When President Obama chose James Comey to succeed FBI Director Robert Mueller, the nominee acknowledged the long shadow cast by the man who in 12 years had led the bureau longer than anyone except J. Edgar Hoover, reports USA Today. “I must be out of my mind to be following Bob Mueller,’’ Comey said at the time.
Mueller was credited with the post-9/11 transformation of the FBI from a largely reactive law enforcement institution to an intelligence-driven agency bent on preventing new terror strikes. He did it by shunning the spotlight. Comey, 55, has staked out a public profile that couldn’t be more different than his predecessor and the traditional confines of the office. He has bluntly acknowledged law enforcement’s fraught relationship with racial and ethnic communities, and has suggested that less-aggressive policing may be contributing to troubling spikes in violent crime in some places. He has drawn the wrath of the tech industry and privacy advocates as the face of the government’s legal battle with Apple Inc. to gain access to the iPhone of terrorist Syed Farook.
He has publicly faced new questions about the bureau’s capacity to confront an increasingly daunting challenge: thwarting violent extremists from within who are drawing inspiration from a constellation of radical ideologies to commit mass murder. Last week, he said, “We are looking for needles in a nation-wide haystack, and we are also called upon to figure out which pieces of hay may some day become needles.” Not in more than 20 years, say former national security officials, criminal justice analysts, and bureau critics, has the bully pulpit of the FBI director been used to address such an array of hot-button issues and with such frequency.
“I’ve known Jim for a quarter century,” said Chuck Rosenberg, director of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “When he feels like he has something to say, he does so only after careful judgment. And while it may seem like an unusual role for an FBI director, it’s not a reflex action. It has nothing to do with self promotion or aggrandizement.”