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Interview with FBI Director Robert Mueller

Aired June 22, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exclusive, FBI Director Robert Mueller. He is in charge of finding America's most wanted criminals and helping protect the United States from terrorists. But just how safe are we? FBI Director Robert Mueller answers the tough questions next, only on LARRY KING LIVE.
It's a great pleasure to welcome a return visit to LARRY KING LIVE. Robert Mueller, the FBI director who was sworn in as the sixth director of the FBI just one week before 9/11.

There's a new book out, Director Mueller, Ron Suskind's "The One Percent Doctrine." He says that a terror cell came within weeks of striking New York's subway with poison gas. Are you familiar with the book?

What's your comment about this?

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I have not yet had an opportunity to read the book. I'm familiar with the incident that Ron Suskind describes. And there was a threat back then that -- we had information about a possible strike against the subways in New York. We worked with the New York Police Department to address that threat. And went to the public now and I can tell you we had addressed that threat.

KING: Meaning?

MUELLER: Meaning it is no longer a threat.

KING: Do you fear another one tomorrow?

MUELLER: The problem that we have is not what we know, it's what we don't know and I do fear another attack. I know that there are a number of people out there that want to harm us. Terrorists. We actually are looking at a -- a different way of attack that we're concerned about at this point and that's the homegrown terrorists. If you look what's happened recently up in Canada and in London last year, July 7th and July 21st, you will see that they are homegrown terrorists that have come together without any orchestration by bin Laden or somebody else outside the country.

The same was true in Canada and we have disrupted a number of such plots in the United States, and I'm always concerned about those plots.

KING: Is that harder? MUELLER: It is harder. It's harder because you have persons coming together in the United States who may have a desire, initially, to talk about jihad, and then that gravitates to taking action in support of it. We have disrupted cells in Lackawanna, New York, and Portland, Oregon.

In Torrance, California, if you recall last year, a group of individuals came together. It was basically born out of a prison cell in California, and they wanted to shoot up the synagogues, as well as military recruiting stations. And we disrupted that plot so ...

KING: And the other thing is, they know what they want to do tomorrow. They're the wide receiver and you're the safety and the cornerback.

MUELLER: Well, and the problem is, it's not a crime that's been convicted -- or that has been committed, it is a crime that people want to commit. And from the gestation of the idea to the committing the crime is where we have to intercept the individuals. That's what makes it so hard.

KING: Are you surprised there hasn't been more?

MUELLER: Well, I'm not surprised. Let me put it that way, because I think we have taken substantial measures to protect the country. I will say we're not -- we're much safer than we were before September 11th. We're not totally safe, but because we've taken off a number of the leaders of al Qaeda around the world with the CIA and with our counterparts overseas, they don't have the same leadership they had in the past. We took away the sanctuary of Afghanistan.

But if you look at what happened in London the last year, you look at what happened in Canada, we have to be concerned those who espouse the same philosophy.

KING: Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was on this show last night, and she had an issue she definitely wanted us to raise with you. Watch.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: When the FBI director is here tomorrow, ask him if he agrees with cutting the Homeland Security money to New York City. Just ask him, will you for me?

KING: Oh, that's one of the top things on the list. You're ticked about that, I bet.


CLINTON: You bet. I am so ticked about that. It shows we need a risk-based, threat-based way to distribute money, and they have to keep trying to move the pieces around because they won't put enough money in it to begin with to take care of it.

KING: Do you think it's political? CLINTON: I think part of it is political, yes, absolutely.


KING: Director?

MUELLER: Thank you, Senator, for the question. The -- let me start by saying that the allocation of funds are not my department. They're in DHS, so I'm not going to speak of that. I will speak, however, to the threats against New York and Washington and other cities. It continues to be a threat. I don't think anybody disputes that.

I will tell you that Ray Kelly in New York, Chuck Ramsey here in Washington have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect the cities.

KING: Police chiefs.

MUELLER: They're the police chiefs of those two cities -- Bill Bratton out in Los Angeles. In each of these cities, the police chiefs have, since September 11th, if not before, put in place safeguards to assure that we would not have another terrorist attack. And I can tell you that working with the Joint Terrorism Task Forces in those cities, we have prevented attacks, and we continue to work closely together.

