ORAL STATEMENT OF SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY
AT THE HEARING ON THE NOMINATION OF ROBERT S. MUELLER, III
TO BE DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
July 30, 2001
Today, the Judiciary Committee begins hearings on the nomination of Robert S. Mueller III to be Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Mr. Mueller has had an outstanding career in law enforcement, serving as a Federal prosecutor in three different U.S. Attorneys' Offices and in Main Justice under both Republican and Democratic Administrations. We welcome Mr. Mueller and his family here today.
For Mr. Mueller, for this Committee and for the Nation, this is more than a job interview. This is a crucial juncture for the FBI. We aim to forge a constructive partnership with the Bureau's next director to get the FBI back on track. Congress sometimes has followed a hands-off approach about the FBI. Until the Bureau's problems are solved, we will need a hands-on approach for awhile.
The rights of all Americans are at stake in the selection of an FBI Director. The FBI has extraordinary power to affect the lives of ordinary Americans. By properly using its extraordinary investigative powers, the FBI can protect the security of us all by combating sophisticated crime, terrorism, and espionage. But unchecked, these same powers can undermine our civil liberties, such as freedom of speech and of association, and the right to privacy. By leaking information, the FBI can destroy the lives and reputations of people who have not been charged or had a trial. Worse, such leaking can be used for political intimidation and coercion. By respecting constitutional safeguards for criminal suspects, the FBI can help ensure that persons accused of federal crimes receive a fair trial and that justice is served. Our paramount standard for evaluating a new Director is his demonstrated adherence to the Constitution as the bulwark of liberty and the rule of law. This is necessary to assure the American people that the FBI will exercise its power effectively and fairly.
The American public has lost some confidence in the Bureau. This is not just a PR problem. This erosion of public trust threatens the FBI's ability to perform its mission. Citizens who mistrust the FBI will be less likely to come forward and report information about criminal activity. Judges and jurors will be less likely to believe the testimony of FBI witnesses. Even innocent or minor mistakes by the FBI in future cases may be perceived in a sinister light that is not warranted. Since FBI agents perform forensic and other critical work for many law enforcement agencies on the federal, state and local levels, the repercussions of this decline in public confidence in the FBI has rippled far beyond federal criminal cases.
Constructive, bipartisan oversight of the FBI can greatly improve its effectiveness. While reviews by Inspectors General and other outside experts are important the ultimate test is accountability to the people through the Congress. Therefore, I will ask the nominee about his views on congressional oversight and, especially, his willingness to join this partnership and provide the information this Committee needs to oversee the Bureau on behalf of the American people.
The questions being asked about the FBI are directed at three inter-related issues: the Bureau's security and information technology problems, management problems, and insular "culture." The Committee is in the midst of examining each of these areas at oversight hearings that began in June shortly after I became Chairman.
In the national security field, our country depends on FBI counterintelligence to protect the most sensitive intelligence, military, and diplomatic secrets from foreign espionage. We were told that there were no less than 15 different areas of security at the FBI that were broken and needed to be "bolstered, redesigned, or in some cases established for the first time." The Committee will want to hear the nominee's views on the steps he will take to move forward with security improvements.
The FBI needs to join the 21st Century. This is the information age, but the FBI's information technology is obsolete. The Committee has been told that the FBI's computer systems have not been updated for over 6 years; that more than 13,000 desktop computers are so old they cannot run on today's basic software; that the majority of the smaller FBI field offices have internal networks that work more slowly than the Internet connections many of us have at home; and that the investigative databases are so old that FBI agents are unable to store photographs, graphical or tabular data on them.
Hard-working, dedicated FBI agents trying to fight crime across this country deserve better, and they should have the computer and network tools that most businesses take for granted and many Americans enjoy at home.
The security and information technology problems facing the FBI are not a problem of money. The Congress has poured money into the FBI. This is a management problem and it can no longer be ignored. The nominee has seen the FBI up close for many years as Acting Deputy Attorney General, as Assistant Attorney General, and in three United States Attorneys' offices. The Committee will want to know what management objectives he brings to this job, based on his past experience, and what other resources he will draw on to bring about needed changes.
