WASHINGTON -- In sworn testimony that contrasts with their promises to the public, the FBI managers who crafted the post-Sept. 11 fight against terrorism say expertise about the Mideast or terrorism was not important in choosing the agents they promoted to top jobs.
And they still do not believe such experience is necessary today, even as terrorist acts occur across the globe.
''A bombing case is a bombing case," said Dale L. Watson, the FBI's terrorism chief in the two years after Sept. 11, 2001. ''A crime scene in a bank robbery case is the same as a crime scene, you know, across the board."
The FBI's current terror-fighting chief, executive assistant director Gary M. Bald, said his first terrorism training came ''on the job" when he moved to headquarters to oversee antiterrorism strategy two years ago.
Asked about his grasp of Middle Eastern culture and history, Bald responded: ''I wish that I had it. It would be nice."
''You need leadership. You don't need subject-matter expertise," Bald testified in an ongoing FBI employment case. ''It is certainly not what I look for in selecting an official for a position in a counterterrorism position."
As part of a lawsuit filed against the agency, lawyers for FBI agent Bassem Youssef have questioned under oath many of the FBI's top leaders, including Director Robert S. Mueller 3d and his predecessor, Louis J. Freeh, in an effort to show that Youssef was passed over for top terrorism jobs despite his expertise. Instead, he was offered same-rank positions. Testimony from the lawsuit was recently sent to Congress.
Those who have held the bureau's top terrorism-fighting jobs since Sept. 11 often said in their testimony that they -- and many they have promoted since -- had no significant terrorism or Middle East experience.
''Probably the strongest leader I know in counterterrorism has no counterterrorism in his background," Bald insisted.
The hundreds of pages of testimony obtained by the Associated Press contrast with assurances Mueller repeatedly has given Congress that he was building a new FBI, with experts able to stop terrorist attacks before they occurred, not solve them afterward.
''The FBI's shift toward terrorism prevention necessitates the building of a national-level expertise and body of knowledge," Mueller told Congress a year after the suicide hijackings.
Despite the managers' testimony, the FBI said it has fundamentally reshaped itself to ensure field agents who work the cases have the necessary skills, training, and background for fighting terrorism. It noted it hired or redeployed more than 1,000 agents to counterterrorism and hired an additional 1,200 intelligence analysts and linguists.
''We fundamentally changed the criteria for hiring special agents and intelligence analysts to ensure that we get the critical skills, knowledge, and experience we need to address today's threats," assistant director Cassandra M. Chandler said.
''New agents receive personalized training from Muslim leaders," she said. ''Street agents and managers in every field office have gotten to know the Middle Eastern and Muslim communities in their territories and regularly attend training sessions sponsored by community leaders."