FBI Director Robert Mueller III today expressed confidence that federal maximum-security prisons have the capacity to contain suspected terrorists. But Mueller, speaking at a congressional oversight hearing, warned of the possibility that extremists could radicalize elements of the prison population, just as street gangs have been able to grow their forces while in custody.
Mueller’s comments come a day after Senate Democrats rejected President Barack Obama’s request for funding to close the Guantanamo Bay prison facility. The politics of transferring detainees to U.S. prisons have proved tricky for Obama and his party. Republicans have expressed alarm about the potential safety risks of seeding the nation’s prisons with these detainees, and Senate Democrats yesterday demanded that the president provide them with a concrete plan for shuttering the Guantanamo prison before they open their purse. The House, too, has refused to fund the closure without more specifics on the fates of the approximately 241 detainees still held on the naval base.
Mueller's remarks appeared to give credence to the Republicans’ argument. The director said depositing detainees in federal prisons presented concerns about radicalization and the growth of networks that could help fund or attract terrorist attacks here. But Mueller said the FBI and other law enforcement agencies were prepared to minimize those risks. There are about 100 joint terrorism task forces operating in the United States, and each has law enforcement officials dedicated to keeping “our fingers on the potential for radicalization,” Mueller said.