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FBI proposes own anti-terror unit

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WASHINGTON — The FBI proposed Thursday the creation of a separate intelligence division in the bureau, an announcement that officials acknowledged was to head off proposals from critics for forming a new, stand-alone domestic intelligence agency to deal with terrorist threats.

The proposal for a Directorate of Intelligence was announced in congressional testimony of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller, who has railed against proposals on Capitol Hill and elsewhere to strip the bureau of its responsibility for domestic intelligence in response to its documented intelligence failures in the months before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Appearing before a House appropriations subcommittee, Mueller proposed a "service within a service" in which the bureau would centralize its intelligence duties. The directorate, he said, would have "broad and clear authority over intelligence-related functions" and would be led by an executive assistant director of the FBI who had direct budget authority.

Aides to Mueller said the proposal, if approved by Congress, would probably result in the hiring of 100 additional intelligence specialists at the bureau.

Members of the independent commission that is investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, which is in the final weeks of its inquiry, have criticized the bureau for its failures before Sept. 11. Members have said they may recommend creating an American version of MI-5, Britain's domestic counterterrorism agency, to take over many intelligence functions.

Told of Mueller's announcement, a Democratic member of the commission, Timothy J. Roemer, a former House member from Indiana, said he wanted to review the proposal.

"The FBI is badly broken and needs both systemic and personnel reform," Roemer said. "This is another option, and it might be one that we'd consider."

The announcement was also cautiously welcomed by the leading critics of the bureau on Capitol Hill, including Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, who said the idea was "good in theory, and I hope it works in reality."

He said that the bureau needed "to make sure that tendencies to react to the crime of the day don't get in the way of its focus on fighting terrorism at every level."

Mueller, an ex-federal prosecutor who was sworn in as director days before 9/11, has promised to overhaul the FBI, turning it from its traditional emphasis on basic crime-fighting to focus on preventing terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

His work has been made more difficult by a series of damning disclosures about blunders before the terrorist attacks, including the failure by the bureau in the summer of 2001 to act on warnings from field agents in Minnesota and Arizona about the possibility that Islamic terrorists were training pilots in the United States.

Aides to Mueller said the intelligence directorate was intended to streamline decision-making and add far greater authority to the executive assistant director for intelligence, the agency's chief intelligence officer. The post is held by Maureen A. Baginski, a former official of the National Security Agency who was an architect of the new proposal.

"We support the creation of a strong intelligence service within the FBI that leverages our formidable collection capabilities and fully integrates our law-enforcement and intelligence community partners," Mueller said in his testimony. "The authority of the executive assistant director for intelligence, who now provides policy and oversight, would be extended to cover all intelligence-related budgeting and resources."

He told the subcommittee that a new, stand-alone domestic intelligence agency would be unnecessary and wasteful, and that it would be wrong to try to separate law-enforcement from the government's counterterrorism efforts.

"Any reform proposal must recognize that intelligence is fundamental to successful FBI operations," he said. "Intelligence functions are woven throughout the fabric of the bureau, and any changes to this integrated approach would be counterproductive.

He said that if a separate domestic intelligence agency were created, the FBI would be left to wonder "when the intelligence agency will throw information over the transom to a law-enforcement agency."