He asks the agents point blank: What makes you different?

I did not know this.

Wow. So I looked for more. CNN in July 2014:

The FBI is well aware about the threat to your civil liberties — especially in an age of unwarranted, mass surveillance of our emails and video calls.

It’s why all FBI academy trainees learn about the rise of Nazi Germany and the transformation of law enforcement into a tool of oppression.

“We send every one of our agents to the Holocaust Museum before they’re agents to know and understand what happens when an agency goes rogue,” ex-FBI director Robert Mueller explained recently.

Agents take a private, guided tour of the museum. Then there’s a specialized class that highlights how everyday law enforcement played a key role in Germany’s descent into authoritarianism. It wasn’t only elite military units, like the infamous Schutzstaffel, or SS.

The presentation includes the slide below, which shows how German police accompanied Nazi bureaucrats as they compiled information about minorities who would later be hunted down and killed. That information was tabulated as punch cards by some of the earliest computers.

Very professional, very technologically sophisticated.

A portion of the class at the museum is led by the program’s creator, David Friedman, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of law enforcement initiatives. He asks the agents point blank: What makes you different? Pointing at the U.S. Constitution isn’t enough.

“Look, it’s an amazing document. But sometimes there’s a separation between the principles expressed and how law enforcement conducts itself at the street level,” Friedman said.

Then he brings up dark moments in American history. Japanese-Americans were sent to World War II internment camps. Civil Rights protestors were beaten by cops. And the FBI’s own covert surveillance program, COINTELPRO, targeted athletes, journalists, politicians and grassroots movements for being “subversive.”

Exactly, which is why many of us have very mixed feelings about the FBI’s role in the effort to keep Donald Trump from destroying everything. It’s good to know they’re thinking about it and including it in their training.

From the FBI archive 2010:

Every year, the FBI Training Academy graduates about 1,000 new special agents following 20 weeks of intense preparation. In countless tactical and analytical scenarios, the trainees learn how to respond appropriately under the most trying conditions.

But there is also a rigorous moral and ethical component to the training. In a poignant culmination of 21 hours spent defining the line between right and wrong, all new agents are escorted through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to see in horrific detail what can happen when law enforcement loses sight of what is right. The program—called Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust—is a joint partnership between the Anti-Defamation League and the museum.

“It makes our people think about morality, ethics, and how to maintain those during turbulent times,” said Special Agent Douglas B. Merel, who teaches the Academy’s ethical leadership course for new agents that includes the museum program. “It shows how important it is for law enforcement to maintain their core values.”

In one visit on a recent Friday morning, about 50 agents-to-be filed into the museum. Over the next four hours they toured the exhibits—led in some cases by Holocaust survivors—and discussed what separates them from the law enforcement officers in Germany who were systematically co-opted by the Nazis.

In a museum conference room, Elise Jarvis, associate director of Law Enforcement Outreach for the Anti-Defamation League, whose mission is in part to secure justice and fair treatment for all citizens, is purposefully blunt in her line of questions. “So the question I’m putting out there is: What makes you different?” Jarvis asked the class. “What, at the end of the day, is going to keep you all anchored? What keeps you from sliding down that slippery slope? What keeps you from abusing your power?”

As answers bubble up—the Constitution, personal morals, compassion, laws—instructors challenge the students to support and defend their positions.

“It’s really our hope that the law enforcement officers who come to the museum see this program, see this history, and really reflect on their professional core values and their role in society today,” said Marcus A. Appelbaum, who coordinates the museum’s community and leadership programs.

The law enforcement program was developed in 1999 after D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Charles Ramsey toured the museum and recognized the value of teaching trainees about law enforcement’s integral role in the Nazis’ rise to power. In 2000, then-FBI Director Louis Freeh incorporated the tour into the Bureau’s new agent training. In 2005, Director Robert S. Mueller said the training has never been more relevant. “At a time when law enforcement must be aggressive in stopping terror, these classes provide powerful lessons on why we must always protect civil rights and uphold the rule of law,” he said.

So it was Freeh rather than Mueller who started it, but either way it’s good to know.

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