Mueller, FBI Watch for Home-Grown Terrorists Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, takes a hard line against the threat of home-grown terror in the U.S. He says America can't afford to take chances with people intent on doing harm to the country.

Mueller, FBI Watch for Home-Grown Terrorists

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The FBI director, Robert Mueller, starts his morning reviewing the latest intelligence from his agents. He sat down to talk yesterday morning after his briefings and said things were fairly quiet.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

That is not the case every day for the man who became FBI director just before the 9/11 attacks. Mueller has been warning about homegrown terrorists, like those who bomb subways in their native Britain.

INSKEEP: And in the U.S., where the FBI recently arrested suspects in Miami. They allegedly spoke of destroying Chicago's Sears Tower, though they apparently had no way to do it.

Mueller says agents are looking for signs of homegrown threats across the country.

Mr. ROBERT MUELLER (Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation): At the outset, you don't know how serious the threat may be. We have to take every threat seriously. If you go back before September 11th, the group of individuals responsible for September 11th did not have any explosives. They had no weapons. They had an idea. They had four individuals who had some flight training and they had box cutters. And so one has to take every threat seriously. And what we try to do is, when we identify persons who contemplate such attacks, run an intelligence investigation as long as we can to determine what the motivation is, what their capabilities are. And at some point in time then, when we've exhausted the intelligence, disrupt that plot.

INSKEEP: Now, you talk about people who have just had an idea and then turned it into action.

Mr. MUELLER: Yes.

INSKEEP: The September 11th hijackers.

Mr. MUELLER: Yes.

INSKEEP: How do you tell the difference between someone who just has an extreme idea and someone who's actually an operative?

Mr. MUELLER: Well, there is a continuum between a person who may have an idea and a person who is going to undertake a terrorist attack, and our challenge is to determine where that person is on that continuum. Having an idea in and of itself may not be a criminal offense.

However, if you start providing funds to terrorists, supporting terrorists and providing housing or other support, then you are further along in participating in terrorist activity. And our challenge is to determine where that person is and who else is associated with that person so that we cannot only arrest that person but also others associated with them.

INSKEEP: Would the suspects who were arrested recently in Miami qualify as people who had extreme thoughts but maybe weren't really that dangerous?

Mr. MUELLER: Well, the question is whether or not they broke the law. They've been arrested and they're entitled to presumption of innocence until proven guilty. But the fact of the matter is, it's very hard to quantify what the capabilities of any particular group is.

Are you going to walk away from a group who has demonstrated a desire to undertake terrorist attacks and taken steps to put themselves in a place to be able to undertake those terrorist attacks? What would people have us do, walk away from it only to find that two months, three months, six months later, they've become far more efficient and effective in undertaking the attacks that you thought perhaps would not take place?

INSKEEP: What about the option of just watching them to see what happens?

Mr. MUELLER: Well, yeah, you watch as long as you can in terms of developing the intelligence on their capabilities and intentions. But at some point in time, if they've broken the law, it's the time to make the arrest.

INSKEEP: So you don't think, as some of your critics have suggested, that you moved too quickly in that instance?

Mr. MUELLER: No. In every case we evaluate when's the appropriate time to move.

INSKEEP: When it's a terrorism case, is it your call when to move in? Does someone ask you, Director Mueller, should we go ahead and make the arrest?

Mr. MUELLER: That's generally a joint call between the FBI and the Justice Department.

INSKEEP: A joint call?

Mr. MUELLER: (Unintelligible). You known, the Justice Department makes a determination as to (unintelligible) on the arrest warrants, if there are arrest warrants, so it's generally a joint call.

INSKEEP: But does it come to your desk? Are you part of that or do you delegate that?

Mr. MUELLER: I am briefed on it daily or weekly and understand what's going to take place. Now, at any point in time I can go in and say, hey, no. But that's not - it doesn't come up and say, okay, here it is: are you going to yea, nay on arrest?

INSKEEP: You leave it to the discretion, to some degree, of the people in the field?

Mr. MUELLER: Yes. The U.S. Attorney's office and the field office down there. But I fully supported the decision in this case.

