KWAME HOLMAN: Long lines of the interested formed early for the first open testimony by the FBI's leadership since a raft of new criticisms of the agency's performance before September 11th. Called before the Senate Judiciary Committee Director Robert Mueller began noting that the questions raised by FBI Agents themselves had added impotence to the agency's ongoing post September reorganization.
ROBERT MUELLER: These changes, which include new resources, new analytical capability, and new technology are critically important to supporting our new way of doing business. Coupled with these changes are new, more focused priorities. And while we believe these changes to be a dramatic departure from the past, in the end our culture must change as well.
KWAME HOLMAN: Questions about the FBI's handling of information prior to the attacks arose after disclosure that Phoenix-based agent Kenneth Williams warned, in July, that suspected Islamic militants were trying to gain access to U.S. flight schools. And Minneapolis agent and general counsel Coleen Rowley recently complained in a letter to Mueller that headquarters frustrated agents' efforts last august to investigate hijacking suspect Zacarias Moussaoui. Mueller addressed both, referring to the Phoenix information as an electronic communication, or E.C.
ROBERT MUELLER: I think, at base, both the Phoenix E.C. and the Rowley memo point out a deficiency that I spoke to when I was before this committee on May 8, and that is our ability to gather intelligence information, snippets of information from a variety of various investigations around the country, and pull them together, analyze them, coordinate that analysis with the CIA or other agencies who may also have snippets of information, and then be better able to disseminate the results of that analyst back to the field so that appropriate action can be taken.
I've said before that it would have... the procedures should have been in place so that the Phoenix memorandum went to the CIA, and that the Phoenix memorandum was made available to those in Minneapolis. In the determination as to whether or not they had sufficient evidence, what we have done since then is taken a variety of steps to assure that information like that comes up higher in the organization, that it is disseminated across the various organizations. For instance, my briefing... I get a briefing book every day. It's about an inch, inch and a half thick, and most of the... this distillation of that goes to the CIA I am briefed by the CIA every day on what the CIA Has. What we need is augmentation of our analytical program, because there are torrents of information coming in daily; and also, the augmentation of our technology.
KWAME HOLMAN: Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy asked Mueller for assurances there would be no retribution against Agent Rowley for her highly publicized criticism of headquarters.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Can you personally assure this committee unequivocally there be no retaliation of any kind against either Coleen Rowley or Kenneth Williams or any FBI employee because they provide information to the Congress or the inspector general or any supervisory FBI official about counter terrorism efforts?
ROBERT MUELLER: Absolutely. I issued a memorandum on November 7, reaffirming the protections that are afforded indicated I will not tolerate whistleblowers, in which I indicated I will not tolerate reprisals or intimidation by any bureau employee against those who make protected disclosures, nor will I tolerate attempts to prevent the employees from making such disclosures. I want people in the field to tell me what is happening. I cannot get out to talk to every one of the 11,000 agents or the 27,000 total employees, but I need to know what's happening throughout the field. And I encourage, welcome the criticism, the insight, the suggestions, whether it be from the organization or from without the organization.
KWAME HOLMAN: Under questioning from the committee's ranking Republican, Utah's Orrin Hatch, Mueller suggested Congress may want to reevaluate current laws that set the bar for surveillance and the issuance of search warrants.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: How many of these approximately 20 terrorists that we've.. that we have been very concerned about participated in the September 11 matter... how many of those could you have gotten a warrant against... a warrant to surveil?
ROBERT MUELLER: Well, prior to September 11, the 19 or the 20 hijackers... it would have been very difficult, because we had... I mean, looking at it, trying to go back, we had very little information as to any one of the individuals being associated with...
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: A foreign power.
ROBERT MUELLER: A particular... a particular terrorist group. One of the issues in the Moussaoui set of circumstances was whether or not the evidence was sufficient to show that Mr. Moussaoui was associated with any particular terrorist group. If you talk to the agents, and I know we've had Ken Williams and other agents up briefing the Congress, I believe the agents will tell you that one of the problems they have in this area, which we believe Congress ought to look at, is the requirement that we tie a particular terrorist to a recognized terrorist group...
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Or a foreign power.
ROBERT MUELLER: Or the foreign power, agent of a foreign power.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: In fact, you probably would have had a difficult time showing that any of them were agents of a foreign power.
ROBERT MUELLER: A terrorist group has been defined as an agent of a foreign power. Our problem comes in trying to show that a particular individual is connected to a specific, defined, in a variety of ways, terrorist group. I mean, once we get a connection with al-Qaida, for instance, even though it is not a foreign power, al-Qaida is sufficiently distinct, but we have problems where you have a lone wolf, for instance, who may be out there who we think is a threat, but we have difficulty tying to any particular defined terrorist group.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH: Well, if we try to change that, I presume a lot of civil liberties groups and persons will be very much against making that change.
