- The Washington Times - Monday, November 3, 2003

The FBI identified combating terrorism as its top priority in 1998, but until the September 11 attacks it devoted significantly more resources to investigating high-profile crimes rather than to counterterrorism programs, a report said yesterday.

The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General said that while the FBI responded to the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by 19 al Qaeda terrorists “with an unprecedented level of effort,” the bureau needed to do a better job of responding to its strategic priorities.

“Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the FBI did not devote a significant portion of its special agent resources to domestic and international terrorism issues,” Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said.

He noted that between 1996 and 2001 the bureau assigned more agents and support personnel to investigate white-collar crimes, organized crime, drug crime, violent crimes and major offenders than terrorism-related issues.

“We believe the FBI needs to ensure that its operational priorities, in terms of human resource utilization and investigations, consistently coincide with the priorities that are established through the strategic planning process,” Mr. Fine said.

The findings of an extensive investigation were outlined in a 111-page report, much of which was redacted after being classified as “secret” by the FBI.

The released portions of the document, however, said the FBI — under Director Robert S. Mueller III — responded to the September 11 attacks by dramatically reallocating its resources in a comparatively short period of time, and that since then the FBI has continued to devote more of its time to terrorism-related work than any other single area.

But before September 11, investigators found:

• The FBI used more of its agent resources for white-collar crime, violent crimes, major offenders, organized crime and drug crime than in programs related to the prevention of terrorism.

• Terrorism-related programs consistently under used their allocated personnel at a rate greater than the FBI as a whole. In comparison, the report said agent-utilization rates for violent crimes, major offenders, civil rights cases, and white-collar crime programs were significantly higher.

• Only four of the FBI’s 56 field offices expended more of their agent resources in a terrorism-related program than in any other program. The remaining 52 field offices predominantly used agent resources for white-collar crimes, violent crimes, major offenders, organized crime and drug crime.

• Terrorism-related cases accounted for 18 percent of the cases open at any time between October 1995 and June 2002. In contrast, the violent crime and major offenders program accounted for 25 percent of the FBI’s open cases.

According to the FBI’s five-year strategic plan issued in May 1998, the bureau’s highest priority under Director Louis J. Freeh was national and economic security. This was defined as “foreign intelligence, terrorist, and criminal activities that directly threaten the national or economic security of the United States.”

The inspector general’s investigation examined the FBI’s use of its agents and other personnel in its investigative programs over a seven-year period — six years before the September 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people and nine months after the attacks, comparing planned and actual allocations of resources.

In addition, investigators detailed the types and numbers of cases the FBI investigated during the seven-year period.

The inspector general’s report offered seven recommendations to help the FBI ensure that its operational priorities, in terms of human resources and investigations, more consistently coincide with the priorities the bureau has identified in its strategic plan.

“Perhaps as important as the results of this review is the fact that the FBI had not in the past undertaken this type of detailed statistical analysis of FBI planning, resource usage, and casework,” Mr. Fine said.

“We believe the techniques used in this analysis will prove helpful to the FBI as it continues to assess and manage the balance between its terrorism and nonterrorism-related responsibilities.”

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