FBI Director Robert Mueller emphasized the “enhanced risks” involved in cutting the bureau’s budget at a hearing Wednesday on the FBI’s $8.2 billion funding request for fiscal year 2013.
The bureau is asking for about $114 million more than last year. The director, testifying before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, science and related agencies, said the number will allow the FBI to “maintain its forward progress,” highlighting its investigations of financial crime and mortgage fraud.
“We are on the law enforcement side but we are now an intelligence and law enforcement agency and should be perceived as such,” Mueller said. “When it comes to the [budget], we would hope people would keep that in mind.”
For example, he said, the FBI has been able to analyze improvised explosive devices in its labs, gathering information and sending it back to troops on the ground overseas. If the bureau’s budget is slashed, it will not be able to keep up these types of programs at the same pace, he said.
“My belief is that you have to prioritize — there are things we have to do, and if we do not do them, you have an enhanced risk,” the director said.
In his testimony, Mueller responded to questions about the investigation of American-born al-Qaeda propagandist Anwar al-Awlaki, discussing the role technology plays in the radicalization of terrorists at home and abroad.
Mueller said some terrorists “find their calling on the Internet,” adding that in the past two years there has been a growing number of “homegrown radical extremists,” akin to al-Awlaki, who was killed in a targeted American drone strike in Yemen last year.
Mueller also expressed frustration with the Supreme Court’s recent decision forcing the FBI to turn off Global Positioning System devices used to track suspects.
Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY) asked whether the high court’s decision has caused Mueller to question the ethics of GPS tracking without a warrant. The FBI has pulled 3,000-some such devices from the field.
Mueller bluntly responded: “No… trackers allowed us to utilize resources elsewhere. [The decision] will impact the work we do but we will comply with the ruling.”
The director said physical surveillance is time-intensive and a strain on resources, as opposed to a proverbial flip of the switch with the GPS devices.
Mueller also changed course on his thoughts of the National Defense Authorization Act, which would allow for the indefinite detention of suspected terrorists. Mueller and Attorney General Eric Holder had previously spoken out against the legislation, saying it would create confusion among federal law enforcement agencies and the military.
But with changes to the legislation signed by President Barack Obama, the legislation in December make the matter more clear, he said. Mueller said provisions in the bill resolved his concerns of a turf war, giving the FBI “substantial deference” during ongoing investigations.