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**** or Get off the Pot (Updates)

Last February, top F.B.I. officers from across the nation gathered in a high-security auditorium for the latest plan to reinvent the crime-fighting agency to take on terrorism.

Philip Mudd, who had just joined the bureau from the rival Central Intelligence Agency, was pitching a program called Domain Management, designed to get agents to move beyond chasing criminal cases and start gathering intelligence.

Drawing on things like commercial marketing software and the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping without warrants, the program is supposed to identify threats. Mr. Mudd displayed a map of the San Francisco area, pocked with data showing where Iranian immigrants were clustered — and where, he said, an F.B.I. squad was “hunting.”

Some F.B.I. officials found Mr. Mudd’s concept vague and the implied ethnic targeting troubling. How were they supposed to go “hunting” without colliding with the Constitution? Would the C.I.A. man, whom some mocked privately as Rasputin, take the bureau back to the domestic spying scandals of the 1960’s? And why neglect promising cases to, in Mr. Mudd’s words, “search for the unknown”?

The skepticism is just one sign of unfinished business at the bureau. Five years after the Sept. 11 attacks spurred a new mission, F.B.I. culture still respects door-kicking investigators more than deskbound analysts sifting through tidbits of data. The uneasy transition into a spy organization has prompted criticism from those who believe that the bureau cannot competently gather domestic intelligence, and others, including some insiders, who fear that it can.


After interviewing more than 60 intelligence officials for a new book on counterterrorism, Amy Zegart, of the University of California, Los Angeles, reached a dismal verdict on the F.B.I.

“If you look at, for example, the four key ingredients for counterterrorism success — agents, analysts, managers and computers — the F.B.I. is struggling to get the basics right on all of them,” Ms. Zegart said. “New agents still get more time for vacation than they do for counterterrorism training. Analysts are still treated as glorified secretaries.”

I don’t know why the thought didn’t come to me earlier (alcoholic blackout?) but reading this latest account of FBI fits and starts as it tries to become both an intelligence and counterterrorism agency on top of a law enforcement agency I am had to ask myself: why are we spending so much time trying to retrofit the Bureau when it is painfully clear that it does not want to be anything more than it is?

There are any number of texts explaining why the FBI can do the domestic intelligence (in the most benign sense) job and the CT job; and an equal number of arguments against those positions. So far proponents of the former have won out, but judging by the comments made by Bureau staff in the first few paragraphs of the story it seems to me that they are not much interested in doing what is necessary to fulfill intelligence and security needs. Note that they talk a good game about how they’re improving in the intelligence and CT fields, but they’ve either driven out anyone who tries to make changes or stick whatever executive short-timer they can into what is arguably one of the most important jobs in the agency. Nobody who is serious about a mission has seven bosses in five years.

The answer, at least the cynical DC answer, is that while they may not be interested in carrying out the missions, they are MORE interested in NOT letting anyone else do them. Give up the missions – quarter-hearted attempts though they may be – and you give up money and power and no good, self-serving bureaucrat (no pun intended) is going to do that.

If the Executive were serious about homeland security and serious about making sure we don’t have to fight terrorists here, there would be a strong and decisive move to help the Bureau unburden itself from the domestic intelligence and counterterrorism missions. Spin it off, give the charter to someone else, anything but leaving it in the useless limbo it is in now.

Update: Who says I don’t have friends?

Update II: It gets worse.

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji

Michael Tanji spent nearly 20 years in the US intelligence community. Trained in both SIGINT and HUMINT disciplines he has worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Office. At various points in his career he served as an expert in information warfare, computer network operations, computer forensics, and indications and warning. A veteran of the US Army, Michael has served in both strategic and tactical assignments in the Pacific Theater, the Balkans, and the Middle East.