FBI focus to shift to terrorism prevention
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI's announcement on Wednesday of a major reorganization is part of a blueprint to put terrorism prevention at the forefront of the bureau's mission.
The move comes amid sharp criticism over intelligence failures and poor coordination with its field office before the September 11 attacks.
"We are shifting to analysis and prevention," one government official said Tuesday. "Putting that ahead of any possible prosecution."
The FBI has made organizational changes before -- but never on such a sweeping scale.
"I can't recall myself a major reorganization in the FBI," said Robert Heibel, former deputy chief of counterterrorism for the FBI. "They have added divisions. They've done away with divisions. They've restructured. But basically, the FBI has stayed with the same organization."
The last big shakeup at the bureau occurred following the appointment of Louis J. Freeh as FBI Director in September of 1993. Freeh merged, reorganized and abolished selected divisions and offices, and transfered hundreds of agents from administrative to investigative positions.
During the eighties, the FBI was given larger roles in narcotics and terrorism cases.
Following the Kennedy assassination in 1963, Congress widened the scope of FBI powers to investigate such crimes. In one of the most visible and enduring changes, the FBI began its "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list in 1950.
Addressing post-9/11 concerns
One problem that became apparent after September 11, according to sources, is that the FBI did not have sufficient analytical capacity to deal with the volume of intelligence information being gathered. The bureau plan involves the hiring of hundreds of agents and the reassignment of hundreds more. Finding agents with expertise in languages, world cultures and technology will be a priority.
"We must refocus our mission and our priorities," FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Senate panel this month. "New technologies must be put in place to support new and different operational practices."
Field agents will have more resources and fewer restrictions under the new plan. Elite mobile terrorism units will be dispatched to assist local agents. The Justice Department reportedly will rewrite investigative guidelines to give agents more flexibility, particularly in surveillance matters.
The issue of coordination with field offices became critical in the light of efforts from agents in Minnesota and Arizona to call attention to suspicious activity prior to the September 11 attacks.
Complaints about poor communication between agencies reportedly will be addressed with a renewed emphasis on cooperation between the FBI and CIA.
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he believes the FBI mind set can change but isn't convinced it will.
"It will be a few months or years down the road before we know for sure," Grassley said.
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