It is not unusual for high-ranking politicians, congressional staffers, policy makers, journalists, members of the public, military personnel and/or government officials to reach out to Mike German for advice and for training. He is currently employed by the Brennan Center for Justice as a Fellow for the Liberty and National Security Program. This program “seeks to ensure that the U.S. government respects human rights and fundamental freedoms in conducting the fight against terrorism.” Prior to the Brennan Center, in 2006 German was Policy Counsel for National Security and Privacy for the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Washington, D.C. office.
On February 24, 2021, German spoke before the United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security. He was invited to testify because he is regarded as an expert in the area of supremacist and far-right violence in the United States. German has seen the failures of federal law enforcement, the Justice Department and Homeland Security since 9/11/2001 and been sounding an alarm regarding their lack of an objective and comprehensive plan to combat Domestic Terrorism for years. His writings and presentations have been eerily prescient concerning white supremacist and far-right militant groups, and he has sounded the alarm for years over their active links to law enforcement.
German has also assembled a cogent and important plan on how to fight white supremacist and far-right terrorism, noting that taking no action will result in the undermining of the rule of law, and a clear threat to social cohesion which will undermine the nation’s security. German is currently such a valuable asset and resource to federal law enforcement and Congress that when one discovers he is a former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) whistleblower constructively discharged for having integrity, it shocks the senses. It also does not bode well for a country when their best and brightest FBI Special Agents are forced out of that institution for the violation of telling the truth and embarrassing the FBI.
This is Mike German’s story, and a cautionary tale for the American public, because if the FBI can retaliate against one of its own Special Agents who represents the best and brightest, demonstrating bravery, honesty, courage and integrity, imagine what can be done against an ordinary citizen who is powerless against an omnipotent institution that continually demonstrates their desire and ability to cover-up criminality or misdeeds.
German’s father was a West Point graduate and an Army Officer. He grew up in the military, “moving all over the country about every two years for the most part.” Those experiences helped German in his undercover work with the FBI, as he was used to being an outsider which helped him gain entry into every community in his undercover days.
From a young age, German wanted to be a FBI Special Agent, he did not know where it came from as he and his family did not know any FBI Agents.
“That is all I ever wanted to do,” said German. Not being good at math, accounting or foreign languages, German noted that he decided to go through the FBI’s legal program and go to law school. He graduated from Northwestern University Law School and two weeks later, he got his letter and appointment from the FBI and entered Quantico in 1988.
German’s first office was Los Angeles, ground zero of the savings and loan crisis. German was assigned to the investigation of Lincoln Savings, the biggest savings and loan failure in history at that time. The Keating Five were five United States senators accused of corruption regarding their improper intervention on behalf of Charles Keating, Chairman of the Lincoln Savings and Loan Association. After four years working bank fraud, German started looking around for something new.
German heard about an undercover operation targeting neo-Nazis who were gun running, and hoping to start a race war. “You have blond hair and blue eyes,” the case agent told him. “You look pretty young, you could fit in with the Neo Nazi skinheads, would you like to do that?” the case agent asked. German responded he would like undercover work because “that was about as different from what my daily work had been for the last four years.”
Like a lot of operations the FBI runs, the beginning of the case was done on a shoestring. German had jeans and a t-shirt he kept in his car, and would report to work in a suit to work white collar, and later go out and change. He would park a half mile away from where he was going, and meet up to eat with the skinheads. This domestic terrorism group had already accomplished bombings, and were prepared to attack synagogues and kill prominent African Americans. The recovery of weapons by German turned the operation into a Group 1, a full-time undercover operation with sensitive circumstances. German not only solved older bombings but was able to thwart an attack on the First African Methodist Episcopalian Church.
The case, which ran from 1992 to 1993, was highly successful, and German discovered he really liked undercover work. The work was new and exciting, and German found he had a real affinity for undercover. Because of death threats, German got a security transfer from Los Angeles to Providence Resident Agency, Boston after the case. German was there from 1994 to 2000. He worked undercover in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest working militia cases. It was everything he had dreamed of as a boy wanting to be an FBI Agent.
