So why does the FBI have to work in a hellhole? It’s no way to run an intelligence service.
Our elected representatives in Congress loathe spending money on things such as diplomatic security. Then they scream when an ambassador is killed for want of armed guards. Though a new base for the FBI would surely cost a billion dollars and take a decade to build, the FBI deserves better, and so do we.
A shovel in the earth would be a fitting way to salute Mueller when he retires in September after 12 years. Yes, his FBI has from time to time erred on the side of excess — but far less often than Hoover’s did. Mueller’s agents blew the whistle on the CIA’s secret prisons. And Mueller himself confronted President George W. Bush in the White House over his unconstitutional eavesdropping on Americans.
Mueller is the first director — ever — who has struck something approaching a proper balance between national security and civil liberties. He has often said what he doesn’t want when he retires is a gold medal and a speech saying: “Congratulations, you won the war on terror — but we lost our civil liberties.”
I’m not saying a new headquarters should be dedicated to Mueller. We all know the pitfalls of the Edifice Complex — just look at the Hoover building. We simply owe the FBI’s agents a decent place to work.
Even as a replacement is constructed, the old place will need some work to make it last through the coming decade. As a tribute to the preservation of civil liberties in a time of continued danger, we could start by scraping Hoover’s name off the facade.
Tim Weiner has won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for writing on national security. His most recent book is “Enemies: A History of the FBI.”