ROBERT MUELLER: I can't speak to that, Senator, but I do think that it's something that we need to look at and that Congress should take a look at.
KWAME HOLMAN: Delaware's Joseph Biden was concerned the FBI reorganization Mueller announced last week will hurt the Bureau's other anticrime efforts, especially in light of President Bush's plan for a new Department of Homeland Security.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: More people are killed in drug-related occurrences than have occurred in all the terrorist acts combined, not even close. Now, that doesn't mean we shouldn't focus on terrorism. What I'm trying to get a handle on here is whether we're doing this on the fly or we're doing this really intelligently. And so I want to ask you a few questions. Was the FBI... was the FBI consulted on what the President is going to announce tonight?
ROBERT MUELLER: Respectfully, Senator, I do not believe it appropriate for me to disclose discussions I might have had with the President.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: I think that's malarkey. That is not legitimate. I'm not asking what he said. I'm asking you were you consulted?
ROBERT MUELLER: Senator, I believe that... that I should not be forthcoming with regard to consultations with the President. I believe the President is entitled to the advice from a number of people, and I do not believe that it would be appropriate for me to get into it.
SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN: With all due respect, fortunately I'm not the chairman of this committee, because I would not accept that answer. You are in this committee. I am not asking you-- there is no executive privilege here-- I'm asking you whether you were consulted. That's all I'm asking you.
ROBERT MUELLER: I think the President is entitled to make whatever announcement the President's going to make tonight, and I would be happy to come back tomorrow after the President's made his announcement and discuss it.
KWAME HOLMAN: In mid-afternoon, Minneapolis Agent Coleen Rowley came before the committee. She explained what spurred her to write her 13-page letter to FBI Headquarters.
COLEEN ROWLEY: I saw the new direction of the FBI, perhaps... it was kind of hard to discern when it was first announced, but I thought I saw some impetus towards a little more additional bureaucracy and micromanaging from headquarters. And I wanted to point out to Director Mueller that that seemed to fly in the face of what we should have learned from September 11.
I think there is really the main thing being a real strong consensus that we need to streamline the FBI's bureaucracy in order to more effectively combat terrorism. We need that agility that Director Mueller was speaking of this morning, that agility and ability to quickly react. And I really see that as if you get too top heavy with too many layers-- he also mentioned that problem-- that you are going to be stymied.
KWAME HOLMAN: Rowley said she was pleased today to hear Director Mueller say that there would be no retaliation for the criticism.
COLEEN ROWLEY: I think that careerism is a problem. The pecking order I alluded to earlier is sometimes a problem and we have to be willing to... I guess as Director Mueller has done a little bit in this case with me, when I made my critical remarks, I was quite worried because I don't... I know in the FBI, You don't venture close to criticizing a superior without really running some risks. But in this case, I actually was pleasantly surprised that, you know, I've been promised repeatedly no retaliation, and I want to hopefully hope that that kind of atmosphere now starts to kind of take over.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY: Your letter to the Director about the Moussaoui case talked about supervisors actually hindering that case. Now, I know that you can't talk about that case, because of trial, and I appreciate that and expect you not to, but it would be useful for you to talk about how headquarters gets involved in cases from the field, and what you and other agents think of headquarter involvement, and whether the people there are helpful or a hindrance.
COLEEN ROWLEY: When we get these seven to nine approvement management levels in place at headquarters, many of those people see their job as kind of a gatekeeper function and kind of a power thing or whatever. And again, I think we have to stress that, you know, to the people... if we can limit the number of management levels, all the better. But the people, if they realize that their function is to assist in the way, with intelligence-- in the future, hopefully this will happen if we have more analysts-- that they see their function as assisting that investigation, and I think then it's helpful. So it's kind of a mixed bag is, I think, what I'm saying. It's kind of a mixed bag in some entities are helpful. Others maybe aren't quite as what they should be.
KWAME HOLMAN: Washington Democrat Maria Cantwell asked Rowley if she had advice for President Bush's new Department of Homeland Security.
COLEEN ROWLEY: I really can't presume to give advice on such a high level. I will say one thing: In the past we have had agencies with overlap in their jurisdiction-- the things that come to mind is FBI and DEA because we shared drugs; sometimes FBI And ATF, where there were bombings that we both got involved in-- if you have two different entities and there's an overlap and it's not clear who does what, we can have some friction starting up and we can have some problems. So that's the only thing that comes to mind is that it has to be kind of clearly demarked so that the agencies don't develop this friction and we're not at cross... you know, cross ends with each other.
KWAME HOLMAN: At the end of the day, Chairman Leahy repeated other members' sentiments that Congress should aim to improve, not handicap, the FBI while protecting civil liberties.