Robert S. Mueller III
April 14, 2004 5:49 p.m.
Transcript of testimony from FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to the tenth public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States regarding the formulation and conduct of U.S. counterterrorism policy. Transcript provided by arrangement with Federal News Service.
MR. KEAN: We will now hear from our last panelists. I want to bid a very cordial welcome this afternoon to the Honorable Robert S. Mueller, director of Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Ms. Maureen Baginski, executive assistant director for intelligence at the FBI. And would you please rise and raise your right hands?
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?
WITNESSES: I do.
MR. KEAN: Please be seated.
I might say before the director starts that I think I speak for the whole commission that really nobody has been more cooperative, more available or more helpful than Director Mueller. And I just wanted to say that and publicly thank him before he starts his testimony.
MR. MUELLER: Thank you, Chairman Kean, and thank you, Vice Chair Hamilton, and members of the commission for the opportunity to spend a few moments with you this afternoon.
We all understand that you've been given an extremely important mission, both to help America understand what happened on September 11th and to help us learn from that experience so that we may improve our ability to prevent such future acts of terrorism.
The FBI recognizes the importance of your work, and my colleagues and I have made every effort to be responsive to your requests.
Let me take a moment before addressing the specifics of the FBI's reform efforts to reflect on the losses suffered on September 11, 2001. I also want to acknowledge the pain and the anguish of the friends and families of those we lost that day. And I want to assure them that we in the FBI are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that America never again suffers such a loss.
I will say that like so many in this country, the FBI lost colleagues on that day. John O'Neill was a retired counterterrorism investigator, one of our best, who had just started a new job as head of security for the World Trade Center. Lenny Hatton was a special agent assigned to the New York Field Office, a former Marine, a firefighter, an FBI agent. On his way to work he went down to help those evacuating the buildings, and he was last seen helping one person out the door and heading back in upstairs to help another. And so it is the memory of the thousands like John O'Neill, Lenny Hatton who died that day that inspires us in our resolve to defeat terrorism.
To meet and defeat this threat, the FBI must have several critical capabilities. First, we must be intelligence-driven. To defeat the terrorists, we must be able to develop intelligence about their plans and use that intelligence to disrupt those plans. We must be global. And we must have networked information technology systems. We need the capacity to manage and share our information effectively. And finally, but as important, we must remain accountable under the Constitution and the rule of law. We must respect civil liberties as we seek to protect the American people.
This is the vision the FBI has been striving towards each day since September 11th, but it is also the vision that guided Director Freeh and the bureau prior to September 11th.
But as you have heard, prior to September 11th there were various walls that existed that did prevent much of the realization of this vision. The legal walls between intelligence and law enforcement operations thankfully have been broken down. Those walls handicapped us before September 11th, but they have now been eliminated. We are now able to fully coordinate operations within the bureau and with the intelligence community. And with these changes, we in the bureau can finally take full operational advantage of our dual role as both a law enforcement and an intelligence agency.
We are eliminating the wall that historically stood between us and the CIA. The FBI and the CIA started exchanging senior personnel in 1996, and we have worked hard to build on that effort. Today, the FBI and the CIA are integrated at virtually every level of our operation, and this integration will be further enhanced later this year when our Counterterrorism Division co-locates with the CIA's Counterterrorist Center and the Terrorist Threat Integration Center at a new facility in Virginia.
We have also worked hard to break down the walls that have, at times, hampered coordination with our 750,000 partners in state and local law enforcement. We have more than doubled the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces since September 11th.
Removing these walls has been part of a comprehensive plan to strengthen the ability of the FBI to predict and prevent terrorism. We developed this plan immediately after the September 11th attacks. And with the participation and strong support of the Department of Justice and the Attorney General, we have been steadily and methodically implementing it ever since.
As you know, this plan encompasses many areas of organizational change, from reengineering business practices to overhauling our information technology systems. Since you have a detailed description of the plan which we have provided to you I will not repeat it here today, but I would like to take a moment to highlight several of the fundamental steps we have taken since September 11th.
Our first step was to establish the priorities to meet our post- 9/11 mission. Starting that morning, protecting the United States from another terrorist attack became our overriding priority. Every FBI manager understands that he or she must devote whatever resources are necessary to address the terrorism priority, and that no terrorism lead can go unaddressed.
The second step was to mobilize our resources to implement this new priority. Starting soon after the attacks, we shifted substantial manpower and resources to the counterterrorism mission. We also established a number of operational units that give us new or improved counterterrorism capabilities.
Another step was to centralize coordination of our counterterrorism program. And this centralization, this fundamental change has improved our ability to coordinate our operations here and abroad, and it has clearly established accountability at headquarters for the development and success of our Counterterrorism Program.
As I noted earlier, another critical element of our plan since September 11th has been the increased coordination with our law enforcement and intelligence partners. We understand that we cannot defeat terrorism alone, and we are working hard to enhance coordination and information sharing with all of our partners.
The last crucial element of our transformation has been to develop our strategic analytic capability, while at the same time integrating intelligence processes into all of our investigative operations. We needed to dramatically expand our ability to convert our investigative information into strategic intelligence that could guide our operations. And to build that capacity, we have been steadily increasing the size and the caliber of our analytical corps, and we established an intelligence program to manage the intelligence process throughout the bureau.
And to oversee this effort, last May I appointed Maureen Baginski, who is with me today, a 25-year analyst and executive from the National Security Agency, to serve as the bureau's first executive assistant director for Intelligence.
And thanks to the efforts of Maureen and her colleagues in the Office of Intelligence, over the last year we have developed and issued concepts of operations governing the new intelligence process, established the bureau's first intelligence requirements process, established field intelligence groups in our field offices, and we are fundamentally revising our recruitment, training, career development and evaluations of special agents to develop expertise in intelligence work.
These are some of the highlights of our plan for organization reform, and the pace of change has been steady, with the establishment of dozens of new counterterrorism components and capabilities since September 11th. It has also been productive, with measurable increases since September 11th in the number of personnel dedicated to counterterrorism and intelligence operations, the quality and the quantity of intelligence reports we are producing, and lastly, the use of intelligence search authorities and the cultivation of sources -- two important measures of our enhanced focus on the development of intelligence.
