When Robert S. Mueller III ’66 steps down as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation this upcoming September, he will have held the position longer than any other FBI director since 1968, when Congress first approved a 10-year limit on the position.
Mueller, whose term officially expires on Sept. 4, will have served a total of 12 years as director, completing his original 10-year term in addition to a two-year extension granted by President Barack Obama in July 2011.
Appointed by President George W. Bush in August 2001, Mueller entered office as the sixth director of the FBI just one week before the Sept. 11 attacks. After graduating from the University in 1966 with a bachelor’s degree in politics, Mueller went on to receive a master’s degree in international relations from New York University and serve three years in the Marine Corps, during which he was awarded various medals for his service in Vietnam. In 1973, he earned his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law, after which he worked as a litigator in San Francisco until 1976 and then served in U.S. Attorney’s Offices for 12 years.
Mueller received the University’s Woodrow Wilson Award in February 2012 in recognition of his contributions to public service. At the time, current Brown University President Christina Paxson, then the dean of the Wilson School, said in a press release that Mueller was a “perfect choice” for the award because he had demonstrated an enduring commitment to public service throughout his career.
When he returned to campus to receive the award on Alumni Day, he gave a talk titled “Leadership, Humility and Service: The Princeton Tradition.". He said that during his tenure as FBI director he oversaw major transformations within the bureau and explained that the FBI shifted its focus from criminal investigations — largely white-collar crime, drug and fraud-oriented litigations — to the heightened counterterrorist efforts necessitated by the 2001 attacks.
Mueller has consistently maintained bipartisan support in Congress, according to a May article in The New York Times. In July 2011, when Obama recommended that Mueller’s term be extended by two years, the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the notion.
“I think the biggest change in the FBI under [Mueller’s] tenure has been the increased focus on preventing terrorist attacks as opposed to devoting all their resources to tracking down criminal activity,” Jacob Shapiro, an expert on terrorism and an assistant professor of politics and international affairs, said. He explained that Mueller has been instrumental in shifting the bureau’s focus toward counterterrorism efforts while also preserving its historical excellence in criminal investigations.
“It was a real balancing act,” Shapiro said. “The agency had several other very important missions that it was doing historically.”
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Recently, Mueller has been scrutinized for the FBI’s alleged failure to identify Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the brothers involved in the Boston Bombings, as a terrorist threat. According to The New York Times, the FBI had interviewed Tsarnaev in 2011 and subsequently closed his file for further investigation.
Although Obama has not formally announced Mueller’s successor, according to the Washington Post, the president is expected to nominate James B. Comey, who served as a senior Department of Justice official under former President George W. Bush.
According to Shapiro, whomever Obama selects as Mueller’s successor will inherit the challenge of incorporating recent advances in information technology to improve the FBI’s overall operations.
“My sense is that the unfinished business that exists in terms of modernizing the FBI and adapting it lies really in the use of information technology,” Shapiro said. “The FBI is still very far behind in terms of taking advantage of all the information that’s out there to support the investigative processes.”