U.S. Attorney Nominated to Run New National Anti-Terrorism Unit

Veteran Washington prosecutor would oversee department aimed at centralizing terror investigations


Mar. 14--WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Monday picked a veteran Washington prosecutor with extensive experience in post-Sept. 11 anti-terror policy to head the newly created national security division of the Justice Department.

If confirmed by the Senate as assistant attorney general for national security, Kenneth Wainstein, 44, would run a unit pulled together from three sections of the department with the aim of centralizing counterterror investigations and improving information-sharing between intelligence gathering and law enforcement.

Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, who introduced Wainstein at a morning briefing, said the reorganization will provide attorneys "with additional capacity to do their important job even better through increased coordination and cooperation."

Wainstein has been U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia since May 2004. Prior to that, he was chief of staff to FBI Director Robert Mueller and general counsel to the bureau as it worked to transform itself from primarily a crime fighting agency to one also focused on fighting terrorism.

From August 2001 until July 2002, Wainstein headed the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys, a post in which he coordinated the activities of the nation's 94 U.S. attorneys and the Justice Department.

In that job, Wainstein wrote a memo touting the success of the Justice Department's "Interview Project" in which investigators sought to question 5,000 young men, mainly from Middle East countries where Al Qaeda was active. The aim was to develop intelligence to prevent terror attacks.

In a summary of the program, Wainstein said that while success "is impossible to measure, we have every reason to believe that the project had the desired disruptive effect." At the time, Muslim and Arab-American groups criticized the interviews as racial profiling.

Last April, Wainstein testified in defense of the enhanced powers of the USA Patriot Act, including roving wiretaps and provisions that allow authorities to seize records from businesses and other institutions as long as there is a showing that the documents are relevant to an investigation.

Authorization for the national security unit was part of the recently renewed Patriot Act.

azajac@tribune.com

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