Harsh critique of Mueller issued

Ex-members of 9/11 commission find FBI failures

October 21, 2005|By SIOBHAN GORMAN | SIOBHAN GORMAN,SUN REPORTER

WASHINGTON -- Former members of the 9/11 commission sharply criticized FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III yesterday for failing to overcome internal resistance to the creation of a domestic intelligence agency at the FBI.

One former commissioner said that if Mueller cannot remake the FBI into an effective intelligence agency within a year, Congress should consider taking away that responsibility.

"The FBI has been a considerable failure at the kind of intelligence work" needed in the post-9/11 era, said former Republican Sen. Slade Gorton.

The FBI disputed the assessment.

"It's not a fair characterization," said John Miller, the FBI's top spokesman. He said the FBI established intelligence units in 56 field offices in a three-month period in late 2003, calling that an example of the bureau's focus on intelligence.

The commission's harsh critique is a shift from the tone it took in its report last year, which commended Mueller's work at the FBI. After it issued its report in July 2004, the commission reconstituted itself as a private group, the 9/11 Public Discourse Project.

Releasing a report card on the performance of U.S. intelligence agencies, the former commissioners pointed to four areas in which they believe the FBI has failed: improving intelligence analysis, sharing information with local law enforcement officials, creating stable leadership and modernizing its technology.

The former commissioners were comparatively reserved in their evaluation of the CIA, which they criticized strongly in their report last year. CIA Director Porter J. Goss had made "some progress" in improving the spying capacity of his agency, they said, but they withheld judgment about the turnover in the agency's top ranks.

A national spy chief position, director of national intelligence, was created in response to the commission's recommendations. They said they were "encouraged" by the priorities of the man President Bush chose to fill the job, former Ambassador John D. Negroponte.

One of the biggest questions the 9/11 commission wrestled with last year was whether to recommend splitting off the FBI's intelligence division and creating a new agency.

Mueller lobbied vigorously against that idea and convinced the commission that he could turn the FBI into the nation's premier domestic intelligence force.

Some commissioners seem to be having second thoughts.

"All ten of us were very favorably impressed with Bob Mueller ... and his plans and his goals and what he wanted to accomplish in the FBI," Gorton said. "Very bluntly, at this point, we are seriously disappointed with its progress not just after 9/11, but after our report."

Inside the FBI, intelligence analysts are still not accorded the respect that gun-toting special agents get, which makes it difficult to attract top-flight analysts, the former commissioners said.

They also said the bureau was not consistently sharing its information with state and local law enforcement officials.

"It's a very uneven performance," said former Democratic Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, who was vice chairman of the commission.

There has also been considerable turnover in the top echelons of the FBI, which leads to unstable leadership, they said. Mueller's recent appointment of Gary Bald to lead the FBI's intelligence and terrorism branch has been criticized by former FBI officials because Bald has little experience in intelligence or counterterrorism.

The FBI's computer troubles, including its decision last year to junk a $170 million project to make case files searchable, also frustrated the former commissioners. The FBI is soliciting bids for a system that would be partially functional by 2007.

Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean, who was chairman of the 9/11 commission, said there had been "much more resistance than was anticipated" to Mueller's efforts at boosting the FBI's intelligence arm.

Several former commissioners said that although they believe that Mueller has the right vision for the bureau, they are increasingly impatient with the pace of change.

But Miller, the FBI spokesman, said critics are ignoring a number of initiatives. They include purchasing 30,000 computers, nearly doubling the number of intelligence analysts and establishing a temporary database for terrorism information.

He added that the FBI has acted as quickly as possible but said some projects take time to do properly.

Staff turnover, Miller said, is unavoidable because private industry has been luring away security personnel since 9/11 by offering top FBI experts salaries of up to $500,000. Miller also disputed as "completely unsupported" the contention that the FBI is not sharing intelligence with state and local law enforcement.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and member of the Senate committee that oversees the FBI, said yesterday's report card "shows that the FBI still has a long way to go."

Like the former commissioners, he said that "change has got to start happening more quickly" and expressed frustration that the same problems at the bureau keep "popping up over and over again."

Those include a failure to share information, a "double standard in discipline" and a "cowboy culture" that resists change, he said.siobhan.gorman@baltsun.com

A link to the panel's full report can be found at baltimoresun.com/terror.

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