The FBI is riding high

It is difficult to determine how effective and efficient US counterterrorism efforts are from the vantage point of several years. It is noteworthy that there have been no further attacks on US soil and several potential attacks have been prevented. However, those facts alone do not lessen the Federal Bureau of Investigation's determination to continue to fine-tune and improve itself as an effective intelligence agency that also functions as a premiere law enforcement agency.

The Justice Department's Inspector General's report rightfully points out the need for continued vigilance to ensure proper administrative steps regarding National Security Letters are followed and addressed, and that the process is refined and improved where appropriate. But it's also significant that the IG's report highlighted the breakneck, intense environment the FBI has operated in since 9/11 to ensure that no terrorism lead goes uncovered, and that another 9/11 does not ever happen again. The IG's report emphasizes, and it bears repeating, that there was no malicious intent or wrongdoing on the part of the FBI with regard to these letters. Nonetheless, allowing appropriate external oversight along with an ongoing internal FBI audit will no doubt determine what needs further improvement.

The 9/11 Commission and the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission both agreed that breaking up the FBI and creating a British MI-5 type organization, as John Woo recommends in his article "Break Up the FBI," was unnecessary and undesirable. Both reports also argued that having one agency gather the intelligence, conduct the investigation, stop the threat, and if applicable, prosecute the subjects, was indeed the best way for America. But to assume the FBI was merely waiting on any Commission's report and not actively and intensely re-tooling and re-engineering itself, based on the new paradigm following 9/11, is a tremendous insult to the thousands of dedicated men and women serving in the FBI.

In many countries, foreign intelligence services are aligned with a single national police service, but not necessarily with thousands of state, local, and other federal partners, as is the case with the FBI. Because of those partnerships, the FBI is infinitely better situated and America better protected. Quite simply, the FBI has the capacity to employ criminal and intelligence tactics, techniques, laws, and procedures, all in a single cohesive effort, from inside one agency.

Agencies charged with homeland security and protecting America and American interests from terrorist attack are not private sector companies that can be measured by market share, profit margin, or share price. The goal of many private sector companies is to make money, not to save lives or protect America. If companies do not profit, they do not survive, regardless of size, streamlining attempts, market influence, or reorganization. Applying a business model to counterterrorism would be the height of folly.

Each and every day, 24/7, a tremendous effort to keep America safe is being waged by the FBI's special agents and professional support employees, which also include an ever-growing cadre of superb intelligence analysts. They are mapping domains relative to threats, identifying what is known, what is not known, what and where the gaps are, and, most importantly, defining strategies and intelligence reporting requirements to close the gaps. As head of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office, I receive detailed domain awareness briefings and threat assessments—both tactical and strategic, from intelligence agents, counterterrorism agents, State and Local Task Force Officers, and intelligence analysts. The Law Enforcement, Fire, District Attorney, and Public Safety Command Executives of the Joint Terrorism Task Force Executive Committees in our territory receive the same briefs. From them, decisions are made for the purpose of keeping the seven counties comprising the Central District of California—the Los Angeles FBI's territory—as safe as humanly possible.

Our joint efforts with state, local, county, tribal, and other federal agency Task Force Officers and analysts are a force multiplier. All personnel, be they FBI or otherwise, analyst or law enforcement, have access to the same intelligence tools, databases and other means to ensure imaginative, intuitive, and quick assessments resulting in detection and disruption of terrorist threats. If a prosecution follows, all the better. Identifying and stopping the threat, though, remains paramount for today's FBI.

Stating that the current organizational structure is fundamentally incompatible with today's realities is, at minimum, flawed and uninformed. Promotions in the FBI are based on demonstrated leadership, people skills, liaison abilities and the sheer ability to get a job done. The FBI has restructured, re-tooled, and re-engineered itself, even as its dedicated employees, in the US and throughout the world, contribute to the defense of America and her allies.

J. Stephen Tidwell is the assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.

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