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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It is Monday, and it is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm David Greene. The director of the FBI serves a 10-year term - longer than the president who appointed him, longer than any other member of the national security establishment. This is designed to insulate the FBI from political influence, and it gives the Bureau's leader time to put his stamp on an agency that disrupts terror plots and roots out corruption. NPR's Carrie Johnson recently caught up with FBI director Jim Comey as he greeted the first class of new recruits hired on his watch.

CALEB JOHNSON: Jim Comey emerges from a curtained backroom to greet his audience "Tonight Show" style.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM COMEY: I feel like a talk show host.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Fifty new agents all clad in dark suits sit in the front rows of an auditorium at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. A couple dozen more intelligence analysts in training watch, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMEY: You couldn't get here soon enough. As you know, this great university of ours has been closed, and we've been working like crazy to get it open for you.

JOHNSON: They're Comey's first class of recruits.

JOHNSON: After his with chat trainees, I ask the FBI director what he does off the clock to stay centered. One answer, he and his wife have been helping as emergency foster parents.

COMEY: A little boy who came to us, born a month premature in a homeless shelter to a drug-addicted mother, born in very, very difficult circumstances. So we got him right out of the hospital.

JOHNSON: The baby's doing well. He's been placed with an adoptive mom. Comey and his wife, Patrice, still watch the boy a couple times a week.

COMEY: We've stayed very close. We'll look after him his whole life. It's just why this work is so rewarding. It is absolutely true that as a foster parent, you in a lot of ways get a lot more out of it than you put into it.

JOHNSON: These days Comey's pouring most of himself into charting a course for the FBI. He's on track to hire 1,500 people by October to fill positions that stayed empty during the recently federal budget crunch. And he's starting to make an imprint on some of the most important jobs in the FBI, installing more than a dozen new leaders in cities around the country and more at headquarters. The new director of the national security branch, Andrew McCabe, once led a team that questions high-value terrorism suspects. And in Miami, the new Special Agent in charge is George Piro, the man who interrogated former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Comey says the FBI still has a long way to go on diversity.

COMEY: I'm very fond of slightly geeky, 6'-8," white guys from the Northeast 'cause I am one. But if I have a table that's just filled with me's, I'm not being advised, directed, challenged the way I need to be.

JOHNSON: There's room for improvement, too, Comey tells recruits, on the intelligence front. After 9/11, Comey's predecessor, Robert Mueller, devoted himself to turning an agency created to arrest bank robbers into an organization that focuses on preventing crime before it happens.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

COMEY: Bob Mueller began the transformation of this organization after 9/11 to make sure that intelligence was part of all of our operations. We've made tremendous strides there. I've been travelling all over the country trying to figure out how it's going. And my answer is, it's going pretty well, but not good enough.

JOHNSON: Finding clues and sharing that information within the FBI and among state and federal partners is a centerpiece of that transformation. But a recent watchdog report identified failings there, failings revealed in an investigation after the Boston Marathon bombing.

The report said federal agents on a terrorism task force had scribbled information on sticky notes, not exactly conducive to good communications. Comey says that problem's already been fixed. But he wants to see the FBI focused on the biggest threats, not just the easy stuff. He's got nine years and three months more to make that happen. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

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