FBI Director Robert Mueller urged Congress on Wednesday to renew wide-ranging surveillance authority to thwart terrorism plots like the latest one in which an al-Qaida-engineered explosive device was to have been detonated on a U.S.-bound airline flight.
Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee the FBI is examining the device and said the scheme hatched in Yemen demonstrates that it's essential for Congress to reauthorize counter-terrorism tools enacted in 2008. Some of these programs expire at year-end.
The provisions allow the government to target electronic surveillance on foreign persons reasonably believed to be outside the United States.
The amendments up for reauthorization this year "are essential in our efforts to address" the terrorism threat, said Mueller.
The FBI director said the law allows the FBI to identify those both within the United States and outside the United States "who would hurt us."
Mueller told the panel that "we've seen over the last several days" that terrorism should be "our No. 1 priority."
The FBI director's comments follow revelations that al-Qaida completed a sophisticated new, non-metallic underwear bomb last month and that the would-be suicide bomber actually was a double agent working with the CIA and Saudi intelligence agencies.