Discover more from Non-State Actress
Non-State Actress #8: We Don't Need Another Hero
An introduction to federal law enforcement agencies via mid-century modern furniture and my love for Tina Turner.
Update: Work is underway on Non-State Actress: The Podcast! We’ll be talking to some incredible creators and newsmakers from the regular world about the cool stuff they do - and digging into their questions on national security and defense. The Podcast will be available to paid subscribers only, so we’re making it *really* worth your while. Get a full year of Non-State Actress - posts, podcasts, and some other stuff - for $12 when you subscribe by June 30, 2023.
Now, where were we…
Review: In Too Purple To Fail I gave a bit of an update on Non-State Actress, the book. In the previous ‘Crafts, Cakes, and Crimes’ we introduce the antiquities trafficking and its role in financing terrorism and transnational criminal networks. NSA #7: Crafts, Cakes, and Crimes is really popular, and so many really cool people are offering their expertise, I want to do the next installment justice. While I’ve made passing reference and footnotes to the form and function of various federal agencies, this is probably the right opportunity to put some real effort into describing these institutions. With that, I present:
Some Federal Law Enforcement Agencies as Pieces of Mid-Century Modern Home Decor
The mid-century modern design movement, or MCM for short, is the name given to a particular post-WWII vibe from 1948-1969 in the US and western Europe. It is experiencing a resurgence in popularity and attention paid to it, just like many of the federal agencies and offices that were founded or reorganized around the same time (thanks, National Security Act of 1947!). Since understanding the form and function of these entities so fundamentally defined by the end of World War II is crucial to understanding why antiquities trafficking is a national security concern, there is no better way to describe them than with the help of the ultimate in Form and Function… also defined by the end of World War II .
EDIT: I am so thrilled by how many people have read and enjoyed this excerpt. Seeing the interest has made expanding this chapter draft much easier because the feedback and traffic show me where to dig deeper, what needs more clarification, and what can be skipped. Please- keep it coming!
An exceedingly brilliant someone sent me an email after reading this post, and suggested I add a quick reference chart summarizing the federal law enforcement/furniture comparisons. An excellent idea! You can find it under the Wrap Up section.
When I say midcentury modern is a vibe, I mean it. It’s Mad Men, it’s tiki, it’s crushed velvet and tulip chairs and Bloomingdales and TV dinner folding tables. So pry open a can of Cream of Coconut, blend yourself a Pina Colada, and sip it straight out of a pineapple while reading this issue. And of course be ready for a little Tina Turner.
Who Are You Talking About?
According to the US Code, a law enforcement agency is defined as, “an agency of the United States, a State, or a political subdivision of a State, authorized by law or by a government agency to engage in or supervise the prevention, detection, investigation, or prosecution of any violation of criminal law.” The best and most current estimate I could find suggests federal law enforcement agencies employ about 137,000 of the approximately 800,000 law enforcement officers in the United States. Hmm.
There are a lot of federal law enforcement agencies; I’m a national security professional and I am continuously flabbergasted by how many departments and agencies have a federal law enforcement mission or sub-responsibility. According to 2020 data released in September 2022, there are 90 federal law enforcement agencies in the United States. You can see a full list here - and I hope you do, because WOW did I learn a lot
We’re focusing on a small number of of federal law enforcement agencies in this primer because of the role they play in combatting trafficking and the crimes financed by that trafficking. I wanted to talk about all the federal law enforcement agencies working on this problem set, but there are so many and Tina Turner died while I was editing and it was just so much. So, we’re sticking with four.
Another reason we’re talking federal law enforcement agencies is because they also tend to be most commonly misunderstood. It makes sense that many of us aren’t familiar with them, or if we are it’s in super narrow context. Most Americans don’t have a ton of direct interaction with federal law enforcement so we rely on portrayals in pop culture. Unfortunately, those portrayals can lack nuance and are honestly often just wrong.
United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) , Department of Homeland Security
The Knoll Womb Chair of Federal Law Enforcement
Most Americans have heard of ICE. They’ve seen pictures of people in ICE-branded jackets at various points of entry into the United States, they’ve heard reference to it on the news, or dealt with the entity directly or are related to someone who has. ICE is the part of DHS we *think* we know the most about. But that probably isn’t true.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement is an agency in the Department of Homeland Security. It’s Director reports to the Deputy Secretary and Secretary of Homeland Security who is a Cabinet-level member of the US government, reporting to the the President of the United States. ICE is made up of two separate, non-overlapping law enforcement components: Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). ERO is significantly more public facing, responsible for enforcing US immigration law at and beyond US borders. We are NOT talking about ERO right, we are talking about HSI. And it is totally legit to be shocked right now.
HSI, is the main investigative arm of DHS and the second largest criminal investigation service in the United States. HSI looks at human smuggling, drug trafficking organizations, violent street gangs, intellectual property rights, commercial fraud, child pornography, bulk cash smuggling, and counter-proliferation. HSI is responsible for leading criminal investigations that involve the illicit importation and distribution of stolen or looted cultural property via the Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities program (CPAA).
