married 65-year-old and thrice nominated president of the Tennessee Trial Judges Association, into early retirement, but the FBI saw it fit to show it to district attorneys in Hagler's jurisdiction even after it was deemed inconsequential and harmless, unless the listener had a sensitive stomach.

    "The description of it as containing `graphic fantasies' ... is an accurate and sufficient description and all any decent person would want to hear of it," said Hagler. The murder case the FBI suspected the tape was related to remains unsolved.

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