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FBI Chief: 9/11 Surveillance Taxing Bureau

By a Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 6, 2002; Page A01

The FBI has placed a "substantial" number of people suspected of ties to
terror under constant surveillance, sending out special teams of agents to
various parts of the United States roughly every two weeks in a mission that
is seriously taxing the agency's resources, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller
III said yesterday.

Mueller would not specify how many possible terrorists the agency is
tracking, but he said the bureau has been "pushed, really pushed" to keep up
with them. And he acknowledged that agents have no choice but to monitor
those people around the clock when they cannot be detained for immigration
or other violations.

"Our biggest problem is we have people we think are terrorists. They are
supporters of al Qaeda. . . . They may have sworn jihad, they may be here in
the United States legitimately and they have committed no crime," Mueller
said in a 90-minute lunch with Washington Post reporters and editors. "And
what do we do for the next five years? Do we surveil them? Some action has
to be taken."

Mueller's remarks are among the strongest government assertions that people
with suspected connections to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network remain in
the United States, and they reflect the FBI's consuming race to thwart
another attack. They come a little more than two weeks after a succession of
Bush administration officials, including Vice President Cheney, Secretary of
Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Mueller warned the public that another strike
against the United States is likely.

Even as Mueller moves to reorganize the FBI and substantially beef up its
counterterrorism forces, the current solution to tracking possible
terrorists is special squads -- surveillance teams that the FBI has been
dispatching about every other week since Sept. 11, particularly to locations
where its field offices lack agents or translators to do the tedious work.

The surveillance can be done on the ground, by air or, in some cases, with
court-approved wiretaps, he said.

"There are gradations of persons who we might look at and their affiliation
with a terrorist," Mueller said, explaining they could range from someone
"who has called a number of a prominent terrorist overseas" to a person
distributing literature supporting bin Laden. "There are all gradations
along that spectrum," he said.

Mueller declined to say what kinds of leads have been developed as a result
of the surveillance work.

In the months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,
authorities moved against possible terror suspects by detaining more than
1,200 people on minor immigration charges, such as overstaying their visas,
and hundreds of others on state and local criminal charges.

In some cases, federal prosecutors obtained material witness warrants to
hold people suspected of having information related to the hijackings.

Mueller said officials were looking at other options to root out terror
suspects, including the Alien Terrorist Removal Act, a 1996 law that permits
the deportation of suspected alien terrorists by a special court, based on
classified information submitted in secret. No one has been deported under
the law since its enactment.

The FBI has come under intense criticism in recent weeks for mishandling
clues to the attacks, including a July memo from a Phoenix agent that
terrorists might be training at U.S. flight schools and the arrest in August
of Zacarias Moussaoui, who aroused suspicions at a Minnesota flight school.
Moussaoui was subsequently indicted as a conspirator in the attacks.

Mueller, who took office Sept. 4, is scheduled to address those issues in
testimony today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate panel also is scheduled to hear today from Coleen Rowley, the
chief legal counsel of the Minneapolis FBI office, who wrote a blistering
memo to Mueller last month complaining that the Moussaoui investigation was
stalled last summer by FBI headquarters. Mueller yesterday declined to
provide details about the Moussaoui investigation, saying that to comment
would be inappropriate because the criminal case is pending.

A week after announcing plans to broadly reorganize the FBI to improve its
ability to thwart terrorism, Mueller said yesterday that he would do
whatever it takes to keep up surveillance and other efforts aimed at
preventing another attack. Roughly one-fourth of the FBI's 11,500 agents
will be devoted to counterterrorism work under reorganization plans, but
Mueller said that many more will be added as the need arises.

Mueller said the FBI will be better equipped to track terrorist activity
because of changes made last week to guidelines governing the conduct of FBI
investigations. For example, agents now will be able to observe activities
in public places, including houses of worship, to develop leads even when
they have no evidence of criminal activity. And they will be able to more
freely surf the Internet in search of clues to terror plans.

Despite the enhanced authority, Mueller said yesterday that the FBI has no
plans to conduct widespread surveillance of mosques, a concern raised by
Arab American leaders and civil liberties groups.

"We don't have a plan to go into mosques," Mueller said. "We take each
investigation on its own and look at it and then do what's appropriate for
the investigation."

Mueller said the new guidelines do not infringe upon personal freedom and
"allow us to go where the public can go" in an attempt to generate
anti-terrorist leads. In particular, he said, agents intend to surf the
Internet, for clues on bin Laden's network and other groups. In the past,
the guidelines did not permit such work without evidence indicating criminal
activity was taking place.

"Not just al Qaeda but you look at neo-Nazis, you look at other groups that
have either chat rooms or spew their language on the Internet," Mueller
said. "This will specifically allow agents to go out and look at that,
without any initial lead from a source . . . and then use that as a
predicate for doing something else."

The FBI director also repeated his long-held position that authorities have
not settled on a single theory about last fall's anthrax mailings, which
killed five people and made 13 others ill. He said that investigators are
awaiting the results of numerous scientific tests.

A profile previously released by the FBI and other comments by officials
indicate that the bureau suspects the attack was most likely the work of a
lone, domestic scientist -- possibly someone formerly associated with the
U.S. biological defense program or one of its contractors. But Mueller, who
said the investigation has been more difficult than anticipated, said a
range of possibilities remains open.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company

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