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Mueller: FBI interviews useful to war in Iraq

Arab-American groups call interviews an exercise in profiling

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

FBI director Robert Mueller testifying before a House panel Thursday.
FBI director Robert Mueller testifying before a House panel Thursday.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI Director Robert Mueller said Thursday the interviews of thousands of Iraqis in the United States are yielding information useful to the military campaign in Iraq.

In testimony before a House panel, Mueller said Iraqis undergoing voluntary interviews had provided information on a range of issues, including bunker locations, structural details, telecommunications systems and the names of people who had served in the Iraqi military.

"Much of it is very helpful to those conducting the war in Iraq," Mueller told members of the a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which approves spending for the FBI and its parent Justice Department.

Mueller said he had was "gratified" by the cooperation FBI agents received in the interviews. He said he had received no reports of complaints from those questioned.

Arab-American groups have criticized the interviews as an exercise in profiling and dismissed the value of them to law enforcement. Some of those interviewed have complained privately about the sessions being somewhat intimidating, although many of the participants had no complaints about the agents themselves.

FBI officials say agents have now interviewed about 8,000 of the 11,000 Iraqis identified as potential sources of useful information. The FBI hopes to complete the interview program in the next few days.

Mueller was questioned on the interview program by Rep. Jose Serrano, D-New York, a native of Puerto Rico and strong advocate of civil liberties and minority rights.

Serrano assailed the FBI's history of mistreating ethnic groups, including Puerto Rican supporters of independence and Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Nobody knows how many people are being detained now. Nobody knows if we are targeting an ethnic community," Serrano complained.

Mueller strenuously objected to Serrano comparing the questioning of Iraqis in the war on terrorism with the holding of Japanese-Americans 60 years ago.

"I adamantly disagree with that comparison," Mueller said. "These interviews are voluntary and conducted with courtesy. That's a far cry from what happened in World War II."

Suspected al Qaeda operative

On other issues, Mueller said the exhaustive search for suspected al Qaeda operative Adnan el Shukrijama had taken agents abroad.

"We hear he may be overseas," Mueller said. "We hope we will find that to be the case."

Mueller said that since the FBI had issued its "be on the lookout" bulletin for Shukrijama last week, the bureau had received 1,000 reported sightings of him.

The director also expressed satisfaction with progress in the battle against al Qaeda at home and abroad. He cited the recent arrest of Khalid Shakh Mohammed.

"Since the arrest, the FBI worked with other agencies to disrupt his financial network in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and Pakistan and we are continuing to get extremely valuable information from him," Mueller said.

He told panel chairman Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Virginia, that he is currently discussing with Attorney General John Ashcroft the intended use of the $500 million requested by the Justice Department as special funding to support the war in Iraq.

Mueller said much of the money the FBI needs for its role is for overtime pay and for employing language specialists.

The FBI director said he was unaware of a news report that claimed Iraqi operatives may have had plans for an attack in the United States by an unmanned aerial vehicle programmed with maps of U.S. cities. Mueller said he was aware of maps of the United States found in Iraq and of Iraqi efforts to develop unmanned vehicles but had no information connecting them.

In wide-ranging questioning by largely supportive lawmakers from both parties, Mueller received promises of continued support and increased funding to overhaul the FBI and increase its manpower.

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