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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 23:20 GMT
FBI shake-up under way
Attorney General John Ashcroft
Mr Ashcroft wants the FBI to focus on terror prevention
The FBI has launched an organisational shake-up in response to the 11 September attacks on the United States and following months of turmoil at the agency over several high profile errors.

We have to do a better job addressing security

FBI Director
Robert Mueller
Under the reorganisation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will increase its emphasis on counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence work.

It will also channel efforts into combating cyber-crime.

FBI Director Robert Mueller has appointed four assistant directors to head four new departments devoted to criminal investigations, counter-terrorism, law enforcement and administration.

The bureau's investigative services, created just two years ago by Mr Mueller's predecessor, Louis Freeh, will be dissolved, and analysts working there will be absorbed by the criminal and counter-terrorism branches.

The hope is that the agency, which has come under fire in the recent past, will be able to respond more quickly to problems of national security and cope better with threats against the country's computer infrastructure.

"These reforms and restructuring will sharpen the FBI's capacity to act deliberately and decisively in protecting Americans' lives and liberties in the 21st century," said Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Embarrassing blunders

The FBI's reorganisation is part of a sweeping "wartime" restructuring of the Justice Department - which includes the FBI - announced by Mr Ashcroft last month.

Timothy McVeigh
The case of McVeigh continues to haunt the FBI
In the course of the next five years, he intends to shift 10% of jobs from Washington DC to offices across the US and increase the number of FBI agents and immigration workers.

Mr Ashcroft wants the FBI to focus more on preventing terrorism and less on solving smaller crimes, which could be left in the hands of local police.

But the shake-up also comes in response to a series of blunders in the past year, for which the agency is currently under investigation.

The discovery of files misplaced by the agency in the case of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, which led to a one-month delay in his execution, raised serious doubts about the organisation's management of key documents.

The agency has also been attacked over the case of veteran FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who recently pleaded guilty to spying for Russia over a period of some 15 years, exposing flaws in the FBI's internal security.

Other problems that have dogged the agency include stolen weapons and lost laptops.

Needed update

James Lewis with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies says that the FBI "is one of many older bureaucracies that needs updating in Washington."

The FBI was established in the 1920s to catch gangsters like Bonnie and Clyde, he said.

It made sense at the time because gangs were moving from state to state, and a federal law enforcement agency was needed to operate across multiple jurisdictions.

Now, he said that violent crime, drugs interdiction and bank robberies are handled by local law enforcement or other federal agenices, and the FBI can afford to focus on new realities including the threat of terrorism.

As Mr Ashcroft said in announcing his wartime restructuring, "we cannot do everything we once did, because lives now depend on us doing a few things very well".

Challenges ahead

But Mr Lewis sees several challenges to the refocusing the FBI on counter-terrorism.

The overlap between law enforcement and intelligence in the US has not been sorted out, he said, adding, "There are members of Congress who remember with displeasure when intelligence agencies operated in the US."

He said that the FBI can avoid the pitfalls of the past by not setting up paramilitary enforcement forces but focusing on investigation and infiltration.

But he added, that there cannot be a domestic solution to the transnational problem of terrorism, and "we haven't figured out a way to deal with that".

See also:

08 Nov 01 | Americas
US mobilises FBI for 'wartime'
03 Nov 01 | Americas
FBI appeals for anthrax help
06 Dec 01 | Americas
US alert linked to Bin Laden
28 Sep 01 | Americas
Profile: FBI chief Robert Mueller
12 Oct 01 | Americas
FBI fears more terror attacks
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