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Senate Judiciary Hearing with Director Mueller, Part IV

Aired June 6, 2002 - 10:55   ET



SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, Director, for coming.

LEAHY: If the senator will hold for just a moment, I have a number of items that we'll place in the record at the appropriate point.

Senator Grassley?

GRASSLEY: Anyway, once again, thank you, Director Mueller, for coming, to discuss a lot of important issues we have before us: the failure of the FBI to recognize warning signs of terrorist attacks, the cultural problems that hinder FBI's ability to be a top-notch agency preventing terrorism, new reorganization plan that has some problems.

But last, but not least, later on, as we will this afternoon, to hear Coleen Rowley, who is one of the reasons that we're here. Special Agent Rowley, as we all know, has come forward on major problems with the FBI's handling of terrorists, specifically the Moussaoui case, and spotlighted some general flaws in the culture. Her courage, patriotism, integrity will help the FBI improve, even if the revelations are painful or embarrassing. In fact, I think she already has helped the FBI, and I think you've indicated that to some extent.

I want to note, Director Mueller, as maybe I've said so publicly that when you thanked Agent Rowley last week in your news conference it was the first time I've ever heard any agency head, not just an FBI head, publicly acknowledge even the existence of a whistleblower, let alone thank that person. So I commend you for doing that.

Along the lines of this issue that Senator Leahy's already addressed, but as the author of the Whistleblower Protection Act and co-sponsor of an FBI reform act with Senator Leahy -- by the way, which contains the central protections for FBI whistleblowers, hopefully along the lines of things that Mr. Fine would approve of -- I appreciate your assurances that Coleen Rowley will not be retaliated against in any fashion, because of her letter to you or her testimony before Congress. And I say any fashion, because whistleblowers are often sent out of the way posts or given less than desirable work or given no work at all, as I found in the case of the Defense Department where people just give up and quit. And I trust that your assurances will extend to any form of retaliation.

Before you say yes or no to that, I was really depressed with the attorney general on Sam Donaldson's program when he had to be asked three times if she would be protected. And finally he said she would not be dismissed.

The issue isn't dismissal. Very few whistleblowers are dismissed. They are retaliated in ways that it's very difficult to prove. And we've got to have people, like the attorney general, saying that whistleblowers are going to be protected according to law. I'd like your response.

MUELLER: I absolutely believe the attorney general believes that. And I reiterate the assurances I gave to Senator Leahy.

My own view is that, you know, we should not be the institution. That when there's an allegation of retaliation we, the FBI, should not be the institution that looks into it. I looked to Mr. Fine to look into it and evaluate and see if there is any veracity to it.

But in terms of putting out the message that I want people to tell me what's happening wrong, what is wrong in the organization, institution, I want the suggestions. I have tried to do that.

But I will reiterate, as I said before, the assurances that I gave in response to the question put to me by Chairman Leahy.

GRASSLEY: I don't think Coleen Rowley's got any concern. But I'm not concerned just about her, because down the road Congress has to depend upon that form of information, as you are willing to say you're willing to depend upon it.

MUELLER: I do, too. I mean, I need that information myself. I understand that it should not -- I mean, I'll tell you that it should. I want that information so that I can change what is wrong in the institution.

GRASSLEY: So it's not a case just to protect an individual, economically or professionally, it's to keep an avenue of information open. Thank you.

I'd like to ask you about what some people see as redundancy and more bureaucracy at headquarters or maybe in organization, generally. You mentioned the National Joint Terrorism Task Force, in part, for information sharing. But you've already set up an Office of Law Enforcement Coordination. I certainly have concerns about sufficient information sharing and coordination. It's a problem you have to deal with.

But it also seems to me that first line of responsibility for accomplishing information sharing and coordination should be the special agents in charge that we should hold them accountable.

In addition to these new offices that you've set up, you formed the Office of Intelligence for analysis; you will create flying squads; you already have the Strategic Information Operation Center to coordinate for emergencies; and there's this Counterterrorism Center was staffed from the FBI and CIA. And maybe I'm missing some other new or existing groups, but I'm going to stop there. But I agree with some of these, especially the Office of Intelligence.

So three questions: Can you explain to me what each of these groups -- and please don't go into tremendous detail to take up too much time -- but they'll do or are doing? And can you explain how they won't be duplicating each other's work? What groups will coordinate information sharing within the FBI and other agencies? And three, what responsibilities then do you see the special agents in charge for information-sharing and coordination? And could you start with three?

MUELLER: Well, let me see if -- I'll start with three.

The special agents in charge are supervising in each of our divisions the joint terrorism task forces. On those task forces, there are other federal agencies and other state and local agencies in that region. We, each day, push out information to them to be shared in that vehicle, and that is a very important vehicle to share information at the local level.

