New York Times
November 8, 2001

Ashcroft Orders Justice Dept. Into New Wartime Structure


WASHINGTON -- Attorney General John Ashcroft announced today that he has ordered the Justice Department to take a wartime posture and has begun to restructure the agency's priorities under a plan that will send thousands of agents from Washington out to offices around the country, where they are to work to prevent further terror attacks.

The plan envisions radical reorganization of the Justice Department and key component agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Immigration and Naturalization Service each of which would be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off future violence.

"Today, I am announcing a wartime reorganization and mobilization of the nation's justice and law enforcement resources to meet the mission of the Department of Justice," Mr. Ashcroft said in a speech to managers at the Justice Department.

He offered only a few specifics, but outlined a fundamental shift in priorities that would occur in the next five years under a plan to be submitted to Congress. Many of the changes have already been discussed in news media reports.

Mr. Ashcroft said F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller, who has been conducting a review of the F.B.I. since taking office, plans to present preliminary restructuring plans by the end of the year. So far, the head of national security for the F.B.I. and the bureau's deputy director have both announced their retirements. Mr. Mueller is expected eventually to shake up the managerial ranks at the F.B.I.

The immigration service will also be given a new mission: preventing terror.

"In the war on terrorism, the restructured Immigration and Naturalization Service will focus on preventing aliens who engage in or support terrorist activity from entering our country," Mr. Ashcroft said. "It will lead the campaign to detain, prosecute, or deport the terrorist aliens who are already inside the nation's borders."

Mr. Ashcroft's announcement was the latest step in his aggressive stewardship of the Justice Department in response to the Sept. 11 attacks. It was also a forceful statement of his dominance at the top of the government's legal and law enforcement establishment a position of power that all of his predecessors have sought, but few ever obtained.

Some senior career officials at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. have complained that Mr. Ashcroft, in his insistence on cracking down on terrorists, may weaken rules that bar investigations of individual and groups based on their political leanings rules adopted as a result of past abuses.

Mr. Ashcroft has said he would defend the rights of all Americans but has shown little concern about civil liberty issues in response to terrorism.

"Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority," Mr. Ashcroft said.

"To fulfill this mission," he said, "we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies."

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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