That’s the first word that comes to mind concerning the FBI’s decision last week to show the Patrick Cannon bribery scandal videotapes to more than 20 people enrolled in its eight-week citizens’ academy.
How can you refuse to share the surveillance videos with the general public, yet justify showing excerpts to a small group of citizens behind closed doors?
The FBI’s answer: because those citizens were vetted by the agency, and only saw the videos once. John Strong, head of the agency’s North Carolina operations, told the editorial board Monday that wider release of the videos would allow repeated viewings, potentially giving away agents’ tactics and identities.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Clearly, police should keep evidence confidential when its release might jeopardize an investigation or upcoming trial.
But when Cannon entered a pre-trial guilty plea last summer, that was no longer an issue. Still, it seemed likely that the FBI would never show the public the videos of him taking bribes.
Until last week, that is, when reporters who happened to be sitting in on the FBI-run citizens’ academy said agents showed four videos to the class during a workshop on public corruption.
“My jaw dropped,” Time Warner Cable reporter Caroline Vandergriff told the Observer’s Mike Gordon. “It was absolutely fascinating.”
Which is why everyone else wanted to see the videos. When Cannon was arrested last year, we all wanted to see the evidence for ourselves.
The FBI says no – unless you’re in its program. We are left with many questions. Why show the videos now, with Cannon well into his 44-month federal prison sentence and the broader corruption probe petering out?
Strong suggested in an email to the editorial board that the agency showed the videos to help those in the citizens’ academy understand the inner workings of the FBI. If such disclosure serves an educational purpose, why not educate the whole community?
The explanation about protecting agents’ identities and tactics rings hollow. Such videos are released publicly as part of court cases every year.
The media plays them over and over. And the FBI keeps making busts. What makes the Cannon videos so much more worthy of secrecy? And such unevenly applied secrecy at that?
Now that a few citizens have seen the videos, all should.
The citizens’ academy is designed to foster understanding between the FBI and the community. By showing the videos in the class while refusing to release them publicly, the agency has instead stirred a considerable amount of misunderstanding.