KING: But do you disagree with the cutting of funds to the two cities that got hit?

MUELLER: I am not familiar with the calculus that went into the decision as to where the funding should go.

KING: Surprised?

MUELLER: Surprised?

KING: I mean, most people would have expected ...

MUELLER: No, as I say, I do believe that those cities still present a threat. I think al Qaeda would want to attack Washington and New York. Now, the calculation that was used to allocate the funds, I'm not familiar with, so I'm not going to pine (ph) on that.

KING: Is al Qaeda largely represented in the Untied States?

MUELLER: No, I don't think al Qaeda is largely represented in the United States or people that espouse violent extremism. A number, as I've described that we've addressed and disrupted here in the United States. But in terms of al Qaeda's reach into the United States and control over persons, I think it's somewhat -- substantially diminished, let me put it that way, since September 11th.

KING: What do you worry about the most?

MUELLER: Two things. I'll say that I worry about those who we don't know about in the United States, who may have been here for a period of time or were very quickly -- have been here for a period of time and all of the sudden have decided to become radicalized and present a threat that we did not know before.

The second substantial worry is having a weapon on mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist with the intent to utilize a weapon of mass destruction in the United States.

KING: Do you get any phone call late at night, you jump?

MUELLER: Always.

KING: That's a logical fear. Is the training well for it?

MUELLER: Yes, we had an operation. We had an exercise, I should say, yesterday, that went through a number of the scenarios. And without getting into details, periodically we train for exactly that eventuality.

KING: You do that at Quantico?

MUELLER: We do it in Quantico, we do it various scenarios around the country.

KING: Our guest is Robert Mueller. He's the director of the FBI. There's lots more to come on this special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


MUELLER: My concern is assuring we never again face a September 11th. And to the extent that we get leads from whatever other agency, we follow every lead to undertake attacks such as we saw on September 11th.



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, I'm Anderson Cooper, updating you on our breaking news out of Miami. Anti-terrorism raids by the FBI as well as state and local police. Seven people right now are under arrest. A law enforcement official tells CNN that the individuals being detained are suspected of plotting terrorist attacks inside the United States. At least word, searches were still underway. So far though, no weapons or bomb-making materials have been found. At least part of this ongoing operation is centered at a housing project in Miami's Liberty City. Now an FBI spokesman says there is no threat to Miami or any other area at this time. We now go back to Larry King's exclusive interview with the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller.


REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: I will simply say that there are two sides to the story and that we'll get our chance to make our side in the proper forum and this isn't it.


KING: We're back with FBI Director Robert Mueller. And before we talk about Congressman Jefferson, this report just in. A local T.V. station in Miami is reporting that federal agents are conducting a terrorism-related investigation in Liberty City. That's an area of the city in Miami. Agents were at the Scott Housing projects in the area of 15th Avenue and Northwest 62nd Street. Several streets were cordoned off. A Miami police department SWAT team assisted federal agents in the search. Armed agents could be seen in the area.

What can you tell us?

MUELLER: I can tell you that we do have an ongoing operation in Miami. We are conducting a number of arrests and searches and we'll have more about that when the operation is concluded, probably tomorrow morning.

KING: Big concern?

MUELLER: I don't want to get too much -- because it's an ongoing operation, I really can't get into details. But whenever we undertake an operation like this, we would not do it without the approval of a judge. We've got search warrants and arrest warrants and the like. And so yes, it's a concern.

KING: You expect something to be said tomorrow?

MUELLER: I expect something to be said tomorrow, and I'd emphasize again that this is an example -- as you will see, this is an example of a close cooperation of ourselves working with state and local law enforcement to address a threat.

KING: Now to Congressman Jefferson. Were you surprised at congressional reaction, both Republican and Democrat, to your invasion, the FBI's invasion of his office?

MUELLER: I would dispute the use of the word invasion.

KING: What word would you use?

MUELLER: Well, I'd use the execution of a validly issued search warrant by a judge, where probable cause was presented, and the search was ordered by way of search warrant. I absolutely understand the concern of Congress. It is a separate branch of government, and while understanding that concern, we have the obligation to carry out our investigation, to do it in a timely fashion. We had made requests for these documents for some time, and the request had been resisted, and we were left with no option but to seek and obtain a search warrant.

