Sullied by scandal and distrust,

FBI is targeted for investigation




WASHINGTON -- Senators yesterday called for an outside investigation of the FBI following a series of embarrassments in such high-profile cases as the Oklahoma City bombing, the Hanssen spy case and Ruby Ridge and Waco raids. Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the Justice Department will conduct its own inquiry. "Unfortunately, the image of the FBI in the minds of too many Americans is that this agency has become unmanageable, unaccountable and unreliable," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who is holding a series of hearings on cleaning up the FBI. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) want the Senate to pass a bill authorizing outside experts to look at the agency. Ashcroft said his panel would be made up of top Justice Department officials and the heads of the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The committee will "identify and recommend actions dedicated to improving and upgrading the performance of the FBI," Ashcroft said in a memo. A string of missteps and what critics called a cover-up-the-mistakes mentality at the FBI have put pressure on Congress to take action. In the latest bungle, more than 4,000 FBI documents were withheld from lawyers for Timothy McVeigh, forcing Ashcroft to delay his execution. The FBI blamed the problem on glitches with computers and record-keeping. Other controversies, such as the arrest of veteran FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen in February for allegedly spying for Moscow for 15 years and the botched investigation last year of former Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, have dogged the FBI in recent years. And yesterday, an FBI agent was arrested and charged with selling classified files to organized crime figures and others under investigation. James J. Hill was arrested Friday in Las Vegas after allegedly faxing classified information drawn from computer files to a private investigator in New York. "If there is any unifying theme to these failures, it appears to be a failure of basic supervision, management and oversight," former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich said Wednesday. Senators who attended a Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the agency agreed that minimizing the number of FBI slip-ups would increase public confidence in the FBI and in the government as a whole. People "think if there were mistakes on high-profile cases, where there should have been extra care, what is going on with the lower-profile cases:" Schumer said. Schumer and Hatch said they will introduce a bill to create a commission of nongovernmental experts to look at the FBI and recommend ways to prevent mishaps. Investigations of the FBI already are being conducted by the Justice Department's inspector general and by an independent panel of experts headed by former FBI and CIA Director William Webster. "We've had what we call a 500-year flood, but we'll learn from it," Webster said. Ashcroft asked that the results of these investigations be submitted to his committee by November. Hatch said Ashcroft's committee doesn't negate the need for the commission proposed by him and Schumer. "The inspector generals are great at doing factual investigations, but they are not designed to do strategic long-term recommendations on these important policy and managerial issues," Hatch said. "The blue-ribbon commission can fill that gap." Added Schumer spokesman Bradley Tusk: "An outside commission of top law enforcement experts can take a completely fresh, unbiased look at the FBI without being influenced by internal culture." Experts who have participated in previous FBI reviews complained that the agency is uncooperative with outsiders looking at its practices. Former Sen. John Danforth, who investigated the FBI to find out what happened during the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, said while the FBI didn't commit any "bad acts," some agents were not cooperative with his investigation. "I think it is part of the culture, the idea of that FBI is not there to be investigated," Danforth said. "Our experience at the FBI is by far our most contentious among law-enforcement agencies," added Norman Rabkin, the General Accounting Office's managing director of justice issues. The Justice Department's inspector general, Glenn Fine, called for increased funding for his department and asked senators to remove a provision from the law that prevents his inspectors from investigating any FBI agent without first getting approval from the attorney general or his deputy. Leahy and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) immediately said they would introduce a bill to make that very change. "The FBI is buried in a mountain of evidence proving it can't police itself," he said. Also yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would create a new independent inspector general who would look at only the FBI. Sens. Richard Durbin (D-I11.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) plan to introduce a similar bill. "There is no reason the FBI should be protected from the same level of professional scrutiny the CIA and virtually every other agency faces," Durbin said. Subscriptions & Contacts I Archives I Personals I Obituaries


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