FBI shake-up makes IT a priority

As part of a massive shake-up of the FBI, director Robert Mueller announced May 29 that a technology upgrade program is one of the agency's top ten priorities.

Acknowledging that the FBI had handled terrorism clues inefficiently before Sept. 11, Mueller pegged the agency's technology upgrade as critical to its new counterterror focus.

The reorganization will include reassigning 518 FBI agents to counterterror duties, adding agents from the CIA and hiring more special agents to prevent and prosecute attacks. With the new agents to be added in fiscal 2003 and 2004, a total of about 900 FBI agents will focus on counterterror work, according to Attorney General John Ashcroft, who also appeared at the press conference announcing the reorganization.

Mueller said the technology upgrades must go beyond simply buying more hardware and include educating FBI personnel so that they become comfortable with high technology. The agency will also recruit IT specialists, scientists and engineers to buttress its technological fight against terror.

Counterterrorism is the agency's top priority, Mueller said. The FBI will in the future rank protecting against cyberattacks as its third most important responsibility; its second concern is fighting espionage directed against the United States. Following cyberattacks on the priority list are combating public corruption, enforcing civil rights, fighting violent crime and investigating major gangs.

The agency is dramatically demoting its war against drugs, reducing antidrug units by 400 special agents. It will also continue to investigate environmental crimes and strengthen its ties with state and local law enforcement, Mueller said.

Mueller said the FBI's computer capabilities must be upgraded to permit the use of artificial intelligence tools that would automatically scan its records to detect patterns of terrorist organizations.

"Our analytical capability is not where it should be," Mueller said as he pledged to strengthen the agency's processing of intelligence. "Our technology is years behind where it should be."

The FBI also will establish a national Joint Terrorism Task Force to supplement the 56 regional Joint Terrorism Task Forces and flying squads that reinforce FBI field offices when terror incidents occur.

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