Maintaining confidence in the FBI

The agency needs a new international role, says chief.

FBI Director Robert Mueller says the United States is safer today than it was in 2001 and he does not think the American public would lose confidence in his agency if there were another terrorist attack in the US.

The nation is safer due to anti-terrorism efforts in this country but also due to the "efforts in Afghanistan and the efforts of our counterparts overseas in detaining a number of persons," Mueller said at luncheon with reporters sponsored by the Monitor. He cited "the help of our counterparts, particularly in Pakistan."

What if another major attack?

When asked if confidence in the FBI would be blown away if there were another major terrorist attack on US soil, Mueller said "I would hope not. If you look at Israel, there is an attack every day and they don't change their law enforcement or intelligence organization. There is an understanding that the country as a whole is under attack and has to work together to address those threats."

Mueller noted that the FBI has changed its priorities dramatically to focus on combating terrorism. "We are doing less, particularly in terms of certain areas of drug enforcement, small bank robberies, and smaller white collar criminal cases."

President Bush is very engaged in anti-terrorism efforts, Mueller said, rebutting claims made by former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill in a new book.

"I have meetings with President Bush and I can tell you he is engaged," Mueller said. "He probes, asks questions, understands, and is interested in what has been done in the last 24 hours to be certain the country is secure."

As the FBI looks to the future, Mueller says the organization has to "posture ourselves to be an international law enforcement agency in ways we have not been in the past."

"One of the things we are called upon to do is look down the road and see where the bureau should be, and what it would look like, in say, the year 2010," Mr. Mueller says. The things that strike him as most dangerous are the spread of terrorism, narcotrafficking and cyber crime.

While arguing that the US is safer than it was immediately before September 11, 2001, Mueller cautioned that Al Qaeda remains a serious threat. "Truck bombs are still a threat and...Al Qaeda would very much relish another high profile (incident) within the US in which numerous US citizens would be killed."

Read the full transcript of Mueller's rare appearance before the press.

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