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FBI Intelligence Executive Maureen Baginski Talks About It


Let’s start with a very basic question: just why is the FBI in the “intelligence” business at all?

Ms. Baginski: In fact, the FBI has always been in the intelligence business—think, for example, of how it developed sources and information to disrupt and dismantle organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and La Cosa Nostra. In today’s world, we are simply adapting, expanding, and deepening our existing intelligence business to defend against a different sort of adversary—namely, shadowy, criminal-like terror organizations that are networked globally and that use existing international criminal networks to achieve their ends. For example, arms trafficking or money laundering networks. Because the FBI has had a global law enforcement network in place for many years, we’ve made remarkably fast progress responding to the post-cold war/post-9/11 threat environment.

But is that progress fast enough? Is the FBI really the right organization to take on this new threat environment?

Ms. Baginski: I’ll take the second question first. Yes, the FBI really is the right organization to take on this new threat environment, especially now that we’ve been permitted by the FISA Court to combine the criminal and national security information that we’ve collected. At so many points, now, we find terrorists breaking laws to succeed in bombing plots—so our criminal cases turn out to be the bloodhounds that sniff the terrorists out before the bombs go off.

Beyond this, though, are our longstanding, seasoned networks and relationships with all the major players in law enforcement and intelligence operations at home and abroad. We’ve trained and worked with state and local law enforcement since the early 1900s—and worked shoulder to shoulder with them on task forces since the 1980s. Likewise, we’ve trained international law enforcement officers since the 1930s, worked with them through our Legal Attache offices since 1942, and have forged close operational relationships with them and with international intelligence officers over the years on international cases--everything from organized crime to terrorism to drugs to fugitives. FBI agents worked as intelligence officers during World World II, by Presidential Directive, and the FBI has been a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community ever since. Combining this kind of deeply laid network with the tenacity and quickness of FBI employees gives me complete certainty that the FBI is the right organization in the right place and at the right time to successfully protect against today’s evolving threats.

As for the first question—let’s face it: today’s dangerous climate makes even the most remarkable progress not fast enough. But this particular race is necessarily a marathon, not a sprint. We’re not as far along as we need to be and want to be, but we have detailed implementation plans with deadlines and deliverables, and we are on schedule, even ahead of schedule. Those achievements and that kind of solid, measurable progress would likely be difficult to achieve for some time if a new intelligence agency was created from the ground up. It would, in effect, have to create a mirror network to the current FBI network.

One last question for today. The FBI has a network in place and has strengthened it by establishing customized Field Intelligence Groups in all 56 field offices. It has built a CONOPS for all intelligence operations. It has integrated intelligence collection throughout all its investigative programs, its laboratory and fingerprint and other service functions. And it is upgrading analytical capabilities and requirements for all agents and all analysts. What about progress in the “knowledge management” area?

Ms. Baginski: This, of course, is still a work in process. Information sharing has always been difficult to achieve, and for many different reasons. The pace of operations, for example, doesn’t let you stop doing anything at the same time you’re trying to make fundamental changes. Then you’re asking people in the press of work to shift the way they’ve operated in the past – when they took for granted that information was owned by whoever collected and produced it. To defeat today’s global, networked adversary, we have to learn to let go of information because we can’t defeat the adversary alone. None of our information, alone, is enough. Overall, I can say after 11 months of being on the job that I am thrilled with what we’ve been able to achieve--but we still have a lot of work to do. This is not a race for the short winded.

Links: More information on the FBI’s Intelligence Program