DETROIT (WXYZ) - Many things have changed since 9/11 – perhaps one of the most dramatic changes in the United States has taken place within the FBI.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation drew criticism in the months following the tragedy for missing key leads about Osama bin Laden’s deadly plot – but the FBI of 2011 is a completely different organization.
The FBI was turned upside down on September 11, 2001. Their priorities completely shifted: agents who had spent careers investigating after a crime was committed now had to get into the business of prevention – to outsmart the terrorists before they could strike.
Every single agent in the FBI sprang into action on September 11th, 2001.
“We just started listing out leads, what needed to be covered, what other offices needed, how can we help,” said Special Agent Christopher Lawlor, Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit FBI Field Office.
Before the terrorists murdered nearly 3,000 people that day- the FBI had largely been a criminal investigation agency – gathering information about crimes after they occur.
“Our top priority now is the prevention and detection of terrorism,” Lawlor told Action News Investigator Heather Catallo. “What we had to do was take the same intelligence collection capabilities and really throw tremendous analytical resources and sharing capabilities into it. To do that we hired literally 100s and 100s of new employees in the last 10 years, in fact, half of the FBI has been hired in the last 10 years.”
The FBI doubled its number of intelligence analysts – and tripled its number of linguists. The Bureau completely re-structured – creating a National Security Branch to centralize programs like the Counterterrorism Division, the Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, and the Terrorist Screening Center.
“Every tip that comes in to the FBI, or the Joint Terrorism Task Force, is investigated. Every single tip,” said Lawlor.
Once criticized for not sharing enough information with other agencies - the FBI now makes that a focus.
“Anytime you can coordinate and integrate information you are taking a huge step in defeating terrorism,” said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan.
In the last decade, the FBI has also invested billions of dollars in technology to upgrade what agents say were once out-dated computer systems. The FBI is now part of more than 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country – which combines the resources of federal and local agencies.
“It also allows for greater sharing of information so one agency knows what the other is doing,” said Lawlor.
They need every advantage possible to combat the next era of terrorism.
Former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says a major coordinated attack like September 11th is less likely now – but the threats are still very real.
“It’s going to be the low-level Mumbai-style terrorist attack. Maybe bombs, maybe firearms, not on the scale of a 9/11, but still potentially very disruptive,” said Chertoff.
In fact, the FBI is very focused on detecting the so-called “lone wolf” terrorist – people like the alleged Christmas Day underwear bomber. Lone-wolves often act alone – making them difficult to stop.
“He’s someone who is driven by a terrorist ideology, but who’s not interacting with anyone else, makes it a very tough challenge for us to detect that individual,” said Lawlor.
Even though the Detroit FBI Field Office has become known for its high-profile public corruption investigation into former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and others – Special Agent Lawlor says the office never stopped pursuing counter-terrorism efforts.
To prepare for the ten year anniversary of 9/11 – agents across the US were asked to review all of their active cases and to reach out to informants for any possible speck of intelligence.
Here in Detroit, the FBI is manning a special command center, 24 hours a day until the morning of September 12th.
“Just to handle any potential leads that come in here locally, or something that needs action that may have occurred somewhere around the country or around the world, that may have an impact on Michigan, it will be sent to us and we will run it through – immediately,” said Lawlor.
While the FBI will be on heightened alert this weekend, agents say the public is still one of their best tools in preventing terrorism. As always if you see anything at all that seems out of the ordinary – call 313-965-2323 or dial 911.
If you prefer to contact the FBI online click here or here .
You can also contact the Michigan Intelligence Operations Center at 1-855-MICHTIP or click here .
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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