- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 30, 2002

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday acknowledged that senior bureau officials should have been more aggressive in pursuing pre-September 11 leads on terrorist suspects and announced a major reorganization he said will help prevent future attacks.
"We have to be proactive. We have to develop the capability to anticipate attacks. We have to develop the capability of looking around corners. And that is the change," Mr. Mueller said at FBI headquarters during a press briefing on the massive bureau reorganization.
For the first time, Mr. Mueller acknowledged that senior FBI executives in Washington might have foiled the September 11 attacks if they had more aggressively pursued indications of terrorism noted by agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis.
"The jury is still out on all of it," he said. "Looking at it right now, I can't say for sure it would not have, that there wasn't a possibility that we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers."
He said, however, that senior FBI officials "should have been more aggressive" in supporting the field agents.
Mr. Mueller, who has come under increasing political attacks in recent weeks regarding the FBI's intelligence failures, received a vote of confidence at yesterday's briefing from Attorney General John Ashcroft, who called him "the right man" to head the FBI during such important changes.
Under the reorganization plan, the FBI widely criticized by Congress for not responding to terrorist warnings before the September 11 attacks will reassign hundreds of agents to counterterrorism and will devote nearly a quarter of its agents to preventing terrorist attacks.
The reorganization, Mr. Mueller said, is intended to change the FBI's structure from a "reactive to a proactive orientation" and will include changes in investigative techniques, culture, attitude, procedures, methodology, hiring and technology.
"We have to take a management and a responsibility role for assuring that the investigations are going well, and that we are gathering and getting the intelligence we need to prevent additional attacks," he said.
In July, agents in Phoenix told FBI headquarters that eight Middle Eastern men had enrolled in flight-training classes. Minneapolis agents alerted headquarters in August about the flight-training activities of Zacarias Moussaoui, who authorities suspect was supposed to be the 20th hijacker in the September 11 plot.
The warnings went to the FBI's radical fundamentalism unit and nowhere else. A request for a warrant for Moussaoui's computer was rejected. Neither FBI field office was advised of the other's information.
"We need to focus on our analytical capabilities in ways we have not in the past, so that when we get pieces of information whether it be from Phoenix or from Oklahoma or from Minnesota it is fed in and looked at and coordinated, analyzed and decisions made as to what we should do with it," Mr. Mueller said.
"We do not have that capability now. We have to have that capability," he said.
Mr. Ashcroft also intends to revise Justice Department guidelines to give FBI field agents authority to open terrorism and undercover investigations without clearance from headquarters.
Those changes, which will be announced by Mr. Ashcroft today, are intended to give the field agents more decision-making power, even as the FBI begins to centralize the analysis of intelligence in Washington.
That kind of authority would have allowed the Minneapolis agents to obtain the Moussaoui warrant without having to check with Washington.
Mr. Mueller and Mr. Ashcroft acknowledged that after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed about 3,000 people, it became clear that the FBI needed fundamental change.
"Because our focus is on preventing terrorist attacks, more so than in the past we must be open to new ideas, to criticism from within and from without, and to admitting and learning from our mistakes," Mr. Mueller said.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the FBI reorganization did not go far enough and the bureau should relinquish other traditional criminal investigations.
"The FBI needs to let go of these areas and recognize we've got a Drug Enforcement Administration; a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms; a Coast Guard; a Customs Service; Secret Service; a Border Patrol and others at the federal level, along with state and local law enforcement nationwide, to handle these kinds of criminal investigations, arrests and prosecutions," he said.
"The FBI has to concentrate on terrorism to get the job done," he said.
Under the reorganization plan, the FBI has identified the prevention of future terrorist attacks as its top priority, and it will transfer or reassign 480 agents from assignments in drugs, white-collar crime and violent-crime sections to counterterrorism duties.
Nearly 3,000 of the FBI's 11,500 agents will be assigned to counterterrorism units, which had been manned by fewer than 1,000 agents before September 11.
Mr. Mueller also will create Washington-based "flying squads" that can move globally to coordinate national and international investigations. He also has called on the CIA for help with the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in field offices around the country and in analyzing intelligence data.
The "flying squads" have been criticized by FBI field agents, who historically have said that senior executives at FBI headquarters have little or no investigative experience and are ill-equipped to supervise field operations.
But Mr. Mueller, a former federal prosecutor, said he intends to attract veteran agents from the field to Washington to lead the counterterrorism effort.
The FBI also plans to hire 900 new agents nationwide by September, most of them specialists in computers, foreign languages, engineering and sciences. It also will create an Office of Intelligence, strengthen the bureau's oversight of counterterrorism investigations, improve its ties to the CIA and upgrade outdated computer systems.

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