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Until recently, Scott Muller’s closest contact with international espionage was watching the occasional James Bond movie. That all changed in October 2002, when Muller became general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency. A former managing partner of Davis Polk & Wardwell’s Washington, D.C., office, the 52-year-old attorney has specialized in white-collar criminal defense for high-profile clients, including Texaco Inc., MCI Communications Corp., and, most recently, Sotheby’s chairman Alfred Taubman. Muller talked with Corporate Counsel reporter Elisabeth Preis about landing the job, learning the ropes and solving the CIA’s latest legal challenges. Corporate Counsel: Your specialties — antitrust defense and white-collar crime — don’t seem like they would meet the apparent needs of the CIA. Why do you think you were chosen for the GC job? Scott Muller: I would say my specialty was multiple crisis management: dealing with simultaneous problems for large institutions. I think that’s precisely what they found attractive about me as a candidate, that I could tackle “Rubik’s Cube” kinds of problems. CC: How did you learn you were a candidate for the job? Muller: I got a call from a lawyer I know in the White House who asked me if I would be willing to be considered. Over a period of several months, I went through several rounds of interviews at the White House. They were looking for someone with enough experience and judgment to deal with a lot of issues in general, and although I didn’t have any national security background, I think they found my experience with crisis management and federal law enforcement appealing. CC: When most people think of the CIA, spies come to mind, not lawyers. What exactly does the agency’s GC do? What are your primary responsibilities? Muller: In its most basic, easy to understand level, there are 115 lawyers here providing a full range of services to a very large client with the same number of problems any large client would have. Of course, there are some special ones given the nature of the work, such as the appropriate rules of engagement with regard to our adversaries overseas. Then there’s the whole issue of dealing with our congressional committees. And there’s the issue of dealing with the intelligence community. I’m GC of the CIA, which everyone knows about, but I’m also counsel to the director of central intelligence, who coordinates the CIA along with a bunch of other agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FBI and the National Security Agency. The relationships are really hand-in-glove, because so many issues we’re dealing with have wide repercussions. CC: The CIA took a quasimilitary role in its November 2002 bombing of al-Qaida operatives in Yemen. How closely is the agency working with the military and other agencies in the current war against terror? Muller: Out of necessity, there’s extensive coordination between the military and intelligence agencies, as well as with the Department of Justice. The whole history of the CIA is that it grew out of the OSS [Office of Strategic Services], the intelligence arm of the military in World War II. So the precedent is there for the two to rely on each other. CC: Has communication among agencies been an issue at all? Muller: I have not seen that to be a problem. The CIA’s corporate culture is actually a very good one in terms of communication and coordination. CC: How will your past work — for Alfred Taubman and Sotheby’s, Texaco, Nynex and MCI — help in your new job? Muller: When you’re lucky enough to have clients as good as those are, [you have] the ability to work with good lawyers and think hard and strategically to solve problems. Also, [these clients offered] great practice for simultaneous, multiple crisis management. Texaco’s a pretty good example. The company had a huge press brouhaha, a criminal investigation, a civil rights lawsuit, a derivatives case, a class action shareholders lawsuit and an internal investigation all going on at the same time. CC: What are some of the legal issues that you foresee dealing with in the war against terrorism? Muller: What are the appropriate limits on what we can and should do to fight people who not only have shown that they’re capable of doing what they did on Sept. 11, but that they’re set on doing it again? What’s the right balance in terms of authority you give? Then there’s the cost: How will the choices we make change our daily lives and our perception of what we’re fighting for in the first place — our rights and civil liberties? I don’t have particular views on particular issues, but the general issue is, obviously, what is the right balance between protecting people and protecting their freedoms?

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