Intelligence: November 25, 2002


Suggestions that the U.S. set up a domestic intelligence agency similar to Britain's MI 5 (MI 6 takes care of foreign intel, which the CIA does for the United States) are gaining more support as more evidence emerges of the FBI's inability to take on this chore. The FBI has several problems in this area. First, it is a police investigative organization, and never concentrated on traditional intelligence work. Although the FBI has long taken the lead in setting up national databases, it does not, like a true intelligence agency, do a lot of analysis or go out in the field to collect a lot of data for a specific assignment. The CIA, for example, constantly collects data on foreign nations and different groups (legal and illegal) within those nations. But lack of experience in these areas is the least of the FBI's problems. 

Over the decades, the 56 FBI field offices (most major metropolitan areas have one, like New York City or Los Angeles) have become semi-independent operations. As an FBI agent moved up the ranks, a coveted goal was to be "special agent in charge" of a field office. Here, the agent was pretty much running his own little kingdom. Orders would come from the head office Washington, but not detailed instructions on how to get the job done. Moreover, the FBI field office picked up local cases and decided which ones to pursue (leaving the others to local police, some other federal agency like the Secret Service or, no one.) 

After September 11, 2001, the order came from Washington to put more resources into anti-terrorist operations. Some 400 additional special agents were added to anti-terrorism work by taking them from other types of cases (45 percent of agents working narcotics cases were transferred, 31 percent of those on bank fraud cases and a quarter of those working bank robbery investigations.) But this did not make the FBI a national intelligence agency pursuing terrorists in the United States. No, the FBI now had lots of people pursuing possible terrorist cases in the 56 Field Offices. In the past, some criminal organizations would operate in several cities and two or more Field Offices would cooperate to take care of individual investigations and prosecutions. But the war against terrorism is nationwide and open ended. This requires constant cooperation and the FBI leadership is having a hard time getting the Field Offices to surrender their long held, and much valued autonomy. This ongoing problem is fueling the call for a new, nation-wide intelligence collection agency. The FBI would be a major user, for terrorism and other criminal investigations. 


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