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Context of 'March 28, 2005: Mueller’s Management of FBI Is Criticized by Insiders'

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Michael Rolince.Michael Rolince. [Source: US Army]FBI Director Robert Mueller is alerted to the crash at the World Trade Center during his daily briefing with his senior staff, but he does not initially realize the incident is a terrorist attack. Every morning since Mueller took over as FBI director, just one week ago (see September 4, 2001), the bureau’s leaders have gathered to bring him up to date on their most important investigations. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; Graff, 2011, pp. 314-315] The briefing today is taking place in the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC. [9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] All of the bureau’s assistant directors are in attendance. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001] This morning, the counterterrorism team, headed by Michael Rolince, is giving a presentation on the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). [Graff, 2011, pp. 314-315] Meanwhile, FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard, who is in his office at the headquarters, is alerted to what happened in New York by his secretary, who comes in and tells him a plane has just hit the WTC. He turns on the television and sees the coverage of the incident. He then calls Mueller’s secretary and instructs them to get the director out of the SIOC so Mueller can join him in his office. [9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] Someone, presumably the secretary, therefore interrupts the briefing in the SIOC and tells its participants about the crash in New York. Mueller apparently does not initially realize a terrorist attack has occurred. “How could a plane not see the tower? It’s so clear out today,” he says. [Graff, 2011, pp. 315] He heads to Pickard’s office and enters it at around 9:00 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 1/21/2004 pdf file] Some of the other officials at the briefing will subsequently also head to Pickard’s office and they will see the second crash on television there (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New Yorker, 9/24/2001; Graff, 2011, pp. 315]

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Robert S. Mueller III, Michael Rolince, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Director Robert Mueller states, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Director Robert Mueller launches a charm offensive to win over the 9/11 Commission and ensure that its recommendations are favorable to the bureau.
Commission Initially Favored Break-Up - The attempt is greatly needed, as the Commission initially has an unfavorable view of the FBI due to its very public failings before 9/11: the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), the fact that two of the hijackers lived with an FBI counterterrorism informer (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and the failure to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 16, 2001). Commissioner John Lehman will say that at the start of the investigation he thought “it was a no-brainer that we should go to an MI5,” the British domestic intelligence service, which would entail taking counterterrorism away from the bureau.
Lobbying Campaign - Author Philip Shenon will say that the campaign against the commissioners “could not have been more aggressive,” because Mueller was “in their faces, literally.” Mueller says he will open his schedule to them at a moment’s notice and returns their calls within minutes. He pays so much attention to the commissioners that some of them begin to regard it as harassment and chairman Tom Kean tells his secretaries to turn away Mueller’s repeated invitations for a meal. Mueller even opens the FBI’s investigatory files to the Commission, giving its investigators unrestricted access to a special FBI building housing the files. He also gets Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, to meet the commissioners and intercede for the bureau.
Contrast with CIA - The campaign succeeds and the Commission is convinced to leave the FBI intact. This is partially due to the perceived difference between Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet, who the Commission suspects of telling it a string of lies (see July 2, 2004). Commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Mueller was a guy who came in new and was trying to do something different, as opposed to Tenet.” Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will also say that the Commission recommended changing the CIA by establishing the position of director of national intelligence. It is therefore better to leave the FBI alone because “the system can only stand so much change.”
Change Partially Motivated by Fear - This change of mind is also partially motivated by the commissioners’ fear of the bureau. Shenon will comment: “Mueller… was also aware of how much fear the FBI continued to inspire among Washington’s powerful and how, even after 9/11, that fear dampened public criticism. Members of congress… shrank at the thought of attacking the FBI.… For many on Capitol Hill, there was always the assumption that there was an embarrassing FBI file somewhere with your name on it, ready to be leaked at just the right moment. More than one member of the 9/11 Commission admitted privately that they had joked—and worried—among themselves about the danger of being a little too publicly critical of the bureau.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 364-368]

Entity Tags: John Lehman, 9/11 Commission, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Eliza Manningham-Buller, Philip Shenon, Slade Gorton, Lee Hamilton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In an “Urgent Report” addressed to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, an FBI official says that an unidentified individual has “observed numerous physical abuse incidents of Iraqi civilian detainees conducted in… Iraq.” According to the FBI official, the informant said that the abuses included “strangulation, beatings, placement of lit cigarettes into the detainees ear openings, and unauthorized interrogations.” The FBI official also says that the informant provided the name of a person involved in covering up these abuses. The report is later released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in a heavily redacted state, with several paragraphs blanked out. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 6/25/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

US News and World Report publishes a cover story about FBI Director Robert Mueller’s attempts to reform his agency. Insiders say that the senior leadership tends to withhold bad news from Mueller. Says one anonymous FBI official, “[Mueller] is so isolated and shielded.” The article notes that there has been a “head-spinning exodus of top-tier executives - five officials have held the top counterterrorism job since 9/11; five others held the top computer job in 2002-2003 alone.” Mueller has reduced the autonomy of the field offices and centralized all major terrorism investigations at FBI headquarters. The 9/11 Commission in the 2004 final report had few recommendations on how to reform the FBI, largely leaving the issue to Mueller’s discretion. 9/11 Commissioner Timothy Roemer says that in retrospect, “[Mueller] knows how to play the system, how to play Congress, and he certainly worked the 9/11 Commission.” [US News and World Report, 3/28/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, 9/11 Commission, Tim Roemer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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