KING: Any regrets about the way it was executed, at all? In other words, if you had to do it over?

MUELLER: I think I -- I think we're looking at that. I know the judge is looking at that. There have been motions filed, and we'll wait to see what happens here. But as of now, no.

KING: Is it true as been reported that if the president asked you to return the materials, you would resign?

MUELLER: I'm not going to discuss my conversations with -- internal in the administration.

KING: Would you be surprised if you were asked to return them? That's good. That's a fair question.

MUELLER: I'm not sure I'd agree with that, but no, I don't -- let me just say, I do not expect that we'll be ordered by the court to return the documents. I believe the documents were seized pursuant to a legal court order.

KING: Did you give -- did it bother you at all, did you give it a lot of consideration?

MUELLER: Absolutely. Absolutely. A great deal of thought went into it. And discussion, I might add, not only us but across the street at the Department of Justice. It was not -- this step was not taken without a great deal of forethought and taking the context -- taking into consideration the various equities, but also understanding our obligation to track down and to investigate public corruption wherever it is in the United States.

KING: Now, should we understand -- the FBI is an investigative agency, right? You have nothing to do with the prosecution of an individual, right?

MUELLER: Well, we work with...

KING: Except testify.

MUELLER: Yes, we testify, but we also help prepare the case. But we are an investigative organization, and an intelligence organization.

KING: Given that the FBI says it has video of Jefferson taking $100,000 and found $90,000 more, a lot of people wonder why the congressman hasn't been charged.

MUELLER: And I am not going to talk about a particular investigation and where we are in the investigation.

KING: But it does look funny, though, doesn't it?

MUELLER: I'm not going to -- as I say, I can't -- I really am precluded from commenting on ongoing investigations.

KING: OK, we'll move to another matter.


KING: The Moussaoui section of the 2004 inspector-general's report on the FBI's handling of intelligence information related to the 9/11 attacks finally was released.


KING: Thoughts on the findings.

MUELLER: On the one hand, the findings were that -- I think appropriately, they found that we could have done things better, but they were institutional things. There was no one individual that consciously was not pursuing the appropriate course of action, and there were disagreements between headquarters and the field. But it appropriately pointed out things that we needed to do better in the FBI in order to protect against terrorist attacks. And we have taken each of these suggestions from the IG's report and followed up on those suggestions, starting the day after September 11th. And so, I think it was an accurate report, and we have taken the actions that are necessary to assure that the findings of areas in which we could have done better have been addressed.

KING: Were you surprised he didn't get the death penalty?

MUELLER: I think it was a very difficult case and I'm not one to second guess a jury because I tend to think that jurors do what they think is right. They've got justice in their minds and while there may be a disagreement, I always believe that the jurors try to do that which each of them individual thinks is right.

KING: Do you have personal thoughts on capital punishment?

MUELLER: I think an appropriate case -- and you asked me this before, I might add. And within the context ...

KING: Maybe you've changed.

MUELLER: No, I've not changed. Where it is absolutely clear the person is guilty then I believe there is an appropriate place for the death penalty.

KING: Toughest part of this job?

MUELLER: It's like your job. It's tremendously interesting. You have frustrations -- your toughest part is the frustrations. I tend to be impatient. And sometimes that stands me in good stead, other times it does not and I'm impatient often that we have not made more progress in the areas that we need to make progress. There is -- it's not like being in a private industry where you can say, OK, I want to do this tomorrow and you can move and get it done.

You're working within a batch of government that requires checks and balances in the sense of if your appropriations come from Congress. It goes through OMB and the like and the decisions you make take a while to execute. And if there's any frustration it's that I can't do more faster.

KING: In other words, you'd like it done yesterday.

MUELLER: I'd like it done yesterday. And now I tell you, the great thing about the job is the people. The men and women of the FBI. Whatever their capacity, just tremendous. And I go around the country and I ask people what they think. And almost to a one (ph) there is such tremendous respect for the Bureau and what it's accomplished over the 98 years of its existence. It's an honor to be a part of the organization.

