Meet the New FBI

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Reorganization man: Mueller announces a new strategic focus

After sustaining months of withering criticism from the Justice Department, Congress and its own disgruntled agents, the FBI is ready for its grand makeover. Wednesday afternoon, Director Robert Mueller appeared before a small group of reporters and unveiled the second and most far-reaching phase in the agency's overhaul.

The new FBI, as described by Mueller, will shift its focus to "prevention above all else." The emphasis will move from law enforcement to intelligence and counter-terrorism, and agents will be reassigned from domestic units (where the emphasis is on drug-related and white-collar crime) to ones dealing in terror prevention. The director also wants to add 900 new employees, 500 of whom would work as analysts. This is a sea change for the embattled agency — and an answer to critics who maintain it has wasted its manpower on following up traditional crime rather than preventing new waves of terror. But will it be enough to prevent future terror attacks? It's impossible to say for sure, but as Mueller announced Wednesday, the restructuring represents "a dramatic departure from the past."

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Under extraordinary scrutiny from Congress, the White House and the public, the FBI is struggling to simultaneously introduce reform and hold its ground against potential terrorists. That determination is evident in the agency's new top priorities: protecting the United States from terrorist attack and against foreign intelligence operations and espionage. "The FBI can't act as traffic cop any longer," Mueller said, "we must develop the capability to anticipate and prevent future attacks." That capability depends on upgrades in many areas, including training staff to perform more incisive analyses, hiring agents with needed language skills, developing more sophisticated intelligence gathering methods and empowering field agents to act more independently from headquarters. Mueller also wants to incorporate the skills of CIA agents, who will be brought in to work at FBI headquarters — a move he hopes will boost collaboration between the famously antagonistic agencies.

The FBI's reorganization effort comes hard on the heels of pointed allegations by longtime agent Coleen Rowley, who wrote a letter to Mueller accusing her superior agents of ignoring her repeated attempts to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, widely identified as the would-be 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks. The memo, dated May 21st, goes on to angrily suggest that the agency's leadership is involved in "a delicate and subtle shading/skewing of facts?." and is making "a rush to judgment to protect the FBI at all costs." She also charged that critical information from the Phoenix bureau, raising a red flag about a suspicious influx of Middle Eastern men at flight instruction schools, and speculating about possible terror attacks, was ignored at the highest levels of government.

Wednesday, Mueller referred directly to Rowley's memo, and thanked her for her forthrightness. "As our focus changes to terrorism prevention, we must be open to new ideas, to criticism from within and without and to admitting to and learning from our mistakes," he said.