FBI gets a broader role in coordinating domestic intelligence activities

June 19, 2012

The FBI has been given an expanded role in coordinating the domestic intelligence-gathering activities of the CIA and other agencies under a plan enacted this year by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., officials said.

The bureau’s highest-ranking field agents now also serve as the DNI’s representatives across the country. The change is intended to improve collaboration, but some officials say it has created new friction between the FBI and CIA.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, assistant director of national intelligence, said the move is meant to enhance the FBI’s ability to lead efforts by federal, state and local authorities to confront terrorist threats and other domestic security concerns.

“This is a connecting bridge between intelligence and law enforcement,” Flynn said in an interview. He added that the DNI designation does not give regional FBI officials power over other agencies’ operations or personnel.

The program was endorsed by CIA Director David H. Petraeus and officials at other affected agencies. But concerns have surfaced in some regional offices that the FBI is exploiting its new clout at the CIA’s expense.

One former U.S. official said senior FBI agents recently used a meeting with executives from major manufacturing companies on the West Coast to instruct them to cut off contact with the CIA.

The FBI’s message was that “they were now in charge of relationships with the corporate sector, so the folks there should feel no need to deal with the agency,” said the former U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic. The FBI agents apparently were not aware that a former CIA officer was among the executives in attendance. The former official declined to provide more details about the location of the meeting or its participants.

FBI spokesman Michael Kortan said that officials could not confirm the alleged incident and that such a statement to company executives by an FBI agent would be inaccurate.

Although the CIA is best known for its spy work overseas, the agency has stations in most major U.S. cities. The National Resources Division, as this group is known, routinely debriefs executives, university officials and other Americans who volunteer to share information gathered on their trips out of the country. The CIA is also allowed to approach foreign nationals in the United States and try to recruit them as spies upon their return to their home countries.

The FBI dramatically expanded its domestic intelligence-gathering operations as part of a reorganization after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Flynn said the DNI program is not meant to disrupt CIA efforts in the United States. “This program doesn’t change the authorities of the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security or anybody else in the system,” he said. “But there is more of a responsibility to share and work together.”

It is unclear whether the change will require the CIA to disclose more information about its domestic sources. In his memoir, former senior CIA official Henry A. Crumpton writes that during his tenure as head of the National Resources Division, the FBI “repeatedly demanded the identities of NR sources” and he refused.

The new DNI program began as a pilot operation in four cities — New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Chicago — and was expanded to 12 regions covering the entire country this year.

The program is analogous to an arrangement overseas in which CIA station chiefs serve as the nation’s senior intelligence officers and main points of contact with their foreign counterparts. A 2009 proposal to change that policy and give the DNI power to select officers from other spy services prompted a fierce bureaucratic battle that the CIA won.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency has not opposed the move to elevate FBI agents in the United States. “The CIA endorses and supports the DNI’s decision,” said spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood. “The decision makes sense, and the program is working well. DCIA Petraeus has already met with several of the domestic DNI representatives and has been impressed with them and with their cooperation.”

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