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Panel Finds FBI Made Strides After Sept. 11, But Must Speed Reforms

FBI headquarters in Washington. An independent review says the bureau has made strides since Sept. 11 but "needs to accelerate its implementation of reforms."
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
FBI headquarters in Washington. An independent review says the bureau has made strides since Sept. 11 but "needs to accelerate its implementation of reforms."

Updated at 11:25 a.m. ET

An independent, external review of how the FBI implemented the recommendations made in the 9/11 Commission Report concludes the bureau "has made strides in the past decade but needs to accelerate its implementation of reforms to complete its transformation into a threat-based, intelligence-driven organization."

The 9/11 Review Commission, created last year by congressional mandate, was headed by Bruce Hoffman, director of the Center for Security Studies and director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University; Edwin Meese, a former Reagan administration official; and Timothy Roemer, a former Democratic representative who served on the 9/11 Commission.

NPR's Carrie Johnson, who attended a news conference at FBI headquarters in Washington, tells us that FBI Director James Comey said "overwhelmingly I agree with their findings and recommendations ... being world-class means knowing you are good, but never being satisfied you are good enough."

The Review Commission found that while the FBI has continued to investigate the Sept. 11 attacks, "there is no new evidence to date that would change the 9/11 Commission's findings regarding responsibility for" those attacks.

"Contrary to media reports, the FBI did not have a source in the 1990's with direct access to [Osama bin Laden] nor was there credible evidence linking the Sarasota, Florida, family to the 9/11 hijackers," the Review Commission said.

Also among its 12 findings:

-- While the FBI made measurable progress in building a threat-based, intelligence driven-national security organization, the changing nature of the threats to the U.S. challenged the bureau's "change-resistant culture."

"The FBI needs to accelerate the pace of its reforms and transformation of its culture to counter these dynamic threats and fulfill its expanding global mission as a fully integrated, intelligence-driven investigative organization under visional leadership and enabled by state-of-the-at technology," the Review Commission said in a recommendation.

Hoffmann, at the news conference, said, "The FBI has come a long way in the last decade and a half. The challenge isn't just one of resources but also one of cultural changes."

-- The FBI's leadership "is not unified or consistent in driving cultural change," and its "frequent turnover of leadership seriously hampers the pace of reform."

-- The bureau is not sufficiently integrated into the rest of the U.S. intelligence community.

Roemer, at the news conference at FBI headquarters, pointed out that in three of the five terrorist case studies the group examined, the "crucial tip ... did not originate in the FBI."

-- Overall, information-sharing between the FBI and its federal, state and local partners was good, but there is room for improvement, especially with local law enforcement and the private sector.

-- Comey has made cybersecurity a top priority, but there will be "significant challenges for the FBI in implementing this strategy, especially in improving technology procurement practices, hiring expert personnel in a timely manner, and coordinating across government." The Review Commission gave the FBI "high marks for its coordination and collaboration on cyber with other agencies, especially the National Security Agency."

-- The FBI can fix some of the strategic problems it has, but "others will require the involvement of [the Department of Justice], [the Director of National Intelligence], and Congress."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.