Most idiotic things the FBI has ever done

Ideally, the FBI exists to help protect the people of the United States. They're out there day in and day out, stopping terrorists and other horrible criminals from hurting innocent citizens with their dastardly plans. It's a hard job, and for the most part they do it well. Of course, it helps that they have lots of authority and tax dollars to help their policing mission along.

Despite this, the FBI has made some big mistakes in its time — deadly standoffs at Waco and Ruby Ridge immediately spring to mind. But this list isn't about huge, institutional mistakes like those. Instead it looks at the smaller, yet still unbelievably stupid things the bureau has done. Amazingly, access to all the money and power in the world doesn't help people stop being idiots. Sometimes these screw-ups just make the FBI look dumb, but other times they affect innocent people's lives.

They shot a kidnapping victim

Sometimes terrible things happen, and the FBI is supposed to be there to make everything better. What they shouldn't do is make everything as bad as it could possibly be. But that's what happened in Texas in 2018.

The sorry saga started when two armed men showed up at Ulises Valladares' house and demanded $8,000 they claimed he owed them. Apparently, he either refused or couldn't pay because the thugs tied up him and his 12-year-old son and then ransacked the house. They must not have found anything, and at some point decided kidnapping was the best way to get that sweet, sweet cash and carried Valladares away.

These criminal masterminds then called Valladares' brother to tell him they were with "the cartel" and that if he wanted to see his brother alive again they wanted $20,000. Instead of paying up, the brother contacted the FBI, which probably seemed like the responsible thing to do at the time.

The feds located the kidnappers and discovered where the victim was being held. So far so good. Then agents went to get him, and something went terribly wrong. Somehow, they ended up shooting and killing the guy they were supposed to be rescuing. Could they have confused him with another kidnapper? That's pretty unlikely, since he was still tied up when he was shot. 

Saying a respected politician was Osama bin Laden

The FBI had been using a photo from 1998 on Osama bin Laden's wanted posters, but it was 2010 and he was not a spry middle-aged man anymore. The agency wanted to reflect how time had ravaged the terrorist mastermind, complete with grey hair, wrinkles, and the defeated look that comes from living in caves for a decade.

You'd think a government agency with access to as much money and talent as the FBI would be able to create a cutting-edge age progression image using state of the art computer programs. But that sounds hard, so some poor schmuck sitting at their desk who probably just wanted to go home for the day decided to use Google Images instead.

This would be bad enough if they just found some stock image. But according to the BBC, the face they merged with bin Laden's, the most wanted man in the world, was that of a respected Spanish politician named Gaspar Llamazares, grabbing the poor Spaniard's hair and facial features. Not surprisingly, the likeness was uncanny.

Llamazares was not happy when he discovered what happened. He told a news conference the FBI was "shameless" and that he would no longer feel safe traveling to the U.S., probably because a lot of people with guns might kill him on sight.

Blowing their cover on a sting operation

When dealing with potential terrorists, it's vital that everything goes smoothly because people's lives could depend on it. But the FBI is not a perfectly oiled machine, and sometimes agents make really stupid mistakes at exactly the wrong moment.

According to court documents seen by Real Clear Life, the FBI had been tipped off to an ISIS-wannabe named Everitt Jameson. He would "like" posts on social media that could be described as radical, and not in the surfer dude way. To see just how dangerous this guy was, they sent in an undercover agent to wax lyrical about jihad and blowing stuff up. Jameson didn't need too much encouragement — soon he was telling his new friend all about his idea to set off a bomb in San Francisco and how he was ready to die. But then only a week before the planned attack, something went wrong.

An FBI employee accidentally called Jameson's cell phone. Not only that, they did it from a number with a Washington D.C. area code. When the aspiring terrorist picked up, the employee hung up the phone. But Jameson called back and heard the voicemail recording with the employee's name.