What we have to do a better job of at headquarters is taking the information that comes in from our agents in the field and acting on that information, whether it be action through the Coast Guard, action through the FAA, action through other agencies, but also have those other agencies with the ability to plumb their databases.

The joint terrorism task force headquarters replicates what we did in Salt Lake City. In Salt Lake City, we had a fused intelligence center where you had one set of computers with an intranet so if a question came in from a trooper of Salt Lake City or a Utah State trooper about an individual, immediately that'll be put on one of the sets of computers to each of the representatives of the CIA, the DEA, the Immigration Service. And they would go to their own computer and look in their databases and pull up that information and put it out immediately to the person who needed to get that response.

That is what we did in SIOC, as you point out, the Strategic Information Operation Center, in the wake of September 11. But since we have run through all those leads, we have dropped back down and have not put that back up. We are doing that. That's the joint terrorism task force back at headquarters. And that is critically important to our ability to share information and gather information from the various agencies.

The Office of Intelligence is the analytical piece that we were lacking in the past to bring in the shreds of information, coordinate that information with the CIA or other entities, and make certain that we are looking and establishing the patterns that need to be addressed. And then after that we have to develop a way of addressing those patterns, whether it be flight schools or crop-dusters or threats on reservoirs or what have you.

And so, it's important to get the intelligence in to the Office of Intelligence, develop those patterns, evaluate the threats, evaluate the credibility and then pass it on to people who will act on that intelligence to protect the country.

GRASSLEY: I wanted to talk about your allegation of resources. And I'm following what I believe is my understanding of your reorganization plan. And I guess I started with a premise that maybe it doesn't go far enough in moving agents into counterterrorism. With the number I've seen, it seems to me that it would be 25 percent or less of the FBI agents will actually be working counterterrorism when the reorganization is done.

You say the FBI is the lead agency for counterterrorism and I believe that, and everyone knows that preventing future attacks is our number one priority. It's even the number one focus on the top ten list in your testimony today.

But what sort of reaction do you have about this priority of stopping terrorists when less than 25 percent of the FBI total numbers of agents are working on that? Could a reasonable person infer from this that car thieves, gangs, kidnappers pose more of a danger than terrorists because the number of agents working those crimes?

We have the Drug Enforcement Administration, for example, to do more narcotics than you plan to get rid of. State and local police can handle many bank robberies. We have inspectors general on government fraud. We have the EPA's Criminal Division for environmental crimes and we have Customs and Secret Service.

I think it's coming to the point where Congress is at fault for some of this in maybe giving too much responsibility to the FBI. That'll have to be addressed not by you, but by us. But Congress may need to cap money for new agents until the FBI can get serious about terrorism and get rid of jurisdictional duplications with other agencies. If the FBI needs additional agents for counterterrorism then, at that point, we can provide them.

So could you tell me if you're done moving agents to counterterrorism, are you going to move more, and if you're not, how will you react to a congressional proposal to narrow the FBI's jurisdiction so it can truly concentrate on the mission of preventing terrorism? MUELLER: Let us say since September 11, I've had several conferences with the SACs, special agents in charge, to determine what kind of shift in resources was necessary to address counterterrorism. My statement at the outset is that -- and was to them -- "that counterterrorism comes first. If you have a threat within your division, if you have a lead that must be pursued, that comes first before any other program."

I go to them and say, "OK, in your particular division, what additional resources do you need to address counterterrorism?" And each of the SACs would come back to me, "I need 10," "I need 15," or "I need 20." And then I go back and say, "OK, your division is unique." San Francisco's a little bit different than Des Moines in terms of what is necessary. What programs should we take those agents from? And we looked at it from an overview to see what is necessary for national strategies and made the recommendation that we ought to shift these resources at this time permanently to address counterterrorism needs.

Now, this is a work in progress. I don't know, three months down the road, we may need, in some division, additional resources because something has popped up. Part of my program is to be more flexible and agile because, as I've seen these problems pop up in a particular community, we need the resources to address them for a week or two weeks or a month and I don't want to permanently put the resources there. I mean, if we need Pushtu translators in a particular place, we'll push them in to resolve a particular threat and then they'll go back to their home station. So we want to be more flexible in sending the resources where they're needed across the country.

In terms of ultimately where we will fall out as to what we need in terms of agent manpower to address terrorism, I do not know where we'd be three months or six months down the road. What I need to see and make certain is that we are addressing every piece of information, every lead that potentially could lead us to preventing another terrorist attack. And each of the SACs, I believe, understands that.

What about the jurisdiction part of my question? I don't think you touched on that.

