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Tim Murphy, the ultimate inside guy at FBI's number-two spot

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 31, 2010; 9:56 PM

In the federal government, there are inside people and outside people, those who work in the bowels of the bureaucracy and others who seek out the media glare.

Timothy P. Murphy is an inside guy.

The FBI's new deputy director speaks in the language of corporate governance and tries to run the bureau like a business. He posts "strategy maps" on his wall. Asked if he wants to replace longtime FBI director Robert S. Mueller III when Mueller's 10-year term expires in 2011, Murphy laughs.

"I'm more of a behind-the-scenes, fix-the-problems type of guy,'' says Murphy, 48, who took over the FBI's second-ranking job in July. "I'm humbled by the director asking me to do this job, but . . . in my opinion, I'm a good number two.''

Murphy is better known within the close-knit world of FBI agents and former agents, where he is respected as a no-nonsense executive who arises anywhere from 3:30 to 4 a.m. in his Fredericksburg home, drives to FBI headquarters in the District, works out and arrives at his desk by 6 a.m.

"He's like a machine,'' said Grant Ashley, a former FBI executive assistant director. "He's early, he's energetic and he doesn't slow down. He's not rude or impatient, but he executes with ferocity and moves on.''

Murphy, who runs the FBI's day-to-day operations with Mueller, takes over at a time of great challenges. He is overseeing the FBI's continuing post-9/11 transformation into an intelligence agency that must anticipate terrorist attacks, while not neglecting traditional law enforcement. There is also concern about a recent spate of domestic terrorism arrests.

Murphy, who is married and has two children, brings a somewhat unusual background to the post. A former police officer at a tiny department in Michigan, he also worked as a traveling executive for Little Caesars pizza before becoming an FBI agent in 1988.

But he checked every traditional box in his metoric rise, working in four big-city offices - including a high-ranking post at the Washington Field Office - and helping to supervise the investigation of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and other prominent terrorism cases.

Since arriving at FBI headquarters in 2002, where his numerous jobs included serving as Mueller's special assistant, Murphy has become known for his crisp manner and relentless work ethic, along with what colleagues say is an occasionally wicked sense of humor.

Each quality was evident during a recent interview with Murphy at headquarters. The Michigan native had researched the background of the reporter - learned that he had attended the University of Michigan - and started the meeting by playing the Michigan fight song as a joke.

Murphy, with his close-cropped black hair and thin, slightly graying mustache, then discussed his vision for the FBI with military precision.

"He's Mr. Clean with a mustache,'' said Timothy Cox, a retired FBI agent who worked with Murphy a decade ago in the Tampa Field Office. "He literally was squeaky clean. He would come out, have one beer after work and then go home to his family.''

Murphy's tenure at headquarters has not been without controversy. He was one of the key architects of an unpopular policy that required supervisors in field offices to move to other positions after seven years, drawing opposition from the FBI Agents Association.

But association president Konrad Motyka said the disagreement was respectful. "He knows I've done things to oppose this, but he's never held that against me,'' Motyka said. "His demeanor is so earnest and professional. I think by and large, agents feel he is definitely one of them.''

Floyd Clarke, a former FBI deputy director, said Murphy has thrived working under Mueller, who is known to be a demanding boss. "Mueller is very high on him,'' Clarke said. "I hate to use the word political, but Tim is political in that he doesn't push the wrong buttons. He knows where he wants to go, and he gets there with a minimum of controversy. That's very rare.''

Beyond preventing another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Murphy said his priorities include communicating better with FBI field offices and improving the agency's "infrastructure,'' including its chronically troubled computer system.

"Some people say, 'It's just infrastructure - it doesn't matter,' but it has a huge impact,'' he said. "It's good to have someone in this position, in my opinion, who understands that. Most of the time you just have a pure operations person in the deputy director job, but the world has changed, and the business climate has changed in how we run this organization.''

Shawn Henry, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office, said Murphy has the respect of the troops in an organization where many people "are just wound really tight.''

"He's disarming and approachable, but people shouldn't take that for more than what it is,'' Henry said. "He's very direct and able to make decisions, and it's not just Mr. Nice Guy, it's Mr. Nice Guy and Let's Get the Job Done.''

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