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Counter-Terrorism Was a 'Backwater'

April 14, 2004

The new Bush administration proposed an 8% increase in overall FBI funding for fiscal year 2002. This included the largest proposed percentage increase in the FBI's counter-terrorism program since fiscal year 1997. On May 9, 2001, Ashcroft testified at a hearing on U.S. federal efforts to combat terrorism. He testified that the Justice Department had no higher priority than to protect citizens from terrorist attacks.


Intelligence collection efforts should begin with a strategy to comprehend what is being collected, identify the gaps, and push efforts toward meeting requirements identified by strategic analysis. Prior to 9/11 the FBI did not have a process ... to effectively manage its intelligence collection efforts. It did not identify intelligence gaps.

Collection of useful intelligence from human sources was limited. By the mid-1990s senior FBI managers became concerned that the bureau's statistically driven performance system had resulted in a roster of mediocre sources. The FBI did not have a formal mechanism for validating source reporting, nor did it have a system for adequately tracking and sharing such reporting, either internally or externally.

... the FBI did not dedicate sufficient resources to the surveillance or translation needs of counter-terrorism agents.


Prior to 9/11, the FBI did not have an ... ability to know what it knew. In other words, the FBI did not have an effective mechanism for capturing or sharing its institutional knowledge. FBI agents did create records of interviews and other investigative efforts, but there were no reports officers to condense the information into meaningful intelligence that could be retrieved and disseminated.

The FBI's primary information management system, designed using 1980s technology already obsolete when installed in 1995, limited the bureau's ability to share its information internally and externally. The FBI did not have an effective system for storing, searching, or retrieving information of intelligence value contained in its investigative files.


* From the first World Trade Center attack in 1993, FBI and Department of Justice leadership in Washington and New York became increasingly concerned about the terrorist threat from Islamic extremists to U.S. interests both at home and abroad.

* Throughout the 1990s, the FBI's counter-terrorism efforts against international terrorist organizations included both intelligence and criminal investigations.

* The FBI attempted several reform efforts aimed at strengthening its ability to prevent such attacks, but these reform efforts failed to effect change organizationwide.

* On Sept. 11, 2001, the FBI was limited in several areas critical to an effective, preventive counter-terrorism strategy. Those working counter-terrorism matters did so despite limited intelligence collection and strategic analysis capabilities, a limited capacity to share information both internally and externally, insufficient training, an overly complex legal regime, and inadequate resources.


Associated Press provided these excerpts from a staff report by the 9/11 commission assessing counter-terrorism and intelligence collection in the U.S. before Sept. 11, 2001. The report was released Tuesday. For the complete text, visit

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