Mueller under fire for unreviewed surveillance backlog
Reuters | July 29, 2005
FBI Director Robert Mueller came under fire in Congress on Wednesday over a growing backlog of unreviewed surveillance recordings and other problems which lawmakers said hindered efforts to prevent terrorism attacks.
Senators at a Judiciary Committee hearing also said the FBI had not done enough to fix longtime problems with its computer system and improve its foreign language translation program.
Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, the committee chairman, noted that the FBI had spent $170 million and three years on a failed new computer system and its replacement now being built would not be fully operational until 2009.
He asked how the FBI could prevent another attack if it did not have the new technology in place.
The Justice Department's inspector general said the FBI's backlog of unreviewed audio counterterrorism material had more than doubled to 8,354 hours from 4,086 in April 2004.
The lawmakers said deficiencies at the FBI, nearly four years after the Sept. 11, 2001 hijacked plane attacks, could hinder its ability to prevent another terrorist attack.
Mueller defended the FBI's efforts and rejected the complaints by committee members that the FBI had resisted change and moved too slowly, saying the pace and breadth of change had been significant.
"Occasionally, I liken it to trying to change the tires on a car as it hurtles at 70 miles an hour down the road," he said.
After the Sept. 11 attacks investigators found the FBI had failed to follow up on several leads that could have prevented the deadly hijackings, prompting Mueller to initiate a major restructuring of the agency.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said numerous problems continued to plague the FBI's translation program.
"First the number of hours of unreviewed counter-terrorism audio is increasing. Counter-terrorism recordings are as important as they sound," he said.
Other problems include the FBI taking on average 16 months to hire a contract linguist and FBI field offices failing to review all high-priority intelligence data from such audio recordings within 24 hours, Leahy said. Other committee members cited difficulties in hiring and screening translators.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine conceded that the FBI needed to improve in a number of critical areas such as upgrading its computer system, hiring and training more intelligence analysts, translating and reviewing foreign language material quickly and stopping the turnover in key FBI leadership positions.