But once agents make that shift, Mr. Miller says, they're surprised at the depth of knowledge they're able to gain.
Still, despite the disruption of the potential JFK attack and the alleged plot in Fort Dix, N.J., the cultural transformation at the FBI is still very much a work in progress, some critics say. It has reportedly caused morale problems among agents, increased already heavy workloads, and created a confusion of missions.
A study of Justice Department data, done by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, found that in 2006, US attorneys declined to prosecute 87 percent of the international terrorism cases brought to them by FBI agents. The report concludes that this raises "troubling questions about the bureau's investigation of criminal matters involving individuals the government has identified as international terrorists."
FBI officials say those statistics are misleading and are in part a result of the agency's cultural shift. For instance, if some agents have thoroughly investigated a suspected terrorist group, they often bring other charges against them, say immigration violations or document fraud.
But experts who track the agency say there are significant structural problems - from the agency's failure to set up a comprehensive computer system to a high level of turnover at the top.
"If you talk to the top people at the FBI, they're persuaded that this change is very far along, but if you talk to agents in the field, you get a very mixed picture," says Lee Hamilton, vice chair of the 9/11 commission. "Progress is slow, and whether or not the FBI can make this cultural change is one of the great questions that remain."
(c) Copyright 2007. The Christian Science Monitor
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