A chat with the man to see
FBI Director Robert Mueller met with U.S. News & World Report Editor Brian Duffy and chief legal affairs correspondent Chitra Ragavan in his conference room on the top floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building to discuss his efforts to transform the bureau into a proactive organization that can identify terrorists and stop them before they strike.
. . . I think we've made substantial progress in building our counterterrorism efforts, and by that I mean the prioritization--the understanding that it's a national priority that has to be managed and directed from headquarters, although the individual information gathering, information collection has to be done by agents and field offices.
On overcoming resistance from FBI agents who want the bureau to remain a traditional crime-fighting organization:
There are always going to be agents out there who think we ought to have stayed in the war on drugs, that we shouldn't have shifted those resources, that we ought to be doing what we traditionally have done in a number of arenas. It could be bank robberies, it could be government fraud, it could be war on drugs--and they've done them for a period of their career, and it will be very difficult for some of them to change.
On the bureau's finding that most of the potential terrorists in the United States are primarily engaged in fundraising activities rather than running active operational cells:
I think, without a question of doubt, there are individuals, either by themselves or aligned with others, who are supportive of terrorist philosophy, theology, and engage primarily, at this point in time perhaps, in fundraising, recruiting, and perhaps in some level of training. Now that does not mean that they are not poised to undertake operations . . . . My concern is and will always be that which we do not know.
On whether the Virtual Case File failure indicates that he has become isolated:
Hopefully not. It is a challenge in any organization not to be isolated. And it's something you always have to fight.
On his management style and whether his demeanor discourages his executives from bringing him bad news:
That's a charged question. I, you know, I mean, I'm probably different things to different people. I tend to think I'm probably fairly demanding in terms of people knowing what they're talking about. And give me the facts, I . . . one of my failings is I'm impatient, I'm impatient . . . to provide support to the agents, to provide the latest technology to make this even a better institution, and that probably, in some cases, is a hindrance. But you know, I can't think of an executive who . . . I could think would be intimidated by me.
And . . . I mean, the fact of the matter is you've got to move forward. And part of it comes from my background. You know, the Marine Corps . . . I took away some lessons from that. In every position I've had, I've had some people who are OK and some people who don't like the way I operate. Often there are people who are used to operating in a different way. And when I come in and have my own way of doing things that's . . . that's not the way they like things to be, but I try . . . I listen hard, and move quickly.
This story appears in the March 28, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.