“The Most Dangerous Institution”

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Preventing terror, the Bureau’s number one priority, will now be the focus of 2,600 agents, more than double the number who worked in the area before September 11. Hundreds of newly hired analysts, linguists, and computer experts will labor to make sense of the data compiled by agents. CIA personnel will work directly with the FBI in the Bureau’s new Office of Intelligence.

Some critics have asked whether the shakeup goes far enough. Others question the wisdom of encouraging the Bureau to increase its domestic spying given that its intelligence failures before the September attacks were related more to bureaucratic bungling than to inadequate information-gathering authority.

In the end, the questions facing Mueller, and the nation itself, are those that have hung over the FBI since its earliest days: What kind of federal police force do we want? What portion of our freedom and privacy will we relinquish in exchange for security? Can we trust our government with the secret and sometimes dirty tools of intelligence? The Bureau’s history serves as a cautionary backdrop for the changes that lie ahead.

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