Reform of the FBI

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the main investigating agency of the United States Department of Justice. The Justice Department recently announced new measures to help the F-B-I fight terrorism. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Steve Ember. The F-B-I is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.


For many years, F-B-I agents investigated threats to national security. Now, however, F-B-I Director Robert S. Mueller (MUHL- er) has told Congress that the Bureau's main responsibility must be to protect the United States from terrorist attacks.

The Justice Department recently announced a major reorganization of the F-B-I. The size of the agency will be increased. F-B-I agents also will have new powers to investigate inside the United States. Most of the reforms are to improve the F-B-I's ability to gather and study intelligence information about terrorists planning attacks on the United States.

The changes are in reaction to recent criticism of the F-B-I. Many people have questioned its actions in relation to the terrorist attacks on the United States last September eleventh.

President Bush says the F-B-I and the Central Intelligence Agency did not share reports of suspicious activities before the terrorist attacks. Mr. Bush says the F-B-I and C-I-A failed to cooperate. However, the president also says he does not believe the terrorists attacks could have been prevented.

On September eleventh, Islamic extremists in hijacked American planes struck and destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City. They also damaged the Defense Department headquarters near Washington, D.C. Another hijacked plane crashed in Pennsylvania. The attacks killed more than three-thousand people.

This summer, the intelligence committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate are studying anti-terrorism activities. The thirty-seven members of this joint group are studying American intelligence since the nineteen-eighties. However, the investigation will deal mostly with events linked to the September attacks.

President Bush supports this investigation. However, Mr. Bush has expressed concern that the F-B-I and the C-I-A may waste time blaming each other for intelligence failings. Instead, he says they should work to prevent future attacks. A plan is being developed for increasing co-operation between the two agencies.

F-B-I Director Mueller says his agency is spending a great deal of time and effort working to prevent future attacks. For example, he says the F-B-I has identified a number of suspected terrorists. These people have possible links to the al-Qaida terrorist group. He says agents are spending many hours watching them.

The F-B-I plans to hire nine-hundred more agents. They include people skilled in computer technology, science and languages. They will join about eleven-thousand-five-hundred other F-B-I agents. A central Office of Intelligence will be established in the F-B-I Washington headquarters. The F-B-I already has appointed a number of officials to intelligence positions.

Mr. Mueller and Justice Department officials say the new rules will greatly improve F-B-I performance. For example, commanders at agency offices will now be able to order investigations that are limited in time. In the past, they needed permission from F-B-I headquarters to do this. The commanders also can start limited investigations when no crime has taken place. Evidence gathered during this time could help launch extended investigations.

In addition, agents will be able to gather information from the Internet computer system and from libraries. They will be able to collect information about religious and political organizations. And agents will be able to observe activities in public places, including religious centers.

Some civil rights groups, however, say the new rules interfere with traditional American rights. They say privacy and free speech might be threatened. They note that a Senate committee said the Bureau acted wrongly or illegally a number of times in nineteen-seventy-five. Those cases were connected to civil rights and the Vietnam War.

Critics of the new rules say the F-B-I might investigate political dissenters without any evidence of wrongdoing. Many American Muslims say they fear the possibility of F-B-I agents targeting them unfairly.

Robert Mueller became F-B-I director shortly before the terrorist attacks last September. He has said he agrees with some recent criticisms of agency actions. For example, he says he welcomes the comments of F-B-I agent and lawyer Coleen Rowley. Ms. Rowley works in the F-B-I office in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She wrote to Mr. Mueller to criticize the investigation of the only person charged in the September eleventh attacks.

Zacarias Moussaoui (zah-cah-RYE-us moo-SOW-ee) has been in jail since August. A Minnesota flight school had become suspicious of him and called the F-B-I. Officials arrested him on immigration charges. But Ms. Rowley says bureau officials blocked efforts to further investigate Mr. Moussaoui. Officials now believe he was training to join the attackers.

Ms. Rowley also answered questions about the case before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She said some F-B-I supervisors do not want to make any unusual or special efforts. Ms. Rowley said such officials may punish agents for trying to do their jobs well. She said this creates fear at the F-B-I.

Ms. Rowley also said the Bureau suffers from lack of communication and has too many levels of supervisors. And, she said the F-B-I computer system is old and ineffective.


The F-B-I investigates more than two-hundred-fifty kinds of federal crimes in addition to terrorism. These include kidnapping, hijacking and organized crime. It provides evidence in legal actions involving the federal government. The agency searches for fleeing criminals when asked by state and local officials.

About twenty-seven-thousand men and women serve in the F-B-I. They work in more than fifty offices in the United States and in several offices in other countries. F-B-I agents investigate many kinds of crimes including bank robberies, spying and crimes involving computers.

Over the years, the F-B-I has been praised for a number of major investigations. For example, agents helped catch the men who first attacked the World Trade Center in nineteen-ninety-three. The F-B-I also found the bomber of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in nineteen-ninety-five.

The present F-B-I developed from an agency called the Bureau of Investigation. It started in nineteen-oh-eight with fewer than thirty-five employees.

A Justice Department lawyer, J. Edgar Hoover, was named director of the Bureau of Investigation in nineteen-twenty-four. He served as director for almost forty-eight years, until his death in nineteen-seventy-two. At the time Mr. Hoover became its leader, the agency was said to be disorganized and dishonest. He reformed the Bureau.

The agency was named the Federal Bureau of Investigation in nineteen-thirty-five.

People can learn about the modern F-B-I by visiting its headquarters in Washington, D.C. But first, they must call the agency to make an appointment. The huge F-B-I building is on Pennsylvania Avenue, not far from the White House.

Visitors can see equipment used to examine many substances, including blood, hair and clothing. They can see where scientists examine genetic material from crime victims and suspects. They can learn about the famous F-B-I fingerprint and gun collections.

Visitors can see stolen goods taken from criminals. They can see pictures of people on the F-B-I list of the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Many criminals have been caught because of the Most Wanted list. Visitors also can learn how the agency helps foreign law-enforcement agencies throughout the world.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been severely criticized in recent months. Still, it remains one of America's main defenses against crime and terrorism.


This program was written by Jerilyn Watson. It was produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Sarah Long. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.