The structure, role, origin story, and confusion over HSI is *textbook* Knoll Womb Chair
Designed in 1948 by Eero Saarinen at the direct request of the famous Florence Knoll who, according to lore and websites, ‘wanted something she could really curl up in,’ the Knoll Womb chair is one of the most frequently referenced (and ripped off, but more on this later!) designs of the last 100 years. Even if you didn’t know it’s name before, it’s probably not completely brand new to your eyes. These chairs may not look like much, but WOW do they feel like a whole lot (and WOW does a new one cost $7,000). Still, it is impossible to be uncomfortable in this chair in the same way it is impossible to argue child exploitation is a good idea.
Womb Chairs, like HSI, are multi functional and cover a ton of ground. They also pair well with almost anything (ottomans and side tables for the Womb and Customs and Border Protection and State Department for HSI). Those with highly specialized knowledge could never confuse Knoll’s Womb and Platner chairs (pictured below) or HSI and ERO, but to the rest of us they’re just a bunch of chairs…
Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Department of Homeland Security
Eames Molded Plastic Chair
US Customs and Border Protection is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world. Charged with, “keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade,” CBP is led by a Commissioner who reports to the Deputy Secretary and Secretary of Homeland Security.
In some ways, CBP is getting the short end of the stick in this post because we talked about HSI first and so I’m going to say:
CBP is really similar to HSI and the relevant difference here isn’t what they do but where they do it. The two agencies works together so often, particularly combatting antiquities trafficking it’s unlikely you’ll see, or read, about one without the other. But the nuance (there’s that word again!) does matter.
‘Facilitating lawful international travel and trade.’ What might at first seem like word salad is actually a deeply exact and intentional mission particularly because of that word ‘facilitating.’ Facilitating means to support, enable, make possible. It means doing whatever needs to be done in order to achieve the specified end state, and that requires, for example, activities far outside the investigative responsibilities of HSI.
Charles and Ray (-Bernice) Eames were facilitators of form and function, just like CBP facilitates trade. They stopped at nothing. So much of their work was not just the desire to but obsession with making the most intentional, functional pieces of furniture out of single pieces of foundational materials. The Eames’ worked about 13-hours a day six to seven days a week with plywood, plastic, and other ‘unglamorous’ components because they recognized how crucial the elements were to enabling life in the post-WWII glamorization of normalcy. Every where they looked they saw the same shapes and needs. The Eames’ saw the need for sitting the same way CBP sees the need for trade - it’s happening all the time whether we realize it or not, and if we can’t do it we’re screwed.
And here is my favorite part of this post. One of the greatest examples of CBP and the wide berth of facilitating is actually in its work…combatting the counterfeit Eames designs!
Customs and Border Protection, the Patrick Brewer America needs? Double hmm…
Federal Bureau of Investigation , Department of Justice
A Velvet Smoking Jacket
I know a smoking jacket isn’t furniture, but I couldn’t resist. And yes, I’m sort of poking fun at the Bureau a bit here - but it is out of love! The Federal Bureau of Investigation, part of the Department of Justice, is one of the most recognizable federal law enforcement agencies in America. As its website makes *very* clear, the FBI’s mission is to “protect the American people and uphold the Constitution,” by staying ahead of ‘the threat.’
What threat? Well, there are a lot of them.
In addition to its responsibility to protect the civil rights of Americans, the FBI is charged with protecting the US against terrorism, foreign intelligence, espionage, and cyber operations; combatting significant cyber, white collar, and violent crime, public corruption, and transnational criminal enterprises. The mission has evolved a lot since its inception in 1908, but the vibes have generally stayed the same. More than 35,000 people work at the Bureau - agents, intelligence analysts, scientists, linguists, - which makes sense given the organization is responsible for such a huge range of highly complex issues like hate crimes and combatting the spread and use of weapons of mass destruction. Importantly, the FBI’s jurisdiction is domestic which means the federal crime in question must occur in the US.
But why a smoking jacket?
Smoking jackets are a vibe. Across time, space, and culture you see someone in a smoking jacket and you learn so much about them. If the jacket is made of high quality fabric, tailored just right, kept clean, accessorized well, and worn with confidence in the right setting - a smoking jacket can be a total showstopper…just like the FBI. At the same time, a poorly executed smoking jacket gives the rest of the bunch a bad name that’s hard to forget. And once a good jacket gets dirty, the smells stays forever. What’s really important though? That’s actually the point of a smoking jacket.
We need to understand the foundational intended function of anything before judging it. Smoking jackets were made to absorb smells, protect other clothing from flaming garbage. Grotesque, violent, racist misogynists may have usurped the smoking jacket, but it doesn’t have to be that way. And the FBI is no different. The FBI’s founding was in response to widespread public corruption (remember Tammany Hall from high school history class!), growing violent organized criminal networks, and bank robbers. The Bureau came into being at at time when major swathes of America did not have state or local police forces and barely any federal laws. Much like a smoking jacket, the FBI was supposed to protect and absorb.
