- The Washington Times - Friday, November 17, 2006

Counterterrorism, violent crime and the protection of civil rights and civil liberties were cited yesterday by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine as the top management and performance challenges facing the department in the coming year.

“While the department continues to take steps to address these management challenges, many are long-standing and difficult issues that will require concerted efforts to make additional progress in these critical areas,” Mr. Fine said with the release of the inspector general’s annual “Top Management Challenges” report.

While the challenges were not presented in a priority order, Mr. Fine identified the department’s ongoing response to the threat of terrorism as its top challenge.

He said efforts to disrupt and deter terrorism have been the department’s highest priority since the September 11, 2001, attacks on America by al Qaeda terrorists, adding that Justice has “substantially enhanced” its counterterrorism capabilities, but counterterrorism efforts by he department remain a “top challenge in need of continued improvement.”

Mr. Fine said the most significant changes in the department’s counterterrorism efforts during the past five years involve the FBI’s transformation into a “more pro-active, intelligence-driven agency dedicated to preventing acts of terrorism rather than primarily a law-enforcement agency focused on investigating crimes after they have occurred.”

In its most recent reorganization, announced in July, the FBI created an organizational structure of five branches to reflect its new counterterrorism priority, including the National Security Branch, which consists of the bureau’s Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence Divisions, Directorate of Intelligence, and Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate.

“The department’s counterterrorism efforts remain a work in progress,” Mr. Fine said.

Even though counterterrorism is the department’s top priority, Mr. Fine said the prevention and prosecution of violent crime remains a critical challenge in the wake of reports last year showing that violent crime is on the rise after a long period of decline.

The FBI’s latest Uniform Crime Report that tracks crime trends across the United States reported a 2.3 percent rise in violent crime in 2005 compared with the previous year.

Mr. Fine said the department faces a significant challenge in safeguarding civil rights and civil liberties while it aggressively pursues its counterterrorism and law-enforcement missions. He described as a “positive step” the creation by the department of the Office of Privacy and Civil Liberties, which is responsible for privacy policy and for developing appropriate civil rights safeguards, particularly related to counterterrorism issues.

Mr. Fine also identified “cyber-crime” as a top priority for the department, describing it as “a broad topic” that includes investigation of online sexual predators to the theft of intellectual property to computer intrusions, also known as hackers.