Jan 24, 2023
Former Top FBI Counterintelligence Agent Arrested Transcript
Retired top FBI agent Charles McGonigal was arrested for alleged money laundering and violating Russian sanctions. Read the transcript here.
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Mary Mccord (00:01):
This is just an astonishing abuse of that trust when you’re talking about somebody who’s not only betraying his office and putting Americans at risk in terms of public safety here in the US, he is actually doing this on behalf of foreign adversaries, and this is somebody who threw his job was cleared I’m sure at the very highest levels.
We are following the absolutely shocking arrest of former FBI agent Charles McGonigal. He served as head of counterintelligence for the FBI’s New York office. NBC News reporting “federal prosecutors say McGonigal laundered money violated sanctions against Russia while working with a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska. And while still at the FBI, he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from a foreign national and a former foreign intelligence official”.
McGonigal has pleaded not guilty, and through his lawyer has said he intends to fight these charges. With us for more, Frank Figliuzzi, also former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence. And Barb McQuade is here, a veteran federal prosecutor and former US attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. Frank, you worked in counter intelligence. How serious is this?
Look, I’m harkening back 20 years now to Robert Phillip Hansen, the most damaging spy in FBI history. It’s been that long since we’ve had allegations of an FBI official tied up inappropriately with the Russians. Hansen’s damage was almost inestimable. People died. At least 10 people died because of Robert Hansen’s spying for years for the Russians. But I have to say I’m trying desperately, I’ll concede to find any bright spot at all here, Stephanie, because those of us who worked with Charlie were on the phone and texting all day today, just distraught and angry, a wave of various emotions.
But what we’re not seeing amongst the charges yet is espionage. What we’re seeing is God awful, a betrayal of trust. He’ll have his day in court. He deserves a rigorous defense. I’m sure we’re going to hear some creative defense work here and it’s miserable, but there’s no indication, thank God yet that he did what Robert Hansen did, which was turn over secrets to Russian intelligence.
What we see here is about money. Lots of it. In the waning days of his FBI career in New York just prior to retirement, he gets caught up with this guy. And I got to tell you, this is almost classic trade craft, and I don’t understand how Charlie either didn’t see it coming or didn’t care that it was coming, but it appears that he was literally tasked, which is a classic craft where you test somebody.
For example, he was told, can you please get my daughter while my daughter is an intelligence operative, this guy saying, can you get my daughter into an internship at NYPD in intelligence and counter-terrorism? Can you open a case on this oligarch, Deripaska’s rival? And then in a separate case out of Washington, can you open a criminal case as a favor for this Albanian intelligence officer? And then just from my own background, understanding the compartmentalization that had to go on to investigate the highest ranking counterintelligence official in the largest FBI field office in the nation.
Yet that’s why you’re seeing cases out of Washington, cases out of New York case being worked entirely out of Los Angeles because they were trying to find people who didn’t know Charlie and wouldn’t get it back to him. That he’s under suspicion. What a mess, what a blow to the FBI and a punch in the gut for many of us who worked alongside Charlie.
How well did you know him? Does it surprise you? What kind of guy is he?
Was a true counterintelligence expert. His specialty was China. He also worked organized crime, Russian organized crime in his career. I’m shocked. I’m surprised and everyone I’ve talked to today in our group has absolutely expressed the same shock. What’s got me really wondering here is after Bob Hansen and that horrible betrayal, the FBI instituted rigorous security measures to try and prevent this kind of thing from ever happening again. I mean, rigorous measures, financial analysis of everybody’s finances, disclosures required, all kinds of things. Monitoring the computer systems, who’s working where they shouldn’t look.
Somehow this evaded detection. And I think when you’re talking about somebody at a senior executive level who’s supposed to be looking at counterintelligence cases, who’s supposed to be directing the opening of cases, it becomes even more difficult to detect that something is amiss here. So I’m eager to see where the gaps were.
Barb, this is obviously horrible for the reputation of the FBI. How much evidence would prosecutors need before they went forward with an arrest like this one?
Barbara McQuade (05:24):
Stephanie, they would need to know that they’re going to have a very strong case, not enough to just get probable cause, but sufficient evidence to believe that they can obtain and sustain a conviction of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. No charge is something that prosecutors take like lightly. But in a case like this, which I think as Frank has demonstrated, just defies the belief of people who worked with him, they’re going to make sure this case is very sound. And one thing that very often happens in a case is that you charge what you can prove, but you may have other concerns that you don’t yet have the evidence for and may never get the evidence for. And so I imagine a big part of this investigation isn’t just charging the crimes that can be proved, but also assessing the damage that could go deeper than this.
There may be other things that he has done where they’re not able to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, but that would be critically important to find out how far this damage goes. So I imagine that has been part of the investigation. Maybe that has already occurred, but with someone in his position, the ability that he had to influence investigations to introduce informants, to close investigations, to decline to take on investigations is really staggering. And I would think you’d have to look at every case he touched to see whether he was influenced in some way.