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The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"Now it seems the US Attorney General has had enough"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 20 June, 2001, 22:48 GMT 23:48 UK
US orders full FBI probe
Chairman of the Judiciary Committee Senator Patrick Leahy (R) before hearing
Senator Leahy said the FBI had become unreliable
United States Attorney General John Ashcroft has announced a comprehensive review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the FBI.

The agency has been under criticism most recently for failing to hand over all documents to the defence in the case of the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh.

Unfortunately, the image of the FBI in the minds of too many Americans is that this agency has become unmanageable, unaccountable and unreliable

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy
The FBI also failed to notice the alleged Russian spy, Robert Hanssen, within its own ranks for many years.

The announcement of the review came as the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the work of the FBI, began hearings into the agency's problems.

President George W Bush is currently looking for a new FBI director to replace Louis Freeh, who is leaving the post early.

'Crown jewel'

Pre-empting the committee hearing, Mr Ashcroft directed a high-level Justice Department group called the Strategic Management Council to propose ways of reforming the FBI by 1 January 2002.

The group, chaired by the deputy attorney general, should recommend actions aimed at "improving and upgrading the performance of the FBI," Mr Ashcroft said in a memo calling for the review.

Executed Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh
Withheld FBI files led to postponement of McVeigh's execution
Judicial Committee Chairman, Democrat Senator Patrick Leahy, said as he opened the hearings: "The FBI has long been considered a crown jewel of law enforcement agencies.

"Unfortunately today it has lost a lot of its earlier lustre."

He said the image of the FBI for too many Americans has become one of an agency that is "unmanageable, unaccountable and unreliable".

"Its much vaunted independence has transformed for some into an image of insular arrogance," he added.

Russia spy Robert Hanssen
It was 15 years before alleged Russia spy Robert Hanssen was caught
Mr Leahy was one of several US senators to spearhead calls for a full review of the FBI after the agency admitted failing to hand over more than 3,000 pages of documents to the defence lawyers of Timothy McVeigh - prompting a delay of his execution for a month.

Last straw

This was the latest in a series of recent incidents involving the FBI, which culminated with the arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen 15 years after he allegedly began spying for Russia.

An inquiry was set up earlier this year following the arrest.

But the BBC's Paul Reynolds says the FBI's failings in the McVeigh case, despite its success in catching him, seem to have been the last straw.

FBI 'mishaps'
Timothy McVeigh documents
Ruby Ridge shooting in Idaho
Investigation of Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee
FBI misidentification of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bomber
FBI siege of Waco
Arrest of alleged Russia spy Robert Hanssen
The comprehensive review, our correspondent says, comes despite considerable achievements for the FBI over recent years. One of the most important was the investigation into the bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania - which have resulted in convictions in a New York court.

But the image of the FBI is so important in the United States that politicians felt they had to act, our correspondent says.

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See also:

14 May 01 | Americas
McVeigh case sparks FBI probe call
12 May 01 | Americas
McVeigh shows FBI 'in turmoil'
21 Jul 00 | Americas
Inquiry clears FBI of Waco blame
30 May 01 | Americas
Embassy bombs: The FBI trail
13 Jun 01 | Americas
US embassy bomber gets life
31 May 01 | Americas
FBI agent denies spying
21 Feb 01 | Americas
Profile: Unassuming double agent?
21 Feb 01 | Americas
Catching a 'spy'
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