KWAME HOLMAN: At a press conference at FBI Headquarters today, Director Robert Mueller tackled head-on charges that his agency was ill- prepared to anticipate the September 11 attacks. Mueller started the week before September 11 at an already troubled agency.
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director: When I arrived at the FBI In September, it was already clear that there was a need for change at the Bureau. Recent events, such as the Hanssen matter, the McVeigh documents, and the Wen Ho Lee case, all brought to light certain problems that needed to be addressed-- and that was before the events of September 11.
But then came the events of September 11, and the events of September 11 marked a turning point for the FBI, and I say that because I think it's fair to say that after 9/11, it became clearer than ever that we had to fundamentally change the way we do our business. Now, as I recently testified, responding to the post-9/11 realities requires a redesigned and a refocused FBI.
New technologies are required to support new and different operational practices, and we have to do a lot better-- a much better job-- at recruiting, managing, and training our workforce. We have to do a better job of collaborating with others. And as critically important, we have to do a better job managing, analyzing, and sharing information. In essence, we need a different approach that puts prevention above all else. And, simply put, we need to change, and we indeed are changing.
KWAME HOLMAN: Mueller referred to two memos from FBI Field agents that got little attention from headquarters. One came this month from Minneapolis-based agent Coleen Rowley. In a 13-page letter, Rowley said headquarters sat on information that might have prevented the attacks. She wrote: "The fact is that key FBI headquarters personnel whose job it was to assist and coordinate with field division agents on terrorism investigations continued to, almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks."
The other came from a Phoenix- based agent in July. It warned that suspected Islamic militants were trying to gain access to U.S. flight schools.
ROBERT MUELLER, FBI Director: In the last few weeks, two separate matters have come to symbolize that which we must change. First is what did not happen with the memo from Phoenix, which points squarely at our analytical capacity. Our analytical capability is not where it should be. Our analysts are working harder than ever, and they need help. And I believe that this plan addresses that need.
And second, the letter from Agent Rowley in Minneapolis points squarely to a need for a different approach, especially at headquarters. And with that proposition, there really should be no debate. And let me... let me just take a moment to thank Agent Rowley for her letter. It is critically important that I hear criticisms of the organization, including criticisms of me, in order to improve the organization, to improve the FBI. Because our focus is on preventing terrorist attacks, more so than in the past, we must be open to new ideas, to criticism from within and from without, and to admitting and learning from our mistakes.
KWAME HOLMAN: Specifically, Agent Rowley complained that efforts to examine hijacking suspect Zacarias Moussaoui's computer were blocked by Bureau superiors when Minneapolis agents tried to secure a warrant last August. The FBI Director said his reorganization plan would make protecting the American people from another terrorist attack the agency's top priority.
The plan includes: adding about 1,500 agents and other law enforcement officials to counter terrorism efforts; 518 of them will be shifted from narcotics, violent crime, and white collar investigative duties. A new office of intelligence will be created, headed by a CIA agent. And 25 CIA agents will move to the FBI to assist with analysis and intelligence gathering. 900 new agents will be hired. Recruitment will focus on people with special foreign language and computer skills. And new "flying squads" of agents will travel from headquarters to field offices to better coordinate investigations. Mueller elaborated on the changes.
ROBERT MUELLER: Number one, restructuring the counter terrorism division at FBI headquarters. And there are a couple of things that need to be addressed here. One of the arguments made by Agent Rowley is that the headquarters needs to expedite and be aggressive in assisting the field. She's absolutely right, absolutely right. We need to do a better job at headquarters in assisting the field. Headquarters has to play a principal role in addressing terrorism. It has to be the focal point for the intelligence not only from around the country, but from the CIA, from various countries overseas, and should be in the position to take that intelligence, analyze that intelligence, disseminate that intelligence, and suggest to the field avenues of investigation.
It is critically important to our ability to address terrorism that we have a vibrant, active, aggressive headquarters, and it has the analytical capability to support that mission. And that's what I mean by... when I say up here, "redefine the relationship between the headquarters and field." And there's one other aspect in that... of that, is we cannot expect an office in the field to know what other offices are doing. It's up to headquarters to make certain that, in the case of Moussaoui, for instance, that the agents who were working on the Moussaoui case got the Phoenix memorandum that was put out in July by Agent Williams there.
It is critically important that we have that connection of dots that will enable us to prevent the next attack. And to do that, headquarters has to assume a responsibility for assuring that information comes in, that information is analyzed, and that information is disseminated. And what we are hoping to do is put up a national joint terrorism task force that will have not only the federal agencies represented, but also state and local agencies represented. We need to focus on our analytical capabilities in ways that we have not in the past, so that when we get pieces of information-- whether it be from Phoenix or from Oklahoma or from Minnesota-- it is fed in and looked at, and coordinated, analyzed, and decisions made as to what we should do with it.
It is a substantial shift and an understanding that our mission, our responsibility in the future is to prevent additional terrorist attacks in the United States. And there is not an agent out there, there is not a support person, there is not an analyst that does not understand that and want to participate in protecting the United States from such attacks.
KWAME HOLMAN: Bureau officials say some internal changes already are underway, but the shift in the FBI's mission must be approved by Congress.