FBI Director and Jefferson Medal Recipient Robert Mueller '73 Reflects on Bureau's Transformation After 9/11
Two or three days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III — who had taken office just days earlier on Sept. 4 — was summoned to the White House to deliver his first briefing to President George W. Bush.
Mueller, who says he was "scared to death" and so new to the FBI that he could barely find his office, had prepared extensively to update the president on the FBI's activities in response to the attacks. Agents had established crime scenes at all relevant locations, he told the president, had begun to identify the hijackers and were already concluding that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida were responsible.
"The president stopped me and said, 'Bob, that's all well and good. That's what I expected the bureau to do. That's what the bureau has been doing well for the last 100 years. What I want to know from you is, what are you doing to prevent the next terrorist attack?'" Mueller recalled Friday at the University of Virginia School of Law. "I felt like a high school kid who had done the wrong homework assignment. I got it wrong."
From that moment, Mueller said, he realized that the FBI could no longer be reactive to crime and terrorism. It had to grow more proactive and overhaul its priorities and capabilities.
"The days after the attacks of Sept. 11 changed the course of the bureau," he said. "National security — that is, preventing terrorist attacks — became our top priority. We shifted 2,000 agents from our criminal programs to national security and we understood that we had to focus on long-term strategic change — enhance our intelligence capabilities, upgrade technology, build strong partnerships, forge strong friendships — both here at home and abroad."
Mueller, a 1973 graduate of UVA Law, spoke at the Law School after he was awarded the 2013 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Law as part of UVA's Founder's Day celebration.