We consider the press a vital part of our success and actually welcome the scrutiny it provides, FBI Director Robert Mueller said during a speech on Friday at the National Press Club in the nation's capital. [see video]
Recognizing the "inherent tension between the government and the media," the Director called that tension "one of the positive aspects of an open and free society."
"We [in the FBI] recognize that if we are to be successful as a global intelligence and law enforcement agency, we must be as transparent as possible," Mueller said. "We welcome scrutiny from Congress, the American public, and the press. Yes, this scrutiny is sometimes painful. But in the long run it does make us better…"
One recent example: Last year's identification by the Justice Department Inspector General of deficiencies in our use of National Security Letters. While noting the importance of these investigative tools as "building blocks in our ability to prevent terrorism attacks," Mueller said the Bureau has taken a series of corrective actions in response, including creating a new office to ensure compliance not only in national security activities but in all FBI activities.
Mueller also mentioned several ways that the press and media have helped the FBI catch crooks since the Bureau was created a century ago:
In 1937, the "famed gossip columnist Walter Winchell brokered the surrender of notorious gangster Louis Lepke," who Director J. Edgar Hoover arrested himself.
The FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" list evolved from the request of a newspaper reporter named James Donovan in 1949. Donovan asked the Bureau to identify the "toughest guys" it was investigating. We provided pictures of 10 fugitives, which he then published on the front page of The Washington Daily News.
Several fugitives were caught as a result of the publicity, and the following March the Bureau formally inaugurated its now hugely successful "Top Ten" program.
The elusive "Unabomber" was captured after the FBI asked The Washington Post and The New York Times to publish his rambling manifesto in the hopes that it might turn up clues. It did—leading directly to the identification and arrest of Ted Kaczynski in April 1996.
Since 1988, working with the FBI and law enforcement John Walsh and the America's Most Wanted television show have captured 1,000 fugitives, including 16 who were on our Top Ten list.
Three years ago, Oprah Winfrey "approached us for information on the most dangerous child predators." Six of the 14 predators that she featured on the show have since been captured with the public's help, and Ms. Winfrey paid substantial rewards out of her own pocket to the citizens who provided the tips.
Mueller also talked about the FBI's constant work to ensure the security of the nation even as it protects the civil liberties of every man, woman, and child in the country.
"In the end," he said, "if we in the FBI safeguard our civil liberties but leave our country vulnerable to terrorist attack, we have lost. If we protect America from terrorism but sacrifice our civil liberties, we have also lost. Every day, the men and women of the Bureau must strike this balance