The bureau is moving steadily in the right direction, and we are making progress thanks to the hard work and dedication of the men and women of the FBI. They have embraced and implemented these counterterrorism and intelligence reforms while continuing to shoulder the responsibility to protect America. And they have carried out the pressing mandate to prevent further terrorism while continuing to work in strict fidelity to the Constitution and the rule of law.
And I want to take this opportunity to thank them and their families for their sacrifices and for their service to America. Mr. Chairman, before I conclude, let me make one last point, if I might. I'm sure the question will be asked today as to my views on the need to establish a separate domestic intelligence agency, so let me address that now.
I do believe that creating a separate agency to collect intelligence in the United States would be a grave mistake. Splitting the law enforcement and the intelligence functions would leave both agencies fighting the war on terrorism with one hand tied behind their backs. The distinct advantage we gain by having intelligence and law enforcement together would be lost in more layers and greater stovepiping of information, not to mention the difficulty of transitioning safely to a new entity while terrorists seek to do us harm.
The FBI's strength has always been, is and will be in the collection of information. Our weakness has been in the integration, analysis and dissemination of that information. And we are addressing these weaknesses. Our country has a tremendous resource in the FBI. We want to make the FBI better, we want to improve it so that we can fulfill our mission to protect America. And we look forward to your suggestions on how we might improve it.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to give these remarks, Mr. Chairman.
MR. KEAN: Thank you very much.
The first questioner will be Commissioner Gorton.
SLADE GORTON (commission member): Mr. Mueller, not only have you done a very aggressive and, I think, so far a very effective reorganization of the FBI, you've done an excellent job in preempting this commission and its recommendations by putting a system in place which might result in some difficulties in the unwinding. But I will ask you in connection with your last point to try to imagine that we really were starting all over again without existing institutions in this field as to whether or not, you know, your ideal in law enforcement and intelligence would be the two agencies that we have at the present time, one law enforcement and domestic intelligence, and one foreign intelligence; two, separate entities, one law enforcement and one all intelligence, both domestic and foreign; three, one for each of these; or one in which your foreign and domestic intelligence were united together with law enforcement itself.
MR. MUELLER: Well, let me -- let me start from the premise that if you were working on a clean sheet of paper --
MR. GORTON: That's what I would like you to do in this case.
MR. MUELLER: -- and working on a clean sheet of paper, if we go back all of those years and put history behind us. I think there are benefits to a separate intelligence organization where you have recruiting for intelligence and you focus on intelligence. I think that's an argument that we have to give. But then you look at the other side. And in order to deter attacks in the future, it cannot be one agency, particularly when you're looking domestically in the United States, and it's not just the FBI. What we have to do is leverage ourselves with every police department, state and local law enforcement in order to gather the intelligence, the information in our communities, have it passed up so that we can be more predictive. And what the FBI brings to that intelligence gathering capacity is the 56 field offices we have around the country, more than 400 satellite offices in just about every one of our communities, who have intersected over the years with state and local law enforcement in a wide variety of undertakings, and develop the relationships that are so important to leveraging that throughout the United States. So that's number one.
The second point I would -- I think is very important is to reflect upon where we were before September 11th with the wall, where you had the divorcing of intelligence and criminal, which was often tremendously artificial. And it was -- there are a number of contributing factors to that, but that was a fact of life before. What we have done since September 11th is broken down those walls, broken down that artificial determination of whether something's intelligence versus criminal.
And what you have now is integrate in one agency within the United States the ability, looking at it with state and local law enforcement, to push the intelligence aspects of any set of facts, so long as you can gather more intelligence, identify more persons, identify more telephone numbers, identify more email address, identify the networks both here in the United States. But then, when you have to neutralize that individual, in the sense of taking action, we have the ability to take that action at the appropriate time, and the decision-maker has all those fact in front of them. I think that is tremendously important to our effectiveness.
If you look at the other scenario, that one of them that you postulate, and that is, well, should you have a combined domestic and foreign intelligence? And I go back to what George said this morning, and I think is on mark. One of the things that cannot be lost, I do not believe, when we address terrorism is the importance of on the one hand protecting our civil liberties. We don't want to look down or have historical in the future look back at us and say, "Okay, you won the war on terrorism, but you sacrificed your civil liberties." We operate within the rule of law. The FBI has always been trained of operating within the Constitution, understanding the importance within the United States of gathering information according to predication, according to the guidelines, whether it be the attorney general and the statutes and the like. And that is the way we operate in the United States, and that is the way we should operate in the United States, because we are called upon to gather information and intelligence on United States citizens. That is far different than what we're able to do overseas.
And we have grown up with two different entities: one for overseas collection of information, and one for domestic collection of information. And when it comes to collection -- collection of information, I think it is important that we have that separation.
That is not the separation that we need when we come to analyzing, integrating that information. And that is where we did not have the capacity before September 11th; that is where we put up the capacity in TTIC, and we have to improve that capacity.
MR. GORTON: Thank you. I gather I can summarize your answer: Even if we were starting all over again, you'd like the present division. But we're not starting all over again, and so the argument is overwhelming on one side. But I want to follow up on one thing that you said about recruitment. Now, I'm a young man just having graduated from law school, maybe one or two years of experience. But all through my youth, you know, I've watched television, and what I really want to be is an intelligence agent. That's my real ambition. Why am I going to apply to the FBI, where I don't know what my career will be after three years, rather than the CIA, where I do?
MR. MUELLER: Well, as we build up our specialization -- your staff statement described the specialization that we anticipate putting into place later this year and beginning of next year -- you will come into the FBI if you want with a background or the desire to become an intelligence officer. And if you have the aptitude to do it, what we want you to do is understand the full scope of what the FBI can do, all of its capabilities, both on the criminal side and the intelligence side, so we put you through three years in a smaller office. Thereafter, you will specialize. You will specialize as an intelligence officer. You will have a designation as an intelligence officer. It will be the same type of designation that you have as an intelligence officer if it's the CIA, the DIA or the NSA. We hope to replicate that.
