Center for American Progress

9/11: Internal Government Documents Show How the Bush Administration Reduced Counterterrorism

9/11: Internal Government Documents Show How the Bush Administration Reduced Counterterrorism

Backgrounder: TRUTH & CONSEQUENCES, The Bush Administration and September 11

Since September 11, President Bush and his supporters have repeatedly intimated that many of the President's political opponents are soft on terrorism. In his State of the Union address, the President declared: "We can go forward with confidence and resolve, or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us." In comments aimed at those who seek changes in the Patriot Act, Attorney General John Ashcroft said: "Your tactics only aid terrorists." One recent ad asserts, "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others."

But the real story is far different, as the following internal Department of Justice (DoJ) documents obtained by the Center for American Progress demonstrate. The Bush Administration actually reversed the Clinton Administration's strong emphasis on counterterrorism and counterintelligence. Attorney General John Ashcroft not only moved aggressively to reduce DoJ's anti-terrorist budget but also shift DoJ's mission in spirit to emphasize its role as a domestic police force and anti-drug force. These changes in mission were just as critical as the budget changes, with Ashcroft, in effect, guiding the day to day decisions made by field officers and agents. And all of this while the Administration was receiving repeated warnings about potential terrorist attacks.

5/8/98 – FBI Strategic Plan: Mission statement from internal FBI Strategic Plan dated 5/8/1998 in which the Tier One priority is counterterrorism. This document clearly proves that the FBI under the previous Administration was making counterterrorism its highest priority. As the document states "Foreign intelligence, terrorist, and criminal activities that directly threaten the national or economic security…To succeed we must develop and implement a proactive, nationally directed program."

4/6/00 – DoJ Budget Goals Memo: Official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General Janet Reno to department heads dated 4/6/2000 detailing how counterterrorism is her top priority for the Department of Justice. In the second paragraph, she states, "In the near term as well as the future, cybercrime and counterterrrorism are going to be the most challenging threats in the criminal justice area. Nowhere is the need for an up-to-date human and technical infrastructure more critical."

5/10/01 – Ashcroft New DoJ Budget Goals Memo: Official annual budget goals memo from Attorney General Ashcroft dated 5/10/2001 (directly compares to the 4/6/2000 Reno memo). Out of 7 strategic goals described, not one mentions counterterrorism, a serious departure from Reno.

8/9/01 – Internal Draft of New Ashcroft DoJ Strategic Plan: Internal draft dated 8/9/2001 of DoJ's plans to revamp the official DoJ Strategic Plan strategic in which Attorney General Ashcroft's new priorities for DoJ were highlighted in yellow (because of color constraints with PDF, the items with black boxes were the ones actually highlighted). As it says, highlighted items equal the specific goals of the new Attorney General. Specifically highlighted by Ashcroft are domestic violent crime and drug trafficking prevention. Item 1.3 entitled "Combat terrorist activities by developing maximum intelligence and investigative capability" is passed over. After September 11, Ashcroft quickly amended his plans for DoJ's reorganization. The final strategic mission, which was released in November looks starkly different than Ashcroft's pre-September 11 draft. (to see this reversal, you can compare "stragicplan.pdf" attached to this email with the final strategic mission that is found on the web at

Late August 2001 – Internal FBI FY2003 Budget Request to Ashcroft: Internal FBI FY03 budget request to DoJ dated roughly late August 2001 (FBI submits its request to DoJ, DoJ adjusts and sends a request to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) which then puts it into the final budget). This is not FBI's total request – but only the areas where FBI is specifically requesting increases over the previous year's baseline. In this request, FBI specifically asks for, among other things, 54 translators to translate backlog of intelligence gathered (line 3 under Foreign Language Services, cost of $5.1 million), 248 counterterrorism agents and support staff (line 14 entitled CT field investigations, cost of $28 million), and 200 professional intelligence researchers (line 16, entitled Intelligence Production, at a cost of $20.8 million). FBI has repeatedly stated that it has a serious backlog of intelligence data it has gathered but simply does not have the staff to analyze or translate it into usable information.

9/10/2001 – Official FY2003 Dept. of Justice Budget Request To White House: Official FY03 DoJ budget request from Attorney General Ashcroft to OMB Director Mitch Daniels, dated September 10, 2001. This document specifically highlights only the programs slated for above-baseline increases or below-baseline cuts. On page 29 of the PDF, Ashcroft outlines the programs he is trying to cut. Comparing this document to FBI's request to DoJ, it shows that Ashcroft ignored FBI's anti-terrorism requests (detailed in this internal FBI document). More specifically, this document shows that Ashcroft was planning to ignore the FBI's specific requests for more translators, counterintelligence agents and researchers, mentioned above. It additionally shows Ashcroft was trying to slash funding from counterterrorism and grants and other homeland defense programs before 9/11.

Post 9/11 – Budget Document Detailing OMB Rejection of FBI Counter-Terror Request: Internal document showing that FBI requested $1.499 billion for counterterrorism for the post-September 11 emergency supplemental but received just $530 million from the White House, despite serious counterterrorism needs.

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