Bush to FBI Director Mueller Right After Sept. 11; What is the FBI Doing to Prevent the Next Attack?

Robert Mueller III/ photo ticklethewire.com
By Allan Lengel

In a speech  Friday in Washington before the National Symposium for United States Court of Appeals Judges, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III shared a very interesting exchange he had with President Bush right after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“A few days after the attacks, I was briefing President Bush in the Oval Office. As I was describing to the president the FBI’s efforts to identify the hijackers and gather evidence on those responsible, the president cut me off.

“Bob,” he said, “I expect the FBI to determine who was responsible for the attacks and to help bring them to justice. That is what the Bureau has been doing since its beginning. What I want to know from you—today—is what the FBI is doing to prevent the next attack.”

Mueller recalled: “I must say, I felt like a chastened schoolboy who had turned in the wrong homework assignment.

“And for the next four years, I briefed President Bush daily, and the question was always the same. Thereafter, I continued to regularly brief President Bush, and do so today with President Obama. And the question remains the same.

“That initial question posed by President Bush—what is the FBI doing to prevent the next attack?—triggered a number of changes in the Bureau.”

Mueller went on to explain the changes and then got into his management style. “The fact of the matter is, to whom you delegate and how you delegate is as important as anything else. People will tell you I am still not very good at it, and those are the individuals that are currently being micromanaged by me.”

“Several years ago, I had a rather salty chief of staff, an old friend named Lee Rawls, who would put me in my place. More than once, when I sought to micromanage a situation, he would politely push me to the side.

“And I would hear Lee say, ‘Don’t listen to him. He thinks he’s the Director of the FBI, but we can take care of this.’” “In one particularly heated meeting, everyone was frustrated—mostly with me—and I myself may have been a wee bit ill-tempered. ”

“Lee sat silently, and then said, ‘What is the difference between the Director of the FBI and a 4-year-old?’ The room grew hushed. Finally, he said, ‘Height!’ And with that, he broke the tension.”

“Micromanaging aside, it was responding to the terrorist threat and addressing the Bureau’s outdated technology that came to be my most substantial challenges.”

He went on to say in his speech how important it is to fight crime, but stay within the rule of law. “Every FBI employee takes an oath promising to uphold the rule of law and the United States Constitution—the same oath that I and each of you have taken.”

“In the end, we in the FBI know that we will be judged not only by our ability to keep Americans safe from crime and terrorism, but also by whether we safeguard the liberties for which we are fighting and maintain the trust of the American people.”

Leave a Reply