But let me just go one step further and say that there are some persons that would want to come into the FBI and not wear a badge and a gun, not be an agent, a sharp individual who comes out of a Middle East language studies and wants to direct collection, institute requirements. We are building up -- and what we hope to do and are doing now is building up our analytical capability so that a person can come in as an analyst and become an intelligence officer without ever having to wear a gun -- or wear a badge and carry a gun. We want those people, we want those people within the bureau, and we want to give them the stature that has not always been there in the bureau.
MR. GORTON: Now I'd like to move on not to these theories and recruitments, but to what you've actually done. Now, granted first that you have been a very effective director, and second, that you've had the huge inspiration that 9/11 provided for you, nevertheless, your predecessors over a period of years created first an Office of Intelligence, next a Counterterrorism Division and an Investigative Services Division, and next MAXCAP 05, all of which seemed to be, at least on the surface, simply different names for your Office of Intelligence. If those three experiments didn't work, why is yours going to work?
MR. MUELLER: I will tell you, after September 11th and the days and weeks and months afterwards, I was looking for a vision of how we build up our analytical capability, how we improve our analysts corps. I had a strong belief, in talking to analysts, in talking to George Tenet, in learning about the intelligence community, that for effective analysis, the strategic analysts need to be close to the information; that the quality of the analysis you get is greatly enhanced with the strategic analysts being close to the information that they're called upon to analyze.
But I did not have the vision that I needed to say, "Okay, where's the bureau going?" And when I brought Maureen Baginski on from the NSA, she came with a vision of where we needed to go over a five-year period, and it encompassed not just the analysts, but also the translators, the surveillance, the development of reports officers, the dissemination of information such as we had not had in the past. And what she brought, to my thinking, was an understanding and a vision of what we could be in the intelligence community.
The fact of the matter is, prior to September 11th, we did not have reports officers. We did not have the function of taking the information, stripping off the sources and methods, putting it in IIRs and distributing it to the intelligence community. Before she came on board, and since she's come on board, we have produced more than 2,000 IIRs, which is -- we started from scratch.
We have become, since September 11th, a member of the intelligence community in ways that we have not in the past.
The last point I would make is that we have -- you're absolutely right, and persons who talked about it up here before -- we have had the law enforcement view of factual patterns. I think since September 11th we all in the FBI understand that it is a different ball -- we are at war, and that the information that in the past we have looked at as the predicate for a case for a courtroom is much more than that; it is now information that has to be centralized, it has to be integrated, it has to be analyzed and it has to be disseminated. Part of that is building up the reports officers cadre.
But back to your point. What is different now is, one, the vision we have of where we're going, the CONOPS that we have provided to you, and the belief that we can and will put the structure in place that will last longer than I'll be there or Maureen will be there, but will be the intelligence function in the bureau that was lacking prior to September 11th.
MR. GORTON: Thank you, Mr. Director. You've talked me out of any more questions. (Laughter.)
MR. KEAN: Commissioner Gorelick.
JAMIE GORELICK (commission member): And your red light just happens to be on! (Laughter.)
MR. GORTON: That's what I meant. (Laughs.)
MS. GORELICK: (Laughs.) I see.
Welcome. And thank you again for all the time that you have spent with us. It has been well worth it from both our point of view and, I suspect, yours, as well.
One of the observations one might make about the guiding principles for some of the changes you've made is to align responsibility and capabilities. My question for you -- my first question for you is this: You have done that within the FBI, but we had a panel just before you of numerous entities with a bewildering array of alphabet in front of them, and I asked each one of these entities -- from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the CIA, the TTIC -- to tell me who is our quarterback, who is driving our strategy against al Qaeda, who is personally responsible for bringing all the information together and getting it from the constituent parts, et cetera. I won't go through the questions with you.
But I do have a question for you, which is, above your pay grade, is there someone who is our quarterback against an agile and entrepreneurial enemy, who brings together the strategy and the capabilities of our country to fight this enemy?
MR. MUELLER: Yes, I think there is. And I do believe it's the NSC and the Homeland Security Council and the staff, for the overarching strategy. In other words, the overarching strategy against al Qaeda, in my mind, is established at that coordinated level, and in much the same way our foreign policy is developed, where you have a number of different agencies that have a role, whether it be the State Department, the CIA, the Department of Defense. And I believe that the strategy is set there.
Where there -- as a -- is a particular raising of that threat, the integration of the information and the taskings is there, and that's where we are at this point in time.
Now, is there another model that might work better? I really don't know because I'm not all that familiar with all the aspects of the intelligence community. I will tell you that, in terms of developing intelligence and then pursuing the tasking, certainly domestically I believe that we along with Homeland Security work closely together to do that, and internationally George Tenet has the responsibility and the capability of understanding/developing the intelligence and doing the taskings.
And where -- as I pointed out before, where the gaps existed before are on the issues where you have a transnational intelligence operation. And the importance for us after September 11th is to assure that we fill those gaps where there is intelligence overseas and intelligence domestically that intersects. And we have addressed that problem by establishing teams whenever we have that type of information and working it jointly, and it has been tremendously effective. Much of it I cannot talk about here today, but when we say that there -- substantial numbers of al Qaeda leadership have been detained overseas, it is because exactly of that integration, that teamwork that we have in those transnational intelligence operations.
And the last point I would make on that is I do not think you can underestimate the impact of having us together at Langley -- not in Langley -- out at Tysons Corner will have. Having us in the same building with separate collection responsibilities but then close to each other and close to TTIC is going to make a tremendous difference in terms of solidifying those relationships and easing that exchange of information between our two components.
MS. GORELICK: Do you -- are you a member of the National Security Council?
MR. MUELLER: I am a principal for many -- well, I'm generally a principal for anything having to do with terrorism and law enforcement. I certainly am not a member of the National Security Council for military actions, that kind of thing. So I --
MS. GORELICK: Are you a member of the Homeland Security Council?
MR. MUELLER: Yes.
MS. GORELICK: Do you need two councils?
MR. MUELLER: Yes.
MS. GORELICK: Because?
