MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The FBI's anti-terrorism focus after Sept. 11 has meant new priorities in the Minneapolis field office, where some resources that had been devoted to bank robberies, drug enforcement and white-collar crimes are being diverted to counterterrorism.
Without additional agents, the Minneapolis office is shifting some of the burden to state and local law enforcement, Deborah Pierce, the special agent in charge, said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
"By pulling (agents) away, I wasn't going to stop the war on drugs," said Pierce, who came to Minneapolis in December. "We're stepping back ... But we're not going to create a hole for the bad guys."
The bureau has built strong relationships with other police agencies that are well-equipped to help, she said.
Pierce said the shifts allowed her to devote three more agents to counterterrorism -- making a total of five -- in the office's territory, which includes Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. That may not sound like much, but most agents routinely work on terrorism issues, she said.
The territory has 112 agents, with one-fourth designated for duty on American Indian lands.
"We're not locked into specific numbers but by shifting resources we're concerned about consequences," Pierce said. She dismissed a recent string of bank robberies in the territory as coincidental.
Sept. 11 and all that went with it put added stress on all FBI agents. But Pierce said her FBI agents drew closer together when one of their own -- Coleen Rowley -- drew sharp criticism and praise for saying what they all felt: That FBI officials in Washington stymied the investigation into flight school student Zacarias Moussaoui.
"Our office bonded behind Coleen," Pierce said. "There was a lot of frustration in the office about how that was handled."
In a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Rowley said officials at headquarters tried to stop field agents from connecting Moussaoui to the terrorist attacks even after they occurred.
Pierce and FBI spokesman Paul McCabe said Rowley never intended the letter to become public, and said Rowley has never sought publicity. Rowley has turned down half a dozen awards and magazine covers, McCabe said.
Like other offices, the Minneapolis field office is also under pressure to help the FBI hire to fill its ranks. The agency wants to hire 966 new agents by Oct. 1. Pierce said she pressured every staffer to help in the effort, and several hundred people applied. Twenty, an unusually high number for a small territory, passed the rigorous tests, McCabe said.
But none of those hires will be headed to Minneapolis unless it's to replace a current agent. The field office hasn't been granted any additional agents in several years, Pierce said.
"I'd like 10 more agents," she said. "Instead we use task forces to augment what we have."
Among those is the Minneapolis Joint Terrorism Task Force, which consists of federal, state and local law enforcement officers. It's more than doubled in size to 25 members.
Pierce said she hopes that the next federal budget cycle will produce more agents for Minneapolis.
The bureau is looking for a big technology boost with an updated computer system that opens the door to much greater information sharing between FBI offices. The old system was closed -- not connected to any modem -- to be hacker-proof.
Despite the changes of the past year, complaints from agents have been minimal, Pierce said.
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