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By Richard A. Serrano, Tribune Washington Bureau (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The FBI has made “measurable progress” in keeping the U.S. homeland safe since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the bureau should expand its intelligence-gathering efforts to match an ever-changing threat from abroad and so-called lone wolves in this country, a special review commission said Wednesday.

The 9/11 Review Commission, created to monitor federal law enforcement changes after the 2001 attacks, said the FBI should “urgently” enhance its intelligence and analysis sections to deal with evolving threats.

The commission specifically cited “adaptive and increasingly tech-savvy terrorists, more brazen computer hackers, and more technically capable global cyber syndicates.”

The panel urged the FBI to hire more linguists and other foreign-language experts, and ensure that they are able to assist in the growing number of terrorism investigations. They said such changes were a “high priority” for the FBI.

Without making those improvements, the panel said, the FBI will lag behind in its full law enforcement capability. “This imbalance needs urgently to be addressed to meet growing and increasingly complex national security threats,” the report said.

In 2004 a national commission called for major changes at not only the FBI but also other federal law enforcement agencies. At the time, critics said turf wars between the agencies prevented coordination and information-sharing. That was seen as a major breakdown, allowing the September 11 hijackers to slip into the United States.

Wednesday’s update report was prepared by the 9/11 Review Commission, led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III; Tim Roemer, a former Indiana congressman and ambassador to India; and Bruce Hoffman, an expert on global security and a professor at Georgetown University.

The review panel concluded that the FBI has made sweeping improvements, going from a largely domestic-oriented agency dealing with bank robberies and other federal offenses to one keenly centered on anti-terrorism efforts. Cybersecurity has also become a major emphasis.

“The FBI has made measurable progress over the past decade in developing end-to-end intelligence capabilities and significantly improving information sharing and collaboration with key partners at home and abroad,” the report said. “This has undoubtedly contributed to protecting the homeland against another catastrophic terrorist attack.”

In a separate report Wednesday, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General examined the FBI’s use of drones in criminal investigations.

While commending the bureau for using drones in kidnappings, manhunts, and search-and-rescue operations, the IG report said all 17 of the FBI’s operational drones are “at a single location and had only one pilot team on staff adequately trained to fly all models” of the aircraft.

The FBI said, however, that its drone operation was “capable of deploying to multiple locations quickly.” And the bureau said it is developing a five-year plan to relocate drone operations around the nation.

Photo: Johnathan via Flickr

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