HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Focus of FBI Is Seen Shifting to Terrorism
Pubdate: Sun, 21 Oct 2001
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2001 The New York Times Company
Author: Philip Shenon and David Johnston
Bookmark: (Terrorism)



WASHINGTON, Oct. 20 - The Bush administration is discussing proposals 
that would lead to the most fundamental reorganization of the Federal 
Bureau of Investigation in its history, shifting its focus to 
counterterrorism and away from crime fighting, senior officials said.

Under the new thinking, they said, the agency would give up 
responsibility for some of the duties on which it built its legendary 
"G-man" reputation, like bank robbery, drug trafficking and some 
violent crime investigations.

"As counterterrorism becomes the No. 1 priority of the F.B.I., it has 
become obvious that other types of investigations will have to be 
de-emphasized at the bureau or turned over to other agencies," said a 
senior administration official, one of several interviewed in recent 
days who have been involved in the discussions.

Some officials say the restructuring has already begun, even before 
any formal plans have been proposed, propelled by the terrorist 
attacks of Sept. 11, when thousands of bureau agents across the 
country were ordered to put aside other investigations to focus 
exclusively on counterterrorism.

Since Sept. 11, senior officials said, Attorney General John Ashcroft 
and the bureau's director, Robert S. Mueller III, have agreed that 
the emphasis on counterterrorism will be permanent, and that other 
major changes are inevitable. They have said repeatedly in recent 
days that the bureau's 28,000 employees will have one overriding 
responsibility: to prevent further terrorist attacks against 

Officials emphasized that no formal restructuring plan exists, and 
that any structural change in the bureau's mission might require 
Congressional approval.

But the trauma of Sept. 11 appears to give this proposal a far better 
chance of success than many of the other ideas that repeatedly arise 
in Washington to remake complicated or failing bureaucracies, like 
the perennial plans to restructure the Immigration and Naturalization 

The attorney general and bureau director strongly support the change, 
law enforcement officials said. And because of the investigation of 
the terrorist attacks, some of the ideas are already being put into 
place - a de facto restructuring.

In addition, even before Sept. 11, members of Congress in both 
parties were calling for significant change at the bureau. Since the 
attacks, they have praised Mr. Ashcroft for his insistence that the 
bureau concentrate on preventing terrorist acts.

"That's exactly what he ought to be doing," said Senator Jon Kyl, a 
Republican of Arizona who is a member of both the Intelligence and 
Judiciary Committees. "What's important now is to track down and 
prevent more terrorism."

For generations, career advancement at the bureau has depended on the 
sort of basic gumshoe investigations that would now be turned over to 
other federal agencies or even to local police departments. For that 
reason, the change is already facing opposition from the rank and 
file at the bureau, one of the government's most tradition-bound 

Until now, agents who worked in the "other side" of the bureau - in 
the classified world of counterterrorism and counterintelligence 
units - seldom gained the same renown or promotions as their 
counterparts in the criminal division. Frequently, the bureau's 
counterintelligence agents complained that their biggest successes 
were necessarily cloaked in secrecy.

Their problems were compounded by management changes in recent years 
that granted flexibility to supervisors in the bureau's 56 national 
field offices to set their own priorities, a system that in some 
places resulted in a downgrading of counterterrorism and 
counterintelligence investigations.

But in the aftermath of Sept. 11, senior administration officials 
say, counterterrorism and counterintelligence must be the bureau's 
principal responsibilities.

As a result, they added, the bureau will need to give up 
responsibility - permanently - for many types of more routine 
criminal investigations. The bureau has already directed agents to 
stop responding to nonviolent bank robberies, so-called note jobs.

Administration officials said that under a reorganization, many types 
of narcotics investigations that had previously been handled by the 
bureau would very likely be turned over to the Drug Enforcement 
Administration, and that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms 
would take over some firearms and bombing cases previously handled by 
the bureau.

The F.B.I., they said, may jettison some of the jurisdiction that J. 
Edgar Hoover and his successors had won for the bureau, which is 
known in Washington for its aggressiveness in trying to expand its 
turf and budget, a strategy that Congress has willingly supported 
with bigger and bigger budgets and more personnel.

Some recently acquired powers may be among the first to be 
relinquished, like the bureau's responsibility for investigations of 
child pornography, carjackings and fathers who have not paid child 
support. In the future, the agency could also give up investigations 
of health care and military-procurement fraud, duties that could be 
handed over to the offices of inspectors general at the Department of 
Health and Human Services and the Pentagon. Another senior official, 
speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that "12 months from 
now, the F.B.I. is not going to be the organization it was on Sept. 

"Its responsibilities and priorities are all going to change," he 
added. "Any area where there is a duplicative effort with some other 
part of the government has a strong chance of being broken off from 
the bureau's responsibility."

No one in the administration is suggesting that the bureau will be 
sidelined in the government's effort to combat major crime. But law 
enforcement officials said that narrowing the bureau's focus would 
make the agency more effective in responding to crimes that it is 
uniquely qualified to address, like complex white-collar fraud, 
organized crime and political corruption.

A major restructuring of the bureau has been under discussion since 
the early days of the Bush administration. The administration 
inherited an agency battered by criticism in Congress over missteps 
that seemed rooted in managerial failures.

Supporters of the F.B.I. in Congress complained of mismanagement 
after the bureau's erratic investigation of Wen Ho Lee, the Los 
Alamos nuclear weapons scientist; the unmasking of an F.B.I. agent, 
Robert P. Hanssen, as a Russian spy; and the belated discovery of 
investigative documents in the Oklahoma City bombing case that forced 
Mr. Ashcroft to delay the execution of Timothy J. McVeigh.

In a speech to bureau employees last summer, Mr. Ashcroft said the 
Hanssen case and the handling of the McVeigh documents were "injuring 
the public trust" and signaled that he would keep a close watch on 
the agency. He started several internal inquiries and brought in a 
private consulting firm to conduct a management review of the F.B.I., 
which is still under way.

He persuaded a skeptical White House to accept his choice, Mr. 
Mueller, as the bureau's new director. Mr. Mueller had earned a 
fearsome reputation from previous jobs for shaking up government 
agencies, notably the United States attorney's office in San 
Francisco, where he forced out most of the senior managers. Both Mr. 
Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller, senior aides said, were determined to end 
decades of hostility and turf battles between the Justice Department 
and the F.B.I.

Within hours of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the 
Pentagon, officials said, Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Mueller had no choice 
but to restructure the bureau, at least temporarily.

Thousands of agents were told to abandon their more routine criminal 
investigations and to focus entirely on terrorism, especially on 
pursuing leads that might prevent another terrorist attack. A senior 
Justice Department official said that although there had been no 
bureauwide notice to those agents of their future duties, "many of 
them won't be going back to their old jobs."
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