KING: But it's gone through a bad period.

MUELLER: Every organization does. But it bounces back and there is not one of us, I will tell you, who when asked what we do and are able to say, we are with the FBI who don't feel an immense sense of pride at being part of this organization.

KING: We'll be right back with Director Mueller. Don't go away.

COOPER: I'm Anderson Cooper from CNN headquarters in New York. We are continuing to monitor a breaking news situation out of Miami. Anti-terrorism raids by the FBI, as well as by state and local police. Now we know at this point that seven people, at least seven people are under arrest. A law enforcement official tells CNN that the individuals being detained are suspected of plotting terrorist attacks inside the United States. At least word, searches were still underway.

So far though, no weapons or bomb-making materials have been found. That's the latest information that we have. At least part of this ongoing operation is centered at a housing project in Miami's Liberty City. An FBI spokesman says there is no threat to Miami or any other area at this time. We'll have more of Larry King's exclusive interview with the director of the FBI after this short break.


COOPER: And just the latest on the breaking news out of Miami, that anti-terrorism raids by the FBI, as well as state and local police. Now at this point, seven people are under arrest. Law enforcement officials tell CNN the individuals being detained are suspected of plotting terrorist attacks inside the United States. According to at least one law enforcement source, some of the possible targets may have included the Sears Tower in Chicago and Miami's FBI offices. Those just two possible targets, according to one law enforcement source telling CNN.

At least word, the searches were still underway. As we said, seven arrests have been made. At least one search warrant has been executed that we know about. This is part of an ongoing investigation for at least four months, according to officials. No bomb-making materials however, at this point, have been found. And the operation that is ongoing right now is centered at a housing project in the Liberty City area of Miami. An FBI spokesman says there's no threat to Miami or any other area. They said there was no immediate threat posed by these individuals at this time. Let's take you back now to Larry King's exclusive interview with the director of the FBI, Robert Mueller.


MUELLER: It's important that at the request of state and local law enforcement that we are looking for Warren Jeffs on a nationwide basis, identifying, locating and arresting those who -- predators, child predators. He is among the top priorities at the bureau.


KING: We're back with Director Mueller. Warren Steed Jeffs is the leader of a polygamist sect known as the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints. Why is he on the 10 most wanted?

MUELLER: Well, generally, we put individuals on the 10 most wanted when we want the help of the public in arresting the person. And Mr. Jeffs has been charged with basically offenses relating to child molestation. And it was the belief of the prosecutors that it would be very helpful to utilize the top 10 list to engage the public in attempting to identify where he is and detain him, arrest him.

As you're probably aware, the top 10 list has been around since 1950. We've had -- if my numbers serve me correctly, we've had I think something like 482 persons that had been on the top 10 list, and of those 482, we have ultimately succeeded in arresting 452. And so it has been tremendously successful in bringing to justice those who otherwise might not see the inside of a jail cell.

KING: In the next segment, we'll go down some of those on the list. Are you the decider? Are you the one that says, put them on?

MUELLER: Ultimately, I have persons that look at that and evaluate. I mean, a person could be on the list on a day, often...

KING: And get caught.

MUELLER: And get caught.

KING: Women ever on the list?

MUELLER: Yes. Absolutely.

KING: Last month, former CIA analyst and former Homeland Security official John Gannon testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee -- I want to get this right -- he had some sharp questions about whether the FBI is up to taking the lead role in domestic intelligence. Let's listen, and then we'll get your response.


JOHN GANNON, FORMER CIA ANALYST: The FBI is unacceptably behind, however, in developing a national intelligence collection and analytic capability. The bureau has not structured an intelligence collections requirements process that legitimate consumers can readily tap, and it is not to my knowledge producing on any predictable basis authoritative assessments of the terrorist threat to the homeland.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Director Mueller?

MUELLER: I think Mr. Gannon, who has an extensive history in the intelligence community, is somewhat out of touch of where we are and what we're doing and what we have done. I'm going to tell you, the number two person in the national security branch is a very highly respected CIA analyst. We have built up -- doubled the number of analysts, doubled the number of linguists that we have in the bureau. We've produced something like 20,000 intelligence reports since 2001. We have developed the database structure that we need to be able to -- and the search tools to be able to pull the pieces and bits of information together. We are working closely and cooperatively with the CIA, NSA. And I would welcome Mr. Gannon to come down. We can give him some -- more information about how far we have come since September 11th.

