Friday, July 27, 2007

The FBI takes the front page

By Carol Gee

(Image from "Free Images-UK")

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee for the first time in six years yesterday, making headlines with the committee. His candid and careful testimony about his beleaguered boss also made the overseas papers. "FBI chief contradicts Gonzales testimony" was the headline of a story by Edward Luce of the Washington bureau - Financial Times - on Friday, July 27 2007. To quote the gist of this very big story,

Robert Mueller, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, on Thursday flatly contradicted sworn testimony given by Alberto Gonzales in a blow that sharply raises the chances that the attorney-general will be investigated for perjury.

Mr Mueller’s testimony came a few hours after four senators called for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate Mr Gonzales for giving allegedly misleading testimony about the Bush administration’s secret wiretapping programme. Mr Gonzales, who has maintained that there was no dispute between the White House and the Justice Department over the National Security Agency’s surveillance programme, has repeatedly been contradicted both by officials and lawmakers.

Read behind the headlines - Steve Benen wrote an excellent post at The Carpetbagger Report regarding the striking testimony of FBI Director Robert Mueller yesterday before the House Judiciary committee. In his appearance Director Mueller, who is very widely respected, contradicted the man for whom he works, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. The AG's Senate Judiciary Committee testimony had made the headlines of the previous day.

Florida Democratic Rep takes different tack - Given the FBI's assigned responsibility for domestic counter terrorism following 9/11, the agency has a very large helping on its plate. At the same time its responsibility for fighting crime has not gone away. Watching the "House Judiciary Committee hearing on FBI Oversight" yesterday on C-SPAN, viewers saw a well-prepared U.S. Representative Debbie Wassermen Schultz (D-Fla) ask FBI Director Robert Mueller to look into the large disparity between the number of agents (2000+) assigned to white collar crime and the (200+) focused on the proliferation of internet child pornography rings. Noting limited resources, the director agreed to look into it.

Speaking of "white collar crime" - Since the FBI now has significant responsibility for counter terrorism, it has also meant a larger foreign presence. Overseas work involves coordination of efforts with other nations, and not merely in the al Qaeda arena. This was the recent FT headline reporting that, "China joins FBI in piracy operation." It was written by Mure Dickie in Beijing Financial Times and published: July 24 2007. To quote from the article,

An “unprecedented” joint crackdown on software piracy by Chinese police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation has led to 25 arrests and the seizure of counterfeit software worth $500m, the FBI said on Tuesday.

. . . The FBI, which has had a liaison office in Beijing since 2002, stepped up its co-operation with local law enforcement authorities two years ago amid concerns that disputes over piracy were putting the Sino-US trade relationship at risk.

How is your computer system doing, Mr. Director? It is the proverbial inquiry whenever Director Mueller comes before any congressional committee. At each such appearance, he is asked about the current progress with the FBI's computerization program. In December of last year, the Washington Post described the program's saga and the size of the problem.

The Justice Department's inspector general warned yesterday that funding for the FBI's new Sentinel computer system is uncertain and that the program's final price tag could exceed its $425 million budget.

It is like an old joke - Asked the question again yesterday, Director Mueller described the size of the task as having "miles of files" (paper) all over the nation that have yet to be digitized. Given the magnitude of what seems an almost insurmountable problem, Director Mueller has yet to meet the challenge of fundamentally changing an entrenched FBI culture.

Leftovers from another era catch up with the FBI - This is today's Boston Globe headline: "US ordered to pay $101.7m in false murder convictions; FBI withheld evidence in '65 gangland slaying." I quote from the story by Shelley Murphy and Brian R. Ballou, Globe Staff, July 27, 2007:

A federal judge held the FBI "responsible for the framing of four innocent men" in a 1965 gangland murder in a landmark ruling yesterday and ordered the government to pay the men $101.7 million for the decades they spent in prison. The award is believed to be the largest of its kind nationally.

If the FBI Director had his way, he would probably prefer to stay out of the headlines. Robert Mueller is a good man trying to do his very best in extremely difficult times, and given the administration for whom he works. We can imagine that it was a tired man who hit his front porch last night. And he might have skipped his morning paper upon arising today.

My “creativity and dreaming” post today at Good Second Mondays is an antiwar poem.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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