Panel Speaks Out: FBI Makeover

This is a partial transcript of Special Report with Brit Hume, May 28, that has been edited for clarity. Click here to order the complete transcript.

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Other guests and topics for
May 28 included:
• Carl Cameron: The FBI, once the most prestigious law enforcement agency in the country if not the world, faces the most sweeping overhaul in its history
• William La Jeunesse: Indian officials are rebuffing an offer from Russian President Vladimir Putin to host a meeting between India and Pakistan next week
• James Rosen: As Chandra Levy's parents remember their daughter in a memorial service in California, investigators in D.C. say the case is now officially considered a homicide
• Catherine Herridge: As defense lawyers for John Walker Lindh prepare for his trial later this summer, they're heading to court now for a series of hearings to determine what is admissible in the proceedings
• Steve Brown: It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows, and one local race in Illinois suggests that the reverse of that may be true as well: that bedfellows make strange politics
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BRIT HUME, HOST: Analytical observations now from Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard; Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call; and Ceci Connolly, national correspondent of the Washington Post. FOX News contributors all.

There seems very little doubt from what we now know of it from Carl Cameron's reporting that is this is a very major overhaul of the FBI that is going to be announced tomorrow and the next day. And my question about it is is this the right thing for the FBI to be doing? And if it does do this, does it shift the bureau to doing things that no domestic bureau ought to be doing or even legally be doing in terms of surveillance within this country?

MORT KONDRACKE, ROLL CALL: No. I think that, look, the Al Qaeda allegedly has cells still operating in the United States. The September 11 killers were under deep cover here in the United States, or not so deep cover. Actually, they were flying around, you know, in flight schools and stuff like that. We might have even gotten a hold of them.

It's the FBI's job. It's not the CIA's job to be doing domestic surveillance. So it is the FBI's job. The question here is whether this changes the culture of the agency such that when, as happened in this Minneapolis case, which is just outrageous, the Minneapolis agent sent the word about Zacarias Moussaoui back to headquarters. They were dissuaded from pursuing the case. They were denied search warrants and all that kind of stuff and scolded when they went to the CIA for some help.

We'll know whether the culture is changed by how they honor Colleen Rowley, this agent in Minneapolis, who has been complaining about this...

HUME: She's the one wrote the now famous memo...

KONDRACKE: Absolutely. If she's on hand with Robert Mueller when they announce all this stuff and she's praised by Robert Mueller, then we know they've changed the culture.

CECI CONNOLLY, WASHINGTON POST: You know, as these details are starting to come out in Carl's reports and a few others today, my first reaction was, well, this is the throw the spaghetti against the wall strategy, just absolutely everything we can possibly think of, toss out there.

I do think that several of the changes, hiring 900 more agents, better computers and technology for this agency, some of the – looking for specialists and translators. Those are all very important, critical things that need to be done. But you are absolutely right. I mean, what we've been learning in recent weeks about the FBI and our larger intelligence community has to do with cultural problems, has to do with feuding among the different agencies, not talking to each other.

HUME: But isn't the princ – I mean, apart from the personnel changes, which are major, and you've got some 500 agents or so that are going to be moved over from mostly from drug enforcement to counterterrorism, is that counterterrorism now becomes the very topmost priority of the FBI?

FRED BARNES, WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, it's important. Look, what is the greatest threat to the United States right now? It's not Russian missiles. It's not China. It's terrorists, and Al Qaeda in particular, but other terrorists as well. That's the greatest threat. Why shouldn't the FBI focus on that more than anything else?

Now what needs to happen is not a press conference at which Colleen Rowley appears and Mort cheers. What needs to happen now is the CIA matching overseas by hiring new people, by infiltrating Arab terrorist groups over the years. It takes – it's not easy, but focusing on that, making terrorist nests overseas, the homelands of the terrorists, making that the chief focus of the CIA. And you match that with the FBI doing something here like this and it will make a big difference.

HUME: But Ceci raises an interesting point. Given what we've learned about the FBI and how resistant it was in a number of instances to dealing with this issue, is this agency constitutionally capable, I don't mean constitutionally in the legal sense...

BARNES: Of course, it is. But Bush – there is one downside to Bush's response since September 11 and that's lack of accountability, holding people responsible for their failures. Clearly, the CIA failed badly. Clearly, the FBI failed badly. Now Robert Mueller was only on, what, he had just gotten hired a few days.

HUME: That was his second day on the job was September 11.

BARNES: Yes, second day on the job. But he seems to have fallen in and is protecting that culture.

HUME: How so?

BARNES: Well, how so? I mean, alibiing for the FBI about how it dealt with the Moussaoui case in ways that he should not have done. He looks like he's a representative of the old culture, not the right guy to lead the new one.

KONDRACKE: Well, to give him the benefit of the doubt, it could be that he was – as he was preparing this wholesale shakeup, he was defending the agency and trying to keep morale up inside. We will see whether...

HUME: This is his plan, basically, isn't it?

KONDRACKE: Yes, it is. And we will see whether the people who were responsible for dismissing and, in fact, thwarting the Minneapolis office are replaced or whether they are part of a new gang. I mean, somebody has got to pay a penalty for being of the wrong culture. And he will show that he's making progress by who he puts in one position.

HUME: Now, what does it mean as a practical matter for ordinary Americans that this agency whose job it was basically to whatever intelligence it gathered was in furtherance of cases being brought about crimes that had been committed?

Now, they're supposed to be proactive, crime prevention, intelligence gathered for that purpose. That changes the whole thing. That is more like what the CIA does. The CIA has always been forbidden to do it in the United States because Americans didn't want government agents spying on them. Does this now not necessarily mean that Americans are going to have to live with government agents perhaps spying on them?


CONNOLLY: There is certainly that potential and certainly what we'll be hearing a lot of in the coming days and weeks from sort of civil liberties organizations is this concern about individuals' freedoms to move about, to protect their privacy, that sort of thing.

HUME: Associate with whom they like.

CONNOLLY: Exactly.

HUME: Does it bother you, Fred?

BARNES: No. It doesn't bother me at all because they are mainly going to be focused on foreigners here in the United States, either legally or illegally. And they should be.

HUME: Well, one of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

BARNES: Yes, sure. They're not going to – I don't think they are going to be focused on us, for instance. If they are, then the old culture prevails.

KONDRACKE: I think a lot depends on how they handle the Arab-American community, which should be an intelligence resource. In other words, if you go to them and interview them and you interview them the right way and enlist their help and they find somebody who's, you know, got a relative from Kuwait in or Abu Dhabi, you know, who is up to no good, it would be nice to have those people tip the FBI off.

HUME: Instead of complaining about...


HUME: Quickly.

CONNOLLY: And that gets at one of the key problems here. Our agencies haven't had the people that speak those languages, understand those cultures.

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