Fixing the FBI
This man is pushing some of the biggest changes in the Bureau's History. Think he's a popular guy?
But it wasn't long before the bureau was buffeted by criticism over its failure to identify and stop the 9/11 hijackers. Suddenly, Mueller was forced to two-track his leadership, overseeing the 9/11 investigation while trying to beat back efforts to take away the FBI's domestic intelligence-gathering mission. Using every bit of his personal charisma, doggedness, and political savvy, Mueller managed to convince the 9/11 commissioners that he was already on track to change the FBI without their urging a drastic overhaul to President Bush. Commission sources say Mueller met with them more than did any other agency head or official. "Mueller understood his job was on the line," says a former commission staffer. "And he understood better than CIA Director George Tenet did that whatever we were going to say, people would listen."
Mueller's efforts paid off, but not without difficulty. Representative Wolf told Mueller that the only chance for the FBI to survive more or less intact was by creating a "service within a service" --a new intelligence directorate inside the bureau staffed with well-trained, well-paid, career-track intelligence analysts who would focus on terrorist threats and look for clues to the next attack. Mueller, Wolf says, "was not supportive." Instead, the director told members of Congress and the 9/11 commissioners that he wanted total discretion in how to reform the bureau. Some commissioners, impressed by Mueller's rectitude and credibility, were inclined to agree. But others resisted, and in the end, Wolf's idea of an intelligence directorate, presented first to Mueller as a fait accompli and then to the commissioners as a Mueller-Wolf proposal, became the only major recommendation for changing the FBI contained in the 9/11 commission's final report. "It was a vote of confidence in Mueller," commission executive director Philip Zelikow told U.S. News , "and we intended it as that."
Cops and robbers. Now, some 9/11 commissioners wonder if that confidence was misplaced. "He knows how to play the system," says one commissioner, "how to play Congress, and he certainly worked the 9/11 commission." Commissioner Timothy Roemer says there's a lesson in the experience. "When you are doing oversight of the FBI," he says, "you really have to try to separate your respect for Director Mueller from evaluating in a fair and objective manner the FBI's performance during his tenure."
In contrast, the commission slammed the CIA and Tenet for their handling of pre-9/11 intelligence, causing tremendous resentment in the agency. "It's not that we minded them not being held accountable for their mistakes," says a former senior CIA official, "It was just that we grew tired of us being held accountable for them." Tenet and many on his staff were apoplectic at what they believe was disinformation provided to the commission that it was the CIA's fault for not sharing information with the FBI about some of the September 11 terrorists; instead, they blame the FBI's balky record-management systems. "For too long, the FBI was a data-free zone," says the former senior CIA official. "Amazingly, because they had no data, their dubious recollections were accorded the status of proof." Mueller's supporters say the director just did his job. "It's the mark of a great leader," says a senior Justice official, "that Bob was able to steer his organization through all that unscathed."