WASHINGTON – A respected group of intelligence experts, academics, technology executives and civil libertarians said the Bush administration's homeland security plans gives the FBI too much responsibility for analyzing terrorism threats.
The group, which includes former senior U.S. intelligence officials, argues the FBI should focus on law enforcement and hunting foreign spies inside the United States, its traditional areas. Its members envision a much broader responsibility for the proposed Department of Homeland Security to analyze domestic intelligence about threats than what President Bush has outlined.
In a report to be released Monday by the Markle Foundation, a private philanthropic organization, these scholars and experts propose that the new department "should have lead responsibility as the all-source intelligence analysis center for all relevant domestic information.''
The report cautioned that it "takes no position on any pending legislation.'' But its recommendations for the new department go well beyond the Bush administration's proposals, which would leave significant responsibility with the FBI for analyzing intelligence collected within the nation's borders.
Early this year, FBI Director Robert Mueller put preventing future terrorist attacks at the top of his list of 10 priorities. And Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge has strongly resisted suggestions that the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies be brought under the authority of the new department.
But the Markle Foundation, which in March created a highly regarded task force on national security, concluded that the FBI's ingrained bias toward catching criminals prevents it from effective counterterrorism analysis. It cited the FBI's resistance to sharing tips and leads with U.S. intelligence agencies and others, and a lack of money and staff devoted to analyzing information.
"Some highly skilled analysts now at the FBI may then transfer to the DHS, perhaps finding a better career niche in an environment more devoted to intelligence analysis,'' said the report's authors, who include former officials from the White House, Justice Department, FBI and National Security Agency.
The Markle report does not recommend that the new department recruit secret agents or conduct wiretaps, leaving that to the FBI.
Some task force members planned to meet Monday with Ridge, who privately received a copy of their conclusions last week.
Under the Bush administration's proposal, the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center is the only FBI component that would move to the new department.
"People are beating up the FBI for not doing something it never was supposed to do,'' said Philip Zelikow, the group's executive director. Zelikow, now teaching at the University of Virginia, was a former staff member for the National Security Council under President Bush's father. "The FBI is a law enforcement agency,'' he said.
The task force said its plan for the FBI to focus on catching criminals would provide "some separation between the attitudes and priorities of intelligence analysis and the different, more concentrated, focus of law enforcement personnel authorized to use force on the street to make arrests and pursue or detain citizens.''