The FBI and other intelligence agencies have made little progress in key areas they must reform, putting the nation at greater risk of a successful terrorist attack, according to a sharply worded assessment released yesterday.
The status report by former members of the influential 9/11 commission was particularly critical of the pace of change at the FBI, which has struggled to overhaul its computer systems and shift its primary mission to detecting and disrupting terrorist threats.
"A sense of urgency within the bureau is essential," the report said, adding that the "timeframe for effecting reform at the FBI is not indefinite. The terrorists will not wait. Reforms must be accelerated, or they will fail."
The panel said that, among other things, the FBI needs to beef up its intelligence analysis capabilities, slow down the rapid turnover of senior executives, and improve recruitment and training of new agents and analysts.
The report also faulted intelligence agencies for continued confusion in sharing information with each other and said Congress had done little to streamline the labyrinth of committees that oversee homeland security issues.
Although the 10-member bipartisan commission was formally disbanded after issuing its best-selling report on the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in 2004, its members reorganized as a private group, "the 9/11 Public Discourse Project," to continue lobbying for improvements in the nation's intelligence and homeland security agencies.
The panel has praised Congress and the Bush administration for adopting some of its recommendations -- most notably the creation of a director of national intelligence -- but said lawmakers and the executive branch have made little progress in other areas. Yesterday's assessment was the second in a series the panel plans to issue through the end of the year.
The pointed criticism of the FBI is particularly notable because the commission had been impressed by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, concluding last year that he should be given time to fix the bureau. It came out against proposals to create a separate domestic intelligence service.
FBI spokesman John Miller said the panel did not take into account numerous successful changes, including dramatic increases in the number of counterterrorism and counterintelligence agents, and improved relations with state and local law enforcement agencies.
"I think they have ignored some of the remarkable leaps and bounds that have been taken by the FBI," Miller said. "A lot has been done that they don't seem to account for in their assessment."