Friday, April 1, 2005

A presidential panel yesterday urged the Bush administration to set up a new domestic intelligence branch of the FBI to better deal with terrorism, spies and arms proliferation.

The report of the Commission on Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, which sharply criticizes the FBI, CIA and 13 other intelligence agencies, called for setting up a National Security Service at the FBI. It also states that one of the major problems facing the new director of national intelligence (DNI) will be to bring the FBI, mainly a law-enforcement agency, into the intelligence community.

“As the events of September 11 demonstrated, we cannot afford a wall that divides U.S. intelligence efforts at the border,” the report says.

The FBI has been criticized for failing to track down two of the September 11 hijackers after they were notified the men had entered the country months before the attack. The agency also came under fire for poor security after one of its veteran agents, Robert Hanssen, in 2001 was uncovered as a spy for Moscow who had been active since 1985.

The commission report credits the bureau with making progress in working closer with the U.S. intelligence community, but adds that “it has a long way to go, and significant hurdles still remain.”

“In our view, the FBI has not constructed its intelligence program in a way that will promote integrated intelligence efforts, and its ambitions have led it into unnecessary new turf battles with the CIA,” it says.

FBI spokesmen had no comment on the call for the new domestic spy service. An FBI statement praised the commission for recognizing “progress” in bolstering intelligence programs and noted that “we agree with its judgment that we have more work to do.”

The bureau has 1,720 intelligence analysts — 38 of them in its intelligence directorate — and 12,000 agents “capable of collecting valuable information,” the report says. While a third of the FBI’s budget comes from a general U.S. intelligence budget, a large portion of the funds are spent on programs other than intelligence.

The panel states that the National Security Service should be directed by an FBI executive assistant director who will be in charge of the combined counterterrorism, counterintelligence and intelligence analysis branches.

The recommendation of the new service is expected to be controversial. The FBI all but halted its domestic spying activities in the 1980s following lawsuits brought against it by groups that claimed their rights were violated by the spying.

The new National Security Service would conduct all domestic spying activities within the United States under the attorney general’s guidelines “to protect civil liberties.” Past efforts to build an intelligence capability within the FBI had “foundered” because of “strong resistance from the FBI’s operational divisions,” the report says.

It also states the recently passed intelligence reform law created an “ambiguous” tie between DNI and FBI intelligence-gathering efforts that could allow the FBI to “largely elude the DNI’s intended authorities.”

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