Former FBI director targets cybercrimes

Calling cybercrimes “the threat of the future,” former FBI Director Robert Mueller said federal investigators and businesses need to share information collected online in order to find and thwart hackers trying to disrupt Web-based networks.

“The intelligence that can be and is being collected by the private sector has to be made available in some way, shape or form to the federal government,” Mueller said.  “And that which we pick up has to be made available to the private sector. If we do not get that kind of collaboration, we will replicate what we had before 9/11 when we had stovepipes and inadequate ways of sharing information.”

Mueller – who took over the FBI a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and left the job two months ago – made his comments Friday while delivering the Payne lecture at Stanford.

“Terrorism remains today our primary threat,” Mueller said. “But tomorrow, it will probably be cyber and its various iterations.”

He said cybercrimes present a new challenge to law enforcement agencies because perpetrators are often anonymous and their motives are not always clear.

A hacker could be associated with a terrorist organization, an activist group or “an 18-year-old in his garage here in Silicon Valley who has the talent and capability and wants to make a point.”

And if the bad guy can’t be easily fingered, it’s difficult to know who should investigate the crime – the FBI, CIA, NSA or another agency. In order to pool federal resources, Mueller said a task force composed of 18 agencies works to examine cyber threats.

But their efforts to safeguard online financial, government, corporate and educational systems will go only so far without the expertise, knowledge and information gathered by Internet service providers.

“It is going to be the relationships with the private sector that are going to be absolutely critical to any success we can have in addressing cyber attacks,” he said.

Mueller’s lecture capped his weeklong visit at Stanford. He was invited by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and Stanford Law School to spend the academic year as a consulting professor and as the Payne Distinguished Lecturer.

The Payne Lectureship is named for Frank E. Payne and Arthur W. Payne, brothers who gained an appreciation for global problems through their international business operations. The position is given to someone with an international reputation as a leader, with an emphasis on visionary thinking; a broad, practical grasp of a given field; and the capacity to clearly articulate an important perspective on the global community and its challenges.

FSI Director Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar called Mueller a “perfect fit for Stanford.”

“His career embodies what I take to be the ethos of this university –practical yet principled; sensitive to complexity but also to the value of clarity and focus,” Cuéllar said.

Mueller will make several visits to Stanford during the year, spending his time working with FSI and law school scholars to develop research agendas on emerging issues in international security. He will hold graduate seminars and deliver a major lecture at the law school and work with students and fellows at the Haas Center, the law school and the Graduate School of Business. He will also mentor honors students at FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

As the FBI’s longest-serving director after J. Edgar Hoover, Mueller presided over some of the most drastic changes in the agency’s history.

The Sept. 11 attacks forced the FBI to change its priorities, placing the hunt for global terrorists at the top if its list. The counterterrorism and counterintelligence missions meant hiring more analysts and replacing the FBI’s more traditional targeting of mobsters, murderers and white-collar criminals.

Recalling his first briefing to George W. Bush after the terrorist attacks, Mueller said he began by telling the president what his agents were doing to investigate. He had been on the job for about a week, and started giving a rundown of command centers that were set up, evidence that was being collected and interviews being conducted.

“I’m about two or three minutes into it and President Bush stops me and says, `Bob, that’s all well and good,’” Mueller said. “That’s what the FBI has been doing for the hundred years of its existence. My question to you is: What is FBI doing to prevent the next terrorist attack?”

The question stumped the new director.

“I had not prepared for that question,” he said.

And it’s a question he answered continuously during the Bush and Obama administrations, and one that led to his reorganization of the FBI.

“Over those 12 years, the question has not changed,” Mueller said. “The question from both of the presidents to the FBI, to the CIA, to the community when it comes to counterterrorism is: What have you done to prevent the next terrorist attack?”