Nine years ago, former FBI agent Robert Levinson disappeared in Iran while on a mission for the CIA. The story of his secret journey to Iran, the CIA cover-up that followed and efforts to rescue the longest-held U.S. hostage.
Since the 9/11 attacks, the FBI has undergone a radical transformation. Under the leadership of Robert Mueller, the bureau has become a worldwide anti-crime and anti-terrorism network with more than 13,000 agents serving in nearly 80 countries. Drawing on unprecedented access to Director Mueller and previously classified documents, journalist Garrett Graff details the history of the FBI and its work today in hot spots and war zones around the world. Join us for a conversation about what FBI does and how it does it.
- Garrett Graff editor-in-chief of "The Washingtonian" magazine and author of "The First Campaign."
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us, I'm Diane Rehm. Robert Mueller will step down as head of the FBI this summer after nearly 10 years on the job, the longest serving director since J. Edgar Hoover. On director Mueller's watch, which began just a week before the 9/11 attack, the FBI has evolved from a domestic law enforcement agency to a truly global police force. In a new book, writer Garrett Graff details how the FBI has changed to try to meet the kinds of threats we face from around the world today. His new book is titled, "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror."
MS. DIANE REHMGarrett Graff joins me in the studio and throughout the hour, I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts, your questions, comments. Join us on 800-433-8850, send us your e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org, feel free to join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you, Garrett, good to see you.
MR. GARRETT GRAFFIt's my pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me on.
REHMYou know, I grew up thinking the FBI as strictly U.S. bound and based. What's happened?
GRAFFThis was -- actually, the central question that led me to this book was I was writing about the FBI for Washingtonian magazine, my day job, about three years ago and spending time with Director Mueller looking at the evolution of the FBI since 9/11 and what I was fascinated to find was the bureau that existed in my mind was not the bureau that the bureau is anymore, that I thought of it as this domestic law enforcement agency.
GRAFFThat it did bank robberies and kidnappings and, you know, hunted down John Dillinger and Machine Gun Kelly and white collar fraud. And while it still does a lot of that, it has turned into, I think, the first global police force. And what has happened it exactly as you said. In 1947, after World War II, we set up this national security apparatus, where the CIA got everything externally, internationally, and the FBI got everything domestically. And in 1947, it was really easy to do that. You were a spy in Moscow, you were a bank robber in Kansas City.
GRAFFBut actually, what's happened over the last 20 or 30 years is you've had this complete evolution of globalization and transnational crime and all of these things that we've seen play out in the business community and the technology world are affecting the FBI and its operations as well.
REHMBut are we talking about with or without congressional authority to change or shift the role of the FBI?
GRAFFThis has been a process where every small step down this road has been something that Congress has approved and appropriated the money for, but I think it's something large that we have not, as a nation, realized has happened. The FBI today operates daily in about 80 countries overseas. They're -- they actually, for the first time last week, went into Somalia, on the ground in Somalia, captured a pirate, brought him back to stand trial in the United States. They're doing organized crime work in Thailand, they are fighting cybercrime in Eastern Europe, they are doing drugs and gangs and South America, they're doing kidnappings in Africa now.
GRAFFAnd of course, you have the hunt for al Qaida in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan. And, in fact, the FBI, under Robert Mueller, has had worked in recently years, its first criminal case it's ever seen out of Antarctica.
REHMNow, is this because of the ambition of directors of the FBI and the lack thereof on the part of others or is it -- I mean, what's happened to the CIA? Isn't the CIA doing enough? Why did the FBI have to extend its reach?
GRAFFThis was a process that began after the -- really accelerated after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, where you had the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the U.S., we had that so-called Peace Dividend, the reduction in the defense budget, the reduction in the intelligence budget.
REHMRight. Tell me about it, Garrett.
GRAFFAnd what happened was the CIA created this vacuum. It saw its budget shrink by about 40 percent, it laid off huge numbers of staff, it closed 20 overseas stations over the course of the 1990s and the FBI really stepped into that because all of those things that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and that period afterwards actually also accelerated a lot of the terrorism and global transnational crime groups, particularly with the Russian organized crime, the Russian Mafia, that have sort of forced a lot of the FBI's expansion overseas. So in the 1990s, we had the FBI -- the CIA closed those 20 stations, the FBI actually opened 22.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating because after 9/11, there was all this talk of lack of communication between the FBI and the CIA that might have helped warn us that this kind of attack was going to take place. So the basic question becomes has the expansion of the FBI helped anything?
