Departing FBI Chief Worries About Airborne Terror


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, a week after he’d taken over the bureau.

Mueller sees terrorism evolving in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks to the splintering threats 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,” Mueller said.

Mueller, architect of the FBI’s  transformation into terrorism-fighting, spoke to reporters Wednesday at FBI headquarters.

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 Detroit-bound jetliner on December 25,  2009 and cargo planes carrying printer cartridge bombs. But the Boston Marathon bombings in April and the 2009 shooting 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.”

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