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Stanford Report, October 23, 2002

FBI needs to balance terrorism, civil liberties, Mueller says


In the wake of last year's terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies are struggling to maintain a balance between protecting national security and civil liberties, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Friday.

"I know we will be judged by history not just on how we disrupt and deter terrorism, but also on how we protect the civil liberties and constitutional rights of all Americans, including those Americans who wish us ill," Mueller said. "We must do both."

FBI Director Robert Mueller Photo: L.A. Cicero

Mueller delivered the Law School's 2002 Jackson H. Ralston Lecture to a capacity audience in Memorial Auditorium during Alumni Weekend.

Noting that the nation has a blemished record in protecting constitutional freedoms during times of crisis, he pointed to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II based solely on their ancestry. Given this history, Mueller said he is confident law enforcement would not overstep its authority in protecting American interests.

Mueller defended the FBI's investigation and detainment of Muslim men by noting that the Sept. 11 hijackers shared a common ethnic and religious background. "The overwhelming majority of Muslims in this country and overseas are peaceful, law-abiding citizens," he said. "However, a small number of Muslims are members of fundamentalist sects sworn to the destruction of the United States. I am confident that every action we took as the FBI detained individuals in the wake of 9/11 was appropriately done."

From left, alumni Peter N. Bouckaert ’97, Warren Christopher ’49 and Richard L. Morningstar ’70 spoke on the panel, "War, Peace and Civil Liberties: American Constitutionalism in the Wake of Terror." Photo: L.A. Cicero

Other alumni activities included a panel on "War, Peace and Civil Liberties: American Constitutionalism in the Wake of Terror" moderated by Law School Assistant Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar that featured Warren Christopher, former U.S. Secretary of State; Peter Bouckaert, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch; and Visiting Law Professor Richard Morningstar. In that discussion, Christopher said the nation would be better served if the money "lavished on the Pentagon" were spent to train better diplomats. "Intelligence has been starved for years," he said.

Also on Friday, a roundtable on "Shifting Ground: Changing Realities in a Post-9/11 World" included Law School Dean Kathleen Sullivan, who moderated a discussion with Law School Associate Professor Michelle Alexander; the Rev. William "Scotty" McLennan Jr., dean for religious life; and Laura Donohue and Stephen Stedman, fellows at the Institute for International Studies.

A new enemy

In his speech, Mueller discussed the challenges the FBI faces in fighting terrorism and the agency's response. Beginning with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, he said, terrorists have posed an increasing threat to the country. "Unlike the enemies of the past prior to 1990, these terrorists do not wear uniforms and do not operate within defined borders," he said. "Perhaps what is most chilling is they will stop at nothing to further their goals, whether that means sacrificing innocent lives or even their own." Mueller noted that despite the successful attacks, many potentially deadly incidents have been prevented, including plans in 1999 to bomb Los Angeles International Airport and blow up two large propane fuel tanks in Sacramento.

The Sept. 11 hijackers "operated, paradoxically, while hidden in plain view," Mueller said. Each one entered the country legally and used American flight schools, motels, restaurants and transportation systems as they planned their assault. "In many ways, they turned the liberties we most cherish in this nation against us," he said.

As a result of the attacks, Mueller said, the FBI has doubled the number of agents permanently assigned to fighting terrorism. "Our priority, plain and simple, is counterterrorism," Mueller said. "To do that, we have to enter into the age of preventive investigation." More information is now shared among federal agencies. For example, Mueller said, the FBI and CIA have employees working at each other's counterterrorism centers.

Furthermore, the agency cooperates with local law enforcement agencies through joint terrorism task forces and a weekly national intelligence bulletin. Local police officers in Buffalo, N.Y., and Portland, Ore., provided information that recently led to arrests in cases involving terrorist cells on American soil, he said.

Mueller admitted that the FBI's "technological problems are deep-seated and complex," and said the agency is overhauling and updating its infrastructure to give agents the support they need to work effectively.

Mueller defended the year-old USA PATRIOT Act, which has granted the FBI expanded investigative powers that have been sharply criticized by groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union. He said there are no perfect answers to the questions posed in counterterrorism investigations. "But, by assuring that there is adequate predication for each step in an investigation," he said, "we protect against over-aggressiveness and avoid the excesses of the past."

The Ralston Prize was established in 1972 to honor Jackson H. Ralston, an international lawyer at the turn of the century. It is awarded for original and distinguished contributions to the development of the rule of law in international relations.