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FBI Head Asserts Role in Fighting Terrorism

January 31, 2003|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III went on the offensive Thursday, seeking to demonstrate his agency's value to the war on terrorism despite criticism of its performance and plans for a new terrorism threat center run by the CIA.

Speaking to reporters in the command post at bureau headquarters, Mueller said the FBI had transformed itself into an agile agency focused on detecting and preventing attacks rather than solving crimes, its age-old mission.

Despite that effort, President Bush announced in his State of the Union address on Tuesday his plans for a terrorism analysis center.

The center would study intelligence information from multiple agencies and meld it into a coherent picture of terrorist threats. Although several agencies would contribute to it, the center would be run by CIA Director George J. Tenet.

The terrorism threat center, Mueller acknowledged Thursday, would have access to a "substantial portion" of the FBI's new terrorism database -- an expansive system at the heart of the FBI's intensified efforts to combat terrorism. But he disputed any notion that the center would diminish his agency's role or that it signals unhappiness with the FBI's recent performance.

"The concept of another analytical center is not something that has been foisted or thrust upon us but is something I believe in, that George Tenet believes in and others believe in," Mueller said.

The bureau has been sharply criticized by members of Congress and in several investigative reports, especially one produced last fall by the joint House and Senate Intelligence Committee. That report detailed missed opportunities and bureaucratic bungling before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Mueller painted a picture of a reformed agency utterly determined to shift its focus.

"The mantra at the FBI is, 'Let no counterterrorism lead go unaddressed,' " he said.

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