TOPICS > Politics

Troubled Legacy

July 18, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Another embarrassment for the FBI. This time, agency officials are being forced to explain how they managed to lose track of 449 guns and 184 laptop computers during the last decade. The revelation came as FBI Officials prepared for a Capitol Hill hearing. Senators immediately took them to task.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: There are some very, very serious management problems at the FBI Somebody has got to be held accountable. Who is held accountable?

KENNETH SENSER, Deputy Assistant Director, FBI: Well, at the time, actually, there was nobody held accountable, in the sense that the FBI Policy was very clear on the control of laptop computers. And more specifically any laptop computers and, more specifically any laptop computers that might be used to process classified information.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: You’re saying nobody’s held accountable? So you can have laptops with classified information, so you sort of leave it up to the person holding it to make sure it’s turned in when they’re supposed to be? We got a lot better things than that here in the Senate.

ROBERT DIES: There’s an automated system, which is supposed to track all of our properties over $500, for example.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Whoa, I don’t care about the $500. You could have a $100 palm pilot with classified information on it. But I want to know not so much the money; I’m not doing an accounting system here. I want to know, is there a system in place today so that if you have a computer with classified information that somebody in the FBI can say at 2 o’clock this afternoon I know where every one of the computers is with classified information on it. And who has them?

GWEN IFILL: Among the items missing: Sub machine guns, rifles, shotguns, handguns, and at least one laptop containing classified information. Plus, one of the missing guns, officials said, was subsequently used in a homicide. The discovery of the lost and stolen equipment came during the FBI’s first serious effort to account for missing equipment from all FBI field offices. Robert Dies, a former IBM executive who is now the agency’s assistant director, said the FBI’s computer or IT technology is simply out of date.

ROBERT DIES: Our infrastructure today for technology is in need of serious repair, and our approach to IT planning and funding, as you pointed out, Mr. Chairman, has been less than adequate. The infrastructure upgrade program, which we call Trilogy, is a significant first step. But it is the first step in a series of steps that need to be taken. Recent public events clearly indicate a need to quickly go beyond the infrastructure with Trilogy and incorporate state of the art security processes and a world class records management system.

GWEN IFILL: But Senators said a culture continues to exist at the FBI that allows such problems to flourish.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: The FBI has an institutional arrogance in the way that it deals with its own employees, Congress and its fellow law enforcement agencies. It is clear that a double standard exists within the FBI, one for senior officials and another for rank and file. It has been a well-known practice within the Bureau for many years that senior officials and rank and file agents are given different punishment for similar misconduct offenses.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN: It is clear to me the FBI has not been starved for funds. The FBI has been starved for leadership. How did this great agency fall so far so fast? Or has this been there for such a long time that it’s been carefully concealed? Can the Federal Bureau of Investigation stand up to an investigation?

GWEN IFILL: The FBI has recently had to answer for other problems. Last winter, FBI Agent Robert Hanssen was arrested. He has since pled guilty to spying for Russia. And in May, the execution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was delayed for a month after FBI officials admitted they failed to turn over hundreds of pages of documents in the case. The agency has also come under attack for its handling of the Branch Davidian and Ruby Ridge standoffs, and its investigation of former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER: Yesterday’s revelation that hundreds of firearms and computers have been lost and stolen is not the first bit of trouble we’ve seen. If it were just this last revelation, one would say, okay, they made a mistake. But when it’s incident after incident after incident, and then there’s this one, sub machine guns missing, a computer with classified information, you have to say to yourself, what is going on in the FBI? Is something rotten in Denmark? And in a certain sense it isn’t just rifles or submachine guns or laptops with classified information that have somehow eluded the FBI, it’s basic public trust.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH: This is simply inexcusable. Lax administrative controls over sensitive materials like these cannot be tolerated and this is another example of why I think the FBI should benefit from a commission of outside experts doing a top to bottom review of the agency as Senator Schumer and I have proposed.

GWEN IFILL: At the Justice Department today, Attorney General John Ashcroft said reforms at the troubled agency have already begun. He also said he has already discussed the problems with the agency’s acting director.

JOHN ASHCROFT: I would have to say to you that the acting director indicated to me that he was concerned about these assets that are not subject to location. We don’t know exactly where they are. And he understood the seriousness that I think would attend such absences. So he did not take it lightly. Every organization has problems. The way you define the quality of organizations is that how do they respond to the problems? How do they… What do they do? And frankly, I’ll have to say that the FBI has been responding constructively.

GWEN IFILL: President Bush’s nominee to succeed former FBI Director Louis Freeh, San Francisco federal prosecutor Robert Mueller, has not yet been confirmed by the Senate. Senators made clear today that they believe the FBI requires more scrutiny, not less, and that when Mueller does take over, he has substantial repair work ahead of him.