Prosecutor eyed for security post

He would supervise restructuring as head of new Justice Dept. division

March 11, 2006|By RICHARD B. SCHMITT | RICHARD B. SCHMITT,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The White House is considering a top federal prosecutor and longtime protege of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III for the job of overseeing a restructuring of the Justice Department's national security operation, officials familiar with the selection process said yesterday.

Kenneth L. Wainstein, the U.S. attorney in Washington and a former chief of staff to Mueller, is expected to be named as early as Monday to the post of assistant attorney general in charge of a new national security division at the department, said the officials, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the news media about a personnel matter.

Wainstein, 44, has been the chief federal prosecutor in Washington, the largest U.S. attorney's office in the nation, for two years and has held other high-level posts, including general counsel of the FBI.

The new position is central to the efforts by the Justice Department to refashion itself as a terror-fighting agency. It is part of a continuing effort to remove strategic and structural barriers to the sharing of information between intelligence officers and prosecutors.

Those barriers were cited as a major reason for the government's failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and have led to intelligence reforms throughout government.

The Justice Department reorganization is one of the most significant in its recent history. It was urged in March 2005 by a bipartisan commission headed by Laurence H. Silberman, a senior federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former Democratic senator from Virginia.

The commission's report included withering criticism of U.S. intelligence agencies and urged fundamental changes. That has led to high-level moves at the CIA and the FBI that, among other things, make the agencies more accountable to John D. Negroponte, the national intelligence director.

The report called the Justice Department's organizational structure "awkward" and "outdated." It recommended appointing a senior-level assistant attorney general to oversee the operations and to serve as a focal point for security matters.

The new national security division will include the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, which handles government requests for secret surveillance in terrorist and espionage cases before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. That court was bypassed by the Bush administration as part of a warrantless domestic surveillance program of al-Qaida suspects.

Richard B. Schmitt writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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