WASHINGTON -- In the early weeks after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Bush administration cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request from the FBI for counterterrorism funds, an internal White House budget document indicates.
The document, dated Oct. 12, 2001, indicates that the FBI requested $1.5 billion in additional funds to enhance its counterterrorism efforts with the creation of 2,024 positions. But the White House Office of Management and Budget cut that request to $531 million. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, working within the White House limits, cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, reduced a cybersecurity request by three-quarters, and eliminated a request for "collaborative capabilities."
The document was one of several administration papers obtained and given to a reporter by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group run by former Clinton chief of staff John D. Podesta. The papers indicate that Ashcroft ranked counterterrorism efforts as a lower priority than his predecessor did and that he resisted FBI requests for more counterterrorism funding before and immediately after the attacks.
The documents are being released as Clinton and Bush administration officials prepare to testify this week about their counterterrorism efforts before the commission investigating the attacks. The papers add to the vigorous debate in which Bush officials and former Clinton aides are criticizing each other as not taking the terrorist threat seriously enough.
White House spokesman Taylor Gross said FBI funding has increased by more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2004, not including supplemental funds such as those requested after the attacks. Under President Bush, "the FBI has been reformed to make counterterrorism its number one priority," Gross said.
The document indicating the FBI request after the Sept. 11 attacks was part of the budget office's "passback" process, in which the budget office reviews and pares agency requests. Although it is typical for the White House to reduce agency requests, Bush's critics contend the sharp reduction in the FBI's counterterrorism request could be politically damaging for the president, who has accused his presumptive Democratic opponent in the general election, Senator John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, of trying to cut intelligence funding in the mid-1990s.