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August 15, 2005
Obstructionism Blocking Reform Of FBI

The New York Times reports on an increasing tension between Congress and the FBI, souring relations between an otherwise well-regarded Robert Mueller and key decisionmakers. Congress blames Mueller and the FBI bureaucracy for slowing the pace of reforms, but neglects to mention that they have blocked the nominee for a key reform post for the past four months:

Disputes between the Justice Department and some of its Congressional allies over the Federal Bureau of Investigation's performance, leadership vacancies and management issues are spurring tensions at a time when the department is seeking to remake its antiterrorism operations.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the influential chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an interview on Friday that he was deeply dissatisfied with the pace of reforms at the F.B.I. and that he hoped the national intelligence director's new role in overseeing its terrorism operations would spur greater accountability at the Justice Department.

"Bringing in the director of national intelligence is a firm statement of dissatisfaction with the performance of the bureau and the director," Robert S. Mueller III, Mr. Specter said.

"When you have all these issues where the F.B.I. has not performed, there's no doubt that the director is on the spot," he said in perhaps his harshest criticism to date of Mr. Mueller's performance. "He's not responsible for 9/11 - the problems came before his watch - but that was four years ago, and we've expected a lot of things to happen since then that have not happened."

One has to cast that statement in its proper context. First, the attacks came four years ago. However, Congress in its wisdom passed its oversight on 9/11 off to an "independent" commission instead of immediately investigating it on their own. That resulted in a three-year delay before any recommendations for change came to the FBI -- which then had to wait for a national election and all of the attendant security needs it brought.

Next, and more important, the Bush administration nominated Alice Fisher for the open post of the head of the Depart of Justice's criminal division, a key slot for coordination with intelligence. Since that has been identified as the key problem for prevention of terrorist attacks -- especially since the revelations of Able Danger -- that post should have been quickly considered and a vote taken in the Senate.

However, several Senators have apparently placed holds on Alice Fisher, allowing the post to remain dormant for over four months. Why has the Senate stalled the nomination? They claim that Fisher took part in meetings with the FBI in her prior position as the number-two person at the criminal division about detentions at Guantanamo. Senators use the e-mail that prompted Dick Durbin to declare that Gitmo was no different than Nazi deathcamps as proof of this issue, but the FBI says the agent who wrote the memo later said that Fisher never attended those meetings at all.

Senator Spector sounds a bit disingenuous with his outrage. One cannot expect people to act for reform without knowing the will of Congress, and it has been less than a year since Congress gave approval for the 9/11 Commission reform recommendations. Further, if Congress insists on blocking nominees from key posts in implementing that reform, then they need to take responsibility for the delays involved.

Move the nomination of Alice Fisher, Senator, and then you'll have something to complain about. Quit providing cover for the obstructionists who continue to use Gitmo for cheap partisan political points and make them justify themselves. As we saw earlier with Dick Durbin, they do nothing but embarrass themselves whenever they do it. Their obstructionism threatens the security of the US and it needs to stop immediately.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 15, 2005 7:12 AM

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