The Progressive | Do not extend FBI director’s term

Published on June 9, 2011 by The Progressive

By Shahid Buttar

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III does not deserve to have his term extended.

Mueller has presided over the resurrection of many long-discredited practices that violate the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.

Yet the Obama administration has proposed extending Mueller’s term by two years. The Senate should reject the proposal. It sets a bad precedent, it concentrates too much power in the hands of the FBI director and it tacitly approves of Mueller’s wrongheaded moves.

Because of gross violations under the directorship of J. Edgar Hoover in the 1960s, the FBI came under intense scrutiny from Congress, which 35 years ago imposed a 10-year limit on future FBI directors. The idea was to prevent one person from accumulating too much power, as Hoover himself had done.

By essentially asking for a waiver on this time limit for Mueller, the Obama administration is setting a bad precedent and adding to the power of an already frightening power center.

The president’s proposal appears only worse when placed in the context of Mueller’s tenure.

“The FBI’s significant misuse of its authorities under the USA Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the infiltration of mosques, the abuse of the material witness statute, the FBI surveillance of peaceful groups with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and the mishandling of the FBI watch list have raised significant civil liberties concerns,” the American Civil Liberties Union says.

And Mueller has not been forthcoming in his testimony to the Senate. When the Senate Judiciary Committee questioned the FBI director about the bureau’s surveillance activities last July 28, Mueller did not tell the truth. He said the FBI’s Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide requires a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing before FBI agents can conduct surveillance. But that’s not the case. So the FBI quickly sent a letter to the committee, which stated that Mueller “misspoke.” It added: “His answer should have been that there must be a proper purpose for the surveillance. Suspicion of wrongdoing could be a proper purpose, but it is not the only proper purpose.”

What’s more, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has repeatedly examined the FBI’s use of national security letters. These are administrative subpoenas — immune from review, checks or balances — demanding private records (often from third parties) while gagging the recipients and preventing disclosure to the public, press or Congress. The inspector general has documented pervasive, systemic and even ongoing violations by the bureau.

In addition, the FBI has sent paid government informants to recruit Muslim Americans into making violent plots against the United States, plots they likely wouldn’t have joined if they weren’t egged on by the FBI. This is entrapment based on religious profiling.

It gets worse. Emboldened by a Supreme Court decision last spring, the FBI began a political witch hunt last fall targeting dozens of peace and labor activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. The raids and secret grand jury investigations not only offend the First Amendment, but also reflect the kind of abuse for which the bureau grew infamous under Hoover’s leadership.

Rather than extend Mueller’s term, Congress should insist on a nominee from outside the bureau, and it should impose a legislative charter to restore law to a domestic intelligence agency that has, yet again, run amok.

Shahid Buttar is the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. He can be reached at