- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 2, 2003

The FBI has won a reprieve from those who would strip it completely of its domestic counterintelligence functions and place them in a new agency dedicated solely to that task. But in the process it appears to be losing at least partial control of that assignment to the CIA. Just how much still is uncertain.
President Bush's announcement in his State of the Union message that he would create a new Terrorist Threat Integration Center came as an alternative to the creation of a new intelligence super-agency patterned after Britain's famed MI5, a proposal by some leading members of Congress. The alternative center will use analysts from the FBI, CIA and other agencies to provide a daily estimate of potential terrorist activities and threats.
It is an approach that most intelligence experts agree is vital to successful homeland security. Without some competent early-warning system, the nation is utterly vulnerable to a repeat of the attacks of 200l no matter how many Homeland Security departments are established. Investigations of what went wrong with the current process that led to September 11 clearly have shown a failure to communicate between the responsible agencies as a major culprit.
But the real jolt for the FBI is that the new center will not be under its control but will be led by George Tenet, the CIA director. Presumably, the major customer would be the Homeland Security Department, which will have its own intelligence center.
While the FBI analysts assigned to the new operation will remain on the bureau's payroll, they will be removed from the control of FBI Director Robert Mueller and placed under Mr. Tenet's authority, a situation bound to upset Mr. Mueller's ongoing efforts to change the bureau's direction from law enforcement to counterintelligence by assigning intelligence analysts to each bureau field office and focusing on terrorist control rather than common-grade criminality.
The proposed center is a direct result of a lack of intelligence sharing between the bureau and the CIA and other agencies, including the Pentagon, that have been blamed for failing to head off the attacks. Congressional critics charge that the FBI-CIA rivalry has continued to plague the war on terrorism despite contentions by both agencies that they have put aside their differences and have developed a new atmosphere of cooperation.
Mr. Mueller, who assumed the FBI directorship only days before the attacks, has tried diligently to alter the bureau's 79-year-old police force culture. But it has been a difficult adjustment for an agency that made its reputation by chasing down bank robbers like John Dillinger. For years its counterintelligence activities centered on keeping tabs on alleged communists and those influenced by them, like student activists. Although the bureau seemed to be able to gather raw data, its failures to act on that information has resulted in some highly publicized missed opportunities.
In many ways, Congress over the decades is to blame for what is wrong with the nation's intelligence-gathering capabilities. Not only have lawmakers indulged the FBI and overlooked its obvious weaknesses and blunders, they unwisely gave the bureau control of domestic counterintelligence at the expense of the CIA, fostering a debilitating rivalry that has never subsided. It reached its zenith perhaps when FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover cut off most FBI contact with the CIA because he suspected it had on occasion invaded his turf by conducting prohibited domestic operations.
The animosity between the two agencies became quite public when they traded blows over disclosures that both had highly placed spies for Russia in their own ranks first the CIA mole was uncovered, then the FBI's causing both agencies to gloat openly.
Where the president's plan will leave the bureau isn't clear. The center apparently does not need congressional approval because it is considered an expansion of the CIA. Obviously, the bureau will no longer be pre-eminent in domestic intelligence evaluation. And for the first time in its history, FBI agents will be performing much the same duties they do in their own agency but answering to someone other than their own officials. Somewhere Hoover is whirling like a dervish.
It will be a difficult assignment for everyone. But if the new center is to provide the kind of daily hour-to-hour assessment of potential threats needed to keep the nation secure, it must have the complete cooperation of everyone. It is up to the president to make it clear he will tolerate nothing else. Amalgams of this nature frequently go awry. It is vital this one doesn't.

Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.

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