After 9/11, German was in the Atlanta office but assigned to an undercover case in Florida. A domestic white supremacist group were planning on joining forces with a Middle Eastern terror group. An American supporter of the Middle Eastern terrorist group had made flyers available that preached anti-Semitic hate. The domestic white supremacist group reached out and noted, “Hey you hate Jews, we hate Jews,” and a meeting was held between the two groups. Unknown to either group was the fact that an FBI informant was present and recorded the meeting. This was particularly helpful since an undercover agent like German needed predication to prove that individuals were engaged in criminal activity.
German noted that the white supremacists were actually happy about 9/11, because the financial sector was targeted, and the World Trade Center represented “Jewish domination.” They also believe that the military is controlled by Zionists. The Middle Eastern group and the white supremacists had the same target list, Jews and Israel. German stated that the old axiom “The enemy of my enemies is my friend” describes this situation where two parties can work together against a common enemy.
As an undercover agent, German had a practice where he would talk to the FBI case agent and the Supervisor, and look over the case file. In this particular case, there was nothing in the case file except for one meeting. But then he heard people talk about other meetings, and he advised them that he had looked at the case file and there was almost nothing there except one meeting. German was told that “They were way behind on paperwork.” In the FBI, there is a strict rule that everything has to be typed up and placed in the file within seven days, and this appears to not have been done. German had been previously involved in two large undercover cases that ended up in trial, and he was knowledgeable that every policy violation would be brought up, and you could be punished for not following policy. German told the case agent and Supervisor that the case was big enough that it would be on the front page of the paper and it was going to either be very good or very bad for the FBI, and the office had to decide which way they wanted it to go. German thought that would kickstart things in the right direction and the office would catch up on their paperwork, but instead they “kicked the can down the road.”
When German met with the informant in order to prepare for the informant to introduce him into the targeted group, German mentioned that he wanted to see the transcript of the tape that the informant had previously recorded. This prompted the informant to say that he wanted to see the transcript also. German found this odd as the informant had been with the targeted terrorists, and he should know what was on the tape. The informant then told German that there was a part of the conversation where he thought the two groups would talk more freely if he was not in the room, and he left the room, leaving the recorder behind, running in his briefcase.
German knew right away that he had an illegal wiretap as the informant has to be present in order to give consent for the conversation being recorded, and if the informant is not part of that conversation, the consent authorization goes away and you would have to have a court order to record the conversation. It happens sometimes, German says, and there is a way to get around it by handing the tape over to a prosecutor who is not involved in the case. The prosecutor clips out the part of the conversation that you’re not supposed to listen to and it does not become part of the case. But a real problem was that months had passed since the informant meeting. So like the failure to fill out the paperwork, German noted “it was going to be hard to fix this. This is something you have to report right away, it is illegal.”
Once German discovered the illegal wiretap, he discussed it with the Florida Supervisor who instructed German that they should just pretend that it did not happen. German knew that he could “pretend well with the criminals, but would not be able to pretend on the stand” in a courtroom. German looked at the whistleblower rules and they said a whistleblower needed to contact the Special Agent in Charge (SAC), but German knew that was a trap “because an agent cannot just walk into the SAC office.”
German called his Supervisor in Atlanta and advised he had a whistleblower complaint and he was going to bring it to the SAC in Atlanta. The Supervisor asked German “did he really want to do that?” German called his Atlanta Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC) who instructed German to write a letter with the Atlanta SAC in the heading, and he would give the communication to the SAC. It was a tricky deal because normally field offices do not complain about other field offices. The Atlanta SAC sent it to the Florida SAC, and immediately German was kicked off the Florida case, and retaliation started. The personnel in the Florida office were told by their SAC not to talk or communicate with German.
Later, German was also advised that his whistleblower complaint did not fall under the whistleblower protection guidelines because he had given the complaint to his ASAC and not his SAC. “The whistleblower system for complaints” German stated, “is more like a trap set up to catch whistleblowers.”
