- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In sworn testimony that contrasts with their promises to the public, the FBI managers who crafted the post-September 11 fight against terrorism say expertise about the Middle East or terrorism was not important in choosing the agents they promoted to top jobs.

They still do not think such experience is necessary even as terrorist acts occur across the globe.

“A bombing case is a bombing case,” said Dale Watson, the FBI’s terrorism chief in the two years after September 11. “A crime scene in a bank robbery case is the same as a crime scene, you know, across the board.”

The FBI’s terror-fighting chief, Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald, said his first terrorism training came “on the job” when he moved to headquarters to oversee the counterterrorism strategy two years ago.

Asked about his grasp of Middle Eastern culture and history, Mr. Bald responded: “I wish that I had it. It would be nice.”

“You need leadership. You don’t need subject matter expertise,” Mr. Bald testified in an ongoing FBI employment case. “It is certainly not what I look for in selecting an official for a position in a counterterrorism position.”

In a development that has escaped public attention, FBI agent Bassem Youssef has questioned under oath many of the FBI’s top leaders, including Director Robert S. Mueller III and his predecessor, Louis J. Freeh, in an effort to show he was passed over for top terrorism jobs despite his expertise. Testimony from his lawsuit has been sent to Congress.

Those who have held the bureau’s top terrorism-fighting jobs since September 11 often said in their testimony that they — and many they have promoted since — had no significant terrorism or Middle East experience. Some could not explain the difference between Sunnis and Shi’ites, the two primary groups of Muslims.

“Probably the strongest leader I know in counterterrorism has no counterterrorism in his background,” Mr. Bald said.

The hundreds of pages of testimony obtained by the Associated Press contrast with Mr. Mueller’s repeated assurances to Congress that he was building a new FBI, from top to bottom, with specialists able to prevent terrorist attacks, rather than solve them afterward.

“The FBI’s shift toward terrorism prevention necessitates the building of a national level expertise and body of knowledge,” Mr. Mueller told Congress a year after the suicide hijackings, as lawmakers approved billions of additional dollars to fight terrorism.

Despite the testimony of its managers, the FBI said it has fundamentally reshaped itself to ensure the field agents on the ground who work the cases have the necessary skills, training and background for fighting terrorism. It noted it hired or redeployed more than 1,000 agents to counterterrorism and hired an additional 1,200 intelligence analysts and linguists.

“We fundamentally changed the criteria for hiring special agents and intelligence analysts to ensure that we get the critical skills, knowledge and experience we need to address today’s threats,” Assistant Director Cassandra M. Chandler said.


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