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FBI readies home front for wartime


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With a war plan of its own for the home front, the FBI is set to step up round-the-clock surveillance, monitoring and interviewing of people who might try to retaliate should hostilities with Iraq begin, officials said Monday.

The FBI has not detected intelligence foreshadowing a specific threat, officials said, but several thousand of its 11,000-agent force, bolstered by local police and terrorism task forces, are set to attempt to prevent violent attacks in the United States.

The FBI's full-time counterterrorism contingent numbers a little more than 2,000 agents, but the agency has flexibility to shift an additional 5,000 to 10,000 agents to that domestic effort, officials said.

Virtually all of the dozens of known Islamic extremists not in custody are already under surveillance, FBI officials said. But they acknowledged concern about other sympathizers with Iraq who might try to strike out spontaneously.

The Iraqi-American community, estimated as high as 50,000 people, is heavily composed of political exiles and foes of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's government. FBI officials said they have identified about 11,000 Iraqis they want to talk to on a voluntary basis, but they said many of these people may simply have information useful to U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and other top FBI officials recently said their greatest concern is unknown al Qaeda-backed sleeper cells that may be in the United States.

Al Qaeda operatives are believed to be relatively few in number but represent a continuous threat to vulnerable facilities and soft targets, officials said.

The FBI is closely monitoring known members of other terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah and Hamas, but note that such groups have reasons not to attempt strikes within U.S. borders.

"They rely heavily on sympathizers in the U.S. for money," an FBI official said, "and in that sense it would be bad PR for them to hit here."

Officials said the FBI continues to upgrade its presence and cooperation with other governments overseas, where the threat to U.S. facilities and interests is considered significant.

The FBI has agents stationed in 45 countries, where they are attempting to help host governments protect U.S. targets and pursue people with suspected terrorist ties.

CNN Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena and Producer Terry Frieden contributed to this report.


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