‘5 years up’ costs FBI top man­agers in war on ter­ror

The Washington Times Weekly - - From Page One - By Jerry Seper

An or­der by FBI ex­ec­u­tives re­quir­ing se­nior su­per­vi­sors to move to the bureau’s Wash­ing­ton head­quar­ters af­ter five years in the field or step down has led to a crit­i­cal short­age of qual­i­fied man­agers in key in­ves­tiga­tive posts, in­clud­ing those who su­per­vise an FBI di­vi­sion that tracks down al Qaeda ter­ror­ists, say vet­eran FBI su­per­vi­sors and rank-and-file agents.

The four-year-old or­der, known to theagentsas“fiveyear­su­porout,”has been met with wide­spread crit­i­cism. Field su­per­vi­sors and agents say the or­der has re­duced the FBI’s abil­ity to tar­get, ar­rest and pros­e­cute crim­i­nals, in­clud­ing ter­ror­ists.

More than a dozen field su­per­vi­sors and street agents in­ter­viewed by The Wash­ing­ton Times said the or­der has dam­aged the FBI’s ef­fec­tive­ness by as­sign­ing Wash­ing­ton desk jobs to su­per­vi­sory agents who should be man­ag­ing crit­i­cal long-term in­ves­ti­ga­tions and have years of ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The fact that ev­ery­thing has to be de­cided at head­quar­ters has caused a ma­jor prob­lem,” said one se­nior agent. “I can tell you, many ex­pe­ri­enced su­per­vi­sors are bail­ing out, tak­ing their re­tire­ments or leav­ing early rather than up­root­ing their lives to move to Wash­ing­ton where very lit­tle ac­tual in­ves­tiga­tive work is be­ing done.”

An­other long­time agent said the or­der “makes no sense at all” and that the “con­sid­er­able ex­per­tise” that field su­per­vi­sors bring to in­ves­ti­ga­tions is “crit­i­cal in mak­ing cases that can hold up in court.” The agent said the re­fusal of many to leave the field to as­sume man­age­ment jobs in Wash­ing­ton has left the bureau with a short­age of ex­pe­ri­enced lead­er­ship and out­right va­can­cies in sev­eral key ar­eas.

One crit­i­cal area where leader- ship va­can­cies have cre­ated a prob­lem is the FBI’s In­ter­na­tional Ter­ror­ism Op­er­a­tions Sec­tion (ITOS I), which is re­spon­si­ble for mon­i­tor­ing al Qaeda ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity in this coun­tryandabroad.AnFBImem­o­March 5 said only 62 per­cent of the funded su­per­vi­sory po­si­tions within ITOS I were staffed.

“Ex­ec­u­tive man­age­ment is can­vass­ing the di­vi­sion for vol­un­teers to be per­ma­nently as­signed to ITOS 1. This is due to the fact that ITOS 1 is cur­rently at 62% of its funded staffing level,” the memo said. “It is crit­i­cal to the [coun­tert­er­ror­ism] mis­sion that th­ese po­si­tions be filled as soon as pos­si­ble.”

In a writ­ten state­ment this week to the House Ju­di­ciary sub­com­mit­tee on crime, ter­ror­ism and home­land se­cu­rity, Bassem Youssef, chief of the com­mu­ni­ca­tions anal­y­sis unit at the FBI’s coun­tert­er­ror­ism di­vi­sion, said sig­nif­i­cant staffing short­ages and a lack of ex­pe­ri­enced man- agers within ITOS I have weak­ened the FBI’s abil­ity to de­fend the United States against “an­other cat­a­strophic and di­rect at­tack by Mid­dle East­ern ter­ror­ists.”

Sev­eral su­per­vi­sory and field agents ac­knowl­edged that some of­fi­cials are needed in Wash­ing­ton to make de­ci­sions con­cern­ing man­power al­lot­ments and to ob­tain re­sources, but said in­di­vid­ual in­ves­ti­ga­tions should be run by the peo­ple who best know the tar­gets and the ter­ri­tory.

“It’s crazy to have in­ves­ti­ga­tions run out of Wash­ing­ton,” said a vet­eran agent. “If they de­cen­tral­ized the process, they’d have no trou­ble get­ting peo­ple to run th­ese cases. You need to have face-to-face meet­ings with the case agents and the in­for­mants, and you need to make de­ci­sions right now.

“You just can’t make those kind of de­ci­sions from Wash­ing­ton,” the agent said.

The or­der re­quir­ing su­per­vi­sory agents to go to Wash­ing­ton was is­sued in June 2004 by FBI Di­rec­tor Robert S. Mueller III to fill what he called a crit­i­cal short­age of va­can­cies at FBI head­quar­ters and to broaden the ex­per­tise of man­agers within the bureau as it re­or­ga­nized in the wake of the Sept. 11 at­tacks.

The bureau im­posed a five-year term limit on GS-14 su­per­vi­sors, re­quir­ing them to ei­ther com­pete for a po­si­tion at head­quar­ters, qual­ify and com­pete for a po­si­tion as an as­sis­tant spe­cial agent in charge, or give up their su­per­vi­sory du­ties and ac­cept a sub­stan­tial cut in pay.

The FBI has ac­knowl­edged “a lot of vig­or­ous de­bate” at head­quar­ters con­cern­ing the Mueller or­der be­cause a third of the bureau’s agents were hired af­ter the Sept. 11 at­tacks, but said the pro­gram sought to en­sure that the ex­pe­ri­ence of vet­eran su­per­vi­sors would not be lost but used by the FBI to the ben­e­fit of many more agents.

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