MR. MUELLER: Well, because I think when you look at homeland security you have something like an anthrax scare. It's very important that Governor Thompson be sitting at the table. If you're looking at transportation within the United States, it's very important that Secretary Mineta be sitting at the table. I don't think it's important for those individuals necessarily to be sitting at the table when the National Security Council is determining what we do vis-a-vis Indonesia or Saudi Arabia or Iraq or what have you. So I do believe that there's --
MS. GORELICK: You're not at the table -- I mean, you're not at the table when the National Security Council is looking at Indonesia or Saudi Arabia either. This is a question for me, I think -- and we will ask this of Secretary Ridge, but it -- we have heard from a number of, let's say, alums of the Homeland Security process that it functions as a third wheel.
But you think it actually adds value?
MR. MUELLER: Yes.
MS. GORELICK: As you know, we had --
MR. MUELLER: Can I just go back and add to that?
MS. GORELICK: Certainly.
MR. MUELLER: We have had, as everybody in the country knows, a number of threats in the last two and a half years. The threat level has been raised. And the Homeland Security Council brings together those within the administration that play some role in either gathering the intelligence, analyzing the intelligence, and then determining what steps need to be taken as a result of that intelligence. And the Homeland Security Council is the entity that brings us all together, enables us to make decisions, as are made, and make recommendations to the president, to the vice president as to what steps should be taken. So I think it is effective and it is necessary and useful.
MS. GORELICK: As I described to the earlier panel, and in our staff statement you see that John Brennan, the director of TTIC, has said that he is seeing, quote-unquote, a cacophony of activities in the intelligence community, but no strategy and planning.
Do you think there is a clarity of roles with regard to all of these different centers and coordination entities? Or have we created redundancy in the system, or too much redundancy -- there's always some -- too much redundancy in the system?
MR. MUELLER: I do believe there is some clarity, but I also believe there's redundancy. And I do not believe redundancy is bad.
MS. GORELICK: But you think there's not -- I know there always has to be some redundancy. Your view is we have just the right amount of redundancy?
MR. MUELLER: Oh, no. We are growing. TTIC is growing. The role of TTIC is growing. What is so important about TTIC is, as John Brennan testified before, is TTIC has access to all of our databases. As he has indicated, ideally what you would want is the ability to search across all those databases, and we are putting that into place. That will be instrumental in order to be able to quickly pull information out of each of those databases, with the same common search tools. So we are growing. And as we grow there will be tensions, there will be overlap, there will be some gray areas.
I'm not altogether -- I do not altogether believe that is bad. Because we can look at something one way, John Brennan's people can look at it another way, George's people can look at it another way. And I have always found, and perhaps it's the lawyer in me, that the debate and the dialogue is not altogether bad.
MS. GORELICK: That's a very helpful answer, and I guess for us, we just need to gauge whether the number of voices that we're gaining is over-ridden by confusion about who's doing what. And I think we will be about that, and we would like your thoughts on that for the record as we look at our policy recommendations.
Mo Baginski, may I ask you a question?
MS. BAGINSKI: Yes, ma'am.
MS. GORELICK: You are posited as the solution to many problems.
MS. BAGINSKI: (Laughs.)
MS. GORELICK: Many times we have asked the question, How is X going to get fixed? Who's going to do Y? And often, very often, maybe too often for your comfort level, "Mo Baginski" is the answer.
Now, we have had a number of people appear before us in the course or our hearings to say if only they had had enough in the way of resources they would have been able to do their job, but did we realize how poorly their assets stacked up against the mission. And I was going to say, not meaning to put you on the spot in front of your boss, but thatwould be disingenuous --
MS. BAGINSKI: (Laughs.)
MR. MUELLER: (Laughs.)
MS. GORELICK: -- meaning to put you on the spot in front of your boss, do you currently have the assets you need, and if not, what are you doing about it?
MS. BAGINSKI: Currently no, but let me describe what we are doing about it, because in answer to the question that, Congressman Gorton, you asked the director, what's different this time? The answer that I would give from my experience is that instead of intelligence being about a separate organization fully staffed, intelligence is actually the job of the entire FBI. And so, what I can draw on and what I've been very careful to do, Commissioner Gorelick, is not to build a large organization that pulls the intelligence capacity out of the operational organization. This has all been aimed at integrating it, leaving it integrated, and unleashing the capacity that is there through policy direction and independent requirements.
Where I am right now, these are the statistics. I have been funded for 155 persons. Sixty-five of those people are in the TTIC. So you need to understand that from my office we will also be managing our contribution to the TTIC. We made an agreement, correct agreement that the FBI would be responsible for tasking -- for actually giving the TTIC 20 percent of its government work force. So that comes out to 65 people, and thanks to the Congress, we got that fully funded. Now, that leaves me -- you know, those of you seem to do advanced math, and I'm not going to do it, so that's about -- (laughs) -- so we're about at the 90 level. And where I am is staffed right now at 51 with permanent personnel. I have seven TDYers. I have been very, very fortunate to get the personal support of George Tenet, Charlie Allen and Don Kerr in getting the two senior CIA executives that are helping me manage. I have also been very fortunate in having my boss' support to get funding to bring a group from (Mitre ?) and a group from Rand in that has brought me the kind of intelligence community experience in years, right, that would be very difficult for me to replicate in the form of FBI personnel. And where we are right now is we have 39 positions remaining to be filled -- I know that's right -- 26 of them are in the staffing process already. So frankly, I've only got -- I'm approaching single-digit fix, and that is largely because the whole FBI has supported me in this.
It is not easy to start an organization from scratch anywhere, and we've done well.
MS. GORELICK: If you get --
MR. KEAN: Last question.
MS. GORELICK: Yes. If you get what you need, if you get what is planned, will you have enough?
MS. BAGINSKI: I will have enough because intelligence is actually going to be done in a distributed way. So as you turn the intelligence functions in the field and in the investigative divisions against the processes that we've established, we'll be okay, Jamie. Yeah.
MS. GORELICK: Thank you.
MR. KEAN: Director, I have a couple of questions. I came to this job with less knowledge of the intelligence community than anybody else at this table. What I've learned has not reassured me. It's frightened me a bit, frankly.
But the reassuring figure in it all is you, because everybody I talk to in this town, a town which seems to have a sport in basically not liking each other very much -- everybody likes you, everybody respects you, everybody has great hopes that you're actually going to fix this problem.
