Agency grapples with gargantuan terror probes even as intelligence gathering becomes Job 1.
Of all the government shake-ups discussed and debated since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, the biggest may end up being felt at the J. Edgar Hoover Building, headquarters of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Long-simmering questions about the FBI's mission, methods, and caseload have only grown in urgency since the terrorist attacks, and the agency is being forced to deal with them on the fly.
Public concerns now stretch beyond the conspicuous missteps of recent years to a larger issue: How does an agency long dedicated primarily to solving crimes become better at crime prevention and intelligence-gathering?
Some experts, in fact, question whether it can do both at once, with a plate already full of other responsibilities.
Since the attacks, the bureau has said it is working to untangle the conspiracy around the hijackings while trying to prevent further attacks. At the same time, it must piece together the threads of the anthrax mystery. Even with 7,000 assigned to those tasks, that is a hefty burden for which the FBI may not be well equipped.
Emphasizing the point, Assistant Director J.T. Caruso this week told a Senate panel the bureau was having no success tracking down the source of the anthrax-laced letters that had been sent to media organizations and Capitol Hill. Further, the FBI had not even nailed down the number of labs capable of making deadly powder, apparently showing that gathering information on such issues had never been high on the bureau's to-do list.
At the hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California responded with incredulity at the lack of progress.
Some experts say the agency's biggest need may be for more effective use of intelligence.