MUELLER: I'm always willing to look at the jurisdictional aspects of the FBI. I have -- in the course of working at the programs that are going to be affected by the shift of resources, I've talked with the DEA, for instance, and we ought to eliminate in the narcotics arena those cases where we overlap. Cartel cases with DEA, for instance.

On the other hand, in particular parts of the country, public corruption is intertwined with narcotics trafficking. And in my mind, we should not leave the field when it comes to public corruption that may be intertwined with narcotics trafficking.

So what I've tried to do is look at particular areas and see what makes sense in terms of other agencies picking up the responsibility but not leaving the field where we have particular priorities.

Thank you.

LEAHY: At this point, the vote has begun. We will recess. When we come back, I will recognize Senator Kohl and then Senator Specter. This will give a chance for everybody to take a quick break.

Thank you.

We stand recessed.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're listening in to the Senate Judiciary Committee as they get underway in these intelligence hearings. The highlight of this so far has been the testimony of FBI director Robert Mueller. We are expecting later today to also hear from FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who is basically a whistle-blower from the Minnesota office. That is coming up.

With a look at what we've heard so far, the criticisms and the questions that have been put at Robert Mueller and also at Glenn Fine, who is working for the Justice Department as their inspector general.

Let's bring in our Kate Snow, who has been listening right along with us.

Kate, good morning.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right over my shoulder, here, Daryn.

So far, what we've heard. Let's back up a little bit. The leader of this panel, Senator Patrick Leahy kicking things off with his opening statement. He was pretty critical. He, of course, a Democrat from state of Vermont. He said that he only learned about the FBI's internal inquiry into that Phoenix memo about flight schools in the press. He also said that he wasn't informed of the new intelligence-gathering rules that would happen at the Justice Department until he learned about that in the press. Some criticism from him.

Followed by that, though, you had Orrin Hatch, the Republican Senator from Utah, saying that he was pleased with the new guidelines used by the attorney general, that he feels that the FBI needs to not have its hands tied when they go looking for intelligence.

Director Robert Mueller is the key witness this morning. I think we have video of him coming in this morning. He reminded members that there was a massive investigation after 9/11. He said, "Let's not lose site of the fact that so many agents worked furiously and found those responsible for the attack." In our haste to look back, we shouldn't lose sight of that. Now he did acknowledge, though, that the agency must change. He talked about the Phoenix memo not getting to those who should have gotten it.


MUELLER: In the end, two things have come to symbolize that which we are changing. First, what we did not -- what did not happen to the Phoenix memo points squarely at the need for greater analytical capabilities and greater ability to share our information. And second, the critical but welcome letter from agent Rowley reinforces the need for a different approach, especially at headquarters. What we are doing squarely addresses both of those concerns.


SNOW: Robert Mueller also talked about how difficult it was before 09/11 to connect any of the 19 hijackers to terrorist groups. He said that was a real problem. They wouldn't have been able to link any of those the individuals to a group. He said he's determined not to allow racial profiling. That was another issue that came up. But director Mueller in questioning with Senator Ted Kennedy said he defended the changes that were made just yesterday, requiring international visitors to the United States to register with the government here. He said there's a reason for that, that it would help them do their job.

Mueller asked by Senator Leahy about whistle-blowers and their protection.


LEAHY: Can you personally assure this committee unequivocally to be no retaliation of any kind against Coleen Rowley or Kenneth Williams or any FBI employee because they provide information to the Congress or the inspector general or any supervisory FBI official about counterterrorism efforts?

MUELLER: Absolutely.


SNOW: This afternoon, Coleen Rowley is going ti be here, speaking in public for the very first time. She, of course, the woman who wrote that letter to the FBI director Robert Mueller. In the letter, she said that FBI headquarters had undermined efforts of the Minneapolis field office to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, who is now accused of being part of a plot on 9/11.

She will address problems between that field office and headquarters. There will be a lot of questions about that. But, Daryn, don't look for her to talk specifically about the Moussaoui case, and you notice that hasn't come up very specifically this morning, as well, because director Mueller has been very clear. He is not going to talk about an ongoing investigation here before our cameras -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Also a concern indicates that what agent Rowley might have to say could hurt the prosecution of Moussaoui.

SNOW: If she were to go into that. Now she's made very clear, she doesn't want to talk about Moussaoui, but she will talk about this rift between headquarters and her office in Minneapolis, and what she sees as a lack of communication.

KAGAN: All right, it's going to be interesting listening, no doubt. And Kate Snow on Capitol Hill, we will be depending on you to hear more about that. As we said, the senators are taking a brief break here. When the hearings resume, we will go back live to Capitol Hill.




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