And I guess the decision which I got to make as a commissioner here is, can you fix it? Because the FBI is absolutely essential to this whole wall we're talking about, and if you can't fix it, then we've got to make some recommendations and structural changes that may be able to fix it.
And I'll tell you what still worries me. It's things that are in our staff report. For instance, according to a recent report by the Department of Justice inspector general, the FBI shortages of linguists have resulted in thousands of hours of audiotapes and pages of written material not being reviewed or translated into a timely manner.
Another place: At every office we visited, we heard there were not enough surveillance personnel to cover the request to conduct live physical surveillance of identified terrorist suspects.
Again, we heard from many analysts who complained they're able to do little actual analysis, because (they continue ?) be to assigned menial tasks, including covering the phones at reception desks and emptying the office trash bins.
Again, agent after agent told us that the primary way information gets shared is through personal relationships. There does not appear to be any recognition that the system fails in the absence of good personal relationships.
And I guess just one more:
We found there is no national strategy for sharing information to counter terrorism.
Now that's from our report that was read just prior to your appearance, and I guess my question is still: Can you fix it?
MR. MUELLER: Well, I -- in response to the question, I think we can and are fixing what has been wrong with the FBI. And I could speak only for the FBI. I don't want to speak any broader than that, because I -- we've got to put our house in order, and I think we are putting our house in order.
I will tell you that I think the staff did a very good job in their report, but indeed it was a snapshot in time. And it was a snapshot in time in six field offices some time ago.
And I'll tell you that change cannot be done overnight. Transitions take time. If you look at those who have transformed organizations, governors who have, when they come in, things they wish to change, understand you hope to have a vision; you put in place the mechanism of executing that vision, but you cannot do it overnight. If you look at the IBMs or the GE, the Gerstner or the Welches, they will tell you there are a number of components to transforming an organization. If you look at those who study this, they will tell you that it takes time to transform an organization. There will be 30 percent that will be with you from the outset; there will be 30 percent that are there to be persuaded; and there'll be 30 percent that really resist the change for a variety of reasons.
I think we're on the right path. In those particulars that you mentioned, for instance the linguists, the staff statement is accurate in part, but I will tell you, when it comes to counterterrorism, counterterrorism interceptions, we prioritize that to assure that if there is any counterterrorism interception that needs linguist help, it is reviewed within a 24-hour period. And so yes, we have across the board, hours of interceptions that have not been translated. But the fact of the matter is, when it comes to a terrorist organization, except in those instances where we have a very difficult time with particular dialects, it's reviewed within 24 hours. Certainly if we've got an investigation that's ongoing that relates to the possibility of a threat.
Surveillance. We are stretched on our surveillance capabilities. We have made requests to Congress, and we are getting in '04 substantial additional support to do surveillance.
Analysts. We have to do two things. One, we have had to build up our analytical capability, but we also have had to professionalize the analytical staff and train it. In the days shortly after September 11th, we put together and set up a college of analytical studies. That has to be improved. We are not where we need to be, but we have that in place.
Information sharing. There are two aspects of that that are important. One is the understanding of the necessity to disseminate that which we have. I've listened to some of the testimony earlier today about when -- I think it was Commissioner Lehman, with regard to an investigation, a criminal investigation that turns up intelligence information that would be useful to the intelligence community. In the past, that would not have been disseminated because of the grand jury rules that have been set aside by the PATRIOT Act. Today, it would be disseminated in an IIR to the intelligence community. That does not preclude it for being used in a prosecution, but does give that information -- or does disseminate that information to the intelligence community.
And so in terms of information sharing, it is the desire to share and the capability of sharing. We are still working on the information technology in our communications, but we're on the road to solving those.
And I see the red light's on for me as well.
MR. KEAN: The red light is -- if my colleagues will permit, I've got one question from the families, which I would ask, with your permission.
MS. GORELICK: That's okay.
MR. KEAN: Director Mueller, could you please give a brief description of the specific threat assessment that led to -- Attorney General Ashcroft to lease a private plane?
MR. MUELLER: I am -- that occurred before I began my tenure. What I know about it is after the fact. I do believe that there was a security assessment that was done; it may well not have been a specific threat, but a security assessment that led to the recommendation that for official travel he utilize a bureau plane.
MR. KEAN: Yeah. I'd like -- I think from the families' point of view, we'd like to follow that up.
MR. MUELLER: I'd be happy to.
MR. KEAN: Thank you very much.
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER (commission member): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, Director. Again, nice to see you. And thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.
I have two very quick questions, which hopefully will elicit quick answers, and then a larger one that you can do whatever you want with. The quicker questions. I asked Dick Clarke when he was up before us some questions about a flight that left the country with the bin Laden family on it shortly after 9/11. Our staff has learned that at least six chartered flights of primarily Saudi citizens departed the United States in the week after 9/11.
My first question is, did the FBI have a process in place to screen passengers on these departing flights?
MR. MUELLER: I believe I have seen one of the staff statements that addresses this particular issue and discusses the process we went through in order to screen the flights in terms of reviewing the names and then interviewing at least a number of the passengers. And I believe in my review of that staff statement, it was accurate.
MR. ROEMER: And do you recall, then, if they were run through a tip-off program?
MR. MUELLER: I believe that they were -- not only were they done at the time in terms of -- again, I'd have to look at the staff statement. But I believe that yes, the indices were checked, and a subsequent check has been made through the Terrorist Screening Center, that is the combination of data of terrorist watch lists, and none of the names came up.
MR. ROEMER: If you could double-check that and see if it was tip-off of --
MR. MUELLER: Happy to do that, yes.
MR. ROEMER: -- or see if it was an FBI program that you ran those through.
The second question, then, with regard to these flights is on the specific bin Laden flight that left September 20th, 2001, a counterterrorism FBI official told us that he received permission from somebody at the FBI's SIOC headquarters to approve that flight. Do you know who that is?
MR. MUELLER: I do not. We'd have to -- I'd have to get back to you on that.
MR. ROEMER: Can you check that and get that back to me?
MR. MUELLER: Yes, we'll check that.