GRAFFI think it really has and this was one of the things that I was fascinated to get into as I dove into this book, that the FBI now has this global reach. And one of the things that's interesting on the international stage is that the FBI, because it's a law enforcement agency, because it's constitutionally bound, because it operates much more openly in terms of criminal courts, criminal indictments and the like, it actually is able to have better working relationships in some of these countries than the CIA is able to do. Because it can go in, work with the host law enforcement agencies, work with the host government in a very open way.
GRAFFSo one of the things that I talk about in the book is the FBI has this amazing Russian organized crime taskforce in Budapest, Hungary that is actually half FBI agents and half and half Hungarian police and they work together, they share an office and this joint taskforce allows the FBI to have this really expansive and very effective presence in Hungary that it would never be able to have in a lot of other countries.
REHMGarrett Graff and his new book all about the FBI is called, "The Threat Matrix," and you can join us, 800-433-8850. Tell me about Bob Mueller and how much his very presence has affected that agency.
GRAFFBob Mueller is one of those characters that I don't think you find in U.S. government as often as you once did, that he's very pretitioned (sp?), very stoic, former Marine platoon commander from Vietnam, Bronze Star with valor, Purple Heart, Navy Commendation Medal. I mean, sort of all sorts of awards for his Vietnam service. Came back and basically spent his entire career as a prosecutor in one form or another. He was under the first Bush, Bush 41's administration, the assistant attorney general for the criminal division under Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, the head of the entire criminal division in the entire U.S. Department of Justice.
GRAFFAnd in the year afterwards, when the Clinton administration started, he left the administration, as often happens during those transition, went into private practice, as often happens and ended up being so miserable as a defense attorney in the private sector that he actually called Eric Holder, who was then the U.S. attorney here in Washington, and asked to come back as a junior homicide prosecutor, so he sort of went from the top of the Department of Justice all the way to the bottom, just because he really likes putting bad guys in jail. And he came in, as you've mentioned, to the FBI as the director on September 4, 2001.
GRAFFAnd actually, as I document in the book, he was sitting in what was effectively his first major briefing on al Qaida at the moment on Tuesday, September 11 that the word first trickled into FBI headquarters of the 9/11 attacks.
REHMGarrett, how much access did you have to Bob Mueller?
GRAFFI actually had a tremendous amount, which is very rare with Bob Mueller. He doesn't really do interviews, he doesn't really participate in a lot of the Washington circuit that is -- you know, that all of us do her in this city. He hasn't done a major TV interview in over two years now. He basically hasn't appeared on the Sunday talk shows here in Washington in years and really only did them after 9/11 itself in 2001, 2002 and has kept a very, very low profile, but I was able to get a lot of time with him.
GRAFFA couple of different things. One was, I came in, I think, at a point three years ago when he was beginning to feel comfortable as the FBI director. I mean, the first couple of years of his term, as anyone can imagine, were incredibly pressing and daily threats, daily problems, daily, you know, worries about...
GRAFF...whether the U.S. was going to be attacked and so I sort of caught him during a moment when I think he was a little bit more comfortable and then I also just spent a lot of time earning that trust and earning that relationship, in terms of interviewing people, reading documents, making sure that I was trying to get this story right. And so I ended up spending about 20 hours with him over the course of the last two to three years, talking with him about his time, which he's basically done with no other journalist since 9/11.
REHMGarrett Graff, he is editor in chief of The Washingtonian magazine and his new book is titled, "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror." When we come back, we'll open the phone, 800-433-8850. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. Garrett Graff is with me. You -- here in Washington, we know him as the editor-in-chief of Washingtonian magazine, but he's written a new book. It's all about the FBI and it's titled, "The Threat Matrix." And what do you mean by matrix in that sense, Garrett?
GRAFF"The Threat Matrix," is a document that as I was researching this book, I think defines the War On Terror for the United States. It is the document that was created after 9/11, in the wake of 9/11, that was presented every morning to the president and the vice-president in the Oval Office by the CIA director and the FBI director.
