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Mueller Often Uses FBI Jet Bought for Counterterrorism

FBI officials asked The Post not to name the suburban airport because it houses other sensitive national security assets. But they said that the runways there are too short to allow the Gulfstream's takeoff while loaded with Mueller's security detail and equipment.

Mueller's predecessor, Freeh, persuaded Congress in the late 1990s to give the bureau the Gulfstream V jet -- often fancied by celebrities and chief executives -- for the narrow mission of transporting global terrorism suspects on a moment's notice back to the United States for interrogation. The bureau had operated only a small number of single-engine planes for investigative surveillance and one Citation corporate jet capable of reaching anywhere in the United States.

"We were commonly given a narrow window to remove the suspects, sometimes as little as 12 hours," Freeh wrote in his memoir, "My FBI." "In those circumstances, we would have to scramble for a military aircraft to do the transport. If one wasn't available we'd start calling friendly CEOs of American corporations to see if we could hitch a ride. . . . To me, the situation was ridiculous so I began lobbying for a Gulfstream."

The FBI succeeded after a string of terrorist attacks, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the Khobar Towers attack in Saudi Arabia in 1996 and the two embassy bombings in Africa in 1998.

"Due to the number of international terrorist attacks against United States personnel and facilities overseas, the FBI identified a need for an aircraft with long-range flight capabilities," stated the bureau's 1999 appropriations request to Congress.

In February 2001, the FBI struck a deal to acquire the jet from the Air Force. It was delivered around the time of the September terrorist attacks that year, documents show.

Mueller took over the bureau in late summer 2001 and has flown the plane several times to meet with his law enforcement and intelligence counterparts or to consult with FBI legal attaches in Europe and the Middle East. In one such trip last year, Mueller jetted to Bucharest, Romania; Baghdad; Islamabad, Pakistan; Kabul; Bagram, Afghanistan; and Tel Aviv in just five days, FBI officials said.

But Mueller also regularly uses the jet to visit field offices in the United States, in what his aides describe as an effort to boost morale and to keep agents focused on the counterterrorism mission. Mueller also tries to squeeze in speeches and public events.

One such trip occurred in May 2005 when he took the Gulfstream to Kansas City, Mo., to deliver a speech to a symposium on agroterrorism. Bureau officials said the plane, which seats about a dozen people and has a galley, is now flown 800 to 900 hours annually, with Mueller accounting for an average of 180 hours, or 23 percent of its flight time.

When the jet is flown on terrorism-related missions, the costs are absorbed by special money Congress gave for that purpose. When Mueller uses the jet, the FBI's base operating budget covers the costs. Appropriations for the jet have grown from $1.7 million in 2003 to $3.6 million this year.

In March 2004, after Mueller had started routinely using the Gulfstream, President Bush designated him as one of a handful of senior government officials entitled to "required use" of government aircraft for personal and government travel. FBI officials said they did not seek the designation from the White House, and Mueller has declined to use the plane for personal travel.

The FBI boasted in a message to Congress in 2003 that "the use of the G-V in recent months has had a tremendous impact on the successful rapid response of FBIHQ and field personnel and equipment to the fast-moving investigations and crisis situations in New York, Washington and Afghanistan."

In the fact sheet accompanying its 2007 budget request, the FBI stressed that the Gulfstream has flown "personnel to and from Iraq, and it is important to maintain the G-V to successfully carry out these crucial missions." The agency also said the jet had been used to bring surveillance equipment to agents working overseas, transport forensic evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan, and transport terrorism suspects.

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