FBI Director Faces Scrutiny on Anti-Terrorism Efforts

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FBI Director Robert Mueller answered questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about allegations of abusing anti-terrorism powers. But he only feigned frustration when senators said his agency hasn't been fighting other kinds of crime the way it used to.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

FBI Director Robert Mueller was on Capitol Hill today. He defended his agency against allegations of abusing national security powers and botching secret wiretapping investigations.

But as NPR's Laura Sullivan reports, Mueller only got upset when senators said he wasn't doing enough to fight plain, old American street crime.

LAURA SULLIVAN: For more than six years, Director Mueller has faced a litany of tough questions. Did the bureau allow 9/11 to happen? Has the bureau engaged in torture? Has the bureau violated civil liberties? Through it all, he has rarely been anything but unflappable. Today was different. He was questioned by Democrats like Dianne Feinstein from California about everyday crime.

Senator DIANNE FEINSTEIN (Democrat, California): I really worry about the streets of America and what's happening. And have you at all reconsidered making violent crime your eighth priority?

SULLIVAN: And Mueller seemed frustrated.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation): Senator, as we have discussed there's three national security priorities...

Sen. FEINSTEIN: Yes, three times now, we did.

Mr. MUELLER: I know. The national security priorities, which come first, are counterterrorism, counterintelligence and cyber.

SULLIVAN: But only when Mueller suddenly left his talking points about everything the FBI is doing to prevent crime and started making a laundry list about everything the FBI is not doing, Feinstein and Mueller realized they were actually on the same page.

Mr. MUELLER: White-collar crime cases are not being done. That's almost 10,000 cases. Nine hundred agents were doing drug cases; they are no longer doing drug cases. We had approximately 140 additional agents who were doing bank robberies who are no longer doing bank robberies.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: So let me...

Mr. MUELLER: But in the meantime, I have tried to keep the agents doing violent crime and enhance it when I can.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: See, this is the problem.

SULLIVAN: Then things got even stranger. Mueller broke the hard and fast rule in Washington, D.C. among the directors of government agencies. You can't say you want more money, no matter how much the White House squeezes your budget.

Mr. MUELLER: Additional resources would always be welcome.

SULLIVAN: He said he was not only in the market for more funds. He then acknowledged to the Democrats that he's been all over town asking for money.

Sen. FEINSTEIN: Have you asked Attorney General Mukasey for additional resources?

Mr. MUELLER: In the course of the budget process, yes. I've asked the attorney general, OMB and Congress, yes.

SULLIVAN: Mueller acknowledged that since 9/11, he hasn't had enough money to fight bank robberies, gangs or other FBI mainstays.

Mr. MUELLER: I would say we have had to take resources from our criminal programs. We are at this juncture, as a result of what happened September 11th, not participating in addressing the drug problem in this country as we were prior to September 11th.

SULLIVAN: The FBI has gotten a lot of money in recent years. Billions of dollars to fight terrorism at home and abroad, money to fix the bureau's seemingly intractable computer problem and even efforts to relieve the backlog on name checks for prospective immigrants. But with murders jumping 5 percent in just the first half of last year, Democrats seemed to welcome Mueller's assessment that the FBI could do more with more money.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News, Washington.

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