Somehow we don't think the late J. Edgar Hoover would have been so candid or self-effacing. But FBI Director Robert Mueller, in a National Press Club appearance today, said that on several fronts his agency has not been at its best in striking the balance between the preservation of civil liberties and the need to investigate and prevent terrorism.
Asked to grade himself on how he's met that challenge in the last year, Mueller said a "B" sounded about right. Questioned about the bureau's heavy-handed issuance of national security letters a type of administrative subpoena which members of Congress are complaining about, Mueller blamed "failure to follow our own guidelines." He took the responsibility for not ensuring better compliance and training to make certain those letters were not issued improperly.
Mueller spoke about the bureau's 100th birthday this year, which also coincides with the press club's centennial celebration. Both the FBI and the press serve the public, and often their interests are compatible, he said. Famed columnist Walter Winchell turned in a gangster to the FBI in 1937, Mueller noted, adding that "these are not the types of calls I am getting from reporters" nowadays.
"We must be as transparent as possible. We welcome scrutiny," Mueller said. (Hoover, the bureau's director until 1972, would not have shared that sentiment either.) "In the long run, we realize it makes us better."
Mueller made another confession: He has never posted anything on the Internet, though he said he would do so as soon as possible so he'd never have to answer that question again with a no. When press club president Sylvia Smith said in mock disappointment that Mueller would probably not become one of her Facebook friends, Mueller answered no again though he laughed that he would check out her page on Facebook.