Book Excerpt: 'The Bureau'

The FBI should have been recruiting Arab-American agents to develop informants, Blitzer said. "We had no infrastructure. We had no analysts. Agents had to share computers. I am good on computers and couldn't figure out the FBI's computers, which were 386s. If an agent could find a computer, he typed up his reports himself. We couldn't afford to pay stenographers. We were paying agents $80,000 to $90,000 a year to type up reports."

While the terrorists communicated by code on the Internet, agents had computers that lacked CD-ROM drives. Because of the lack of analysts and computers, "We didn't know what we had," Bob Bryant, the former deputy director, said. "We didn't know what we knew."

Even with more resources, fewer restrictions, and more focus, "I'm not sure we could have detected the plot," Mawn said. But, since September 11, "probably the entire government response has made a difference. We have people on the run. We're making it hard for them to communicate. We've disrupted their activities. We've frozen millions of dollars of individuals and organizations that allegedly fund terrorism. Now the guards at the tunnels are checking cars. Before, they stood around in the corner having coffee."

While passengers likely will never again allow a hijacker to get away with crashing a plane into a building, FBI officials believed that until all baggage was x-rayed or tested for bombs, the airlines would not be totally safe.

For the most part, FBI agents had no problem with the aggressive steps instituted by Ashcroft and Chertoff to prevent more attacks. Prosecutors always had discretion about whether to jail noncitizens who had violated immigration laws. If there was a possibility any of them might be al-Qaeda members, jailing them would remove the threat and still fall within the law. Unlike the Japanese detained during World War II, those jailed had violated criminal laws and were not American citizens. As it turned out, of those jailed, only Moussaoui was believed to have a possible connection to the plot.

Within the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service was considered a joke, totally ineffective at doing its job. Putting violators in jail amounted to carrying out the job the INS should have been doing all along.

"Our job is to protect American lives, but we don't believe that is inconsistent with honoring the American Constitution," Ashcroft said.

Similarly, FBI officials had no problem with military tribunals. Citing the use of a military tribunal to try the eight Nazi saboteurs who landed in June 1942, former Attorney General Bill Barr suggested the idea to Ashcroft. To bureau officials, it made no difference how suspects were tried. The FBI investigates; it does not prosecute. The issue is one of philosophy, not of the law.

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