- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 19 (UPI) — There are no plans for the mass detention of Iraqi nationals in the United States in the event of war, the FBI said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the bureau is continuing thousands of voluntary interviews with Iraqi exiles in this country.

"There's no plan to do any type of mass detention," an FBI spokesman told United Press International. He said media reports of such purported detentions, which began to circulate Tuesday night, were incorrect.

That does not mean there might not be at least some detentions, the spokesman said. FBI agents will continue to operate in the same way they have since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

"We would detain people if their (immigration) status is bad, but there's no intent to do any mass detentions," the spokesman said.

Immigration detentions would be made in concert with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, once part of the Justice Department but now part of the new Department of Homeland Security.

Iraqi or other nationals would also be detained if there are outstanding warrants for their arrest.

The FBI has been conducting tens of thousands of voluntary interviews over the past couple of months with Iraqi exiles living in the United States, some of whom have become U.S. citizens.

Bush administration officials and the FBI have said that the main purpose of the interviews is to ask for help in preventing domestic terror attacks.

The Iraqi community in the United States is considered overwhelmingly anti-Saddam Hussein, and officials have described their presence as an intelligence asset rather than a danger in the event of war.

Officials also hope the interviews will reassure Iraqi nationals and naturalized citizens that the FBI will act if they become targets of violence or discrimination because of their background.

Interviewers underwent extensive "sensitivity training" before the operation began, officials said.

Meanwhile, thousands of FBI agents have been reassigned to counter-terrorism duties since the 2001 terror attacks, part of the bureau's evolution and a recognition that domestic intelligence has superseded the FBI's law enforcement function.

The counter-terror agents will be supplemented by hundreds more — released from other duties — in the event of war with Iraq, officials said earlier this week.

One of the main changes in FBI wartime operation will come in the staffing of command posts in Washington and around the country.

The massive Strategic Information and Operations Center within FBI headquarters will be staffed "24/7," the FBI spokesman said Wednesday.

Command posts in each of the more than 50 FBI field offices in major cities across the country will also be continually manned.

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