Still, under Mueller, the bureau appeared to be in good hands, its mission once again redefined by war. By January 2002, the bureau had narrowed the focus of the anthrax investigation to employees of military laboratories capable of making the form of anthrax that killed victims in Florida, Connecticut, New York, and Washington. They included the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and the U.S. Army's Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. The FBI concluded that the physical properties of the finely powdered anthrax sent to Capitol Hill were consistent with secret U.S. processes for producing it. From knowing virtually nothing about anthrax, bureau officials like Van Harp had learned so much that they thought they qualified for degrees in microbiology.
The strength of the FBI was demonstrated by the fact that, in the middle of pursuing terrorists and anthrax suspects, the New York Field Office took down seventy-three leaders and associates of the Genovese Mafia family.
In the wake of the September 11 attacks, the FBI had at least 150 ongoing investigations into possible al-Qaeda activities in the United States, compared with virtually none before the attacks. While very few of those investigations was likely to lead to anything, it was the kind of effort necessary to root out the problem.
"Every single lead is being followed now," a bureau official said.
Some of the leads arose from interviews by ten FBI agents Mueller sent to interview al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan before they were shipped to a detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. "We asked them, 'Where is bin Laden now? Sipping tea on a yacht somewhere? And where are you now?"' an agent familiar with the investigation said. "That often worked. These are not hardened criminals such as you find in the United States."
While Mueller became involved in key decisions like whether to conduct a surveillance, he respected the opinions of bureau officials, sought their advice, and listened carefully before making up his mind. Three times in his first four months in office, he found the time to meet informally over doughnuts, cookies, and coffee with thirty-five reporters who regularly cover the bureau.
With his aversion to hearing bad news or countervailing views, Freeh had corrupted the normally open deliberative processes of the FBI. Going back to the Hoover days, the most appealing feature of FBI agents was their honesty. It will take time to undo the damage.
"I think we all breathed a sigh of relief that Freeh was not here on September 11," said a longtime bureau supervisor.
But no one likes change. Within the bureau, Mueller's forcefulness, restructuring, centralization of the terrorism investigation, and closeness to the Justice Department evoked the kind of low-grade grumbling that could be heard even under William Webster, the most successful FBI director. Mueller, like Hoover, may not be warm and fuzzy, but he got the job done.
"I want people to tell me they are unhappy and that this change is wrong for these reasons," Mueller said. "I don't want people to come in and say we should do it this way because we have always done it this way. That argument doesn't go very far."