Fixing the FBI
This man is pushing some of the biggest changes in the Bureau's History. Think he's a popular guy?
Transformation . The results aren't all in yet, of course, but the signs of progress are there. A two-year study just released by the National Academy of Public Administration, chaired by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, found that the FBI is "making substantial progress in transforming itself into a strong domestic-intelligence entity, and has the will and many of the competencies required to accomplish it." President Bush's new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, credits Mueller's continued pushing for the results. "I have total confidence in Bob Mueller," Gonzales says. Fine, the Justice Department's inspector general, though critical of Mueller's handling of the Virtual Case File system, nevertheless says he is impressed by Mueller's progress. "I think he is moving the FBI in the right direction," says Fine. On Capitol Hill, one of the FBI' s most aggressive overseers agrees. "Overall, I would give Mueller high marks," says Rep. Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican. "He has transformed the FBI in a very difficult time."
Not everyone, of course, is pleased. Over the past three years, FBI executives, including Mueller, delivered hundreds of optimistic briefings on VCF to members of Congress and their staffs. The software failure has resulted in the erosion of confidence in Mueller's willingness to be candid about setbacks and obstacles. Sen. Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, called VCF "a very significant failure." Wolf, the Virginia Republican, says he's "personally disappointed" by the VCF fiasco and has launched an investigation. Democrats, if anything, are more critical. "It would indicate that he is being taken over more and more by the FBI's culture of not recognizing mistakes," Vermont's Leahy says of the earlier FBI testimony about VCF. "The director came in with so much goodwill on the part of both Republicans and Democrats, and that goodwill is just being thrown away."
On the job. For Mueller, such criticisms are not just unusual but unprecedented. For years, Mueller has been the Teflon man, who has not only managed to keep the FBI's problems well under wraps, with an iron grip on media access, but has also generated enormous admiration from virtually all quarters of official Washington. "There's not much in life that I'm completely sure of," says Comey, the deputy attorney general." But I'm sure that Bob Mueller is smart and honorable."
One intelligence official marvels at what he describes as a "cult of devotion" to Mueller." After giving up a lucrative white-collar crime practice to work homicide cases in the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., Mueller served as Attorney General John Ashcroft's acting deputy before he agreed to take the FBI job. Just after a successful fight against prostate cancer, Mueller had barely moved into his office when the first plane struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. "To those of us who were working the case intensely," says former Justice Department counterterrorism official Stuart Levey, now the Treasury Department's under secretary for enforcement, "he gave the impression that he was put on Earth to do this job at this time."