Tectonic forces at the FBI

Only a couple of weeks after the Mark-Felt-was-Deep-Throat revelation came news of far more pressing im- portance to the FBI: The FBI director had agreed to share the selection of the bur- eau's intelligence chief with the director of national intelligence, currently John Negroponte.

That sharing was one of the recommendations of a presidential commission chaired by former Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) and appeals court judge Laurence Silberman.

The juxtaposition was striking. Mark Felt's alleged motive for aiding the Washington Post reporters pursuing the Watergate story was to help preserve the FBI's independence. Felt thought President Nixon, in appointing an outsider as FBI director (instead of Felt), and his political meddling were harming an agency used to fierce indepensence.

That independence has persisted to this day. But probably not even J. Edgar Hoover himself could have withstood the pressure on the bureau that's been mounting for 10 years, accelerated by Sept. 11, 2001.

A widely publicized series of managerial and mission failures have thudded onto the FBI's doorstep like dead cats. Recently, the bureau's inspector general severely chided it for intelligence handling lapses before Sept. 11.
The bureau's waste of more than $100 million on a case management system bolstered the argument for a shared service for case management'a blow to independence.

No labor union, no corporate colossus and no cartel can ultimately buck tectonic economic forces. Ask General Motors or the United Auto Workers. At best, they can delay the effects of these forces. Similarly, in an open government, no agency and no structure'and certainly no claim to independence'can stand against the kind of shift precipitated by a Sept. 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism.

New requirements of terror control, crime-fighting and cybersecurity demand a new model for government agencies. They struggle enormously to get there, but they can't opt out.

FBI director Robert Mueller's throwing in the towel on autonomously choosing a key aide was simply accepting the inevitable.

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