GRAFFTogether. And it detailed -- it's actually a spreadsheet and it details every plot that the U.S. was tracking in the 24-hour period. All of the rumors and specious intelligence, sort of anything ended up on that document. And one of the things that I document and sort of talk a lot about in the book is how broken that process was after 9/11, that one of the things that I think helps explain why we made a lot of the decisions that we made as a government and as a society after 9/11 was the entire system for vetting threats broke down in the wake of 9/11 because what people realized was when an attack actually happened, you didn't want to be the highest ranking person who had heard a piece of intelligence and not passed it further up.
GRAFFSo rather than an organized system where every layer people look at things and say, well, this doesn't seem trustworthy, I'm not going to pass this along, so that you get just the really good intelligence making it all the way to the Oval Office, instead you had -- one person in the book described it as just a fire hose of information that hit the president and the vice-president every morning after 9/11. I mean, these threat matrixes -- the threat matrices were 15 to 20 pages long...
GRAFF...every morning. And you can imagine how much that would color your view of the world if every morning, you spent the first hour or two -- it was basically the -- at the White House, the hour from 8:00 to 9:00 every morning after 9/11, going over this document and looking at every possible thing that could happen in the United States. And the people who read this document, I mean, the attorney general, the national security advisor, I mean, all of that national security team talked about how much it came to affect their way of thinking.
GRAFFI tell the story in the book of Jim Comey, who was the deputy attorney general after 9/11, coming home one morning -- one evening late at night after another day of dealing with this threat matrix and tracing all of these plots where he comes home late at night, his kids are already sleeping, he's dropped off by his driver at his home in suburban Maryland. And as he walks up the steps to his house, he stops, pauses and checks the wind direction so that he knows if a nuclear bomb explodes in Washington overnight, whether the fallout will blow towards his kids or away from his kids. And this was every day for them after 9/11 for weeks, for months, for years.
GRAFFAnd I think that those types of moments really capture what the nation's leaders felt after 9/11 and a lot of why we made the controversial decisions in terms of extraordinary renditions and enhanced interrogations and all of the other wonderful euphemisms that we came up with after 9/11 to project this war on terror.
REHMHow effective a leader has Bob Mueller been?
GRAFFBob Mueller, as you've already mentioned, has become now the longest serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover and is set to be the first FBI director ever to reach the end of this 10-year term that was put into place after Hoover. He's outlasted four CIA directors, four attorney generals. He's onto his second president. I mean, he -- this is a Cal Ripken-like tenure for the FBI director during what I think is probably its most formative and most pressing period. And I think this unique set of skills that Mueller has had to transform the agency to push it forward, to try to reform a lot of its processes and also work within the Washington power structure in a way that I think it's possible that we will never see another FBI director ever make that tenure term, as the ones who had all preceded Mueller had never made it.
REHMIt's interesting that you say that 1972 was a very important year in the history of the FBI. It was certainly the year that -- or near when Herbert...
GRAFFJ. Edgar Hoover, yes, yes.
REHM...J. Edgar Hoover had died.
GRAFFSo as I said earlier, I set out -- this book was originally supposed to be how the FBI has evolved since 9/11. And one of the things that I found as I got deeper into it and talked to more people and read into some of these case files was that the story actually started long before 9/11, that this, you know, terrorism did not begin on 9/11. And, in fact, where it really began for the FBI was in the wake of Hoover's death in May of 1972. And that really marks the beginning of first, the modern FBI, sort of the post-Hoover FBI.
GRAFFBut at the same time, in the rest of 1972, you have two major incidents that begin this evolution towards confronting terrorism. You have in September the Munich Olympics, the first international terrorist incident, sort of the political terror that we now associate with terrorism. And then actually in the fall of '72, in November of 1972, you have the hijacking of Southern Airways Flight 49, an incident sort of completely lost in history now, but was the first violent hijacking of a commercial airliner in the United States. And Munich and Southern Airways 49, I mean, it's hard to think of this when we look back from this vantage point 10 years after 9/11, but we'd never dealt with anything like this, so you have the FBI responding to Munich, responding to this hijacking.
REHMBut why would the FBI had been responding to Munich?
GRAFFIt wasn't so much that they responded to Munich. They were involved a little bit in the follow-up investigation, but it was more that Munich was a wake-up call to governments around the world that you needed to be prepared for this. I mean, there were no snipers, there were no SWAT teams, there were no hostage negotiators. I mean, sort of all of this stuff was being made up on the fly by the West Germans and then also in the United States. And so the Southern Airways hijacking in November of '72, you know, you have the FBI agents on the ground in Florida trying to bring this 36-hour siege to a conclusion standing there on the tarmac with a 38 caliber revolver, which is not a particularly effective weapon to take on a Boeing 737.
