[Ppnews] FBI Struggling to Reinvent Itself to Fight Terror

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Oct 13 15:05:25 EDT 2006

NYT 10/10/2006

F.B.I. Struggling to Reinvent Itself to Fight Terror

Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Philip Mudd, one of the highest-ranking F.B.I. 
officials, at agency headquarters in Washington.

SHANE and 
Published: October 10, 2006

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 — Last February, top 
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.


Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

Robert S. Mueller III, director of the F.B.I., 
testifying before a Senate committee hearing last May.

Max Whittaker for The New York Times

The Lodi Muslim Mosque in Lodi, Calif.

Philip Mudd, who had just joined the bureau from 
the rival 
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 
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.

Eight months after his talk, Mr. Mudd admits that 
some in the bureau do not accept his guiding 
premise: that arresting bad guys is sometimes 
less important than collecting intelligence to uncover the next terrorist plot.

“There’s 31,000 employees in this organization 
and we’re undergoing a sea-change,” he said in an 
interview. “It’s going to take a while for what 
is a high-end national security program to sink down to every officer.”

The top counterterrorism job has turned over 
repeatedly — seven people in five years — filled 
mostly by veterans with little expertise on 
Islamist movements and terrorist networks. Many 
counterterrorism agents have minimal specialized 
training. A National Security Agency executive 
brought in to reshape the bureau’s intelligence 
capabilities, Maureen Baginski, departed after 
clashing with F.B.I. old-timers. The intelligence 
units Ms. Baginski created in the 56 field 
offices lack clear instructions and some are 
“struggling,” a recent Congressional study found.

And some bureau traditionalists believe that Mr. 
Mudd, too, will move on from his job as second in 
command of the bureau’s new National Security 
Branch. “They’ll just wait him out,” a counterterrorism official said.

After interviewing more than 60 intelligence 
officials for a new book on counterterrorism, Amy 
Zegart, of the 
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.”

In interviews by The New York Times and the 
Public Broadcasting System documentary series 
“Frontline,” even critics acknowledged the 
sweeping structural changes at the bureau under 
S. Mueller III, who took over as director a week before the Sept. 11 attacks.

The number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces, in 
which F.B.I. agents collaborate with state and 
local agencies, has ballooned to 101, from 35. 
The number of intelligence analysts has doubled 
to 2,161, and the number of linguists has doubled 
to 1,371. And the F.B.I. points out that there 
has been no new terrorist attack.

Mr. Mudd said agents were encouraged to postpone 
the arrest of a terrorism suspect until his ties 
to other operatives, financial supporters and 
foreign networks were fully understood.

“I don’t want to take him down too quickly,” he 
said. “I want to understand what we know and what 
we don’t know. If we’re focused solely on cases, 
I can’t have confidence that we know what’s going on.”

But the drive to bring criminal charges often 
eclipses the intelligence imperative. In cases 
from Lodi, Calif., where a 23-year-old man was 
convicted this year of training in a terrorist 
camp in Pakistan, to Miami, where seven Haitian 
men are charged with waging war against the 
United States government, defendants who seemed 
nowhere near ready to mount an attack were 
arrested with a news media splash rather than quietly kept under surveillance.

Christopher D. Hamilton, who retired last year 
after 22 years at the F.B.I., half of it working 
on counterterrorism, said agents still believed 
that their careers would rise or fall on the cases they brought.

“Supervisors will say, ‘Why don’t you have any 
cases?’ ” said Mr. Hamilton, now at the 
Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Cases 
are good for getting resources, good for publicity and good for morale.”

Even a Los Angeles case that federal officials 
describe as the most operationally advanced of 
post-2001 plots uncovered in the United States 
appears to show a gap between public relations and reality.

In that case, three men are charged with 
committing robberies to raise money for jihadist 
attacks on synagogues and military recruiting 
stations, in what Director Mueller has described 
as a bid to create 
Qaeda in California.” Their actions are said to 
have been directed by Kevin James, who headed a Muslim group behind bars.

But agents checked on more than 100 prisoners 
with links to Mr. James and charged none. And 
though Mr. James has been portrayed as the 
mastermind, reporters for The New York Times and 
“Frontline” were repeatedly able to visit him in 
jail in Santa Ana, Calif. Such access is almost 
never granted to people accused of terrorism 
because the authorities fear that they could direct a plot from prison.

But if making arrests is no longer the top 
priority, many agents fear that an ill-defined 
quest for domestic intelligence is likely to lead 
to political trouble, as the hunt for Communists 
in the 1960’s led to surveillance on the Rev. Dr. 
Luther King Jr. and John Lennon. Michael Rolince, 
a veteran F.B.I. counterterrorism official who 
retired last year, said the attorney general’s 
investigative guidelines, first imposed as a 
reform in 1976, “are absolutely necessary to keep 
F.B.I. agents out of trouble.”

But the guidelines, largely classified, have been 
loosened repeatedly in the last 30 years, most 
recently in 2003 to permit “threat assessments” 
without evidence of a crime. Officials say 
uncertainty in field offices about how the rules 
apply today has slowed the move to intelligence. 
They plan to issue new instructions to top agents 
from each field office this month.

