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FBI to Undergo Major Reorganization - 2002-05-29

Bush administration officials announced a major reorganization of the FBI Wednesday aimed at improving the bureau's ability to detect and stop acts of terrorism. The reform plans were announced in Washington by FBI Director Robert Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In order to better defend against future acts of terrorism, Director Mueller is shifting about 500 FBI agents into the bureau's units that focus on counter-terrorism.

Another 900 agents will be hired by September including specialists in languages, computer technology and sciences.

In addition, the FBI is setting up a centralized Office of Intelligence at its Washington headquarters and is expanding cooperation with the Central Intelligence Agency.

Mr. Mueller says a redesigned and refocused FBI will now make counter-terrorism its top priority.

"What we need to do better is be predictive. We have to be proactive. We have to develop the capability to anticipate attacks," he said. "We have to develop the capability of looking around corners, and that is the change, that is the shift in focus, particularly at headquarters."

The reform plan has been in the works for months but has taken on added significance in the wake of recent revelations that FBI headquarters ignored some warnings and leads on terrorist activity prior to September 11.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft says FBI managers will pay more attention to the suspicions of agents in the field. "Where there are responsible changes to be made, we will make them. Where there are mistakes to acknowledge, we will not shy away from doing so," Mr. Ashcroft said.

Most of the reforms Mr. Mueller seeks to implement are designed to improve the FBI's ability to gather and analyze intelligence information related to terrorism threats.

That is an issue of particular concern to members of Congress who are preparing to review what the FBI knew about terrorist threats prior to September 11.

Florida Republican Porter Goss, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was interviewed on Fox News Sunday.

"The intelligence agencies operate overseas, and they are very good overseas. The problem has been the translation of the information overseas to the law enforcement people and that is something the law enforcement people are going to have to learn how to cope with," said the congressman.

The FBI has been shaken in recent weeks by allegations that senior managers in Washington were slow to follow up on leads developed by some agents in the field.

Security experts say the FBI's intention to beef up its capability to analyze intelligence data is telling. Former FBI analyst Matthew Levitt says intelligence analysis has not always been a high priority within the bureau.

"And analysts at the FBI traditionally are not highly respected. It is an agent-driven society and as non-agent support staff, analysts are often given short shrift. And now, post September 11, we are recognizing the fact that there was a very stark need for a lot more strategic intelligence analysis than we had at the time," he said.

Other critics applaud Robert Mueller's effort to improve cooperation between the FBI and the CIA, the agency responsible for gathering intelligence overseas.

Vincent Cannistraro is a former CIA counterintelligence chief who was interviewed on ABC's This Week program.

"But one of the problems is a bureaucratic one and a cultural one. The FBI is basically a police agency that has now inherited substantial responsibilities in the anti-terrorism field," he said. "But that requires a different skills set. It requires intelligence collection and most importantly, it requires an analytical capability, and these are talents that the FBI is only beginning to develop."

The reforms announced by FBI Director Mueller are likely to only partially satisfy the bureau's critics on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers are preparing to ask some tough questions about what U.S. intelligence agencies knew about terrorist threats before September 11 in congressional hearings that begin next week.