He must have started connecting the dots because he suddenly wasn't interested in making things go boom anymore. The FBI moved in and arrested him sooner than planned after almost blowing the entire operation on something only slightly less embarrassing than a butt dial.

They confused an innocent couple for fugitives

Whitey Bulger was a dangerous Boston crime boss on the run from the feds for years. According to the New York Times, he was wanted for 18 counts of murder, had a $1 million bounty on his head, and the FBI warned that he was armed and dangerous. A German tourist was guilty of … also being an old man.

Yet somehow the FBI managed to mix these two people up. Bulger was thought to be traveling with his girlfriend and when the German and his wife were vacationing in Sicily they were confused for the on-the-run couple. The feds got pictures and video of the Germans and were thrilled about this seemingly new development in an important case. They quickly got this new "evidence" up on their website, adding a picture of the man to Bulger's wanted poster.

Some people immediately smelled a rat. A blogger for Boston Magazine pointed out the new picture didn't look anything like the fugitive, including the fact that he had "more hair on his head than Bulger did in '94."

Despite the fact that one of the best law enforcement agencies in the world was now looking for them, the German couple evaded detection for months. And they might never have known what was up if they hadn't seen the vacation video of themselves on a German version of America's Most Wanted. Amazingly, they turned themselves in to authorities, and that was when the FBI realized their mistake.

Leaving behind sensitive documents in a suspect's home

In 2010, the FBI decided they needed to raid some houses belonging to antiwar activists in Minneapolis. They may not have found anything there, but months later Mick Kelly and his wife Linden Gawboy certainly did. While looking through some papers, they found what the FBI agents had left behind.

And MPR News says these documents weren't just something innocuous, like directions to the nearest Denny's for after the raid. The left-behind docs included information so sensitive that Kelly and Gawboy's lawyer advised them not to release it. But the stuff they did show the public was bad enough to prove just how big an oopsie this was for the FBI.

Ever wanted to know how the bureau plans their searches? Bam, now you have five detailed pages on it, including the fact that they thought Kelly was dangerous because he owned a legal firearm. Another document had 102 interrogation questions for the couple, like asking about a group they belonged to, its leaders, structure, and purpose. And of course the FBI needed to know about that gun: Why did he own it? (The answer was for going to shooting ranges.) They also left behind photos of another apartment they had searched and two articles on other activists' travel history.

Kelly found the whole thing to have an "odd 1950s red scare tone." But honestly, this seems more Three Stooges.

They forgot to pay their phone bills

The FBI has a lot of money at its disposal, but just how that money flows around the agency can be complicated. In order to hide their identity and activity from everyone from criminals to the people they're paying, they use confidential funds. But the fact that they're confidential makes it hard to actually track and monitor this cash.

Logically, you'd think this might lead to big problems like embezzlement or fraud. What the FBI really seems to have issue with, though, is paying phone bills on time. And it's not the lines in the bureau's offices that are being cut off, which would be annoying but not really a big deal. Instead they completely flake on paying for phone lines that are vital to wiretaps and other intelligence-gathering operations.

A 2008 report on the problem (via ABC News) found that of 990 payments for phones used in surveillance, over half hadn't been paid on time. This meant they missed lots of opportunities to collect important information. At one point, one carrier was owed $66,000 in "unpaid telecommunication costs resulting from surveillance activity."

Part of the problem was the FBI hadn't updated its financial management system since the 1980s. And at least one person used this to their advantage, when a telecommunication specialist used the loose accounting to walk off with $25,000. Hopefully she felt like it was worth it when she pleaded guilty to theft.

Touting diversity with a fired agent

The FBI's employment website has a whole page devoted to how serious they are about diversity. "To effectively accomplish our mission," it says, "the FBI needs people from different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives." The goal is that all these diverse people and ideas will strengthen the agency and help it achieve its "greatest potential." Obviously that is a very good goal. But at least back in 2007, they must not have had many photogenic Native Americans on staff because they used a picture of their token one on their hiring website long after she had been let go.

