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Shields and Brooks

May 31, 2002 at 12:00 AM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And to the weekly analysis of Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and David Brooks of the Weekly Standard. Mark, FBI Director Mueller, Wall Street Journal in its lead editorial this morning said Mueller should resign. Do you agree with the Journal?

MARK SHIELDS: I do not, Jim. I think that Director Mueller is probably taking heat upon himself, not that the FBI is undeserving of that heat. He’s the first administration figure to break ranks, to say that perhaps September 11 could have been avoided. And by so doing, in a way, he has made his own job more secure because he shifted focus and attention from the White House and the president and criticism thereof to himself. And I think the fact that the criticism of Mr. Mueller begins on September 11, September 12. Certainly nobody– even his harshest critic cannot hold him accountable for what happened four days after he took over.

JIM LEHRER: What do you think, David?

DAVID BROOKS: I think he blew his chance to be hero. I mean, in the days after September 11, there were some people who stepped out of the normal parameters of action and controlled events. He was controlled by them; he was controlled by his bureaucracy. He failed at that crucial moment of his career.

I do think he can still lead the agency in the future. I think the problem with the Journal editorial, as usual with Wall Street Journal editorials, it is a little too moderate. The real question is not should Mueller resign – the question is: what should the FBI look like? Should there be an FBI? Why should an agency that goes after heroin dealers go after al-Qaida?

JIM LEHRER: Not the same job?

DAVID BROOKS: It may not be. I don’t have an educated view on that. But people should really be looking at fundamental reform, not whether this person should lead the FBI or that. It’s whether the CIA and the FBI should merge; should other agencies merge. I really think it is a time for fundamental institution building, which is different than having one person, one guy in a suit, or another guy or a woman in a suit running this agency or that agency.

JIM LEHRER: In other words, take the position that all of these agencies are broken in one form or another and start all over again?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, listen, these agencies were built for the Cold War. When these wars are over, you are supposed to change agencies, you’re supposed to look around and say what do we need? When World War II ended, we looked around, we created the Breton Woods Institutions, IMF, World Bank, created the U.N., created NATO; people create institutions to meet the new circumstances.

To me, I don’t know whether the heroin dealers and Mafia fighters and al-Qaida fighters should all be in the same organization. I don’t know whether people who fight al-Qaida abroad should be in a different organization than people who fight al-Qaida at home. But it seems to me this is the moment, the stars are perfectly aligned for a more fundamental look at this.

JIM LEHRER: This is the moment?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, Jim, certainly the hearings begin and part of the flurry of activity this week, Jim, was determined by the calendar. Congressional hearings, joint Senate, House Intelligence hearing, committees investigating why it happened on September 11, what we can do to avoid it, what went wrong will begin.

These are as about as serious hearings the Congress will hold this year and maybe even next. But there is a strong historical argument for the division and separation between the CIA, which is its mandate is foreign — outside the United States–

JIM LEHRER: Now, why? Why do we need to keep that? I think that’s what David– David, that’s what you’re asking isn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: You put it more -

MARK SHIELDS: One reason – just very bluntly stated. The CIA operates entirely differently than the way we would tolerate a law enforcement agency.

JIM LEHRER: What do you mean?

MARK SHIELDS: They’re not subject to the Bill of Rights; they’re not subject to illegal search and seizure.

JIM LEHRER: Because they function overseas.

MARK SHIELDS: Over seas and over board as well — netherworld with very interesting– not preparing a case for trial. They’re, in many cases, you know, collecting information any way they can, whether it involves a little extortion, a little blackmail, a little exchange of the favors or money.

JIM LEHRER: That’s not going to work here in this country.

MARK SHIELDS: No. That’s illegal in the United States. And that’s why the argument was made that we didn’t want to see CIA tactics used at home. You’ll hear that debate again.

JIM LEHRER: Well, it has already started.

DAVID BROOKS: I agree with that. The CIA does — they bribe people, they lie to people, which we don’t want domestic agencies to do. But there still is this fundamental problem — they don’t talk to each other. I mean, now they say they are going to talk to each other but good luck, it’s hard to believe.

JIM LEHRER: What do either of you believe the reason for that is? I know what all the professionals say, oh, well, there are 15 different reasons, but can’t a president of the United States, this one or any of them in the past say hey, you’re the head of the CIA, You’re the head of the FBI. You guys get it together. Why does that not happen?

DAVID BROOKS: Doesn’t every president say “I thought this was a powerful job” until they get into the Oval Office and then they say, “I can’t do anything.” The CIA and the FBI are like two kids in the back of the car after a five-hour car trip. They’re at each other. I think it’s institutional. Bureaucracies behave as bureaucracies.

