- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

President Bush had warned of new threats of terrorism when he announced Robert S. Mueller III’s appointment as FBI director in 2001, but neither he nor Mr. Mueller knew how quickly the FBI would have to respond.

Just a week after Mr. Mueller assumed the director’s job, al Qaeda terrorists crashed hijacked jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. The Sept. 11 attacks gave urgency to and greatly defined Mr. Mueller’s tenure.

“Before 9/11, we were an agency that focused primarily on investigating crimes after the fact,” he told The Washington Times in an e-mail interview this week. “Today we are actively preventing and disrupting destructive and illegal acts before they occur.”

As the FBI prepares to mark its 100th anniversary Saturday, Mr. Mueller, who is out of the country on business, answered questions from The Times through e-mail. A former Marine and a Vietnam veteran, Mr. Mueller discussed the bureau’s challenges since Sept. 11, its efforts to get information technology up to date and his relationship with rank-and-file agents, particularly on his contentious program of rotating senior agents to Washington.

Since Sept. 11, Mr. Mueller said, the bureau has made “substantial progress” in the realm of national security.

“While intelligence has always been an important part of FBI investigations, we’re now much more intelligence-driven, and a more fully integrated member of the broader intelligence community,” he said.

Visit TWT’s interactive special section on the force’s anniversary, 100 Years of the FBI

That has forced the FBI to strike a balance between national security and traditional criminal prosecutions.

“We are better leveraging our resources in other criminal areas, working side by side with our state and local law-enforcement counterparts in task forces and other partnerships,” he said.

Mr. Mueller said he was disappointed early in his tenure with the bureau’s computer technology, “but we’ve made great strides there in recent years.”

The FBI has spent millions of dollars to update antiquated systems.

“We’ve greatly modernized the FBI’s networks and infrastructure and continue to develop the FBI’s future enterprise information and case management system,” he said. “We’ve promoted information-sharing with law enforcement through the creation of regional and national-level systems and delivered new analytic tools and services to support the linguist, intelligence analyst, and agent.”

He noted that the bureau has put 18,000 wireless devices into the hands of agents and operational personnel.

Calling rank-and-file agents the backbone of the FBI, Mr. Mueller said he has “visited every FBI field office, some more than once, and most of our overseas offices in an effort to meet both agents and professional staff and to hear from them directly.”

“There is no doubt the we’ve asked a lot from them in the post-9/11 FBI as we’ve shifted priorities and adjusted career paths,” he said. “We’ve also changed the way we recruit and train our special agents, to best ensure we reflect the needs of today’s FBI.”

Mr. Mueller said the development of leaders throughout the bureau is more important than ever before. To that end, he issued an order known as “five years up or out,” which requires senior supervisors to move to the bureau’s Washington headquarters after five years in the field or accept demotion.

Some agents have criticized the program, saying it will hurt the FBI’s ability to fight crime. A survey by the FBI Agents Association found that more than half of the 1,000 supervisors questioned said they intended to leave management or retire as a result of the order.

Mr. Mueller remains undeterred.

“The so-called five-year up-and-out is just one part of a larger leadership development program that allows those who are qualified to be supervisors and managers to have those opportunities,” he said. “This is critical to the success of the FBI.”

Mr. Mueller said he also plans to focus on recruiting, training and succession planning.

The director’s term ends in 2011. Mr. Mueller said he has no plans to leave before then.

“As long as I can contribute, I intend to continue to lead efforts to strengthen the bureau in a number of areas,” he said. “Our employees - special agents, analysts, language specialists, technology experts and other professionals - have always been the key to success in the FBI and I want to ensure we have absolutely the best work force possible.”

Mr. Mueller said the FBI’s success has been bolstered through cooperation with the public.

“That cooperation has come and been sustained over time because of the trust and respect the FBI enjoys with the public, something every FBI employee thinks about each and every day,” he said. “In regard to those we investigate, special agents are taught interview techniques designed to encourage cooperation and that respect for civil and constitutional rights is paramount.”

Just don’t expect the director to kick in any doors himself.

“I believe J. Edgar Hoover was the last director to personally arrest someone when he traveled to New Orleans in the 1930s to put handcuffs on the gangster Alvin Karpis,” he said. “I don’t foresee any such trips in my future.”

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