In many ways, Mueller's tenure is a Cal Ripken-like record—one the nation has never seen before in modern history and one that it's unlikely to see again. Being the FBI chief today is a tremendously complicated job, mixing intelligence, law enforcement, geopolitics, and national politics. Mueller has accelerated since 9/11 the FBI's growth into the world's first global police force, with hundreds of agents now deployed to more than 80 countries overseas, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Thailand and Hungary. FBI agents now range far afield from the U.S. to make cases and chase down suspects; under Mueller the FBI has worked its first case out of Antarctica and last month conducted its first ground raid in Somalia to capture a pirate ringleader and bring him back to the U.S. to stand trial.
The decision by Obama, first rumored last summer but considered a longshot inside the Department of Justice because its unprecedented nature, allows Mueller to see through two of his signature priorities: Revamping the Bureau's computer system, which ran hundreds of millions of dollars over budget in the years after 9/11, and rebuilding the Bureau's criminal division, which was decimated in the years after 9/11 as thousands of personnel were reassigned to counterterrorism and national security. In the last two years, Mueller has shifted more emphasis back towards criminal investigations, including appointing one of his most favored executives, T.J. Harrington, to head the division. In both the criminal division and the new cybercrime efforts, Mueller has been emphasizing the same evolution he led the counterterrorism division through, pushing them to focus more on
intelligence-led and threat-driven cases.
The Sentinel computer system, the latest in a series of big IT projects the FBI has undertaken after initial hiccups in the years after 9/11 caused Mueller to scrap the first entire upgrade, was delayed last year for another year or two as the Bureau shifted course again.
The decision by Obama to extend Mueller was also partly a reaction against the other possible replacements: The field of contenders, including Mueller's former deputy director John Pistole, now head of the Transportation Security Administration, former Homeland Security Advisor Ken Wainstein, National Counterterrorism Center head Mike Leiter, and others, left the Obama administration wanting. A sure sign of just how much the job has changed since Mueller took over in 2001 is that it's unlikely that the Robert Mueller of 2001, who at the time was a U.S. Attorney in San Francisco with little counterterrorism or intelligence experience, would likely not even be considered for the
Read Washingtonian's 2008 profile of Mueller here and here.
Garrett M. Graff, the editor of Washingtonian magazine, is author of the definitive account of Mueller's tenure at the FBI, The Threat Matrix: The FBI at War in the Age of Global Terror (Little, Brown, 2011).
Subscribe to Washingtonian
Follow Washingtonian on Twitter