FBI unveils reorganization to focus on terror
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying the terrorist attacks of September 11 "marked a turning point for the FBI," U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller unveiled details Wednesday of a reorganization shifting the federal agency's focus to preventing terrorism.
After September 11, said Mueller, "It became clearer than ever that we had to fundamentally change the way we do our business."
"We have to do a better job of communicating with others, and, as critically important, we have to do a better job managing, analyzing and sharing information," Mueller said at a news conference. "We need a different approach that puts prevention above all else."
Mueller, who took over the bureau a week before the attacks, unveiled a list of FBI priorities, the first of which read, "Protect the United States from terrorist attacks." The FBI has faced sharp criticism over intelligence failures before September 11.
The reorganization, parts of which require congressional approval, will significantly bolster the resources devoted to counterterrorism -- including hundreds of new agents -- enhance such training, shift from a "reactive to proactive orientation" and redefine the relationship between FBI headquarters and field offices.
"I think it's absolutely major," said Robert Heibel, former FBI deputy chief of counterterrorism, reacting to the plan. "You're talking about devoting 2,600 agents to the investigation of terrorist activities. That is a major shift in the organization. A major, major shift."
Other analysts also applaud the new FBI plan, but question whether the public and Congress will give the agency the money and authority to make investigations more effective in stopping terrorist plots. (Full story)
The issue of coordination with field offices has become critical in light of a memo from an FBI whistle-blower who says headquarters stymied efforts last summer to learn about one terrorist suspect, whom authorities later alleged was a conspirator in the September 11 hijackings. (Read the memo on TIME.com)
"Where there are responsible changes to be made, we will make them," Ashcroft said. "Where there are mistakes to acknowledge, we will not shy away from doing so. Those who step forward to voice their legitimate concerns will be welcomed, and often their ideas reviewed and embraced."
Moving agents to terror investigations
The reorganization will include the transfer of roughly 520 agents from criminal investigations toward terrorism prevention. The FBI wants to hire another 900 agents by September, with many of them slated for anti-terrorism work.
The transfer will involve about 400 agents moving from the narcotics division to terrorism. Another 60 agents will be redirected from the white-collar crime unit, and 60 more will be transferred from the violent crimes squad.
The overhaul also will include the creation of a national Joint Terrorism Task Force at FBI headquarters, along with the establishment of "flying squads" to coordinate national and international investigations. Previously, various field offices had overseen many of these investigations.
One official said the new squads could be "dispatched anywhere in the world to support field efforts and to go into places where we have no one at that location."
There also will be more cooperation between the CIA and FBI, sources said.
The CIA, for example, will send more personnel to help the FBI analyze information relating to terrorism. A senior manager and 25 analysts will be detailed to FBI headquarters in Washington to bolster intelligence gathering, and another group of CIA analysts will fan out to U.S. cities to review FBI terrorism cases to see if any intelligence clues have been overlooked.
In addition, FBI officials will be sent to the CIA's counterterrorism center to help manage the flow of information.
"What the FBI has lacked really has been that intelligence capability that you see in an organization like the Central Intelligence Agency," Heibel said. "Leaders in law enforcement have never really seen what intelligence can do for them. ... You have an opportunity ... for the CIA people to actually show the bureau what they should be demanding in the way of intelligence."
Many lawmakers said the agency mishandled some information collected before the deadly September hijackings, findings that collectively could have pointed to a pending terrorist attack.
One memo generating considerable interest on Capitol Hill comes from Minnesota FBI agent Coleen Rowley. In the memo sent last week to Mueller, Rowley said that FBI headquarters in Washington hindered efforts by the Minneapolis office to investigate suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-born flight school student.
He was arrested on an immigration charge about three weeks before the September 11 attacks, but authorities said they believe he was the intended "20th hijacker." Moussaoui has been charged with six conspiracy counts in connection with the hijackings.
Mueller referred the Rowley memo to the Justice Department inspector general for an investigation, and lawmakers leading a joint congressional committee looking at intelligence failures said the memo will be part of their own probe.
On Wednesday, Mueller thanked Rowley for the memo, even though it had some harsh words for him.
"It is important that I hear criticisms of me to improve," he said.
Justice Department to announce changes
Separately, the Justice Department will announce Thursday a significant change in how the FBI can conduct investigations in the field, according to a government official, who said the move would mean fewer restrictions on agents.
That change to the Attorney General Guidelines is outlined in a Justice Department memo, sources said.
In the memo, the sources said, part of the problem was outlined this way: "(1) FBI field agents are hampered by burdensome rules requiring them to secure headquarters approval before undertaking counterterrorism investigative activities; while (2) FBI headquarters lacks the ability to analyze information necessary to make informed investigative decisions."
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