Book Excerpt: 'The Bureau'

In the past, directors met once a year with all SACs. In the space of four months, Mueller held two SAC meetings. Each lasted two days and included a visit to the White House for a pep talk from Bush and talks by Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet. SACs gasped when Mueller used a laptop computer and a PowerPoint program to illustrate the points he was making. Mueller kept their cell phone numbers in his Palm handheld computer. Even the FBI tour, once it reopened, was to reflect the new direction, including new exhibits on cybercrime.

As Mueller saw it, instead of responding to changes in threats as they arose, the FBI had to anticipate and plan for them. "Five years from now, is it going to be al-Qaeda or some other terrorist group we need to focus on?" he asked. "If it is some other terrorist group, we ought to start thinking now about the language skills we'll need, the cultural understandings, and the types of analysts we'll need to address the challenge down the road."

Stories by Jim McGee of the Washington Post gave the impression that Mueller planned to turn the FBI into an agency that focused largely on counterterrorism, prevention, and intelligence gathering, as in Hoover's day, without undertaking long-term investigations. That was untrue. In his meetings with SACs, Mueller talked about the need to make incremental changes in the FBI's mission. Compared with the handful of federal laws the FBI enforced when the agency was created in 1908, it now had five hundred laws to enforce. In most cases, Congress gave the FBI additional jurisdiction without providing additional agents.

Tracking delinquent dads was on everyone's list of violations that the FBI should not be involved in. Most drug cases could be handled by the DEA. Local police in most areas could handle bank robberies and carjackings. Just as Clarence Kelley got the FBI out of the business of investigating individual car thefts, Mueller was setting priorities. The beauty of Hoover's creation was that agents received broad training and could be shifted from one criminal program to another as the need arose.

"I think it's a mistake to think the FBI is just going to do terrorism, and everybody can go rob banks," Chertoff said. "I do think there will be a shift in focus, with the bureau deploying more of its strength to areas where it adds unique value — terrorism, national security, complex organized crime, and white-collar crime cases. Carjackings, federal program fraud cases, delinquent dads can be done by others. This forces us to be smarter about not having duplication of effort. It's probably something we should have done a long time ago so that everyone sticks to his knitting and does what they do best."

Nor was the bureau about to end long-term investigations. Quite the opposite. To be sure, more attention would be given to shutting down plots immediately using any law available — immigration violations, material witness warrants, lying to the FBI. "We don't necessarily need to convict people of a grand conspiracy if we can convict them of something straightforward and get them off the street right away," Chertoff said. When the U.S. military in January 2002 found videotapes of five apparent al-Qaeda members discussing a suicide attack, the FBI released the tapes to see if anyone could identify or find them. In the past, the FBI would have conducted a quiet investigation.

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