REHMBut that part I can understand. Were there no international agents attached to the CIA or any other national security agency or whatever ready to take on what happened in Munich at that time? Why would the FBI have been brought in?
GRAFFIt was -- there were CIA involved in that, the move against Black September in the years after the Munich Olympics, of course, is sort of a very famous anti-terror campaign. That incident, though, really was, as I said, a wake-up call for governments, that they needed to figure out how to deal with this, that this was going to be something that we had never seen before that we needed to figure out how to prepare for in the coming years and that, you know, now after 9/11, we have a very good play book for how to do all of this.
GRAFFBut, you know, one of the cases I talk about in the book, this thing called Operation Goldenrod in the 1980s was the first time that the U.S. government had ever gone overseas to capture a terrorist and bring him back to stand trial in the United States. Again, something that we do now all of the time after 9/11. We've probably done 1,000 of them since 9/11, but there was a moment when the U.S. government had never done it before.
GRAFFAnd so I tell the story in the book of Fawaz Younis, probably the world's most unlucky terrorist, who is not -- was not this terrorist mastermind that we were looking to capture. He was instead the terrorist that we could find in the month when we were trying to figure out how to go overseas, capture terrorists and bring them back to stand trial. So he was sort of this B list, C list, maybe even a D list hijacker, but the person that the U.S. government could find. And so the entire weight of the FBI, the CIA, the DEA and, in fact, an entire aircraft carrier battle group in the Mediterranean come down on this poor guy and he's flown back here to Washington to Andrews Air Force Base to stand trial and served a very lengthy sentence.
REHMAnd what about the Pizza Connection you write about?
GRAFFSo the Pizza Connection was, again, this amazing story from the 1980s. The first time really that the FBI had worked an international investigation. And by international, what I mean in this instance is an incident cooperatively with another government. It was this big Mafia investigation, actually the biggest at the time, Mafia investigation that the U.S. government had ever done, that they worked cooperatively with this team in Palermo, Sicily of the Italian police and the Italian magistrates over there so that arrests were made here in the United States and in Italy.
GRAFFAnd it was the first time that U.S. law enforcement and the U.S. government had ever -- again, this sort of sounds silly now, but had ever said, oh, well, we're not going to stop this investigation at the water's edge. You know, we're going to keep pushing this forward all the way until we have run it to ground everywhere that it exists.
REHMAnd what did they find?
GRAFFWhat the case ended up being was this hugely expansive case. There were dozens of people arrested here in the United States, hundreds of people arrested in Sicily. It was the largest mega trial that the U.S. had ever seen and it's actually called the Maxi Trial in Italy because it was this -- they built this enormous auditorium bunker in Palermo to host this trial, over 400 defendants in a single trial. In the U.S., one of the lead prosecutors on the Pizza Connection case was Louis Freeh, who ends up being the FBI director in the 1990s.
GRAFFAnd that this, for Freeh, was a really signal moment in learning how to do these international investigations and Freeh, as we talked about, becomes one of the key drivers in the FBI's expansion in the 1990s as sort of this CIA is stuck in this vacuum of the post-Cold War era and that Freeh's lessons from the Pizza Connection really helped push the FBI overseas through the 1990s.
REHMAnd what about Pan Am 103?
GRAFFPan Am 103, again, the first major terrorist attack on U.S. civilians and so this was a case --this was the first time that the FBI had really gone overseas to investigate a terrorist attack on U.S. civilians and try to prosecute the offenders here in the United States. It ended up, of course, that they were prosecuted in a Scottish Court in the Netherlands decades later -- or a decade later.
REHMGarrett Graff, he's editor-in-chief of Washingtonian magazine and author of a new book, it's titled, "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." We’ll open the phones now, 800-433-8850. First to Andrea in St. Louis, Mo. Good morning, you're on the air.
ANDREAGood morning, thank you. I would like to know if a person that is wrongfully accused by the FBI, such as Wen Ho Lee, could a person defend themselves against this kind of ability that they have now since the Patriot Act? And did the FBI help formulate the Patriot Act?