In 2002, the Unit Chief of Undercover Operations at FBI Headquarters in Washington advised German that he would never work undercover again due to his whistleblower complaint. German thought he was following the whistleblower rules, “but everyone in the FBI knows there are a thousand bureaucratic problems that can be made to come your way.” German was surprised that the retaliation did not consist of denial of trips, or troubling with vouchers or denial of training opportunities, but that the retaliation was overt.
German ratcheted up his whistleblower complaint by contacting the head of the Counterterrorism Division, John Pistole. He provided Pistole with a detailed account of the case in Florida that was being submarined by the misconduct of the Florida office. German wrote and advised that the office was pretending the meeting between its informant and the terrorism groups did not happen, and the paperwork had disappeared. The Tampa Office of the FBI stated there was no tape of the informant meeting and terrorism was not discussed. Pistole never responded to German, and a short time Pistole was promoted to the 2nd top position in the FBI, right under Director Mueller, so the cover-up and retaliation were known by the top leaders of the FBI.
German also contacted the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) at FBIHQ, and provided a transcript of the meeting to OPR (the same meeting in which Tampa FBI said never occurred). Tampa then “found” the paperwork, but it had been altered. The Inspector General revealed that they could not tell who did the alterations, some which had utilized white out. The alleged premiere law enforcement institution could not find out who was responsible for removing and then altering paperwork in the FBI office, some alterations so amateur as to elicit derision. The cover-up, as is typical with the FBI, became worse than the original situation.
German called the Inspector General’s (IG) office, who told him they had to wait for the OPR report, but OPR said they would not do an investigation. The Inspection Division took over the investigation, but the Inspection Division has always been known in the FBI as a political entity that was set up to protect the people they like, usually their fellow managers.
The Inspection division took a year, during which time German sat on his hands, which is referred to in the FBI as being “put on ice.” The Inspection report was finally issued and blamed the case agent when the real problem lay with management in their cover-up. German called the IG and asked when they would start their investigation, now that the Inspection Division was done with theirs. He was told that the IG was satisfied with the Inspection Division report, and they were not investigating.
In the summer of 2003, the Assistant Director who had supervised German’s OPR case was promoted to SAC Portland and quickly advised the case agent who had engaged German earlier in an ongoing undercover role, that using German was not acceptable because German was a whistleblower. At this point in time there were no attempts to cover up the retaliation against German: it was brutal and sustained.
German asked for a letter from the IG declining the investigation which was part of the FBI whistleblower process. He needed the letter to take the matter to the Office of Attorney Recruitment and Management (OARM). The OARM is the Department of Justice (DOJ) adjudicative office in FBI Whistleblower cases. The OARM has not been fully staffed for years and hundreds of cases sit idle. The IG was not aware of the letter requirement, and German had to send them a copy of the regulation. Then German was told that all the material he had sent the IG over a year period regarding retaliation against him had disappeared. German realized that the Inspection Division, OPR and the IG were clearly not going to protect him, and showed no intention to. They were not eager to find wrongdoing in the FBI.
German realized that the FBI whistleblower system was not designed to work. There was overt retaliation at work, people were calling German and telling him of negative remarks they heard about him from SAC’s. At this point, German decided to resign from the FBI in June of 2004 because he knew the retaliation would continue and he would not be given the opportunity to work undercover again. During his FBI career, German managed to infiltrate several neo-Nazi skinhead groups and the traffickers who supplied them. He had prevented bombings and assassinations of high-profile African American figures. He prevented bombings of federal buildings, and spent a total of 12 years out of 16 in deep undercover work, which made him extremely unique in the FBI.
Undercover work is highly unpredictable, and very dangerous, but German took to it like a duck to water. He taught proactive techniques in terror cases at the FBI Academy and was one of the very few FBI Agents who had success infiltrating white supremacist and Neo-Nazi terror cells. German’s career, which he had dreamed about since he was young, was basically over in the FBI once he blew the whistle on an illegal act committed by FBI personnel, and broke the rule concerning an FBI agent speaking out against management.
