The FBI appears to have gotten the message -- the message contained in Special Agent Coleen Rowley's remarkable 13-page memo to Director Robert Mueller, detailing how agents were blocked from investigating suspected terrorists -- and the political message that failure to conduct a thorough re-organization of the agency would jeopardize the integrity and veracity of the Bush administration, not to mention risking further loss of life in future terrorist attacks.
On Wednesday, Mueller announced the greatest shakeup of the FBI in its history. In doing so, he appeared to be using the Rowley memo as his re-organizing principle. Mueller said the agency will be decentralized, giving more control to agents in the field, and that the FBI will have as its first priority the prevention of terrorism. Relations between FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., and field agents will be re-defined and a new espionage section will be created to track down would-be terrorists. A new intelligence office will be established to allow for earlier identification of terrorist threats.
Key targets will be identified and protected, said Mueller. Nine hundred new FBI agents will have been hired by the first anniversary of Sept. 11 and 500 FBI employees will be transferred, improving the work of the entire bureau.
Many of these reforms were suggested in Rowley's memo. She had requested protection under the "whistleblower" law, which shields federal employees who reveal information that might otherwise get them fired. She needn't worry about her job security. Rowley ought to be honored and receive a pay raise and promotion for committing a selfless, patriotic act.
Action on Rowley's proposals was surprisingly swift. Her memo was dated May 21 and just eight days later the FBI Director Mueller announced the reforms she suggested. That's what "re-inventing government" should look like.
It is pathetic that reorganization of our domestic and foreign intelligence gathering has taken so long. Many red flags have been raised in the past several years, including the cases of convicted spies Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent, and Aldrich Ames, a CIA agent who sold secrets to the Soviet Union and was responsible for the deaths of other agents he compromised.
Congress, which will investigate these latest intelligence failures, should not be allowed to escape blame. Beginning 30 years ago with investigations of covert domestic surveillance activities by the FBI arising from Vietnam War protests, Congress went too far in its efforts to correct abuses in both the CIA and FBI. A primary contributor to the undermining of these agencies was the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1979. The law, signed by President Carter, was fashioned by such noted liberals as Sens. Edward Kennedy and Birch Bayh and Reps. Peter Rodino and Edward Boland.
A Washington Times editorial on Wednesday (May 29) noted: "The law, Mr. Kennedy explained at the time, was aimed at making sure that a warrant could only be issued if it could be shown that a crime might be committed. That made it almost impossible to gain such a warrant (in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the suspected "20th hijacker") prior to September 11, because there was no evidence at the time that he had committed any crime, aside from overstaying his visa. Also, per FISA, FBI headquarters turned down the Minneapolis agents' request for a warrant (to search Moussaoui's laptop computer) on the grounds that there was no evidence Moussaoui was acting 'in preparation for sabotage or international terrorism.'"
The CIA is restricted by law from collecting intelligence information on U.S. citizens unless it can be shown that an individual is involved in espionage or international terrorist activities. The FBI and the CIA could do a much better job of collecting and sharing what information they do have. The reorganization will hopefully reduce rivalries within and between the two agencies and improve communication.
There are dangers inherent in this announced re-organization. Civil liberties groups are right to warn that new and intrusive powers for government could mean less liberty for individuals and fewer constitutional protections. Once government has power it's reluctant to relinquish it. As C.S. Lewis wrote, "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive."
Is the tradeoff of a potentially safer homeland worth the possible loss of privacy and some freedoms? Maybe it is if the other choice would allow more terror. The question won't be answered quickly, but the press and public will have to remain vigilant, not only for terrorists, but for overreaching government.