On Thursday, former senior FBI official Charlie McGonigal will appear in federal court in Washington for a highly unusual case. McGonigal is charged with committing the very violations he swore to prosecute for two decades as a U.S. counterintelligence official.
McGonigal’s Career in the FBI
Charlie McGonigal had a 22-year career in the FBI, and by the end held one of the government’s most senior and trusted counterintelligence jobs. He was the head of counterintelligence in the New York FBI field office and played a key role in some of the U.S.’ most sensitive investigations, including Russian intelligence activities in the U.S. before, during, and after the 2016 election and Chinese efforts to shut down U.S. spies.
McGonigal’s Arrest and Charges
McGonigal was arrested by the very agency where he spent his career. In New York, McGonigal is charged with hiding $225,000 he received from a former Albanian intelligence officer, while McGonigal was still inside the FBI. In Washington, he is charged with money laundering and violating Russian sanctions. He is alleged to have accepted secret payments from the very Russian oligarch he had investigated, Oleg Deripaska, who has Kremlin ties and is sanctioned for his role in Russia’s 2016 election interference.
The Impact McGonigal’s Case
Former FBI official Frank Montoya Jr., who retired from the FBI as special agent in charge in the Seattle office, said McGonigal’s arrest has shaken him to his foundations. Montoya added that it is prudent for the FBI and intelligence community to reexamine all of the work McGonigal did due to the nature of his relationships alleged in the indictments.
Former senior officials have expressed concern that McGonigal may have pulled his punches while he was still in the FBI, or may have endangered any kind of human sources. Montoya added that if the allegations are true, there are many different ways McGonigal could have been manipulated or his judgment affected when it came to deciding who he was going to go after.
The main question that remains is what is the origin of McGonigal’s relationship specifically with Deripaska. Montoya stressed that McGonigal is innocent until proven guilty and that the seriousness of the case is compounded by Deripaska’s status as a sanctioned oligarch with connections to Vladimir Putin and his inner circle.
Montoya says that the FBI and the intelligence community will have to be careful when dealing with Russian intelligence services and those associated with Deripaska in order to ensure that McGonigal’s case does not have a wholesale impact on counterintelligence efforts not just in the United States, but in the West in general.