Sixty HBS students gathered in Aldrich Hall to hear Pistole’s talk. Pistole told the crowd that prior to 9/11, the FBI had 56 semi-autonomous field offices located throughout the United States. This lack of autonomy has since been examined as a factor related to the World Trade Center attacks, he said.
“This was a not a good business model to one, ensure knowledge of activity, and two, to ensure sharing of information,” Pistole said.
In discussing the importance of sharing information within the FBI, Pistole recalled his beginnings at the agency—a time prior to personal computers, when criminal information was logged on millions of three-by-five note cards located in field offices throughout the country.
While the FBI typically prides itself on staying outside of the public eye, he said the face of the FBI is currently transforming.
“This is really a culture change,” he said during the discussion.
Prior to 9/11, there was a communication “wall” between special groups of agents within the agency as well as between the FBI and outside agencies, such as local and state law enforcement, Pistole told the HBS students.
Since 9/11, the agency has redesigned its approach to combating crime. With the passage of the Patriot Act, the agency was able to break down its communication wall, Pistole said.
“It has allowed any required information to be shared within the FBI and also with outside agencies,” he added.
Pistole described this as a “paradigm shift” with information now shared as widely as possible.
“The FBI has shifted from reacting and proving cases to becoming preventive and prevent[ing] terrorist attacks,” Pistole said.
David Schlendorf, an FBI Special Advisor and HBS graduate, accompanied Pistole to Harvard.
The FBI is “a great place to work and it is a big business—$6 billion business and 30,000 employees,” he said in an interview.
“And they don’t have people like us around,” he added, speaking of his business background. “It’s a great time to join because there is such great change. The change is still ongoing, and we have a ways to go.”
After the FBI presentation, attendee Jay Goyal, a second-year HBS student, said he is optimistic about the future of the FBI.
“They’re moving in the right direction...being at business schools, they’re recruiting people who aren’t people from the agency,” said Goyal. “This is a very good sign.”