KING: Were you surprised when he said it?

MUELLER: I was, because I -- I have no problems with taking criticism, accepting criticism and learning from criticism, but I do and would expect that those who are making those criticisms would be up to date on what we're doing. And it's just not -- I will say that we've got a ways to go. I'm not going to say that we are where we need to be. It's a continuing -- continuous iterative process. But we have made substantial strides since September 11th. And the testimony to that is the fact that we have not had a terrorist attack in this period of time and that we have disrupted any number of terrorist cells in the United States.

KING: By the way, have you disrupted a lot we've never heard of?


KING: A lot?

MUELLER: Mostly overseas. I would say a lot, yes.

KING: Should he have come to see you first?

MUELLER: I do believe it would be helpful for him to talk to our people and get some background in terms of what we have done, what we're doing, how we're approaching the intelligence mission. And a way that enables us to know what we don't know.

I would also that people tend to discount the work that we've done in the past, utilizing intelligence, if you look at what we've done on organized crime. We've utilized intelligence to identify the members and then to prosecute, gather more intelligence and go up the line to the (inaudible) and the like.

So using intelligence is not alien to the FBI. We've used it over the years. What we had to do is expand on that foundation.

KING: You told Congress it will take some time before we have a terrorist watch list. MUELLER: And I'm happy to explain that. We have a watch list now. The watch list is a combined watch list. And we've had it in place at least a couple of years. Persons -- by reason of information that comes to our attention, persons are put on the watch list. We have a continuous vetting process to make certain that the persons on this watch list should be on the watch list. And that is a continuous process. To go through and go through every one of those names and the agencies that has the pieces of information and will result in the person getting on the watch list, will take a substantial period of time.

We have a consolidated watch list. We have a terrorist screening center. We -- any police officer who stops somebody in a car, a suspicious person, can immediately determine whether or not that person is on the terrorists watch list and be put into our terrorist screening center. It's one of the things we have done since September 11th that has made us safer than we were on September 10th.

KING: We've heard a lot, Director Mueller, about lack of up-to- date computer capabilities. Where are we on that area?

MUELLER: That's an area in which we have made substantial strides. And after September 11th, we put in something like 30,000 new computers. We put in a local area network, wide area networks, upgraded our infrastructure. We have built a -- what we call an investigative data warehouse with millions and millions of documents, principally relating to terrorism and the search tools to be able to discern the intelligence and do the assessments that Mr. Gannon referred to based on that.

We stumbled. In terms of putting into place a new case tracking system, we've got a new contractor and I will tell you, we stumbled -- this goes to my impatience. I drove people hard to get in the new software package. I drove them too hard. We should have done more in terms of assuring that it would work when we got done. And I'm not going to make the same mistake again.

KING: We'll be right back with Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is my honor to nominate Robert S. Mueller of California to become the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. When confirmed, Mr. Mueller will be only the sixth person to hold this position. He assumes great responsibilities. He was chosen with great care and he has my full confidence.


COOPER: And good evening. We continue to update you on our breaking news story out of Miami, anti-terrorism raids by the FBI that are ongoing as we speak. Also state law enforcement is involved, as well as local police. Right now we know that seven people have been arrested. A local law enforcement official tells CNN that the individuals detained are suspected of plotting terrorist attacks inside the U.S. According to one law enforcement source, two of the possible targets -- and I say possible targets could have included the Sears Tower in Chicago, as well as Miami's FBI offices. But again, the targets of these attacks, apparently inside the United States.

At last word, searches were still going on right now. We know some documents have been seized and already sealed. So far though, no weapons or bomb-making materials have been found. At least part of this ongoing operation right now is centered at a housing project in the Liberty City part of Miami. An FBI spokesman says there is no threat to Miami or any other area at this time. The operation that has resulted, we are told in these arrests, has been going on for at least four months. We're going to have a live report from the scene after this short break.



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