According to the Washington Post, Special Agent Elizabeth Morris worked for the FBI and was highlighted on their "American Indian/Native Alaskan" initiative page. The problem was, they had totally fired her. And it got worse: Morris alleged that part of the reason she was fired was because she had complained that her supervisor would go around making racist remarks. So the literal poster girl for diversity was terminated when she pointed out that someone at the FBI wasn't exactly embracing those "different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives" they claimed to be so keen on. Then once they fired her they didn't even take down her picture.

An agent married an ISIS fighter

There are probably lots of people out there who dream of marrying a rapper. No matter how great that sounds, though, it's a huge check in the No column if he also happens to be a member of ISIS. But that wasn't enough to turn off FBI agent Daniela Greene.

The Telegraph says Greene had top-secret security clearance, and they don't usually give those to dummies. Still, something about German jihadist Denis Cuspert proved too much to resist. Cuspert used to be a rapper who went by Deso Dogg, but more recently he had joined ISIS and become one of their top recruiters. He starred in videos such as one where he threatened President Obama while holding up a freshly severed head.

Greene, who had been in charge of spying on Cuspert using social media, apparently found this irresistible. Despite being already married, in 2014 she made contact with the terrorist and arranged to meet him in Istanbul, get hitched, and then travel on to Syria. The plan was successful, but the marriage was not. Within two weeks she sent an email admitting she'd made a huge mistake. It said, "I was weak and didn't know how to handle anything anymore. I really made a mess of things this time." Duh.

Greene managed to get out after a few months and returned to the USA, where she was handed a two-year-sentence on terrorism charges.

Wrecking a $750,000 car

Do not let the FBI keep your stuff because they might destroy it and stick you with the bill. That's what happened to an unbelievably expensive car.

According to Autoblog, this was all set in motion by a very talented con man named Tom Baker. He loved fancy cars but couldn't afford them. Instead, he stole them from dealerships while taking them on "test drives." In 2003 he took a 1996 Ferrari F50, one of only 50 of its kind in the U.S. That was the last anyone heard of it for five years. When it was finally recovered, the FBI held on to it for safekeeping.

Or not. The Seattle Times reported that in 2009, FBI agent Fred Kingston asked Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Hamilton Thompson if he wanted to go on a "short ride." Allegedly this was to move the Ferrari from one garage to another. Thompson hopped in, but the ride was even shorter than expected. They had literally just left the parking lot and gone around a curve when the rear of the car began sliding. Kingston tried to regain control, but he fishtailed, hopped the curb, and hit a tree. The men were fine, but the car was totaled.

The Justice Department said they weren't responsible for the $750,000 insurance claim, but they also refused to release almost any documents related to the crash, so it's impossible to know if it was being moved for a legitimate reason or, say, going on a joyride.

Shooting someone while dancing

One thing FBI agents should not do on their downtime is shoot innocent civilians. According to CNN, one unnamed agent did not get that memo.

The agent was at a bar in Denver in June 2018 when he decided to show off his flyest dance moves. Video another patron took shows him gyrating around in a dance circle. Perhaps realizing he wasn't impressing anyone all that much, he pulled out his pièce de résistance: a sick backflip.

Now, it's important to point out that this agent was off-duty at the time. It would make sense that before you went out to a bar, you'd leave your gun at home. If, for whatever reason you didn't want to do that, it might also occur to you to not do a freaking backflip while surrounded by people and packing heat. This agent didn't think of this, and when he went head over heels, his gun fell out of its holster and onto the floor.

This would have been enough to terrify a lot of people present, but then it got so much worse. As he quickly tried to pick it up, the gun went off. And of course, it hit someone. Thankfully, the person was only shot in the leg and was expected to make a full recovery, which makes this story funny and not tragic.

The agent wasn't arrested while the FBI tried to determine if alcohol was a factor. That investigation shouldn't take long.