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“We have in some ways benefitted from the horrendous nature of that attack because there were no other options,” FBI Director Robert Mueller told a Kellogg audience Sept 30. “We had to change.”

Robert Mueller

Crisis response

FBI Director Robert Mueller talks about the agency’s shift in focus after 9/11

By Brady Gervais

10/5/2010 - Sept. 11, 2001, was a watershed event that forced the FBI to change.

Prior to the terrorist attacks, the bureau focused on arrests, indictments and convictions, FBI director Robert Mueller told a capacity crowd Sept. 30 at the Kellogg School. That metric changed with 9/11. The FBI became focused on preventing the next terrorist attack. And as result, it had to make a number of shifts.

“People like to talk about the transformation of the bureau; I tend to think it’s the augmentation of the bureau,” Mueller said.

What the bureau had done well for decades — interviewing people, gathering information, developing sources, doing wiretaps, surveillance and forensics — was equally valuable in the wake of 9/11, Mueller noted.

But the organization had to re-prioritize and place counterterrorism ahead of criminal activities, he said. The FBI shifted its resources and began to work more closely and share information with other intelligence agencies. Prior to 9/11, there had been a wall between the FBI and other agencies, such as the CIA. Barriers also existed within the FBI itself, Mueller added.

“We have in some ways benefitted from the horrendous nature of that attack because there were no other options. We had to change,” Mueller said.

The FBI continues to grow as an international organization, even though it’s considered by many to be a national agency, Mueller said. It continues building relationships, exchanging information and identifying and investigating mobsters.

“For us to be successful, we have to build relationships, and we ourselves have to change, become more modern and adapt to the world as we now find it,” he said.

Mueller, who took the helm of the FBI just days before 9/11, didn’t attend business school but said he has collected shelves of books on how to run organizations. CEOs are often advised to be visionaries instead of micromanagers, he said.

But on certain issues, Mueller said he has to be a micromanger, especially when counterterrorism is concerned.

“Whatever the organization … there are those particular issues that you have to pick out and become very knowledgeable about, if not more knowledgeable about, than the people who are working under you,” Mueller said.

Clinical Professor of Management & Organizations Michelle Buck said Mueller’s insights were of tremendous value to the Kellogg audience.

“We at Kellogg believe that management education is about preparing people to meaningfully participate and contribute to the most pressing issues in the world today,” she said. “It is with these beliefs that Kellogg is grateful for the relationship we have had with the FBI since 2003.”

More than 2,000 FBI executives have participated in Kellogg’s custom-designed executive education courses on strategic change, and numerous Kellogg professors have worked with the bureau to better understand its challenges and opportunities.

A number of Kellogg students also have been hired by the FBI in full-time jobs or summer internships. They include Matt Dougherty ’09, who introduced Mueller to the audience and serves as a special adviser to the FBI.

Earlier in the day, Mueller spoke to FBI executives attending a custom executive education program taught by Kellogg faculty. Mueller’s talk to the broader Kellogg audience was sponsored by Kellogg Leadership Initiatives.