It is especially important to understand how the nominee views the FBI Director's relationship with the Attorney General in the overall management structure at the Department of Justice. Too often in the past Directors have had the final word on management of the Bureau. Of course, there are legitimate concerns about political interference with investigations, as Watergate demonstrated. The FBI Director is not, however, unique in having to resist such interference. Both the FBI Director and the Attorney General have that duty, and they should work together to ensure the integrity of both investigations and prosecutions.
The FBI "Culture" Needs An Overhaul. We are receiving testimony in our oversight hearings showing that, too often, the independence that is part of the FBI's culture has crossed the line into arrogance. Senator Danforth expressed concern to this Committee about entrenched executives at the FBI who have created a closed and insular culture resistant to disclosure of mistakes and to reforms. His concern was echoed in testimony the Committee heard from experienced FBI Special Agents, who told us of a "club" mentality among some Bureau executives who resist criticism or change that threatens their careers. Senator Danforth recommended that the new director should be prepared to clean house if the extent necessary to implement needed changes.
If there is one message that a new Director should get from recent problems, it is that FBI executives need to be more willing to admit their mistakes. Too often their response is to protect the Bureau from embarrassment or shield self-serving executives from criticism and needed change. A new Director must understand that this type of conduct risks a far greater cost in the lost of public confidence, as compared with admitting mistakes when they occur.
Let me cite one example that occurred just this week. In its recent weekly newsletter for FBI employees, the FBI reported on the Judiciary Committee's July 18 hearing. But the newsletter reported only the testimony of the two senior FBI agents, who told us about what they were doing to fix the security and information technology problems at the FBI. Their testimony was also the only testimony posted on the FBI website. Yet, the testimony of the four other FBI agents who testified about problems of a double standard in adjudicating discipline and about retaliation within the FBI was ignored not mentioned in the newsletter nor posted on the website. Ignoring the testimony will not make it disappear. This kind of attitude makes it much harder to make the changes that need to be made. If the FBI tries to suppress information that things have gone wrong, it will never get them fixed.
To ensure full investigation of mistakes, I support the change made by the Attorney General to give the Justice Department's Inspector General full authority over the FBI. I hope the nominee will look favorably on an amendment to the Inspector General statute that makes this regulatory change permanent. A Director must make clear that FBI executives should reward not discourage participation in Inspector General, and other oversight, investigations of Bureau performance.
We have heard disturbing testimony about retaliation against FBI Agents who are tasked to investigate their colleagues or who discuss issues with the Congress, either directly or through cooperation with the General Accounting Office, which assists in congressional oversight. It is important that a new Director send a clear message to FBI employees that he will not tolerate retaliation against agents who conduct internal investigations or who bring information about wrongdoing to the Congress directly. I will want to hear from the nominee about his ideas for ensuring that such retaliation in the workplace and in promotions stops.
Internal investigations must also lead to fair and just discipline. Here the recent record is troubling. A internal FBI study that we released at the Committee's last hearing found a double standard at work, with senior FBI executives receiving a slap on the wrist for the same kind of conduct that would result in serious discipline for lower level employees. The most vivid example occurred when seven Senior Executives submitted false travel vouchers so they could fly to Washington for the retirement dinner of a Deputy Director. They received only letters of censure for a voucher fraud offense that could cost an average Agent his or her career. Two of them actually received promotions and cash awards. In another case, the argument was asserted within the Justice Department that the FBI Director may not be disciplined because he is a Presidential appointee and that, in any event, the FBI Director should not be disciplined for exercising poor judgment. The Committee will be interested in hearing from the nominee about his adherence to the basic principle that all public officials should be held equally accountable.
The FBI has long been considered the crown jewel of law enforcement agencies. Today, it has lost some of its earlier luster. The next FBI Director has both a great challenge and a great opportunity to restore public confidence in the Bureau, and this Committee stands ready to help. We need to forge a strong and constructive oversight partnership with the leadership at the Department of Justice and the FBI to shape the reforms and find the solutions to make the FBI the premier law enforcement agency that the American people want and expect it to be.
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