It isn’t fair for one bad smoking jacket to banish all the rest from the earth, especially because there ARE times where nothing sounds as good as a smoking jacket looks, but it happens. Similarly, the FBI of 2023 is often held responsible for the unforgivable sins of FBIs of the past and it seems that for many people, no amount of restructuring, reorganizing, and institutional change will make the Bureau worthy of the American people. But, there are moments where the FBI is not just the only answer - but the right one.
Comprehensive Storage Solution (or USPIS) is, without a doubt, the Comprehensive Storage System by George Nelson for Herman Miller. Uber functional, never flashy, but oh so expertly designed and breathtakingly valuable.
USPIS is the swiss-army knife of federal law enforcement and investigatory agencies and they do NOT mess around. Meeting a USPIS officer is like being 5 years old and meeting Mickey Mouse at Disney without having to wait in line. Founded 247 years ago by Benjamin Franklin (making it the oldest federal law enforcement agency in America), the US Postal Service Inspector service is one of the oldest federal agencies and one of the very few with a worldwide jurisdiction. Just like the Comprehensive Storage System, USPIS has you - and the mail system - covered from end to end: not only does the agency have an investigatory mission AND an enforcement mission, they focus on crime prevention, collect and analyze their own evidence, respond to disasters (manmade and natural), provide security, and regularly partner with other agencies and departments at all levels to combat crime. The United States Postal Investigation Service is also responsible for the Universal Postal Union’s security standards, and the training, support, assistance, and materials required to implement and maintain those standards within the 192 countries the Union represents.
So, they’re kind of a big deal - and so are the crimes they address. In addition to mail fraud and package theft, the USPIS has jurisdiction over crimes that use the postal system or its online tools to commit crimes - narcotics trafficking, money laundering, black market internet trades/sales, human trafficking and exploitation, cybercrime, and identity theft. Again I say: Comprehensive Storage Solution!
Also, their Youtube channel is pretty nice.
To really understand the why and how of almost anything, it helps to know the who. By taking the time to learn the purpose of some of the federal law enforcement agencies involved in combatting antiquities trafficking, how the organizations are structured and what they do, we can have a better understanding of the crime and why combatting it is a priority. This kind of foundation facilitates us digging deeper on antiquities trafficking and whatever else we dive into.
Gimme More: Resources for More Info
Cultural Property, Art, and Antiquities (CPAA) Investigations Online Resource from ICE at Department of Homeland Security
Basic FAQs about ICE, US Government Website
ICE Leadership Chart, US Government Website
About CBP, US Government Website
CBP Leadership Chart, US Government Website
CBP at JFK Returns Cultural Artifacts to Ukraine, US Government Press Release
Report a Suspected Trade Violation to CBP Online, US Government Information Intake
About FBI, US Government Website
FBI Leadership Chart, US Government Website
About US Postal Inspection Service, US Government Website
US Postal Inspection Service Leadership, US Government Website
Current List of Organizations Participating at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, US Government Website
Eames Seating, Eames for Herman Miller
Knoll Seating, Knoll a Herman Miller Company
Herman Miller and Knoll Merger, New York Times
Also, unsurprisingly, most of the credited MCM designers are men…just like most of the credited agency architects and leaders, so there’s that.
We won’t be focusing on international organizations or the State Department this time, though, despite their crucial role. Why? Because you need a reason to come back next time! And because I *really*try to keep the posts under a 9 minute read time.
I had a really hard time finding an up to date list, and I’m not sure if this one is comprehensive. Considering my background, network, and skills - this is embarassing for America. I want to mention this in hopes any FLE or FLE-connected leaders read this. We can’t be frustrated that the American people don’t understand the credibility and value of institutions if we *checks notes* don’t make it remotely possible for them to learn basic facts about it 🙃.
There is often talk about separating HSI and ERO. Every few years you’ll see a news story about members of HSI pushing for this internally, and every few years its branded as proof of ICE/ERO’s ‘toxic branding,’ (not my words, but rather from here.) And maybe HSI agents and analysts really think that - but primary sources like this letter from 2018 show the argument is more nuanced and actually about institutionalizing reality - that ERO and HSI are completely independent and unrelated. We’ll dig into this more on an upcoming NSA Podcast so subscribe!
I wanted to go into this whole thing about how Knoll and ‘rival’ Herman Miller, which employed designers Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames respectively while Charles and Eero were best friends, are now owned by the same parent company much like post-9/11 life forced a number of federal law enforcement agencies to rebrand and come together as Department of Homeland Security, but I’m going to save this for an upcoming NSA podcast and for the book, because otherwise this will never end 🙃.
Eero Saarin designed so many quintessential public structures - the St. Louis Archway, TWA Flight Center at JFK Airport, Dulles International Airport. He also designed one of the greatest chairs of all time: The Tulip.
I dedicate this section, colloquially known as ‘The Joy of Slippers,’ to Ryan Arick my beloved Atlantic Council comrade.
I linked to it a lot but here is the USPIS website: https://www.uspis.gov/about/what-we-do