MR. ROEMER: Final question, Mr. Director. I lived through 13 months of the joint inquiry, saw many of the systemic and structural mistakes, errors that the FBI had made, and came into this particular 9/11 commission very anxious and very, very tenacious about seeing a component taken away from the FBI on this domestic security threat. I no longer feel that way. I'm not sure what the answer is quite yet.
I have a great deal of confidence in you personally. You will leave that job, so the structural and institutional changes you make to the FBI will be key to how I decide whether this will be something in the FBI or DOJ or a separate entity or an MI5. My question to you is the following, and give it your tour de force and your passion and convince me and, you know, other people in America. With so little confidence right now in the FBI and the stakes being so large for the security of the country, why should we give the FBI another chance?
MR. MUELLER: Well, let me just start at the outset and say I don't agree with your assumption that the confidence in the FBI is so low. If you go around this country, if you go overseas, if you go into your communities, if you talk to people, they have a tremendous respect and a belief in the capability of the FBI. We have changed to meet threats in the past; we will change to meet this threat. But I do not believe -- I do not believe -- that the American public has lost confidence in the men and women of the FBI; to the contrary. I think perhaps if you get outside of Washington you will find and in your communities, in your cities, in your towns that the FBI has a tremendous amount of respect from the community, but also from state and local law enforcement. If you go overseas -- and this is a critical component of the success -- our success in the future -- you will find that our counterparts in whichever country you go to has a tremendous respect and affection for the FBI.
And those relationships will be instrumental in the future for protecting the United States from transnational threats.
I think it would be a tremendous mistake to give short shrift to the -- what has been accumulated by the FBI over the years -- the expertise, the professionalism, that which is articulated in the staff statement in terms of our capabilities post-event -- and forget what we have done as we go through this process. When I think -- and I think what the American people want and I think are entitled to is to -- for a look back at the mistakes we made, those things we did not do right, which I would freely admit. There were things that should have been done better; we did not do them better. And I, even though it was on -- you know, I started September 4th, feel a tremendous burden, a big guilt, for not having done a better job. I think all of us feel that. But I believe that every one of us, men and women of the FBI, and I don't care whether they are agents or analysts or support, they have a dedication and a duty to protect the United States, and we have spent 12 hours a day since September 11th in the execution of that duty. And I think it would be a mistake to not give that due consideration as you make your decision.
If I may -- if I may make one other point, and that is, I also went through those 13 months with the Joint Intelligence Committee. And there were a series of recommendations that were laid out from that committee. I -- it may have been 12. I'm not certain of the number. But I think if you go through --
MR. ROEMER: Nineteen.
MR. MUELLER: Nineteen. If you go through every one of those 19, you will see that we have made substantial progress on those recommendations. It's listed in the report that I have appended to my statement. I think if you go down and review each one of those 19 recommendations, we have come a long way since those recommendations were put out.
MR. ROEMER: I thank you for the answer. And again, I want to underscore that they are needed structural changes. I can't tell you how much confidence I personally have in the people and the staff and the great personnel at the FBI. You have tremendous people working for you. It's the structure and the system and making those very tough, difficult changes in this new environment. And I think you gave a very strong answer. I thank you. MR. MUELLER: Thank you.
MR. KEAN: Commissioner Ben-Veniste.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE (commission member): Good afternoon, Director Mueller, and Ms. Baginski. Let me first echo the comments of my colleagues on this commission, say how much we appreciate not only the time that you've given us, but the interactive nature of our relationship with you. You have been responsive to our questions, you've come back, sometimes you've come back and showed up when you weren't invited. (Laughter.) But we appreciate that.
MR. MUELLER: I -- I don't recall that occurring. (Laughter.)
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, that was -- it is a hallmark of, I think, the willingness from the top of your agency to be responsive to our concerns.
There's one area I want to put off to the side, and that's the area of FBI translators. I understand there are active investigations with respect to some of the allegations that have been made. I don't want to get into those facts now. I don't think it's appropriate. But we do want to follow up with you, because it's an important area for us.
MR. MUELLER: Absolutely.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Let me make an observation first. Having worked with the FBI long ago as a federal prosecutor and having observed the agency over the years, it is my view that the FBI is the finest law enforcement agency in the world, bar none. You have in the past been able to operate effectively, once you've been focused, on trans-national crime in the area of narcotics and narcoterrorism; in the area of Sicilian mafia, Russian mafia operating in the United States and operating in other countries and interacting from our country and other countries. So I don't have a doubt that you can do this.
With terrorism, it's a different story. Intelligence is far, far more important with respect to terrorism, because the end result is not dollars, but death. And so intelligence is critical. And in this regard, we get into the question that had been raise, for example, by my friend and colleague, Senator Gorton, where you posit an individual who is graduating from college, and you know, this guy may be a brilliant linguist; he may be a philosophy student; he may be a chess champion; he may look like Niles Crane on Frazier, not like Emphram Zimbalist Jr., okay. He may not want to break down doors. He may be a very mild person. The people that we have met at MI-5 who perform analytical function don't look like cops. They don't look like state troopers. They don't look like your typical FBI agent. But they have there brain power. That's not to say the FBI doesn't have the brain power in their traditional agents, but these people are thinkers, first and foremost. They're analysts. They think outside the box. They anticipate. They are entrepreneurial. They are of a different caste than the typical law enforcement officer. You'll give me that, I take it.
MR. MUELLER: Yes. MR. BEN-VENISTE: That's the best and shortest answer I've gotten in weeks. (Laughter.)
MR. ROEMER (?): (Shortest ?) question. (Laughter.)
MR. BEN-VENISTE: Now, here's the question --
MR. GORTON (?): Yeah, shortest question.
MR. BEN-VENISTE: And the shortest questioner. (Laughter.) Okay.
My question is based on the fact that no one questions your integrity, your purpose, but we know that the FBI is sort of a creature which has existed which has perhaps been the most bureaucratic agency in all of Washington. It's existed with its own culture, protecting itself for a long time against change imposed from outside. In the world of post-Bob Mueller, how do we know that it's not going to revert back, as it has from time to time when other directors have tried to institute change?
And my question is, under these circumstances, if this commission decides that its recommendation will be to allow or to recommend that the FBI continue to have its responsibility for domestic intelligence, should we not make sure that the institutional changes that are made, suggested and are modified -- and we may have some modifications, suggestions for you to consider -- are not enacted somehow legislatively so that they will be protected against the inclination to morph back into an old regime?
