Justice officials endorse FBI reforms

Justice officials endorse FBI reforms

Law enforcement officials, testifying yesterday about FBI records management foul-ups in the prosecution of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, endorsed legislation proposed by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

The Justice Department, however, has no official position on S 1974, the Leahy-Grassley FBI Reform Act, witnesses said. The bill would charter the Justice inspector general to review allegations of FBI misconduct, reorganize the agency's IT regime and shield agency whistleblowers. Leahy and Grassley have said three previous IG reports on the bureau's IT problems did not spur action.

'I would hope you are successful in getting this enacted,' said the FBI's chief technology officer, Bob Dies. He joined the bureau to oversee the overhaul of agency systems after a lengthy career at IBM Corp.

Another supporter was Glenn Fine, the Justice IG, who earlier this week issued a report pointing to 'antiquated and inefficient computer systems' and 'inattention to information management' as well as poor systems training, incompatible databases, and redundant electronic and paper procedures.

Robert J. Chiaradio, the FBI's executive assistant director for administration and one of four officials who report directly to FBI director Robert S. Mueller III, also said parts of the legislation were constructive.

Fine's report generally exonerated most FBI officials from willful misplacement of McVeigh prosecution documents that should have been turned over to the bomber's defense team. But some FBI officials did not act quickly enough when lower-level staff informed them that documents were missing, he said. Those officials were singled out for criticism, and the bureau has indicated that their cases would be reviewed for disciplinary action.

The report castigated creaky FBI systems that crash frequently and work poorly. Chiaradio discussed parts of the Trilogy systems overhaul that will use a high-speed network and browser access to databases.

Leahy pointedly said that the Judiciary Committee hearing was taking place 'just yards' from the Capitol, a major terrorist target. 'The management and document-handling flaws documented in the inspector general's report are chilling and raise the critical question of whether the same flaws hampered the FBI's sharing of counterterrorism information' before Sept. 11, Leahy said.

'It is fair to say that the FBI does not know what it knows,' the senator said. 'That is simply unacceptable when this country faces the threat of terrorist attacks.'

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