What Miss Rowley described in her memo was a bureaucracy behaving at its worst — the top people rising – the worst people rising to the top. You have got professional timidity, people afraid of being fired and therefore averse to any kind of risk. That’s how bureaucracies behaved; that’s how they behaved after September 11 in this self-protective crouch. And that’s what Mueller was the victim of.

MARK SHIELDS: Jim, there is another factor here, and that is they both deal in the same coin of the realm: It’s information, intelligence. What I’m into is the collection of information and intelligence and its distillation and presumably its use and acting upon, you husband that. Certainly the FBI, through its long history, that has been — the CIA — we talked about cloak and dagger, but the FBI, they wouldn’t tell if you your coat was on fire. That’s the way these agents are steeped and have been historically. And it was certainly the premium under Mr. Hoover.

JIM LEHRER: Sure, he was one that started the modern FBI. What do you make of David’s idea. Do you pick up, Mark, any inclination within the powers that be in the Congress to wipe the slate clean and let’s figure out a new– where we are post-Cold War, all the things that David said?

MARK SHIELDS: I think there is, I don’t think it is a majority point of view in the Congress by any means. I think what I found most revealing today was that in view of the new regulations imposed and really expanding the powers and the authority of the FBI, that the democratic ranking Democrat of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, a Detroit liberal, was critical.

But what amazed me was that in an interview on CNN, with Al Hunt and Bob Novak, the Republican conservative chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said I’m calling public hearings — I’m going to bring up John Ashcroft and Bob Mueller and bring them up here and demand to know why we’re changing regulations that were put in force 25 years ago by a Republican president, a Republican attorney general and have worked over the 25 years. Why we’re going back to what he called the bad old days.

JIM LEHRER: That’s, of course, the thing — that’s yesterday’s story, the thing about the new rules on surveillance and all of that. And we had a debate on that last night. Ashcroft said, David, that to answer, hey, all we want is the right of FBI agents to do what a 13-year-old boy can do, which is to go to a meeting or whatever. It is a different game, isn’t it?

DAVID BROOKS: The rules set in place that either the FBI imposed upon itself in the 1970s or imposed upon it by acts of Congress in 1979, clear they went too far. They restricted the FBI in the way I think most Americans find appalling, the three of us could go to a meeting where someone is threatening to launch suicide bombings, a political rally.

We can talk about it on this program, but an FBI agent can’t go to that meeting because he is restricted or the FBI agent could surf the Web about anthrax because there had been crimes committed on anthrax, but could not surf the Web looking for information about smallpox? These are things that I think most people, when they find the FBI had so restricted themselves or were restricted, that people will be appalled by that.

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I say this, surfing the net is one thing. We are not talking about going to Google and looking up–

JIM LEHRER: I didn’t know you knew about that.

MARK SHIELDS: Plug, plug. But, Jim, we’re talking about the FBI, you know, going to church meetings. We’re talking about a chilling effect when two guys who look like FBI agents because they don’t blend into the network, show up at a discussion of the peace and freedom rally who are organizing a protest against U.S. policy and are going to do it outside the White House. That is not a chilling effect?

And when they talk about going to church meetings, I would be willing to bet right now that the parish parking lot of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson won’t be crowded with FBI agents. They’re not going to be doing this ecumenically.

DAVID BROOKS: As one talks about this, I do think there is a generational split here– that people had the experience of the FBI in the ’60s–.

MARK SHIELDS: And Martin Luther King.

DAVID BROOKS: And what they did Martin Luther King is much more real to them. Then people like me who saw that they wouldn’t go after Moussaoui; they wouldn’t investigate Moussaoui.

JIM LEHRER: Moussaoui is the guy they arrested in Minnesota before September 11 and they couldn’t get search warrants to look at his computer.

DAVID BROOKS: To many of us, we see the FBI Agents looking and shrieking in terror at the thought of an ACLU lawsuit, and they really have to be much tougher if we are going to prevent anything.

JIM LEHRER: Does he have the division right?

MARK SHIELDS: I think he can hold both premises. Let’s be very blunt about this, Jim. The collection of information, it’s hording, its use in political extortion was a fairly frequent practice in Washington, where they got embarrassing and potentially scandalous personal information on public figures. It was used by presidents.

JIM LEHRER: That’s why they put these rules into effect.

MARK SHIELDS: Done to Martin Luther King to discredit him. Now I agree there is a goose gander thing. When they were infiltrating the Klan, very few liberals shouted that they shouldn’t be.

JIM LEHRER: A goose gander and there’s a google gander here. Thank you both very much.