Attorney General John Ashcroft yesterday said a series of public blunders by the FBI had seriously eroded the public’s confidence in the federal law enforcement agency and he called on the bureau to respond to these problems.
Citing the FBI’s failure to turn over documents in the Timothy McVeigh investigation and the arrest of a veteran agent as a Russian spy, along with “earlier tragedies” at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, Mr. Ashcroft urged FBI employees to return to their core values.
“Our challenge is not that we have problems,” he said during a speech at FBI headquarters. “All institutions even great ones like the Federal Bureau of Investigation — have problems. Our challenge is how we respond to these problems; how we, working together, answer the call to protect the people’s trust, re-enforce freedom and preserve justice.”
Mr. Ashcroft, in the wake of a series of FBI missteps, has ordered the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General to investigate the case of admitted Russia spy Robert P. Hanssen and the missing McVeigh files. Last week, he gave the inspector general new powers to probe all suspected misconduct.
He also has ordered a management review of the FBI by a team of Justice Department officials, headed by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. Former CIA and FBI Director William Webster is conducting a separate review of the bureau’s internal security measures.
Mr. Ashcroft said the FBI, with 28,000 agents, crime lab technicians, and support personnel, was responsible last year for investigating more than 200 categories of federal crimes and well over 500 specific violations of federal law.
He said that, at any given time, the FBI was working on 100,000 cases, obtaining more than 19,000 indictments and securing more than 21,000 convictions.
“All FBI employees deserve to share in the honor and gratitude the American people justly feel for these successful investigations. By heeding the call to duty and sacrifice, the FBI has truly become the foremost law enforcement agency in the world,” he said.
But Mr. Ashcroft reminded those in attendance that “when the people lose their faith in the institutions they trust to enforce the law, justice is no longer possible.
“No American has escaped injury from the espionage to which Robert Hanssen pled guilty two weeks ago. But for the men and women of the FBI, the wound is deeper,” he said. “The FBI has felt the pain inflicted by the betrayal of a brother.”
Mr. Ashcroft said the problem of the Hanssen case joined with earlier missteps involving McVeigh, the Randy Weaver shootout in Idaho and the Branch Davidian siege in Texas “in injuring the public trust.”
In each of these cases, he said, the injury was lessened considerably by the vast majority of men and women in the bureau who performed their duties with exemplary professionalism and integrity.
But, he said, “We are called to a higher standard.”
Mr. Ashcroft described Robert Mueller, FBI director-designate, as a “principled and dedicated public servant,” and said he was confident the new chief would correct the bureau’s problems.
“The responsibilities that will fall on Bob Mueller’s shoulders will be great. But my confidence in him is greater. I know that under his direction we will triumph over the challenges ahead,” he said.