WASHINGTON – Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller are set to announce dramatic new changes to the Federal Bureau of Investigation that officials hope will greatly aid the war on terrorism.
In the official announcement Wednesday, Ashcroft is expected to say that the changes will "explicitly establish protection of the United States and the American people from terrorism as the highest priority and central mission of the FBI."
The plan amounts to a wholesale change of focus from the FBI's historic role of investigating crimes that have already been committed to a new mission: preventing future crimes and terrorism.
The FBI itself describes it as a shift from a "reactive to a proactive orientation." Many reforms had been proposed for years but, until Sept. 11, the FBI resisted change.
Major changes will not only alter the structure of the FBI, but affect law enforcement's investigative methods.
In draft guidelines obtained by Fox News, one of the main changes listed is a decentralization of authority to eliminate bureaucracy at headquarters and empower field agents to make quick decisions.
The purpose of such a change, to be announced by Ashcroft on Thursday, is to reduce "the approval level for initiation and renewal of terrorism enterprise investigations from FBI headquarters to Special Agent in Charge."
The impending overhaul at the FBI, first reported in a Fox News exclusive, will affect all areas of the bureau including structure, investigative techniques, culture, attitude, procedures and methodology, hiring and technology.
To begin with, 900 new agents will be hired by September, joining the 7,000 already in the agency. Before the terror attacks, only 153 agents were assigned to the Counter-Terrorism Division. That number will be quadrupled by 2004 to 682 agents in counter-terrorism, with a third at headquarters and more than 400 in the field.
The CTD will be expanded, adding 14 new "sections" and "units" specializing in terrorism, technology, world cultures, languages and intelligence-gathering.
Another 518 agents will be reassigned to counter-terrorism operations from within the agency. Of them, 400 will come from the anti-drug crimes division, 59 will be shifted from white-collar crime divisions and another 59 will be transferred from the violent crime-fighting sections.
There will be a new emphasis on computers and technology. For years, the FBI's technology has been woefully outdated — many networks are not linked and analysis is inadequate.
The new National Joint Terrorism Task Force, already in operation, will establish an Office of Intelligence that will encourage analytical capabilities.
More critically, the new intelligence section will have sweeping investigative authority in the U.S. — authority that has not existed recently, as the Central Intelligence Agency cannot spy in the United States and FBI undercover work has until now been limited to probing crimes that are assumed to have already occurred.
The new Mobile National Terrorism Response Capability will also include "flying squads," elite teams to travel the world collecting information.
Among the key near-term actions on counter-intelligence, the FBI will:
• Redefine the relationship between headquarters and the field so that agents in the field will have more power to investigate;
• Establish a new Espionage Section in the Counterintelligence Division to spy on those who spy on the United States;
• Re-orient counter-intelligence strategy to identify and protect key targets of foreign interests. That means electric grids and other such strategic interests. The FBI will also focus on emerging strategic threats that range from China to Cuba to Al Qaeda;
• Upgrade analytical capabilities with training and technologies;
• Establish counter-intelligence career paths for special agents. Recruiting specialists with specific skills is a fairly new concept for the FBI;
• Adopt security measures to protect FBI investigations and information;
• Target recruitment to hire agents, analysts, translators, and others with specialized skills.
To tighten cyber-security, the FBI has several short-term plans, including the development of a new Cyber Division with new Regional Computer Forensic labs nationwide. The FBI will expand alliances with federal agencies like the CIA, and build a new Investigative Technology Division for better electronic surveillance of potential terrorists.
The famed FBI forensics labs are also targeted for a shakeup. Mueller will propose splitting the lab into two parts, each with a separate director. One will be a cyber-crime and high-technology division to deal with emerging computer crime and make better use of computers for analysis. The second will be for forensics and scientific work, like fingerprint and DNA analysis.
FBI officials argue that the reorganization will help avoid the types of mistakes made in the past, and also help prevent future attacks.
Several planned changes were made possible by the USA Patriot Act that swept through Congress immediately following the Sept. 11 terror attacks. Some reforms are already underway.
Many of the reforms seem to be direct responses to missed leads and bureaucratic inaction in the months before Sept. 11.
FBI field alerts to Washington of Middle Eastern men training at U.S. flight schools during the summer of 2001 were buried in paperwork, and agents in Minneapolis who circumvented normal channels to contact the CIA about suspected "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui were reprimanded.
Fox News has reported that there may be a dozen more instances of missed opportunities and overlooked information relating to the September terror attacks.
Others parts of the reorganization can be attributed to pre-existing controversies, such as the case of Robert Hanssen, sentenced this month to life in prison for spying for Moscow, and the case of Wen Ho Lee, a nuclear scientist suspected, imprisoned and then cleared of spying for China.
Justice Department officials, perhaps anticipating congressional criticism of the new measures, pointed out to Fox News that critics of pre-Sept. 11 intelligence and investigative failures have frequently been quick to decry perceived threats to civil liberties.
The officials said that those who criticize mistakes made in the past but now balk at steps to prevent recurring problems or attacks in the future either want it both ways, are playing politics, or both.