- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 31, 2002

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said yesterday that the war on terrorism demands that the FBI pull agents away from narcotics task forces and no longer make drug enforcement a top priority.
The comments, which came at the 20th anniversary celebration for the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force, followed statements by Attorney General John Ashcroft reaffirming that the drug war would be reorganized but not abandoned.
Mr. Ashcroft said law enforcement agencies have created a "most wanted list" of 54 drug organizations that must be toppled here and abroad. The list will allow crime fighters to focus their resources.
But the FBI will be less involved in the effort because of the shift toward preventing terror attacks and gathering information on terror groups in the United States, Mr. Mueller said yesterday.
"We ought to defer to the drug enforcement agency on cartel cases," Mr. Mueller said. "We will still participate but with fewer resources. Where there were 10 [FBI agents] on a drug task force in the past, now there will be five."
Mr. Mueller listed stopping terror attacks, counterintelligence and undermining strikes at the nation's computer networks as the FBI's new top three priorities. He listed corporate crime investigations as another major drain on the FBI's resources.
Mr. Mueller has spoken previously about the need to reallocate resources from narcotics enforcement, but yesterday's comments were the strongest yet.
September 11 "has required us to look at our resources and make hard choices," Mr. Mueller said. "That is the bottom line for us participate [in drug enforcement] but not in the ways we have in the past."
About 400 of the FBI's 11,324 total agents will be taken from narcotics efforts and placed on counterterrorism task forces, Mr. Mueller said.
The agency will focus on assisting narcotics enforcement when it intersects with terrorism and in attempts to financially disrupt drug cartels.
Reaction to the message was mixed. John Fernandes, an assistant director of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles, said that the shift will not lead to more drugs on the streets.
"We are broadening the war on drugs and looking for ways to fight smarter, instead of harder," Mr. Fernandes said. "We are getting better at sharing intelligence and resources to compensate."
Seattle police Officer Mike Helton said the FBI's diminished presence would hamper efforts.
"Fighting the drug war will be harder without the extra manpower of the FBI there is no way around it," Officer Helton said. "This is a signal that drugs aren't the most important thing anymore and that will be reflected out across America."
The focus on terrorism has shifted the way law enforcement officers plan to fight the drug war, with more concentration on cartel finances and organizations.
DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson said the agency is seeking new training for agents and analysts and 20 agents for money-laundering cases.

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