2013-08-23 / World

Departing FBI chief worries about airborne terror

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nature of terrorism has changed in Robert Mueller’s dozen years as FBI director, but his concerns for the future are much the same as when terrorists struck on Sept. 11, 2001, merely a week after he’d taken over the bureau. As he wraps up his FBI tenure, Mueller worries that terrorists will once again target planes or finally pull off an attack using a weapon of mass destruction.

Mueller sees terrorism as a shifting landscape, evolving from Osama bin Laden’s global brand in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks to the splintering threats arising in the fallout from the Arab Spring across the Middle East.

“Every one of these countries now has cadres of individuals who you would put in the category of extremists, violent extremists, and that will present threats down the road,” Mueller said.

Mueller, the architect of the bureau’s transformation into a terrorism-fighting agency, spoke to reporters at FBI headquarters this week.

The director’s last day on the job is Sept. 4. His successor, former Justice Department official James Comey, will be on hand next week for the transition.

During Mueller’s tenure, terrorists were thwarted in their efforts to bring down a trans-Atlantic flight in 2001, a Detroitbound jetliner on Christmas in 2009 and U.S.-bound cargo planes carrying printer cartridge bombs. But the Boston Marathon bombings that killed three people and injured hundreds in April and the 2009 shooting that killed 13 and injured more than 30 at Fort Hood, Texas, are powerful reminders that the protective net against terrorism is not infallible.

“I always say my biggest worry is ... an attack on a plane,” Mueller said. “And secondly, it’s a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of a terrorist and that includes a cyber-capability that trumps the defenses that we have.”

He also sees the risk of a cyberattack on a financial institution or on a sector such as energy “where we do not have sufficient barricades or preventive capabilities.”

Mueller’s initial foray into the world of counter-terrorism came more than two decades ago with the attack on Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up over Scotland in 1988.

“I spent lot of time on that investigation over at the Department of Justice” and “still spend time with the survivors of that horrible, horrible disaster,” said the director.

As he has in recent congressional testimony, Mueller defended the National Security Agency’s classified surveillance programs.

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