Federal Bureau of Prevention

Putting the nation on a war-footing against possible terrorist attacks will take more than a bureaucratic shuffle, however sweeping. But the broad changes announced yesterday by FBI Director Robert Mueller, if well implemented and managed, will strengthen the nation's intelligence-gathering and analysis (see story, page one).

In fact, Mr. Mueller's changes are so broad and so deep, one wonders just what Homeland Security director Tom Ridge will be left to announce when he comes out with his own plan in July.

Under the reforms, hundreds of new agents will be hired, and hundreds in the FBI's existing workforce will be taken off traditional gumshoe work and put on antiterrorism details. A new Office of Intelligence should bring closer ties with the agency's long-standing rival, the CIA. That will help prevent intelligence slips like the lack of action on information from the bureau's Phoenix and Minneapolis field offices that contained potential clues to the Sept. 11 attacks.

FBI agents long have been known as fiercely independent. Mueller must work hard to instill a broader morale, with loyalties larger than allegiance to a single agency. That will take more time. And he'll need to continue to look closely at how he retains and manages the work of the old FBI, even as he shifts the agency's primary focus from investigating crimes to preventing terrorist attacks.

One wonders, too, why some of the changes, such as making the FBI's incompatible computers compatible, weren't undertaken years ago. The reasons behind such glaring examples of glacial progress are just as important to reexamine, so that new bureaucracies don't simply replace old ones.

Further, the shift has broad implications for state and local law enforcement. Officers will have to be trained to pick up much of what the new FBI now is off-loading – catching bank robbers, drug dealers, and white-collar criminals. State and local government will have to find money for that in coffers that currently look pretty empty. Congress now must look hard at whether it should fund new agents to sustain the FBI's handling of such investigations.

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