Mr. Mudd said he knew that concern about civil 
liberties was “in the DNA” at the F.B.I., and he 
recently read a biography of J. Edgar Hoover, 
whose long tenure as director was marred by 
abuses, to recall the dangers of uncontrolled domestic spying.

Still, he said, “I do bristle a bit at people 
saying, ‘You want to just go back to the 60’s and 70’s.’ ”

Intelligence on the terrorist threat involves not 
just spying, Mr. Mudd said, but also building a 
close relationship with leaders in Muslim communities.

To help agents and analysts distinguish genuine 
threats from routine Islamist rhetoric, the 
bureau has just doubled its basic training on 
counterterrorism to about 80 hours. Skeptics 
note, however, that more time is devoted to firearms training.

“The F.B.I. needs to follow the lead of the small 
group of agents who’ve made themselves experts,” 
said Evan F. Kohlmann, a consultant to the bureau 
and Scotland Yard and author of a book and Web site devoted to Al Qaeda.

Mr. Kohlmann said the dozen agents who knew 
international terror networks best were rarely brought in on local cases.

Knowledgeable employees say Muslim agents number 
no more than a dozen of the bureau’s 12,664 
agents. (The bureau says it does not track 
employees by religion.) And an F.B.I. tradition 
that values leadership and personal connections 
more than specialized knowledge has resulted in 
counterterrorism bosses with minimal background.

“You need leadership. You don’t need 
subject-matter expertise,” said Gary M. Bald, 
whom Mr. Mueller named last year as the first 
head of the National Security Branch, admitting 
in a 2005 deposition that he knew little about 
Islam. Mr. Bald has since left for a security job with a cruise line.

The awkward tension between intelligence and 
prosecution was on vivid display in the Lodi 
case. The investigation began in late 2001 as an 
intelligence operation to size up two imams from 
Pakistan whom the authorities believed had ties to extremists.

After four years of surveillance, agents had 
found no evidence of terrorism-related crimes by 
the imams, who were deported to Pakistan. 
Instead, the government prosecuted Hamid Hayat, 
23, who faces a maximum sentence of 39 years in 
prison for attending a terrorist training camp in 
Pakistan. His father, Umer Hayat, 48, is free 
after a mistrial and a guilty plea to making a false statement.

The Lodi case produced worldwide headlines about 
an “Al Qaeda cell” in California, and 
D. Negroponte, the director of national 
intelligence, called it the prime example of a 
“homegrown jihadist cell” in Congressional 
testimony. But critics of the case, including 
several former agents, say it has serious and revealing shortcomings.

The informant in the case, a convenience store 
clerk who was paid more than $200,000 over four 
years in salary and expenses, could be heard on 
tape angrily ordering Hamid Hayat to seek 
terrorist training. His claim that he saw 
al-Zawahri, Al Qaeda’s second in command, at the 
Lodi mosque in 1998 or 1999 was admitted by the government to be inaccurate.

The video of Hamid Hayat’s confession showed 
agents prompting his answers and sometimes 
insisting on their own version. And his account 
of the camp bore no resemblance to that of his 
father, who said it was an underground facility 
where would-be terrorists dressed as “Ninja 
turtles” and practiced pole-vaulting.

The interrogation tapes so outraged James J. 
Wedick, who retired in 2004 after 35 years as an 
F.B.I. agent, that he worked for the defense 
without charge. “It’s shameful, because I’ve 
never seen the department do this before,” Mr. Wedick said.

The Hayats, he concluded, were saying whatever 
they thought the agents wanted to hear, and 
little effort was made to corroborate their confessions.

The case also raised questions about agents’ 
familiarity with Islam, as some scholars say 
agents misinterpreted a scrap of paper with a Muslim prayer as a jihadist vow.

Finally, several other Pakistani Americans whom 
the Hayats said had visited terrorist camps have 
not been charged, suggesting that the F.B.I. does 
not believe at least some parts of the Hayats’ 
confessions. The management of the case appears 
at odds with the new philosophy of following up 
all leads before any public charges are brought.

A lingering question in the Lodi case is the 
effect on Pakistanis in the area. Some mosque 
leaders who saw the Pakistani imams as militant 
interlopers are glad they are gone. But few 
believe that the Hayats ever posed a threat.

Taj Khan, a retired engineer and leader among the 
Pakistanis in Lodi, said the Hayats’ experience 
had made residents more reluctant to cooperate with the F.B.I.

“Everybody’s clear that as soon as they talk to 
the F.B.I.,” Mr. Khan said, “they might be, you know, put in the slammer.”

There is, he added, “not much trust at all.”

Drew S. Parenti, the special agent in charge of 
the Sacramento office of the F.B.I., defended the 
case, saying, “Everything we did in this case was 
lawful, ethical, proper, was reviewed by a judge 
and was determined by a jury of peers to be 
sufficient evidence to sustain conviction.”

But Mr. Scott, the United States attorney, now 
says it was a mistake to label the case as a Qaeda plot.

“We probably, at the end of the day, should not 
have used that term,” he said. “One of the 
biggest mistakes that we can make is to overhype 
these cases on the front end. And if it is a 
widely held perception out there that we did that 
in this case, then I regret that, because that was never our intent.”

Jordan deBree, Rob Harris and Jeff Kearns 
contributed reporting from Lodi, Calif.

The Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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