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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller speaks at the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Oct. 30 as part of the “An Evening with a Distinguished Speaker” program put on by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

Photo by John Hollis

Former FBI Director visits NMMC

7 Nov 2014 | John Hollis Marine Corps Base Quantico

Robert Mueller had been at the helm of the FBI for a mere week when the metrics previously used to gauge the organization’s success changed forever.

The Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks resulted in nearly 3,000 American deaths and forced the FBI and every other law enforcement agency to immediately change the way they did business. Simply touting arrest numbers and high conviction rates was no longer sufficient in the new global war against terrorism.

Only complete prevention would suffice.

That was the gist of Mueller’s message during his Oct. 30 speech at the National Museum of the Marine Corps as the guest of honor for the “An Evening with a Distinguished Speaker” program put on by the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation.

“Everybody knew and understood that, as a result of 9/11, the organization had to change,” he said.

Mueller said as much became clear to him shortly after arriving at the White House a few days following the attacks to brief then-President George W. Bush in the Oval Office. A former Marine rifle platoon commander whose commendations from the Vietnam War include the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, Mueller had just begun informing the president about ongoing FBI efforts to identify the men responsible when Bush stopped him in his tracks.

“What is the FBI doing to prevent the next terrorist attack?” the president asked.

Mueller, who served as the FBI Director from 2001-2013, said that’s when he knew for sure that things the FBI had done in the past were no longer relevant.

“I felt like an 18-year-old high school student who got the wrong assignment,” he said.

The darkest day in American history served as the unveiling of a new era, and Mueller recognized that the FBI needed to change with the times. That meant immediately prioritizing the agency’s resources by switching 2,000 agents from the criminal side to the national security side, getting a better feel for adversaries with the hiring of more terrorism analysts, and working to develop better collaborative partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies, as well as with the U.S. military and key players within the intelligence community such as the Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency.

By 2011, the FBI listed more than 3,000 terrorism analysts, well beyond the 1,000 it had in 2001, Mueller said. In the 13 years since 9/11, more than 100 FBI agents and analysts have been routinely deployed to combat areas in both Iraq and Afghanistan in a concerted effort to nip terrorism in the bud before it could reach American shores again.

But keeping the nation safe without encroaching upon constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties posed yet another challenge, but Mueller said he felt comfortable in the delicate balance reached. He noted that a federal judge is required to first approve any kind of domestic spying on individuals.

“I think we and the country have struck a pretty good balance,” he said.

Mueller warned against future terrorist attacks through cyber space, specifically citing potential rogue nations such as China, Russia and Iran as among those most likely culprits. He sounded confident, however, that the new, modern FBI will be ready for the challenge.

“For [the FBI], it’s the same approach,” Mueller said. “We want to want to be able to prevent the attacks as opposed to just being there afterwards.”