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FBI Changes ‘Primary’ Mission From “Law Enforcement” to “National Security”
The FBI’s creeping advance into the world of counterterrorism is nothing new. But quietly and without notice, the agency has finally decided to make it official in one of its organizational fact sheets. Instead of declaring “law enforcement” as its “primary function,” as it has for years, the FBI fact sheet now lists “national security” as its chief mission. The changes largely reflect the FBI reforms put in place after September 11, 2001, which some have criticized for de-prioritizing law enforcement activities. Regardless, with the 9/11 attacks more than a decade in the past, the timing of the edits is baffling some FBI-watchers.
“What happened in the last year that changed?” asked Kel McClanahan, a Washington-based national security lawyer.
McClanahan noticed the change last month while reviewing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the agency. The FBI fact sheet accompanies every FOIA response and highlights a variety of facts about the agency. After noticing the change, McClanahan reviewed his records and saw that the revised fact sheets began going out this summer. “I think they’re trying to rebrand,” he said. “So many good things happen to your agency when you tie it to national security.”
Although a spokesman with the agency declined to weigh in on the timing of the change, he said the agency is just keeping up with the times. “When our mission changed after 9/11, our fact sheet changed to reflect that,” FBI spokesman Paul Bresson told Foreign Policy. He noted that the FBI’s website has long-emphasized the agency’s national security focus. “We rank our top 10 priorities and CT [counterterrorism] is first, counterintel is second, cyber is third,” he said. “So it is certainly accurate to say our primary function is national security.” On numerous occasions, former FBI Director Robert Mueller also emphasized the FBI’s national security focus in speeches and statements.
FBI historian and Marquette University professor Athan Theoharis agreed that the changes reflect what’s really happening at the agency, but said the timing isn’t clear. “I can’t explain why FBI officials decided to change the fact sheet… unless in the current political climate that change benefits the FBI politically and undercuts criticisms,” he said. He mentioned the negative attention surrounding the FBI’s failure in April to foil the bomb plot at the Boston Marathon by Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.