The FBI escaped with relatively little criticism over its antiterrorism work yesterday from the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Most of the panel’s attention in the continuation of its public hearings focused on shortcomings of the CIA.
The New York Times reports that FBI chief Robert Mueller III “received glowing assessments from most panel members for his work in trying to remake the bureau as a counterterrorism and intelligence-gathering operation.” Lee H. Hamilton, the Democratic co-chairman of the commission, said the panel “believes that he is moving in the right direction and has made much progress. We are cheering him on. The key question for us is whether he can succeed with the very difficult mission that he has set out, and we have not come to a judgment with respect to that.”
Civil-liberties advocates worry that a domestic intelligence agency with broad power to conduct surveillance and covert operations could lead to the types of abuses seen at the FBI. under J. Edgar Hoover. “It’s terribly important that, whatever system you have for the collection of domestic intelligence, that it be done by an agency that has respect for the rule of law,” Hamilton said. “And that’s one argument, at least, for keeping domestic intelligence in the FBI”
The Times noted that the commission’s latest staff reports found lingering problems that could hinder the bureau’s ability to prevent terror attacks. Those include a shortage of qualified translators, a potential understaffing of intelligence analysis units, and a perception among some analysts that they receive second-class treatment.
The FBI gave the commission its fullest accounting of 70 bin Laden-related investigations cited in the briefing that President Bush received on Aug. 6, 2001. John Pistole, who oversees counterterrorism at the FBI, told the panel that the actual number of investigations was 67. Twelve investigations were closed because the bureau determined there was no link to Al Qaeda or Sunni extremists. Two people linked to the East African bombings in 1998 were arrested and indicted. One was charged with a nonterrorist financial crime, six moved overseas and were tracked by the CIA, two died, and a number are still under investigation.