Former FBI official Charlie McGonigal is set to appear in federal court in Washington, but not as an investigator or government witness. Instead, he is facing charges of committing the very violations that he swore to prosecute for two decades.
McGonigal had a 22-year career in the FBI and held one of the government’s most senior and trusted counterintelligence jobs. When he retired in 2018, he ran counterintelligence in the New York FBI field office and played a key role in some of the U.S.’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.
However, McGonigal was arrested by the very agency where he spent his career. In New York, he is charged with hiding $225,000 he received from a former Albanian intelligence officer while he 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 Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has Kremlin ties and is sanctioned for his role in Russia’s 2016 election interference.
The Impact of McGonigal’s Arrest
This case will force the FBI and the intelligence community as a whole to reexamine all of the work that McGonigal did. The concerns go beyond the indictments and include whether he pulled his punches while he was still in the FBI and whether he endangered any kind of human sources.
There are also concerns that if McGonigal had a relationship with these Russian actors, it could have modified his behavior and affected his judgment when it came to deciding who he was going to go after and who he was not.
The origin of his relationship with Deripaska, specifically, will be a key question in this case.
The FBI will have to be very careful now about whether or not there is any deception aimed at them by the Russian intelligence services, by individuals associated with Deripaska or even other oligarchs or the Kremlin itself.
The FBI will have to weigh carefully what they are doing against what happened in this case and hope that if there is something to these allegations and indictments, it was limited in scope and did not have a wholesale impact on counterintelligence efforts