9/11 reshaped FBI from crime-fighting to counter-terror agency
Washington: The 9/11 terror attacks on American soil reshaped the FBI from a domestic crime-fighting force into a counter-intelligence agency with a key role in combating terrorism, according to its outgoing chief.
FBI Director Robert S Mueller had assumed office a week before the incident of September 11, 2001 in which al Qaeda terrorists hijacked planes and carried out the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
"I think it took me a while to fully understand that the training that I had had...With the FBI, (the Drug Enforcement Administration) and others, which was to investigate criminal acts after they`d occurred, was not going to be the paradigm for the future," said Muller, who is stepping down next month.
Soon after the attacks, Mueller, now 69, had a conversation with the then President George W Bush, who said, "We cannot let this happen again."
"I did not expect to be spending my time preventing terrorist attacks," Muller was quoted as saying by The Washington Post today.
The FBI expanded significantly after 9/11 attacks, investing in its intelligence programme and information technology and opening 18 overseas posts.
But the outgoing director remains concerned about the possibility of another attack on a plane; a "weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist," including a cyber-weapon that could attack financial institutions or the energy sector; and the vacuum left behind by turmoil in Middle Eastern nations affected by the Arab Spring uprisings.
The FBI chief, who has received a leather-bound highly classified briefing package almost every day for more than a decade, described homegrown "lone wolf" terrorists as the most significant threats to the United States.
"More than half of the FBI`s 36,000 employees have joined since 2001, and Mueller said many had signed up `expecting to protect the American public against terrorist attacks or cyberattacks`," the Post reported.
"You have one metric, and that is preventing all attacks. ...If there`s one attack, you are unsuccessful," said Mueller, whose term was extended with congressional approval beyond the maximum tenure of 10 years.
Mueller, a former Marine and Vietnam War veteran, acknowledged that counter-terrorism would remain the FBI`s first priority for some time but he disputed the idea that the focus on terrorism had prevented the agency from fighting violent and white-collar crime.
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