WASHINGTON — FBI Director William S. Sessions, declaring that the racial and sexual makeup of the bureau should reflect American society, Wednesday signaled a stepped-up attempt to recruit more women and minorities as agents.
In an interview two months after taking office, Sessions said that he is concerned not by the legal requirement to be non-discriminatory but by the need to improve the FBI's investigative capabilities in a pluralistic society.
There are sometimes "unique requirements of race or sex" involved in investigating some of the more than 200 crimes over which the agency has jurisdiction, and, if "you don't have those kind of people, then you're disabled," Sessions said. "If you need to infiltrate an organization characterized by a particular nationality and you don't have that nationality of person available in a trained, ready status, then you're disabled."
Although the FBI has made what Sessions described as significant strides in hiring women and minorities, he acknowledged that the numbers are well below the proportions in the U.S. population.
Of the 9,477 special agents in the bureau on Dec. 29, 799 were women--a record high for the agency but still only 8% of the force. There were 396 blacks, 402 Latinos, 41 American Indians and 114 Asian Americans, all near record highs.
Sessions noted that, although the FBI first began hiring women as agents 15 years ago, the bureau still does not have a woman commanding any of its 59 field offices--or in headquarters posts above that rank. "Those people ought to be popping up in those ranks," he said.
Sessions refused to discuss a suit alleging racial harassment in the FBI's Omaha and Chicago offices brought by FBI agent Donald Rochon, a black now assigned to the bureau's Philadelphia office. The FBI director said he had "no sense" that the kind of discrimination alleged by Rochon in the suit he filed last November is pervasive but stressed that he could not discuss pending litigation.
"It's absolutely essential we not have discriminatory conduct or activities on the part of anybody anywhere in the bureau--period," said Sessions, a former federal judge. "I think it's debilitating . . . it's contrary to the law . . . . My belief is now that the bureau as a bureau reflects that. And, if there are unfortunate circumstances, they are truly unfortunate."
On another sensitive topic, Sessions discounted the likelihood of significant changes in the way the FBI conducts background investigations of persons nominated by the President for high office, despite the bureau's failure to learn of former Supreme Court nominee Douglas H. Ginsburg's use of marijuana when serving on the Harvard Law School faculty. The disclosure by the news media of Ginsburg's marijuana use led to his withdrawal from consideration for the post.
Sessions said that he expects a review of the background investigation to be on his desk in the next few days but that he foresees no changes at this time.
"Some of these things are anomalies," he said. "It is not expected, I would think, that you would turn up with a circumstance like we came across in the Ginsburg nomination.
"Some people may say, 'Well, you're naive.' Now, that may well be, but I would expect that most nominees for any high government nomination would be law-abiding people," Sessions said.
He said he had found it "no burden" to be working under Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III at a time when two of Meese's former associates are under indictment in connection with a fraud scheme that includes alleged attempts to influence Meese and when Meese is himself under investigation by an independent counsel.
"It's not a usual circumstance that you would have an attorney general who might be associated so closely with persons under indictment," Sessions said. "Yet, I have found in my association with him in every respect he has not disappointed me in terms of his conduct of his office. And I have no reason to suspect at all that he will do anything other than that--that is, fully carry out his oath and his obligation of office."
Relations With Meese
Sessions said that his first conversations with Meese last July "related to what my relationship with him would be, because I knew that there were those allegations generally floating around. And he assured me that our relationship would not be impaired because of my responsibility as director of the FBI to be involved in investigations that might in some way touch upon that.
"I have found no diminution in that at all," Sessions said. "It has been consistently a strong relationship. He carries out his office as far as I can tell. He carries out his obligations. And I hope it would be ever thus."
Sessions, 57, whose swearing in as FBI director was twice delayed by a bleeding ulcer, said that he is "approaching 100%" full fitness now.