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SPOTLIGHT ON INTELLIGENCE:
Interview with Maureen Baginski

9/19/03

Photograph of Maureen BaginskiLast month Congress approved the programming that created the FBI's first ever Executive Assistant Director of Intelligence position. And Ms. Baginski, who joined the FBI in early May in anticipation of the approval, has already proven to be an exceptional match of leadership to FBI operations.

Ms. Baginski came to the FBI as a career veteran of the National Security Agency where she most recently led the nation's high tech Signals Intelligence directorate, creating then managing a complex, geographically dispersed intelligence-production operation. Similarly, her mission at the FBI is to adapt its intelligence capability into networks that are totally plugged into the new threat environment, to identify threats before they become attacks, and to create a profound intelligence-sharing operation with its law enforcement, intelligence, and private sector partners that will help secure the safety of the American people. Easier said than done, but Ms. Baginski has no doubt that the men and women of the FBI are exactly the right people for the job.

Question: You've been onboard long enough to have a good grasp of the FBI's current intelligence capabilities. What is your assessment?

Ms. Baginski: I am solidly impressed with what I've found. For the job it must do, the FBI already has the right infrastructure in place; the right law enforcement and intelligence contacts at home and abroad; and some 95 years of seasoned experience gathering information. I also think it's crucially important that all Special Agents are drilled in working within the confines of the Constitution. What I didn't know about was the tremendous esprit and dedication of FBI employees. They really believe in what they're doing and they do it exceptionally well. My job is to put in place enterprise-wide processes that leverage the already fine work being done across the FBI, both at headquarters and the field, both here and abroad.

Question: Could you explain why this enterprise-wide "intelligence capability" is so important to the security of the country?

Ms. Baginski: Basically, the threats to the nation have fundamentally changed and are no longer geographically contained. Information about threats cannot be owned by "offices of origin" or by the FBI alone. The information must be shared both across the FBI and with the federal and local families that have authority to take action on the threats. We don't worry so much about another country declaring war on us, military to military; we worry about attacks from extremist groups that can use technology or bombs or chemical/biological weapons to hurt as many innocent people as possible. Global networks; organizations that operate across borders, aided by technology--these are the things we worry about, and these are the things that can only be addressed through an intelligence capability, widely shared. A sheriff in North Carolina might pick up information in his home town about a planned attack in Rome...report it to his local Joint Terrorism Task Force...that will get it into the hands of threat analysts...that might save lives in Rome and at the same time clarify details of a larger ongoing conspiracy of a particular terrorist group. A little bit like the "butterfly effect," where a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil ends up, by a chain reaction, producing a tornado in Texas...except our effect is for the good, to prevent that tornado or bomb, in the cause of protecting people.

Question: Some people have expressed concern that while the FBI is great at collecting information, it's not that great analyzing and sharing it. What's your take on this?

Ms. Baginski: I don't see a problem with our analysis. It's superior and some of the best I've seen in my career. Where criticism may be fair is that we aren't that accomplished at sharing our intelligence. But there's good reason for that--for years we were instructed not to share law enforcement data broadly. That's a big change, and we must adapt. And I'm optimistic. First of all, intelligence has always been a core competency of the FBI, growing organically within its mission. Today the mission is still the same, but the threat has changed, so the FBI has to adapt the way it manages intelligence to address the new threat. Second, adapting is what the FBI is all about. If you look at its history over the past 95 years, you'll see a pattern of it changing continuously to meet evolving threats--from gangsters to espionage to civil rights to organized crime to financial crimes to international crimes--the list goes on.

Question: So what is your plan? How are you going weave intelligence into the very fabric of the FBI?

Ms. Baginski: Above all, we're not going to pull intelligence capability from the rest of the FBI into a single office. Intelligence must be seen as a core competency of the FBI and the job of everyone at the FBI, from analysts to security professionals.

Our office will be small and as being in the business of planning and direction for intelligence production. That means working with all the FBI operational divisions and field offices to define our concepts of operation and create the intelligence capability within them. We have just wrapped up a 10-week program to develop concepts of operations for each core intelligence function. We've done this work as a whole FBI and implementation is beginning.

Question: Last question. How does it all come together...and when?

Ms. Baginski: The conops [concepts of operation] are done and implementation has begun. As in all things, execution will be the challenge. The field and headquarters are now implementing the conops. As to when it comes together, this is a journey and it's hard to say we'll ever be done. What I will promise is that within four months we will have 1) a solid collection baseline and analysis of gaps and plans to fill them; and 2) industrial strength sharing of new intelligence information with our federal and state and local customers and partners.