INSKEEP: Do you have, five years after September 11, all the tools that you need to fight terrorism in this country?

Mr. MUELLER: Well, there are additional tools that we've asked for in the past. The administrative subpoenas, for instance. We use administrative subpoenas in a number of areas, and the administrative subpoena tool would assist us in being able to obtain the types of information that we need more swiftly than we do now.

INSKEEP: This is demanding information without going to a judge first?

Mr. MUELLER: That's correct.

INSKEEP: And you want that to apply to terrorism cases as well as...

Mr. MUELLER: Yes, yes.

INSKEEP: Okay, that's one tool. Anything else?

Mr. MUELLER: With the advent of technology, we have to continuously adjust to things such as throwaway cell phones, voice-over IP...

INSKEEP: Voice-over IP - talking by telephone over the Internet.

Mr. MUELLER: Yes.

INSKEEP: Is that harder to monitor in some ways?

Mr. MUELLER: I'm not going to get into details because I don't want to encourage people. We have tools, but continuously that presents a challenge.

INSKEEP: Technically, a challenge? Legally, do you have all the authority you need?

Mr. MUELLER: Technically, legally and it requires also the involvement of the communications companies.

INSKEEP: Require - are you getting cooperation from them in that area?

Mr. MUELLER: Yes and no. It depends on the communication company.

INSKEEP: Some yes; some no.

Mr. MUELLER: Some yes; some no.

INSKEEP: The same as we've seen with the NSA surveillance and other issues? It's very similar.

Mr. MUELLER: With regard to the FBI's programs, generally we get cooperation, but there are instances we do not.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another tool. There's been a lot of news in the last few days about the U.S. military changing its manual for interrogation and being much more specific in its rules against coercion. Has it been in any way a disadvantage to the FBI that FBI agents cannot coerce testimony from people?

Mr. MUELLER: I'm not going to speak to the military's rules.

INSKEEP: Yeah, let's speak about yours.

Mr. MUELLER: I can say that I'm comfortable that with the way that we undertake our interviews and that the standards we have set over a number of years are sufficient to enable us to do our jobs.

INSKEEP: You can't coerce testimony from people.

Mr. MUELLER: Cannot.

INSKEEP: Right?

Mr. MUELLER: That's correct.

INSKEEP: Because otherwise you could not use it in court and that's the way (unintelligible)...

Mr. MUELLER: There are a variety of reasons.

INSKEEP: What are the other reasons?

Mr. MUELLER: In terms of interrogation techniques, belief in what works, what does not work. Beyond that, there are a number of factors that go into our belief that we should stay with that which has served us well over the years.

INSKEEP: Which is? Can you just describe what's in and what's out, very briefly.

Mr. MUELLER: Well, you cannot use coercion in terms of interviewing persons.

INSKEEP: Meaning what? You can't...

Mr. MUELLER: I'm not going to get more specific than that.

INSKEEP: Okay. Is there any scenario under which you have indicated to your agents that coercion might be necessary?

Mr. MUELLER: No.

INSKEEP: Because often the scenario is raised, what if a bomb is going to explode...

Mr. MUELLER: No, but I'm speaking, (unintelligible) speaking (unintelligible), but let me preface that by saying, I'm talking about what we as an agency and organization do. And so I'm not speaking about any other agency or organization.

INSKEEP: You're not talking about the CIA or the military. Understood.

Mr. MUELLER: I'm not talking about any other agency or organization; I'm talking about the FBI.

INSKEEP: Well, I'm just interested in FBI practices. Because the scenario is raised: A nuclear bomb might explode tomorrow. You've got a suspect in custody. He might know where it is and what to do. That's the scenario raised for someone maybe having to be tortured. Is there any circumstance...

Mr. MUELLER: I think that is a very, very difficult issue. I think it's a difficult issue. But I am comfortable with our practices as they've been applied in the past and as I anticipate they'll be applied in the future.

INSKEEP: And those practices are, you would not coerce that guy?

Mr. MUELLER: We would not, we would not.

INSKEEP: Director Mueller, thanks very much.

Mr. MUELLER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: FBI Director Robert Mueller spoke with us at FBI headquarters here in Washington.

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