For the first time in nearly forty years, the director of the FBI, may have his ten year term extended beyond the statutory limit set by Congress. On June 16, 2011, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11 to 7 to send to the floor legislation to extend current director Robert Mueller’s term as Director of the FBI for an additional two years. Yet, as many outlets reported last week, the FBI plans to further loosen its internal regulations governing surveillance, despite the FBI’s documented abuses of USA PATRIOT Act powers that remain uncorrected. In 1976, J. Edgar Hoover’s forty eight year reign as the director of the FBI came to a close after a series of investigations which revealed a number of major abuses of power including illegal wiretaps, spying on members of Congress, and a campaign targeting Martin Luther King Jr. Since then, the term limit for FBI director has been capped at ten years. Mueller, who was appointed as the director of the FBI practically a number of days before September 11th, 2001, has been asked by President Barack Obama to continue with his position for an additional two years. Should Mueller be the first FBI director since Hoover to break the ten year limit? In an appearance in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in early June, Senator of Minnesota Al Franken questioned Mueller on his possible term extension:
A number of civil liberties groups have raised serious questions about the FBI’s musiese of the material witness statue, mishandling of the terrorist watch lists, and infiltration of mosques and surveillance of peacefil groups that have no connection to criminal activity… if your term were extended do you believe that you would be in a posiont togive these concerns a fresh airing?
Others have also voiced concerns about Mueller’s proposed term extension. For example, a coalition (including BORDC) led by the Defending Dissent Foundation recently argued that:
Under Director Mueller’s leadership, the FBI has repeatedly overstepped its authority. The Inspector General has found that the FBI has violated their own guidelines, mismanaged the terrorist watchlist, significantly misused its authorities under the USA PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and improperly undertook surveillance of peaceful groups with no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. These abuses are neither trivial nor limited to the past. Accordingly, extending the directors term runs the risk of indicating tacit support for these ongoing violations, eroding opportunities for effective oversight or corrective changes in policy.
According to BORDC Executive Director Shahid Buttar:
Like the now-infamous J. Edgar Hoover, Mueller has received widespread praise during his tenure for the bureau’s supposedly effective work under his leadership. It took a two-year Congressional investigation and tens of thousands of pages of records and testimony for the FBI’s dramatic abuses under Hoover to finally come to light. Mueller is no different; he has received praise from the administration and the Hill only because the FBI cloaks itself in secrecy, and the many communities raising their voices have been silenced by a mainstream press that has uncritically accepted the official narrative. Rather than extend Mueller’s term, Congress should insist on a nominee from outside the bureau and heed the calls of former agents who have recommended “[a] wide-ranging Congressional investigation of the sort conducted by the Church Committee,” to uncover further abuses that remain secret. If Congress wants to pass legislation involving the FBI, rather than extend Mueller’s term, it should impose a legislative charter to restore law to a lawless domestic intelligence agency that has, yet again, run amok.