You know times are tough for civil libertarians when they find themselves
defending the FBI's intelligence operations. Confronted last week by
congressional support for a new domestic intelligence agency that would
assume many of the FBI's counterterrorism responsibilities, the American Civil Liberties Union was
caught mouthing arguments more often heard from Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert
Mueller. "The FBI can do the job," said ACLU legislative counsel Timothy
Edgar, "if its management is reformed and coordination is improved."
The FBI has had a rough couple of months with the public,
in the press, and on the Hill. Senators are even entertaining the notion of
splitting the bureau in half. But if Director Robert Mueller is seriously
concerned about the FBI's future, it's only because he's new to the job. Congress
may be in a punishing mood, but its idea of punishment would make masochists of
There was a moment of pure pathos at the end of FBI Director Robert Mueller's recent press conference to announce the bureau's reorganization plan. Hoping to bolster the country's confidence in the bureau's new intelligence operation, Mueller announced that "the individual heading the Office of Intelligence is an experienced CIA officer . Again, the Office of Intelligence will be handled -- will be run, I should say -- by an individual who is an experienced CIA intelligence officer."
Washington had rarely seen such urgency and bipartisan
resolve. On a warm September day, the president and his handpicked Federal Bureau
of Investigation director laid out a new vision for what Vermont Senator Patrick
Leahy has called the "crown jewel" of law enforcement agencies. "Today's FBI,"
the president said, "operates in a new and challenging world. Terrorism once
seemed far from our shores, an atrocity visited on people in other lands. Now,
after the attack on the World Trade Center, we know that we, too, are