- The Washington Times - Monday, July 9, 2001

Pending almost certain confirmation by the U.S. Senate, longtime Justice Department lawyer Robert S. Mueller III will become the FBI's sixth permanent director since J. Edgar Hoover was appointed director in 1924. On Thursday, President George W. Bush nominated the 56-year-old Mr. Mueller to the 10-year term as FBI director, a term of office that is intended, though not always successfully, to insulate the director from the capital's political warfare. Mr. Mueller, whom the first President Bush appointed Assistant Attorney General in charge of the criminal division in 1990 and whom President Clinton appointed U.S. attorney in San Francisco in 1999, will succeed Louis Freeh, who recently retired after serving for eight years.

Under Mr. Freeh's leadership, the FBI's responsibilities have greatly expanded. In addition to still nabbing bank robbers, capturing kidnappers and exposing Cold War foreign espionage agents, the FBI has added cyber crime to its portfolio, significantly increased its foreign operations and become America's front-line defense against terrorism. As director of what he described as "the foremost law enforcement agency in the world," Mr. Mueller would oversee an annual budget of $3.4 billion, more than 27,000 employees, including 11,000 federal agents, 56 domestic field offices and 40 foreign posts.

A former Marine rifle platoon leader in Vietnam who won a Bronze Star for heroism and a Purple Heart for being wounded, Mr. Mueller will inherit an agency that has been under fire recently from both the public and Congress for a series of blunders. These missteps have included the FBI's failure to turn over more than 4,000 pages of documents to prosecutors and defense lawyers during the trial of Timothy McVeigh, the terrorist whose eventual execution for killing 168 people in a federal-building bombing was recently delayed by the news of the FBI's lack of diligence. Far more worrisome was the FBI's failure to detect more than 20 years of spying, first for the Soviet Union and later for Russia, by one of its own agents, Robert Hanssen, a 27-year FBI counterintelligence veteran, whose wife will be receiving his taxpayer-funded pension according to a recently negotiated plea bargain. The FBI also botched the initial investigation of Wen Ho Lee, the scientist at the Los Alamos weapons labs who was suspected of spying for China.

Along with the hard-charging attitude this former Marine brought to the San Francisco U.S. attorney's office, which he is widely credited with dramatically revitalizing, Mr. Mueller would bring an impressive record of achievement to the FBI. As head of the Justice Department's criminal division from 1990 until 1993, Mr. Mueller played key roles in the 1992 conviction of mob boss John Gotti; the successful prosecution in the United States of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega for cocaine trafficking; and the investigation of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Scotland, which resulted in the later conviction of a Libyan intelligence officer. Appointed by President Reagan in 1986 as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts in Boston, Mr. Mueller is one of a very few lawyers to serve in that capacity in two major cities. Perhaps even more notable was his decision in 1995 to abandon his $400,000 job in a white-shoe law firm in favor of a front-line homicide prosecutor's position in the U.S. attorney's office for the District of Columbia, a decision a longtime friend attributed to a lifelong desire to "wear the white hat."

If Mr. Mueller is as successful in instituting the necessary managerial reform at the FBI as he has been in the revitalization of the U.S. attorney's office in San Francisco and in the prosecutions he oversaw during his earlier stint as assistant attorney general, the nation will be well served.

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