MR. MUELLER: Well, let me go back to the point you were making that wasn't a question, and that is about the person who wishes to come and does not want to wear a badge and carry a gun. We want them. We want those analysts. I will tell you, the first couple of days after September 11th, I was briefed by, and continuously briefed and brought up to date by two of the finest analysts I have seen. Every day I am briefed by an analytical cadre that is the match of any analysts that you will have at any of the other agencies, and I know that because Maureen Baginski tells me that.
And so we want those people, we want those persons who don't want to break down doors but want to be the same as what you would have in MI5, a targeting officer for instance; a person that comes in, brings the intelligence together, and sets the requirements to be filled by the collectors in the field. So we want that person.
As to the question, the last part in terms of how do we assure that the changes take hold, we are developing and putting into place a different structure for the FBI that reflects this particular threat today. My own belief is that as we look to 2010, we look further in the future, you ask what kind of FBI do you want, increasingly the FBI's mission will be to address transnational threats because that's where we are the intersection between the threat overseas and state and local law enforcement.
We will be doing less state and local law enforcement in our cities and more of the transnational -- addressing the transnational threats. That means that we need a different type of agent population with different skills, and we are building to that. We are putting into place the plans not just for where we're going to be in 2005, but where we hope to be in 2010.
Now, if you're looking upon that and you're saying, okay, well, how do we know that which you wish to put into place is going to stay when you leave, the fact of the matter is we are not lacking of oversight. Congress. I am up every other -- I don't want to say every other week, but often in front of Congress in terms of oversight, in terms of appropriations. It is not that we are not subject to scrutiny in terms of what we have done and where we are going. And that which is the concern of this committee I believe will also and has been the concern of Congress. So I believe that there is continuous oversight to assure that what we are putting into place is maintained, is funded, and will be the FBI of the future.
MR. HAMILTON: Mr. Lehman.
JOHN F. LEHMAN (commission member): Thank you.
Director, I'd like to echo the encomiums of my colleagues about how good the process has been working with you from the first time you got together with us a year and a quarter ago. It's been a very -- very much of a two-way dialogue. You've clearly listen to us, and you've taught us a good deal. I think that, in the spirit of that Socratic process that you've set in motion, I'd like to pursue one issue that really does trouble me.
I came into this commission -- riding in, as they say, on a pumpkin cart from the country -- believing it was a no-brainer that we should go to an MI5. And you have given us all a lot to think about in that regard, but there's one issue that -- I'm particularly sensitive, having wrestled with the culture of the admirals for six years, I know the strength, both good and bad, of a great tradition and a deeply embedded culture, and the FBI has that kind of elite culture, and it's a law enforcement culture.
And time and again we've had witnesses from FBI come before us privately and publicly, and they recite the mantra which they believe at a certain level, that you have laid out as your priority. But you then scratch them and out comes statements from more than just a few, like a recent FBI witness who said, and I quote, "When we do our intelligence in the FBI, it should be forensic intelligence. It should be based on evidence. It must be based on fact that will bear the scrutiny of law, that can be looked at by a jury and a judge."
And it's not just one person. We had three witnesses over the last two days who in effect echoed the same thing.
Many of us on the commission have been hung up on the Cole case because it's a very interesting case study of how the process works, and not unique, because I lived through exactly the same thing in 1983 on the Beirut issue. There's an attack. Everybody knows who done it. The day it happens, everybody knows. When we ask why, then, weren't -- wasn't the president, President Clinton, told who done it; why, then, four months later, wasn't President Bush told; and the answer we got back from three authoritative witnesses was, we had to wait until we created the evidence or gathered the evidence that could get an indictment.
Now many of us were incredulous to hear that from three very senior officials, but that's what I mean by culture.
It turns out, as the attorney general testified, there wasn't a finding as -- and our own staff had found that out a long time ago -- till August after the October attack. In the meantime, opportunities were lost.
And I worry that if there isn't some corrective, that the culture will time and again suppress the kind of rapid advising of decision- makers that is essential in an agile -- against an agile opponent.
So I guess my question is if there is some halfway position here. If we don't go -- and I'm not sure we might not still recommend something like MI5 -- but if we were to go to a strengthened DCI or a DNI, a national intelligence coordinator, would you think it would be acceptable or wise to adopt the practice, for instance, that Mo Baginski's former agency has? It's a part of the Defense Department, reports to the secretary of Defense, but the DCI has an equal say in hiring the head of the intelligence unit and has a say in the firing of the head of the intelligence unit.
So could it be acceptable for that new DCI, empowered DCI, to share the role with you of naming the head, firing the head, and allocating budget priorities, and agreeing on things like IT programs and paradigms?
So that's my question.
MR. MUELLER: Okay. Let me, if I could, address a few aspects of -- that you talked to. With regard to the Cole and a distinction between evidence and intelligence, prior to September 11th I believe that much of the government was in a law enforcement mindset. We addressed terrorism as a law enforcement issue, and consequently, the information that we developed would be developed in cases so we can indict somebody and bring them back.
Since September 11th, that has changed dramatically. We all, myself included -- I mean, I was a prosecutor before. My natural inclination prior to September 11th is look in the courtroom. Today I understand the importance of getting information to the policymaker so that decisions can be made far outside the ambit of a courtroom in order to respond to attacks.
I would not dismiss, though, the ability and the rigor that FBI agents bring to looking at a set of facts. If there's one concern I have about intelligence, it is that often there are statements made about an uncorroborated source with indirect access and then there is a stating of a particular fact. Well, to know whether that is well- founded or not, you have to know what the motivation of that source is. Were they paid? Do they have a grudge? Do they have -- and what we bring to the process is an important focus on facts that I do not think should necessarily be dismissed.
I know we've talked about the Cole. I do believe it's important for us that whenever there is an incident, any intelligence that we get, any information on that incident automatically ought to go to the CIA, ought to go to the president, so they can make decisions as to what to do. An example would be the intelligence that had come in on La Belle disco bombing back in the 1980s, I think, which gave President Reagan sufficient information to undertake an immediate attack. We all want to respond quickly.