GRAFFThe Patriot Act, actually, as I discuss in the book, was actually underway before 9/11, that this was a series of reforms to the intelligence law in the United States that had been underway for a number of years as actually the threat of terrorism rose. And the FBI and the CIA really found themselves stymied. As I talk about in the book, one of the things that was really interesting to me was this is a very linear story, actually, from the age of Hoover and the age of Watergate up to the modern era and that we have had this pendulum in the U.S. swing back and forth between civil liberties and national securities, sort of decade to decade, as threats push us more towards national security and as lack of threats push us more towards civil liberties.
GRAFFAnd then after Hoover died, all of this information began to come out about what we could nicely call the extra-legal activities of Hoover's bureau, but I think most people would refer to as a legal intimidation and surveillance of domestic groups like the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers. And even people like Martin Luther King, Junior, and that actually, that was really horrific for the U.S. to sort of see publicly and that we set up all of these new rules to protect innocent individuals from being wrongly persecuted by the FBI. And, in fact, those rules, though, end up stymieing the FBI 25 years later in the run up to 9/11.
GRAFFAnd in a very linear odd historical coincidence, the man brought in in the 1970s to enforce these new post-Hoover rules protecting innocent Americans is the one who in the summer of 2001 is still enforcing those rules that kept the FBI from knowing -- from being told by the CIA that there were al Qaida operatives in the United States planning the 9/11 attacks.
REHMYou know, over and over, people keep wondering how J. Edgar Hoover got away with it, got away with that control and that power he held over people in as high places as the White House, but he did have that power, did he not?
GRAFFHe did. He had this -- he's again, a character, I think, we'll never see again in U.S. history. I mean, he was head of the FBI from three years before Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic until three years after we set foot on the moon. I mean, just this incredible scope of U.S. history. Roughly a quarter of the entire U.S. History, J. Edgar Hoover was the head of the FBI and so for 48 years, he amassed this huge amount of power. And at the beginning, it was to tremendous benefit. I mean, he was a progressive of the first rank and really reformed the FBI from this dumping ground of political patronage into a crack law enforcement organization that was, you know, modern and professional in all of the ways that we think of the FBI from the public enemy number one, Machine Gun Kelly, John Dillinger, Bonnie and Clyde era.
REHMBut he had his quirks, shall we say. Garrett Graff, he's editor-in-chief of The Washingtonian magazine, author of, "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror." Short break, right back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Garrett Graff is here with me. He's got a new book out, it's titled, "The Threat Matrix: The FBI and the Age of Global Terror." He spent about 20 hours with the current director who has held the post, now the longest since J. Edgar Hoover. He is scheduled to retire sometime this summer or is it in September, Garrett?
GRAFFSeptember 3 at midnight.
REHMSeptember 3, okay. Here's an e-mail from Lawrence in Rochester, N.Y. who says, "Please comment on the FBI attack on a Buffalo man, accusing him of pedophilia on the basis of a wireless router path to his computer. If the newspaper account is correct, it doesn't sound like professional law enforcement to me."
GRAFFThis is a case that would be probably quite funny except for the innocent people caught up in it and it has happened in Buffalo and a couple of other places in the country where a neighbor has tapped into -- I think in most cases it's been a him, his neighbor's open WiFi network, sort of the unprotected WiFi network, and used that to move child pornography. And so the FBI, in the course of investigating that, has burst in on the house where the wireless router, that IP was, only to eventually discover that it's actually, you know, the neighbor down the street or across the hall who's the one who's actually doing the child porn. And it's a good lesson for all of your listeners out there about why you should bother to set-up a password on your home WiFi network.
REHMHere's an e-mail from Tim who says, "I question your guest's story. Please explain the manipulation of information fed to Colin Powell to justify the war with Iraq from the Pentagon. The CIA being pressured by Cheney to manipulate the information fed to the head of the CIA and please ask for his connection to the White House during the Bush, Junior administration. I cannot believe he is not a Karl Rove plant to change the future history of this administration."
GRAFFThe FBI, in many respects, has actually carved out of a very different path under Robert Mueller than the CIA and the Defense Department and one of the things that they have done differently was that they were actually vocal within government that they did not see a connection between al Qaida and Iraq. And the FBI, in other instances, in the War On Terror, you know, pulled its agents out of the enhanced interrogations that the CIA and the Defense Department were doing in Afghanistan, in Thailand...
REHMInteresting. Pull themselves out because?
GRAFFBecause they said, we shouldn’t be doing this. We don't believe that this something that America should be doing. This is illegal. This is not something that we're going to participate in.
