posted on Nov, 16 2002 @ 08:00 PM
Bush Aides Consider Domestic Spy Agency
Concerns on FBI's Performance Spur Debate of OptionsBy Dana Priest and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 16, 2002; Page A01
President Bush's top national security advisers have begun discussing the creation of a new, domestic intelligence agency that would take over
responsibility for counterterrorism spying and analysis from the FBI, according to U.S. government officials and intelligence experts.
The high-level debate reflects a widespread concern that the FBI has been unable to transform itself from a law enforcement agency into an
intelligence-gathering unit able to detect and thwart terrorist plans in the United States. The FBI has admitted it has not yet completed the cultural
sea change necessary to turn its agents into spies, but the creation of a new agency is firmly opposed by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, who has
said he believes the bureau can do the job.
On Veterans Day, top national security officials gathered for two hours to discuss the issue in a meeting chaired by national security adviser
Condoleezza Rice. White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, CIA Director George J. Tenet, Attorney General
John D. Ashcroft, Mueller and six others attended.
Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge was recently dispatched to London for a briefing on the fabled MI5, an agency empowered to collect and analyze
intelligence within Britain, leaving law enforcement to the police. Similarly, if another agency were created in the United States, it would not
replace the FBI but would have the primary role in gathering and analyzing intelligence about Americans and foreign nationals in the United States.
Revelations of the debate come amid heightened apprehension within the U.S. intelligence community over the possibility of large-scale terrorist
strikes against the United States or Europe.
The FBI warned law enforcement agencies Thursday night that Osama bin Laden's terror network may be plotting "spectacular" attacks inside the
United States. Some intelligence officials described the threats as even more ominous than those picked up in the weeks prior to the Sept. 11, 2001,
attacks. But the administration, citing a lack of specific information about the time or place of any attack, did not increase the national threat
alert indicator from yellow or "elevated" -- a status that means there is a "significant" risk of terror attacks.
The FBI warning said "al Qaeda may favor spectacular attacks that meet several criteria: high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the
U.S. economy and maximum psychological trauma," adding that the highest priority targets were historic landmarks, the nuclear sector, aviation and
The alert came after the release of a new audiotape believed to be made by bin Laden threatening the United States and its allies.
At a news conference, Rice responded to criticism from some Senate Democrats that the war on terror was flagging and from foreign officials that the
war on Iraq would distract the administration from its unfinished battle with al Qaeda.
Rice said that President Bush "does not begin his day on Iraq; he begins his day on the war on terrorism."
"This is the central focus of this administration," she added.
U.S. officials also revealed yesterday that they had recently captured a high-level al Qaeda member. They declined to identify him but said he is
among the top dozen al Qaeda fugitives sought by the United States. It was not clear yesterday where the al Qaeda leader was being held.
A Bush administration spokesman, who asked not to be named, said no conclusions were reached about a domestic intelligence agency during the Veterans
Day meeting. He said an MI5-style agency was just one option considered. The official, and other sources knowledgeable about the issue, said the White
House first wants to launch a new Department of Homeland Security, which would include an intelligence analysis division.
Any major change such as this would come later, government sources said. More meetings on the subject are planned.
Some members of Congress have said they favor creating a domestic security agency and it is likely legislative proposals will be offered during the
next Congress. "We're either going to create a working, effective, substantial domestic intelligence unit in the FBI or create a new agency," said
Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), ranking member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The results are dismal to this point."
He said creating a whole new agency "would be a big-ticket item from everyone's standpoint. We have to think this out carefully."
During the Veterans Day meeting, Mueller offered the same arguments about the FBI's structure that he has made in testimony on Capitol Hill, sources
said. He has said the FBI is uniquely positioned to act as the United States' primary domestic intelligence agency, and that reforms implemented
since the Sept. 11 attacks have made counterterrorism the bureau's primary goal.
But others in the meeting were not as convinced, citing the FBI's progress to date and the inherent difficulties of retraining FBI agents who are
accustomed to restrictions on domestic spying and prohibitions against gathering information on people who are not suspected of committing crimes.
The bureau worked hard to snuff out similar proposals earlier this year when the Homeland Security Department was first proposed.
But some former law enforcement officials such as George Terwilliger, a top official in President George H.W. Bush's Justice Department, advocate
creating a domestic intelligence agency that would combine FBI counterterror efforts with CIA and military operations. Keeping foreign and domestic
terrorism intelligence operations separate is an "outdated notion," he said. "Somebody needs to have ownership of the problem on a government-wide
A number of outside intelligence experts and blue-ribbon panels recently have recommended radical overhauls of the United States' domestic
In a preliminary report released this week, an advisory commission headed by former Virginia governor James S. Gilmore endorsed a new counterterrorism
center made up of analysts now working for the CIA, FBI and other agencies. The center "would be responsible for the fusion of intelligence, from all
sources, foreign and domestic, on potential attacks inside the United States," the commission said.
Mueller met with Gilmore prior to the report's release to try to persuade him not to recommend a separate intelligence agency, sources said.
In October, a separate bipartisan panel of high-technology experts and former intelligence officials recommended that the proposed Homeland Security
Department take over collection and analysis of intelligence from the FBI. The Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information
Age found that "the FBI has no effective process for providing intelligence on terrorism to policymakers or others outside the law enforcement
The proposed Homeland Security Department, which was approved by the House this week and is awaiting Senate approval, would include a new analysis
division that would receive and analyze terrorism-related reports from the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies. But the
new department would not collect intelligence data on its own and would not have access to original information except in special circumstances,
administration officials have said.
I.C. Smith, a former FBI counterintelligence official, said there is no need to create a new intelligence gathering agency outside the FBI, or to turn
over more duties to Homeland Security. Smith and many other current and former FBI officials argue that the bureau was renowned for its
intelligence-gathering capabilities during the Cold War, though abuses led to restrictions on the bureau's powers.
"The FBI worked counterintelligence for decades and did it very, very well overall," Smith said. "It was able to bridge that gap between criminal
investigations and intelligence operations. . . . The problem is not the structure; it's a failure of management to implement the resources they
[Edited on 17-11-2002 by Quicksilver]