WASHINGTON – FBI Director Robert Mueller (search) says he doesn't believe his counterterrorism supervisors need to have a background in Arabic, the Middle East or international issues.
"Let me tell you that we want to develop that within the bureau, but making that an absolute requirement — if you do not have it you would be precluded from advancing in counterterrorism — no," Mueller testified recently in an employment lawsuit.
Mueller also testified he didn't give any guidance to his top managers to seek out the bureau's most experienced counterterrorism agents to work on the war on terror immediately after Sept. 11, saying he expected those managers to make good choices.
"It was in their hands as to how they did that," Mueller said in a wide-ranging deposition obtained by The Associated Press. Some supervisors were brought in without any terrorism training while some al-Qaida agents who were more knowledgeable about al-Qaida were brought from New York to work on the suicide hijackings investigation, officials said.
Most of the men Mueller appointed to run the war on terror testified that they didn't believe Middle East and terrorism experience had been important for choosing the agents they promoted, the AP reported Sunday.
Gary Bald, the bureau's executive assistant director in charge of terrorism, testified he had to get his terrorism training on the job when he came to headquarters two years ago. When asked about his grasp of Middle Eastern culture and history, he replied: "I wish that I had it. It would be nice."
When shown Bald's statements, Mueller defended his selection by saying Bald had run the FBI's Baltimore office, which had a terrorism program, and had also run the Washington sniper shootings investigation.
"Running the office gave him some exposure to terrorism," Mueller answered. "Yes, I think absolutely it would give, contribute to his ability to handle counterterrorism."
The testimony was given in a lawsuit brought against the FBI by agent Bassem Youssef, considered by some to be one of the FBI's most accomplished pre-Sept. 11 terror-fighting agents. He claims he was passed over for top jobs in headquarters despite his expertise.
The testimony has concerned both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate, who are comparing the FBI's actual practices in the war on terror with its sworn promises to Congress and the American public.
"Why would the FBI hire people to run the counterterrorism division who don't know anything about counterterrorism?" Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a frequent FBI critic, asked Monday.
After conducted interviews with FBI field agents in the war on terror, the staff of the independent commission that reviewed Sept. 11 failures reported, "Many field agents felt the supervisory agents in the counterterrorism division at headquarters lacked the necessary experience in counterterrorism to guide their work."
FBI Assistant Director Cassandra Chandler said Monday that FBI agents in the field are getting valuable training on everything from Muslim culture to Arabic language and that hundreds of new intelligence analysts and linguists have been hired.
"Throughout the transition process we have recruited, trained and promoted individuals not only with subject matter expertise but also those with broad investigative and exceptional leadership skills," she said.
Mueller described his top anti-terror managers' knowledge of dealing with foreign governments, Middle East history, international terrorism and al-Qaida this way: "Helpful, not essential."
"Leadership ability is transferable," he said. "And often you can pick up the subject matter if you've got leadership skills."
Deputy Assistant Director John Lewis suggested it might take the FBI until 2020 to get the sort of top-level anti-terrorism experience it needs.
"Hopefully, the bureau is putting forward its best managers today. In this business, we don't have anyone with 20 years experience who has worked counterterrorism to the extent we're working it today," Lewis testified. "I would dare say that some of the midlevel managers that we have today who have been willingly neck-deep in this problem for the last two years are probably among our most seasoned and experienced people."
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(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 06-21-05 0137EDT