Intelligence Production: Political Involvement Coincides With Drop In Public Trust

Political neutrality is critical to ensuring the IC holds the public trust. Domestically, it gives citizens the assurance the FBI will not target them for their political beliefs, which has not always been the case. Polling indicates that during times the FBI has become more closely aligned with a political side by its public statements, actions, and production, its support drops off and/or it loses balance between persons who identify as Democrat and those who identify as Republican.

In 1965, a Gallup poll found the FBI had an 84 percent approval rating. Over the next 10 years, approval dropped steadily1 to a low of 37 percent after the Church Committee2 revealed the organization had maintained a longterm spying campaign on domestic political groups and persons.

More recently, polling organizations have broken down results to reflect the opinions of persons who identify as Democrat and Republican. Ideally, approval ratings would be fairly consistent between the two. This would likely indicate the public did not perceive the FBI as a political actor. In polls taken by Pew and Gallup, respectively, in 2010 and 2014, this was the case. However, beginning in 2017, which was the next available data point by Pew and Gallup, the percentages of persons who viewed the FBI positively became markedly skewed.

Around this same time, FBI analysts contributed to four publicly released joint intelligence assessments. Three of the four involved politically sensitive topics. The FBI had taken on a very public role in a divisive political matter, an action that coincided with a measurable drop in public trust.

The following table shows some of the consequences that can arise from political polarization. While analysts cannot control the politicization of their agencies, they can control their own work products. Analysts will establish credibility and maintain customer trust by writing analytically defensible products that meet the standards set for IC analytic production.

YearDemocrat Favorable Opinion FBIRepublican Favorable Opinion FBIIntelligence Assessments released
2010…68% (Pew)71% (Pew)
…2014…60% (Gallup)62% (Gallup)
..201769% (Gallup)49% (Gallup)Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections
201878% (Pew)55% (Pew)
201977% (Pew)66% (Pew)
2019…66% (Gallup)46% (Gallup)
..202166% (Gallup)26% (Gallup)1. Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021; 2. Unidentified Aerial Phenomena; 3. Foreign Threats to the 2020 US Federal Elections
The public release of intelligence products to which FBI analysts contributed coincided with a marked difference in support by persons who identified as Democrat versus those who identified as Republican.

1In 1965, Gallup showed the FBI had an 84 percent approval rating; in 1970, a 71 percent rating; in 1973, a 62 percent, and in 1970, a 71 percent.

2The Church Committee also conducted investigations into the activities of the CIA, IRS, and NSA.

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