REHMAnd they had the authorization to do that because of Robert Mueller?
GRAFFAnd Robert Mueller backed them and what's interesting about this is this actually came both from the top, from Mueller and his executives on down and also from the street agents who were under enormous pressure in some of these instances to, you know, Afghanistan, in Guantanamo, in Iraq, in the CIA black sites in Thailand and elsewhere to get this information and the FBI's agents in these rooms had very heated conversations with the CIA and Defense Department contractors, saying, you shouldn't be doing this.
GRAFFYou know, we know how to get information out of suspects. We, the FBI, know how to do interrogations. You don't torture people, you don't put them through enhanced interrogations regimes. You get them to talk to you, you know, in sort of a friendly manner through non-coercive means. And one area where we actually see this play out is exactly in this Iraq intelligence where even Shaykh Libi was being questioned by FBI agents in Afghanistan and he told the FBI agents at that point that there was no link between al Qaida and Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq. The CIA basically kidnapped Ibn Shaykh al-Libi out from under the FBI, deposit him in Egypt where he's tortured.
GRAFFWhere under torture he says that there is tie between al Qaida and Iraq and that information from al-Libi ends up being used in Colin Powell's presentation and President Bush's presentation about why we should go to war with Iraq.
REHMDid you ever have any part in the Bush Administration?
GRAFFMe, personally? No, no.
REHMOkay. Let's go to Rochester, N.Y. Good morning, Keith, you're on the air.
KEITHYes. Did Hoover for decades deny the existence of organized crime because the Mafia had a compromising picture of him with a younger agent named Tomlinson in the backseat of his personal car as it went down Broadway? The Bureau came to the fight against organized crime way too late during the time that it was becoming firmly entrenched in our society. There were even FBI officials who wanted Hoover's name taken down off the headquarters building and it was Attorney General Bobby Kennedy who really had to goad Hoover into finally going after organized crime when by that time, in the early '60s, it was pretty much too late.
GRAFFThat is certainly one of the rumors about why Hoover never dove into organized crime. One of the things, though, that I think, actually, based Hoover's personality comes into play in the FBI's tardy entry to the war on organized crime, is that Hoover really didn't like to take on things he couldn't win. He really saw that -- sort of what he liked to do for Congress every year was say that the FBI investigated more crimes than it did the year and it made more arrests than the year before. And so he really tried very hard to stay out of organized crime and also stay out of drug cases because those were big, complicated cases that took years to do and that he didn't really think he could ever have a major impact on.
GRAFFAnd so he tried to stay away as best he could from complicated cases because it didn't help the statistics. And when you talk to agents and executives from that era, one of the things that they always say is that quantity was always valued over quality. And so one of the problems with the way that Hoover approached the Bureau was that investigating Martin Luther King's assassination ranked exactly equal in his presentation to Congress to retrieving a stolen car and so there was very little incentive as an agent to dive into organized crime or dive into big drug cases because what ended up happening was that you wasted years on a case and that you weren't racking up the statistics that helped you get promoted.
REHMAnd at the time of John F. Kennedy's assassination, there were rumors that the FBI had been involved.
GRAFFYes. And that there were all sorts of rumors swirling in the final decade of Hoover's tenure, some of them more true than others, a lot more of them true than I think we would like, and that all of that was one of the reasons why Congress set up after Hoover's death this 10-year term so that no FBI director again will ever amass the power that Hoover had.
REHMThanks for your call, Keith. To Lafayette, La. Good morning, Daniel.
DANIELGood morning. I was wondering if your guest could speak to the impact that the FBI's new role in terrorism has had on other aspects, specifically in the wake of the financial crisis, the white collar division.
GRAFFThis is, I think, the huge challenge probably for the next director of the FBI, is that it has been truly devastating to a lot of the traditional criminal divisions and squads and teams of the FBI, this huge reprioritization towards national security and counterterrorism and it has meant that the FBI has reassigned thousands of agents from criminal tasks to counterterrorism. And one of the things that that has meant is that in a lot of those areas, white collar fraud, bank robberies, even in some cases organized crime and drug cases, you see prosecutions down 40, 50, 60 percent from 9/11. And, in fact, in one of the biggest unintended consequences, I think, of the nation's War On Terror in the last decade, Robert Mueller reassigned 2,000 agents off of the southern border who were working drug cases dealing with Mexico.
