WASHINGTON - The FBI unit that would be shifted to the proposed Department of Homeland Security and given primary responsibility for receiving and analyzing information about terrorist threats against the United States is a computer security office that does not have trained intelligence analysts.
Instead, the National Infrastructure Protection Center, which officials say would provide the lion's share of personnel for the analysis division of the department, is made up of computer experts, systems technicians and FBI agents who investigate computer crimes.
Moreover, the General Accounting Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, criticized the unit last year as lacking adequate staff or technical expertise to handle its mission of guarding against computer attacks by hackers, terrorists or hostile nations.
The centerpiece of the Department of Homeland Security is to be the Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection division, a clearinghouse for all reports and snippets of information about terrorist threats, culled from the CIA, the National Security Agency, the FBI, the Customs Service and other government agencies, administration officials say.
"This new department will review intelligence and law enforcement information from all agencies of government and produce a single daily picture of threats against our homeland," said President Bush in unveiling the proposal during a nationally televised address June 6. "Analysts will be responsible for imagining the worst and planning to counter it."
Most of the employees for the intelligence analysis division - 795 of 976 - are to come from the FBI's infrastructure protection center, created four years ago solely to guard against computer attacks. But the NIPC now has just 430 employees spread among FBI headquarters in Washington and the bureau's 56 field offices, said Debbie Weierman, an FBI spokeswoman.
Questions from the Hill
Members of Congress question whether the Bush administration proposal provides adequately for the analysis of the streams of intelligence on terrorism that is to arrive in the new department.
"You'd want people who are skilled analysts," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat and one of the leading congressional voices on homeland security, who asked why analysts were not among the personnel to go to the department's analysis division. "There's no requirement for people from the intelligence community to do this. Why wouldn't you want the top people?"
"They're going to have to hire some [analysts], there's no question," said Rep. William M. "Mac" Thornberry, a Texas Republican, who like Lieberman has introduced his own homeland security legislation.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, pressed the issue with Tom Ridge, the president's adviser on homeland security, as well as with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney last week.
Others are asking the same question, including former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, an Indiana Democrat who headed the House Intelligence Committee and is now a member of the president's new Homeland Security Advisory Council.
"My impression is, they don't know yet," he said of Bush administration officials. "They've talked to us about it, but they didn't give us any answers."
Asked why the proposed analysis division has no provision for analysts, Ashley Snee, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, said the plan is to assign veteran intelligence analysts from the FBI and the intelligence agencies to the new department.
"The details are still to be worked out," said Snee. "The legislation has not yet gone to the Hill."
Snee and another official at the homeland security office said the proposed department would receive not only finished intelligence reports from CIA and other agencies, but also "raw" intelligence - which means snippets of information, from telephone transcripts to names of possible terrorist associates to reports from foreign agents that would have to be scrutinized to glean vital information about domestic threats.
The analysis division would "look at raw intelligence as well as analyzed intelligence from CIA, FBI, NSA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency] as well as other agencies," Snee said. "We'll map out the threats."
Ridge's chief spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, told The New York Times: "Where appropriate, raw intelligence will be provided to the Department of Homeland Security without compromising our sources and methods."
Jack Devine, a former top CIA official and now president of the Arkin Group, an international consulting firm, said shifting federal workers from other positions won't make them analysts. Intensive training is required.
"It takes years and a certain mindset," said Devine. "It's a way of looking at information and vetting information."
The only place to find the needed analysts, Devine and others say, is at the intelligence agencies and the FBI.