In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI made preventing attacks its top priority and adopted an aggressive policy of investigating every potential threat -- work that required greater resources and manpower.
A Justice Department report issued Friday documented how the FBI addresses and tracks threats. From July 2004 to November 2007, the report says, the Bureau has tracked approximately 108,000 potential terrorism-related threats in an FBI database called Guardian.
The report, issued by Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine, examined the Guardian system, which was established in 2004 to track threats and suspicious incidents that FBI agents and task forces respond to. Guardian allows agents to search threat information for trends and patterns and also allows agents to disseminate current threat information to agents in the field for additional investigation.
Given the vast array of possible threats, the report takes care to point out that that most of the 108,000 incidents had no terrorism connection. Only 600 criminal cases and full-scale terrorism investigations were launched of the possible threats identified. The inspector general review largely found that the Guardian system was effective, but noted that 30 percent of non-priority or routine terrorism leads were not updated in the database.
The report also notes that in some major field offices, such as New York and Los Angeles, FBI agents were seeking grand jury subpoenas without having initiated a preliminary or full-field investigation. In a sample of subpoena requests, the inspector general found that, of 4,000 requests, no investigation had been conducted in 1,785 instances.
"The FBI report that we reviewed identified 4,067 grand jury subpoenas issued from October 2006 to July 2007. Our analysis of the report data identified 1,785 potential instances ... where no investigation had been initiated," the report reads.
Once a potential threat is determined to be false, agents, stretched thin from dealing with a high number of threats, may not take the time to update the system.
"FBI officials stated that the increased workload generated by completing the supplementary tabs was not justified," the report said.
The inspector general has recommended that the Guardian system be updated more frequently.
"The inconsistent application of this guidance and data not being entered ... will return incomplete and inaccurate threat assessment information," the report said.
The report also found that an expansion of the system to state and local law enforcement was delayed by the change of a contractor overseeing the system.
The data released in the report shows that the FBI responds to over 100 potential threats every day.
In a statement about the report, FBI Assistant Director John Miller said, "We have put in place measures to resolve all of the identified issues, and, further, agree with the seven recommendations for further improvement. Preventing terrorist attacks is our top priority, and Guardian plays an important role in that effort."