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And I'm Renee Montagne.
The Obama administration has a big decision on its hands: choosing the next director of the FBI. The 10-year term of the FBI's current leader, Robert Mueller, expires in September. And in order to get a successor approved by then, the White House has to get the name its nominee to the Senate by summer. NPR's Carrie Johnson has this look at possible candidates and the tough job the next director will face.
CARRIE JOHNSON: Robert Mueller became the FBI director in September 2001, days before the terrorist attacks that would change the bureau's direction. President Bush had an order for his national security team back then: Don't let this ever happen again. Iowa Republican Senator Charles Grassley says future FBI leaders will be judged on the same measure.
Senator CHARLES GRASSLEY (Republican, Iowa): You've kind of got to judge the success of the FBI based on the proposition that the FBI can make no mistakes or there's going to be Americans killed. And you know a terrorist only has to be successful one time out of a thousand and they've done a lot of damage.
JOHNSON: So finding a person to replace Mueller represents one of the administration's most important law enforcement legacies. The new director will serve a 10-year term that extends well beyond the Obama presidency.
The vice president and the attorney general are putting together a long list of candidates. And here are some of the contenders: U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald. He prosecuted former Bush White House aide Scooter Libby. Mary Jo White worked as New York's top federal prosecutor in two different administrations. Ken Wainstein started the Justice Department's National Security Division. And Mike Leiter directs the U.S. Counterterrorism Center. Former FBI agents John Pistole and Michael Mason are also in the running.
Mr. KONRAD MOTYKA (President, FBI Agents Association): My name is Konrad Motyka and I'm the president of the FBI Agents Association. The FBI has undergone a pretty serious transformation from being a law enforcement agency with intelligence responsibilities to becoming an intelligence agency with domestic law enforcement responsibilities.
JOHNSON: Motyka says the next 10 years, the term of the new director, will determine the direction of the FBI. It's only then that people will learn whether the changes after September 11th will stick or fall by the wayside.
Critics say they wish the FBI would change some of its ways. Mike German works at the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington. He says he worries about reports the FBI has investigated non-violent protest groups in the U.S., groups that want environmental rights or protections for animals.
Mr. MIKE GERMAN (American Civil Liberties Union): What we see is these groups are coming under surveillance by the FBI for no appropriate purpose. And that not only violates their civil liberties but actually misdirects security resources that should be targeted at people suspected of wrongdoing.
JOHNSON: The FBI says it follows all the rules. On Capitol Hill last week, Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee that the bureau has its hands full.
Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation): Over the past year the FBI has faced an extraordinary range of threats from terrorism, espionage, cyber attacks and traditional crime.
JOHNSON: The mission could get even more complicated. That's because budget problems are putting the squeeze on all federal agencies, including the bureau. Mueller says the FBI could finish the year with more than 1,000 unfilled jobs because of money troubles. And those jobs matter. The FBI leader said as much in a recent exchange with Florida Republican Dennis Ross. Here's Ross.
Representative DENNIS ROSS (Republican, Florida): One last question: What advice would you publicly give to your successor?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MUELLER: Well, I would say that the bureau is its people - its agents, its analysts, and its staff. You will never find a greater group of dedicated professionals across the country. Rely on them.
JOHNSON: Administration sources say they plan to decide on a successor by May. They need to get the nomination to the Senate by June to give Congress enough time to consider and vote before the August recess.
Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
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