FBI's Priorities before 9/11 Lax on Terror, Report Says

Article excerpt


The FBI identified combating terrorism as its top priority in 1998, but until the September 11 attacks it devoted significantly more resources to investigating high-profile crimes rather than to counterterrorism programs, a report said yesterday.

The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said that while the FBI responded to the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon by 19 al Qaeda terrorists "with an unprecedented level of effort," the bureau needed to do a better job of responding to its strategic priorities.

"Prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, the FBI did not devote a significant portion of its special agent resources to domestic and international terrorism issues," Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said.

He noted that between 1996 and 2001 the bureau assigned more agents and support personnel to investigate white-collar crimes, organized crime, drug crime, violent crimes and major offenders than terrorism-related issues.

"We believe the FBI needs to ensure that its operational priorities, in terms of human resource utilization and investigations, consistently coincide with the priorities that are established through the strategic planning process," Mr. Fine said.

The findings of an extensive investigation were outlined in a 111-page report, much of which was redacted after being classified as "secret" by the FBI.

The released portions of the document, however, said the FBI - under Director Robert S. Mueller III - responded to the September 11 attacks by dramatically reallocating its resources in a comparatively short period of time, and that since then the FBI has continued to devote more of its time to terrorism-related work than any other single area.

But before September 11, investigators found:

c The FBI used more of its agent resources for white-collar crime, violent crimes, major offenders, organized crime and drug crime than in programs related to the prevention of terrorism.

c Terrorism-related programs consistently under used their allocated personnel at a rate greater than the FBI as a whole. …