How Robert Mueller Empowered The FBI To Take Out Presidents, Protesters, And Pro-Life Dads


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obert S. Mueller III was at Camp David the Saturday morning after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Just days into his tenure as FBI director, he was humiliated when President George W. Bush dismissed his reporting and said he wanted him to prevent another attack. After his experience at Camp David, Mueller resolved and resolutely set about to change the FBI’s “culture.” That’s the word he used. He was going to make it into an intelligence agency, or in his repeated terminology, an “intelligence-driven” organization.

Although Mueller as a federal prosecutor had worked with dozens of special agents — case agents — in both Boston and San Francisco as a federal prosecutor, he did not know FBI culture nor how the bureau functioned. He also displayed hostility to SACs, the special agents in charge of each of the bureau’s 50-plus field offices. 

Mueller did not understand the FBI’s office of origin, or “OO,” system, which had been in use for nearly three-quarters of a century, wherein one field office runs the case as the office of origin, sending out leads to other field offices, the Auxiliary Offices, or “AOs,” who report back. 

In the case of the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Towers, and in Pennsylvania, the logical OO would be New York or perhaps the Washington Field Office. Both had experienced international squads. The NYO had two, squads I-45 and I-49, which had famously chased al-Qaida suspects around the world for years.   

But Mueller wanted centralization. Everything back at FBI Headquarters, all information and decision-making. Headquarters’ compartmentalization is a hallmark of intelligence agencies. Mueller’s predecessor, Louis Freeh, who had been a field agent, strongly believed in empowering the field offices. Not Mueller. He accelerated the centralization. He also believed SACs — the few he had encountered — presided over their territory like “dukes” — his word.


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