Intelligence reorganization spotlights fabled FBI-CIA rift

When President Bush used this year's State of the Union address to announce a new Terrorist Threat Integration Center that would report to Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, many saw the move as a sharp rebuke to the FBI.

The rivalry between the CIA and the FBI for the lead role in U.S. intelligence is one of the longest-running turf wars in government, the subject of storied comic routines and New Yorker parodies. Before Sept. 11, 2001, a mutual stalemate had the CIA in charge of foreign intelligence, the FBI in charge of domestic law enforcement and nebulous uncertainty about how to handle threats that traverse the borders.

Putting the CIA in the driver's seat of the proposed center-whose responsibility appears to have grown to include a centralizing of all counter-terrorism information in a single location-led to suspicions that Bush's trust in the Justice Department and its FBI had waned after a series of damaging revelations and the FBI's inability to change itself from a law enforcement to an intelligence agency.

A December report by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine particularly criticized the bureau's inability to utilize technology to combat terrorism. And in Congress, the FBI is criticized from both sides. Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, constitute a privacy-rights constituency dissatisfied with the FBI's non-responsiveness to congressional oversight, while Democratic presidential hopefuls such as Sens. John Edwards of North Carolina and Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut see the new homeland security apparatus as the venue for what the FBI is trying to do.

Both of those pressures are likely to lead to uncertainties about where the fiscal 2004 budget money destined for intelligence finds its ultimate home: in Justice and the FBI, in the Homeland Security Department, or in the classified budgets of the CIA and National Security Agency.

Although the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center was transferred to Homeland Security, $60 million would remain with the FBI to investigate and respond to cyber crime, including attacks on critical computer infrastructures.

But those proposals come amid congressional criticism of the FBI's management. In the Senate Appropriations Committee report accompanying the 2003 budget, the committee cut $100 million in funding that the FBI had expected for high-tech projects-including Trilogy, its computerized tool for supporting investigations. The 2003 total was $3.9 billion, down from the $4.2 billion in 2002.

Noting that the FBI overspent its Trilogy budget by $138 million, the committee had harsh words for the bureau. "This is not a surprise. The attempt to make up for 20 years of neglect in two years of frenzied spending was destined to fail," the report read. As to the $100 million reserve established by Congress, the report continued: "The FBI chose to squander this reserve. Now, when the funds are needed, none are available."

Although Bush publicly reaffirmed his confidence in FBI Director Robert Mueller in a Feb. 14 speech outlining the goals and purpose of the TTIC, the concern about FBI management is likely to lead to close scrutiny of the proposed center.

The first of three stages in the center's development is set to begin May 1. The second phase will include the creation of a database of known and suspected terrorists. And in the final phase, "TTIC will serve as the U.S. government hub for all terrorist-threat-related analytic work" and be integrated with the FBI and CIA counterterrorism units, the White House said. Staffing levels would gradually rise from 60 to 120 to approximately 300. No budget figures for the center have been released.

Nonprofit groups that track surveillance issues say that centering responsibility for any aspect of domestic intelligence at the CIA raises concerns about privacy and government accountability. "We want to make sure that the involvement of the CIA in such a new, and more detailed way, in the collection of domestic intelligence" does not imperil traditional privacy rights, said Tim Edgar, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Others say they are wary because the traditional intelligence agencies are largely exempt from having to publicly account for their or spending. The intelligence budget was classified until 1997, when the Federation of American Scientists sued and obtained the aggregate figure of $26.6 billion.

Although the CIA's budget is once again classified, FAS' Steven Aftergood estimates that the agency will receive $5 billion out of the $35 billion to 40 billion for all intelligence agencies this fiscal year.