Lone Wolf Terrorists, Cyber Threats Put New Pressure on FBI

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James Comey, U.S. President Barack Obama's nominee as director of the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, July 9, 2013.

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The FBI urgently needs to accelerate intelligence-gathering capabilities at home and abroad to confront evolving terrorist threats, a panel reviewing the bureau’s response since the Sept. 11 attacks said.

Returning foreign fighters, extremists acting alone, and a new breed of criminals in cyberspace mean the agency needs to build up its domestic intelligence operation, the yearlong review of the Federal Bureau of Investigation found.

“The FBI has not yet met its potential -— or its mandate from the president and Congress -— to develop a ‘specialized and integrated national security workforce’ that can serve as the hub of America’s domestic intelligence agency,” according to the report, which was presented to FBI Director James Comey.

The review was undertaken at the request of Congress, which sought an update on how the FBI is fulfilling its mission since the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. It was led by Edwin Meese, attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, former Representative Tim Roemer, an Indiana Democrat, and Georgetown University counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman.

The report was released during a press conference with Comey and members of the panel Wednesday at FBI headquarters in Washington.

Counterterrorism Priority

The panel found that the FBI had largely succeeded at transforming itself after Sept. 11, developing a workforce attuned to the importance of intelligence-gathering and putting a priority on counterterrorism. The FBI needs to do more to support, train and equip agents and analysts with the latest technologies to combat the changing nature of threats from jihadist groups such as Islamic State, it said.

“Some things are necessary, we feel, to keep pace with the accelerating threat we find around the world,” Meese said. “So there has to be an acceleration, obviously, in the amount of effort and the changes being made to bring the FBI” up to date, he said.

Comey said that he generally agrees with the report’s findings, including the recommendation that the agency must change further.

Leadership at the agency isn’t “unified or consistent in driving cultural change,” partially because of frequent turnover, according to the report. An office dedicated to countering violent extremism is underfunded and should be moved under the Department of Homeland Security, and the agency’s efforts to counter cyberthreats aren’t integrated well enough with other agencies, according to the report.

Intelligence Integration

The review said the FBI needs to invest more in collaborative relationships with foreign partners as it seeks to combat terrorist threats.

In the U.S., the FBI isn’t “sufficiently integrated” into the intelligence community, to the detriment of its own criminal investigations, according to the report. Regional FBI leaders were found to often give competing interests priority over intelligence-collection and coordination with other agencies.

The panel urged Comey to work more closely with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to help the U.S. national security community. FBI agents and analysts should also participate in interagency collaboration and training assignments, according to the panel.

“The FBI must better use its strategic processes to drive the intelligence cycle for its law enforcement and intelligence missions,” according to the review.

More Pressure

Pressure on the FBI to combat terrorism within the U.S. has intensified since the Islamic State emerged, with top administration officials repeatedly warning that the terror group could target the U.S. homeland. Last month, the White House hosted a summit on countering violent extremism, and President Barack Obama has pushed efforts at the United Nations to target foreign fighters.

The panel recommended that FBI leaders communicate to Congress the value of laws integral to several successful investigations since 2008, such as the USA Patriot Act, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Privacy advocates and some companies are opposed to some provisions of those laws.

The FBI showed lax communication, coordination, collaboration and use of human intelligence in five case studies analyzed by the review commission. Those included U.S. Army Major Nidal Hasan and the Fort Hood shooting, Faisal Shahzad and the bungled Times Square car-bomb attack, and Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and the Boston Marathon bombing.

“The FBI will fulfill its domestic intelligence role when its analysts and collectors, like its special agents, are grounded in criminal investigation; have ready access to state-of-the-art technology; continuously exploit the systems, tools, and relationships of the national intelligence agencies,” the report concluded.