GRAFFHe reassigned those 2,000 agents to counterterrorism and that if you look at the reassignment of those agents after 9/11, it maps pretty closely to the huge expansion of violence that we've seen in the Mexican drug wars. And that those 2,000 agents have not been, as they say, in government backfield and the Bureau's just beginning to try to reconstitute some of these criminal tasks that it used to do really well that have been deprioritized since 9/11.
REHMAll right. And to Jeff. He's in...
REHM...Fredericksburg, Va. Good morning, sir.
JEFFThank you so much for taking my call...
JEFF...and I'll be as brief as possible. The question I have is why Osama Bin Laden has never been officially charged with the attacks of 9/11 on the FBI.gov's most wanted terrorism website. He's charged with the attacks of, of course, 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Embassy -- Kenya Embassy bombings, but there's nothing on the website that says anything, any evidence or charged with the 9/11 attacks.
GRAFFI don't actually -- I mean, I can't obviously speak to the government's internal prosecution strategy on this. I would guess that their view has been that the indictment that they actually have on Osama Bin Laden, an indictment by the way, that dates back to the mid-1990s. I mean, the FBI was really working a lot of these al Qaida cases for five or six years before the 9/11 attacks. That that indictment is sufficient to bring Bin Laden to justice and oftentimes, once someone has been captured, what you'll see is what's called a superseding indictment.
GRAFFThat brings new charges and updates a lot of information, but there's also been -- and I've talked to a lot of people within government about this, there's a good sense that Osama Bin Laden will never be taken alive and so I imagine that part of this strategy, in the prosecution and the indictment, is it's not worth wasting government resources on new charges and a new indictment until we know whether we'll actually ever have our hands on him.
REHMGarrett Graff, his new book is titled, "The Threat Matrix," and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here's an e-mail from Ben who says, "The FBI does not need to go global to do its job. In the case of 9/11, several of the plane hijackers were under surveillance, but the FBI failed to do its job correctly. In fact, it ignored the repeated requests of several agents to act on clear evidence that they had in their hands. Ever since J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI has been more about myth and bravado than about competent police work."
GRAFFIn some ways, that's a very fair allegation. I think that the myth and the legend around the FBI is actually one of its biggest assets in prosecuting a lot of crime. One of the themes of the book, I think, in my experience in dealing with the FBI is that the Bureau is in some ways an agency that succeeds in spite of itself. That it has had some very good leaders, I think, actually Robert Mueller among them, and just incredible work by some really gung-ho street agents at the bottom of the organization and that the headquarters culture and the bureaucracy within the Bureau really swallows up a lot of the ambition and creates a very risk averse culture in sort of the middle of the FBI, in-between.
GRAFFAnd that a lot of these street agents really struggle against this and I tell these stories in-depth in the book, sort of case after case, decade after decade, fighting the same culture, where you have a lot of these agents being told, you know, don't do this, don't do that and them really saying, you know, this is all that -- you know, this is what we have to do to keep the nation safe. And in , that run up to 9/11 is exactly what happened, which is you had case agents charging after al Qaida in New York. This group called Squad I-49 and I-45 were doing amazing work chasing al Qaida all over the world and yet headquarters and the general risk averseness of a lot of the intelligence community kept those case agents from knowing a lot of the intelligence that the U.S. government knew about the run up to 9/11.
REHMAnd finally, from Doug, in D.C., "Do you believe, based on the work you've done, that President Bush was provided with sufficient evidence that 9/11 could have been prevented? Was anyone ever fired over 9/11?"
GRAFFNo one was really ever fired is one of the shocking things of the way that the government has responded. There were some people whose careers got, you know, sidelined and backtracked and, you know, sort of forced into retirement afterwards, but no one was really held, I think, accountable in the way that a lot of Americans really would have liked to have seen after 9/11.
GRAFFAnd particularly, I do come away from this project and my research thinking not necessarily that we could've prevented 9/11, but that we missed at least one really tremendous opportunity to head it off. And I tell this story in the book of in the spring of 2001 where you have these New York case agents, Steve Bongart and others from I-49 and I-45 in New York, who are sitting in a room in May and June of 2001 and the CIA lies to them and refuses to tell them that there are two known al Qaida operatives operating within the United States.
REHMGarrett Graff, he's editor-in-chief of Washingtonian magazine, author of a new book titled, "The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror." Thanks for being with us.
REHMThank you. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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