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FBI giving in to pressure for further reform


WASHINGTON - Under pressure from the White House, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has agreed to adopt the recommendations of a presidential commission and will allow the director of national intelligence, John D. Negroponte, to help choose a powerful new intelligence chief at the FBI, Bush administration officials say.

The appointment would, for the first time in the bureau's history, give an outsider a significant role in the selection of a high-level official at the FBI, an agency long regarded by its critics as fiercely protective of its turf and resistant to change. The new intelligence chief, who will be chosen jointly by Negroponte and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, would have the tentative title of associate director for intelligence and in effect be the third-ranking official at the bureau.

The FBI's acceptance of the new proposals represents a recognition within the bureau that it can no longer resist mounting pressures for change, after a series of reports that have scathingly criticized it for intelligence lapses.

The recommendation to appoint a new head of intelligence, along with other proposals for reorganizing at the FBI, were contained in a March 31 report from a commission chaired by Laurence H. Silberman, a federal appeals court judge, and Charles S. Robb, a former Democratic senator and governor of Virginia.

The commission examined the performance of 15 of the country's intelligence agencies and their prewar assessment of unconventional weapons in Iraq. The commission's report contained dozens of recommendations affecting a number of agencies, but officials said a sharp debate had flared up in response to domestic-security proposals affecting the FBI.

The White House has embraced the recommendations and set a deadline for the end of the month, and perhaps sooner, to announce its progress in putting them into effect.

In recent days, a House appropriations subcommittee also urged the FBI to adopt the proposals in the Silberman-Robb report.

When first proposed by the commission, the recommendations struck a chord of resentment within the FBI, where some veterans said the proposals threatened the bureau's traditional independence. But other FBI officials said the changes were an inevitable step in the gradual expansion of the bureau's intelligence role.

FBI officials would not discuss the decision to accept the proposals. In response to a question about the matter, John S. Pistole, deputy director of the bureau, said: "The FBI continues to overhaul its traditional law-enforcement mission to embrace the challenges of today's threat environment. We have implemented recommendations from the various bodies that have reviewed us."

"We have embraced the spirit of the commission," Pistole said, but he would not comment on the status of the recommendations. "The evolution of our intelligence service continues as we work with the director of national intelligence and the Department of Justice to become more fully integrated into the intelligence community."

The intelligence chief would manage the bureau's national-security and counterterrorism divisions, as well as its recently created directorate of intelligence, which coordinates the bureau's information-gathering efforts. But important decisions about the job have yet to be made - for example, whether the post will be filled from within the ranks of the FBI.

The bureau has also agreed to accept other proposals by the commission. Most of them would give Negroponte's office greater influence over the FBI's intelligence spending, which accounts for more than a third of the bureau's nearly $5 billion budget.

Most high-level officials at the bureau are appointed by its director, subject to the approval of the attorney general, who traditionally rarely objects to the bureau's selections. The FBI director is a presidential appointee who serves a 10-year term, a limit imposed by Congress after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, who ran the FBI for 48 years before his death in office in May 1972.

At the same time, officials said the Justice Department will accept another recommendation by the Silberman-Robb commission to establish a new national-security division, bringing the department's main national-security units together in a single office. Justice Department lawyers differed over the proposal, the officials said, but ultimately agreed to accept it at the urging of the White House.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Mueller has fended off criticism that the bureau should be stripped of its authority over domestic intelligence. Some critics suggested the creation of a separate agency modeled on the British internal security service, MI5, which has no law-enforcement authority.

Mueller, whose support within the administration remains strong, has prevented deeper changes at the FBI by developing a plan to improve its ability to collect and analyze intelligence about terrorism and espionage threats.

Mueller created the intelligence directorate within the bureau, assigned about 1,000 more agents to counterterrorism, set up a system of intelligence-gathering units at the bureau's 56 field offices, and hired 485 analysts and more than 700 linguists to respond to criticism that the bureau's lack of analytical depth prevented it from detecting the Sept. 11 plot.

But Mueller's reorganization efforts have not kept critics at bay. In recent months, the FBI has been the subject of withering reviews, reports and assessments that have repeatedly portrayed it as inept and unwilling to adjust to new threats. Some reports criticized Mueller's attempts at progress as ineffective. Others have said that the bureau's computer technology remains hopelessly outdated.

On Thursday, a Justice Department inspector general's report on the bureau's performance in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks found that the FBI had missed five chances to find two of the hijackers as they moved to San Diego in preparation for the attacks.

The report provided the same bleak assessment of the bureau's performance as previous reports by a joint congressional committee in 2002 and the independent Sept. 11 commission in 2003, which produced scalding assessments of the FBI and other agencies.

The Silberman-Robb report has gone a step further, concluding that the bureau's efforts to change after the 2001 attacks have been disappointing. The report cited what it said was a culture that had defied pressure for change. It found that "while the bureau is making progress toward changing its culture, it remains a difficult task and one that we believe will require more structural change than the bureau has instituted thus far."

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