Investigators: FBI Director Robert Mueller has launched a potentially controversial initiative
Newsweek, Feb. 3, 2003
By Michael Isikoff, NEWSWEEK
Feb. 3 issue — Frustrated that his troops are still not aggressive enough in hunting down terrorists, FBI Director Robert Mueller has launched a potentially controversial initiative aimed at making sure that field agents finally get the message—and are held accountable.
As part of the effort, NEWSWEEK has learned, Mueller’s top aides have directed chiefs of the bureau’s 56 field offices to develop “demographic” profiles of their localities—including tallying the number of mosques. Those profiles are then being used, along with other factors, to set specific numerical goals for counter terrorism investigations and secret national-security wiretaps in each region. Top bureau officials have signaled that if field offices don’t meet their pre-established goals, they may be subjected to special reviews by inspection teams from headquarters.
Field offices learned of the new project earlier this month when they received a six-page questionnaire that, in a section headlined VULNERABILITY, asked about the number of mosques in their communities. When FBI executive assistant director Wilson Lowery Jr. briefed congressional staffers on the project last week, and explained that mosque tallies would be used to help set investigative goals, “there were a lot of eyebrows that went up,” said one of those present. The approach raised concerns that the FBI was engaging in a new form of religious “profiling.” “It’s frightening to hear that this is actual policy,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American Islamic Relations. “This just shows how they are viewing every Islamic community in the country with suspicion.”
FBI officials acknowledged that the initiative could be politically dicey. But they said the move is justified given continuing concerns about undetected “sleeper cells” and troublesome evidence that some mosques may be serving as cover for terrorist activity. “This is not politically correct, no question about it,” said one top FBI official. “But it would be stupid not to look at this, given the number of criminal mosques that may be out there.” Other FBI officials stressed that mosque tallies are only one of several criteria used to assess the terrorist threat in each region. Among others, they said, are the number of “vulnerable assets” in an area (such as bridges, dams and nuclear plants), flight schools and Islamic charities that have been linked to terrorism. “This is part of a larger evaluation process,” said one senior official. “We’re trying to set performance goals and objectives for a particular field office. We’re not targeting mosques.”
Mueller and his top deputies have been touring field offices and telling agents, in no uncertain terms, they need to focus more on terrorism cases, including developing undercover informants, and put aside less important cases such as drug and relatively minor white-collar fraud cases. “They don’t want to hear whether we’ve got a great bank-robbery program going,” said one top agent.