There was a moment of pure pathos at the end of FBI Director Robert Mueller's recent press conference to announce the bureau's reorganization plan. Hoping to bolster the country's confidence in the bureau's new intelligence operation, Mueller announced that "the individual heading the Office of Intelligence is an experienced CIA officer . Again, the Office of Intelligence will be handled -- will be run, I should say -- by an individual who is an experienced CIA intelligence officer."
It has come to this. The nation's crown jewel of law enforcement, the lead domestic intelligence and counterterrorism agency, had to turn to its sibling rival to find a credible candidate to lead its own operation. It's as if Les Bleu needed to find their new soccer coach in England.
The appointment -- and Mueller's desperate emphasis on it -- shows just how insecure the bureau is about its intelligence and counterterrorism operation. True to form, the FBI is doing what it always does when a problem flares up: Throw men at it, the more the better. Six-hundred agents are being transferred from drugs and white-collar crime divisions, and 500 new analysts will soon be hired.
But Ashcroft and Mueller are missing the point. The problem at the FBI isn't that there aren't enough intelligence analysts. The problem is that there aren't enough non-analysts, from the director's office on down, who understand intelligence and how it must be used. The warnings from Minnesota and Phoenix weren't ignored by intelligence analysts; they were never seen by them. The warnings stopped instead at the desks of investigators who have been taught to look down their noses at the "fern-loving, quiche-eating, chardonnay-drinking" analysts (as one FBI veteran described the perception) who sit around reading books while the real agents arrest criminals. Had someone thought to ask, "I wonder what the guys over in intel would thing of this," perhaps they might have connected the dots. But FBI agents aren't taught to think that way.
Raising budgets and personnel can be meaningless. Mueller's predecessor, Louis Freeh, also said he wanted to equip the bureau to prevent terrorism and lobbied Congress for the analysts and technology to do so. Unfortunately, much of the money was "reprogrammed" toward supposedly more pressing criminal-investigative priorities, while the technology budgets were regularly raided to pay for things like travel budgets. Because they didn't understand the nature or importance of the work, FBI managers filled the ranks of new analyst slots with clerks and then, in line with the new hires' talents if not their titles, continued to use them as clerks.
Shamefaced, Mueller insists he will try to change the bureau's culture. No doubt he is sincere. But make no mistake: This kind of change takes a generation, if it can happen at all. For decades, FBI agents have been taught to target criminals and make arrests as soon as legally viable. And the bureau has measured its performance by how many arrests it makes. A counterterrorism operation, by contrast, can go on for years without an arrest, so long as the investigation gains information that can prevent future attacks. Mueller is taking football players and asking them to start playing chess.
Congress, too, will present Mueller with problems. Its members may be gung ho about preventing terrorism today. But the same congressmen tsk-tsking the FBI for its shortsighted focus on local crime encouraged that focus in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was drugs and carjackings, rather than terrorism, that made the cover of Time magazine. Terrorism is cyclical. It was nine years between World Trade Center attacks. Congress' memory is, at the most, two years long. If al-Qaeda plays possum, as it's wont to, it won't take long for Congress to revert back to its traditional posture. No doubt there will be certain elements in the bureau ready to get back to doing what they do best.
The director of the FBI is given a 10-year term specifically because he should exist outside the political calendar. Indeed, if Mueller can maintain his focus on terrorism and building the bureau's intelligence infrastructure, he could, by the very end of his term, have created the kind of bureau we need. But Mueller, a prosecutor by trade, made his career fighting the same kind of crooks -- drug kingpins, mobsters, and murderers -- that the FBI is now told to turn away from. If the bureau is to succeed at changing its spots, it will be because Mueller changes his first.
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