For two years after leaving the FBI, German could not find work because the FBI had publicly called him a liar about his whistleblower claims. German had a wife and two daughters to support, and he had to deal with the loss of his identity as an FBI agent.
It took four years for Senator Charles Grassley to obtain German’s complaint and the transcript. Grassley noted that the meeting did occur between the informant and terrorist groups like German said and terrorism was discussed. Grassley queried Director Mueller about the FBI saying the documents did not exist, that terrorism was not discussed, and that German was not retaliated against. Director Mueller said he believed his highly political Inspection Division over German. The bottom line was that Mueller knew about everything, and chose to believe the cover-up rather than the truth.
German stated, “I was too naïve and too trusting, the faith I had in this institution (the FBI) was misplaced and while there are fabulous people in the FBI, I worked with some really great agents, the institution itself is so mismanaged it is unbelievable, and only because they are seen as this premiere law enforcement agency that they attract very talented people and these talented people are able to make due with nothing and make it work nine times out of ten.”
Like the consummate professional that he is, German has continued to serve his country in truly remarkable ways. In 2006, German joined the American Civil Liberties Union, Washington Legislative Office as Policy Counsel on National Security, Immigration and Privacy. He has spoken out against government agencies abuses of civil rights. In 2005, German became a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, where he continues fighting for the civil rights of Americans.
German discovered that many times when he is asked to speak on a panel concerning terrorism, white supremacy, civil rights, or surveillance issues, sometimes he is “disinvited” when FBI officials threaten to not appear if German is present. German takes this in stride because he knows he is a FBI whistleblower who followed his legal training, his integrity and the rule of law.
Faiza Patel, Co-Director of the Liberty National Security Program at theBrennan Center for Justice, stated she first met German when he was working at the ACLU because “a lot of our substantive work overlapped” so Patel would “talk to him from time to time about issues that were coming up.” Patel noted that everyone realized that German would be an extremely valuable part of the program (at Brennan) “because he had this deep expertise, his experience with the FBI and because his views were very much in line with a lot of the issues the program was working on. Obviously he is a really nice guy as well, and we thought he would be a great member of our team, and he has been.”
Patel stated that they did not check German’s employment at the FBI because the treatment German received was fairly typical of what happens and the kind of treatment whistleblowers get, and it is unfortunate. German and the Brennan Center have been working on getting and improving better protections for whistleblowers, particularly the national security space because “they are very very minimal.” “Mike has been an extremely valuable asset for the Brennan Center,” Patel said. “He brings to his work a deep knowledge of how the FBI works and a great and unique perspective of somebody who understands the strengths and weaknesses of the institution. It is extremely valuable and he is an invaluable consultant for the rest of the team, because of this unique perspective that he has.”
Caroline Fredrickson, Professor at Georgetown Law School and Senior Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, hired German when he applied to the ACLU in 2005. She advised that his cover letter with the application was so “incredibly compelling and persuasive.” She subsequently talked to German and his references, and “was sold.” It was clear that German “was a person of the highest integrity, brilliant, extremely nice and a great work colleague. It was extremely easy to make the decision to make Mike an offer and it is something that I have never regretted. It was one of the best moves I ever made when I ran the ACLU’s lobbying arm.” Fredrickson noted that “someone who had been sent out from the FBI for noncompliance with unethical instructions is someone we welcome with open arms.” Fredrickson stated that at the Brennan Center, German works around the issues of national security, surveillance, and white supremacy and law enforcement. He is highly regarded and a requested speaker that is quite popular. He also writes deeply researched white papers for the Brennan Center. In the FBI, Fredrickson noted, you are in danger if you speak the truth and report on malfeasance that is internal to the Bureau can get you in trouble. Fredrickson stated that German was of the “highest integrity and we would be in a much better place if all FBI Agents were of the same make and model.”
German has written two books and is currently awaiting publication of a third.
Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent
Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide: How the New FBI Damages Democracy