And I'll give you one experience that I had when I was working on Pan Am 103 and working with the families of Pan Am 103. There was an intelligence briefing that I received early on as to who was responsible for Pan Am 103, and that briefing indicated it was a country other than Libya. Now, if the president had moved on that briefing, against that country, when we come to find out as we scrutinized facts that it was not that country but was Libya, we would have done substantial harm not only to that country but to our credibility around the world.
And so I think there has to be a balance between the information we get and the foundation of that information. The last point on an individual who would be a czar, I would say, an intelligence czar, and would have the ability to say yea or nay on a person that I wish to bring in to head up intelligence. I think one of the strengths of the FBI is its independence. Always has been, always will be. The focus on facts and taking those facts wherever they lead you, even if it's into the White House. I would have some concern about that independence being undercut by having an intelligence czar having a say over who would fill a particular position in the FBI.
It may well be that the person who fills that intelligence position is bringing news to the president, to the White House that they do not like to hear. But that is our job. It doesn't make any difference whether it's the criminal arena or in the intelligence arena. Our job is to give an independent, objective assessment of facts, whether it's an intelligence arena or the criminal arena.
MR. LEHMAN: And how about the budgetary? The --
MR. HAMILTON: I believe that when it comes to -- I would have to think about the budget and what impact that might have on our independence. I would have to spend some time thinking about that.
MR. LEHMAN: Thank you very much.
MR. HAMILTON: Mr. Fielding.
FRED FIELDING (commission member): Thank you, Mr. Vice Chairman.
Director Mueller and Ms. Baginski, thank you very much. And I'll join the accolades heaped upon you by my co-commissioners and sincerely mean it.
Yesterday was not a great day for the FBI in the public's mind. And regardless of the outcome of our ultimate decisions, and that sort of thing, I think that today is a good day to start restoring the public's confidence in what has always been a wonderful organization. So I thank you for that.
Director Mueller, I -- gosh, I would never -- I'm not saying you're "pollyannish" -- (laughs) -- and I certainly wouldn't say that -- but I'm concerned. And I'd like your thoughts on this whole concept of the centralization of your counterterrorism efforts. And the only reason that I'm saying that -- obviously yesterday we heard that maybe it isn't anything different, but I believe it is. And I think it's a whole different approach and it's an approach that makes sense. But I assume that other case work is still office of origin and that sort of thing for your normal prosecutions.
So given that, there's always a resistance in any bureaucracy. We see them come, we them go; this director wants to do this, that director wants to come to that, but I'm here. And you've got -- your senior people are your field office people. You've got them all around the country. And because they've been there, they've grown up in that system, they're the senior guys. They're the guys that the young guys look up to, young women look up to. I mean, because they're the guys. They're used to office of origin on everything. And from everything we've picked up, headquarters isn't exactly the place that a field guy would want to ever even be seen. I mean, this is -- they're too -- it's a cultural thing, as John Lehman just said; at least that's what it appears to be. So it's generational and cultural. And any change is going to take time. But I want to know how you're going to accomplish this. I mean, we have to gauge, is this really doable and how are you going to accomplish it?
MR. MUELLER: I think you're thoughts about that are largely accurate, but I'm not certain totally accurate in this day and age.
MR. FIELDING: Maybe it's a generational thing with me, too.
MR. MUELLER: It may be. (Laughter.) No, I don't mean that.
I think the bureau is changing. I'll tell you, the New York office did a tremendous job in the 1990s, developed a tremendous expertise in addressing al Qaeda. Tremendous agents, some of the best agents in the country operated there. One of the things I recognized in the wake of September 11th, that I needed that expertise down at headquarters; that you have to have and build in headquarters a cadre of individuals that are respected in the field, or you cannot get the work done. And I have sought to bring in and develop in headquarters a cadre of individuals that are respected in the field because they've been in the field, and respected because, if they had not know al Qaeda before and the players, are learning the players.
What is so important for us in the future is to have a cadre of individuals a headquarters who understand all of the elements of the war against al Qaeda. That means what the CIA is doing; what the DIA is doing; what NSA is doing; what we're doing internationally with our LEGATs. And what we hope to develop over a period of time is that level of expertise in headquarters that knows all the players, knows what they've been doing; picks up on things, so that it is a central repository of information on this particular threat, and a central repository on Hezbollah, on Hamas, on the other threats that we may have. It will take time.
But I believe that since September 11th, there has been far better interaction between headquarters and the field in understanding that there has to be a coordination such as we have not seen before, a dissemination of information not only through headquarters but throughout the intelligence community, and that we have to build up that cadre of individuals.
It is somewhat generational. I believe, for instance, that when we have an important case, we ought to get the best person in the FBI on that case, regardless of where they are within the organization. To the extent that we need to address a particular issue, regardless of where the person may be, in what office, we ought to bring that person and put them on the issue.
We are one institution. We have tremendous capabilities. Too often, we have had those capabilities located in a particular place, and not brought them to bear on the threat. By doing more in the way of coordination and management of headquarters, we, I believe, leveraging the whole FBI as well as our intersection with state and local law enforcement to this particular threat in ways we have not before.
MR. FIELDING: Thank you, sir. Thank you both.
MR. HAMILTON: Well, the vice chair finds himself in an extraordinary situation here. We have run out the number of commissioners signaling that they want to ask questions. I'll take just a moment to see if there are any further questions. The chairman's returning. He may have a question or two. Mr. Chairman, I was about ready to adjourn this place. (Laughter.) We've run our --
MR. KEAN: (Laughs.) If I'd known that, I would have stayed in the back. (Laughter.)
MR. HAMILTON: (Laughs.) We have exhausted the list, and I'll turn it back to you.
MR. KEAN: Okay. Thank you very much, and all I can say is, thank you so much. Thank you for all your cooperation. Thank you for all your help. Thank you for your informative session today, for both of you. And you know us, we'll be back to you. (Laughter.)
MR. MUELLER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. KEAN: Thank you very, very much. We're now adjourned until -- (gavel) -- the next public hearing, which will be, when? May?
MR. : Sometime soon.
MR. KEAN: See you all May 18 in New York.