WASHINGTON FBI Director Robert Mueller was given the U.S. Justice Department's highest award on Thursday at a ceremony a month before he completes what colleagues called a transformative tenure atop the nation's largest investigative agency.
Mueller, 68, became FBI director one week before the September 11, 2001, attacks, and is due to retire when his term expires on September 4. He was dubbed "Bobby Three Sticks" because his full name is Robert Mueller III.
Attorney General Eric Holder departed from protocol to give Mueller the Justice Department's Award for Exceptional Service, which is supposed to be given only once a year.
"He has led nothing less than a large-scale and historic transformation of the bureau," Holder said, adding that Mueller redefined the FBI "as an intelligence-driven agency."
No speakers at the ceremony, which drew senior officials from the White House and CIA, mentioned the recent fury over the extent of the FBI's new surveillance capacity as exposed in leaks to U.S. and British newspapers by former contractor Edward Snowden, now holed up in a Moscow airport as he seeks asylum.
The Senate on Monday voted 93-1 to confirm James Comey, who served as the Justice Department's No. 2 official under President George W. Bush, to succeed Mueller as FBI director.
Mueller was the chief federal prosecutor in San Francisco when Bush appointed him to the FBI. A New England prep school and Princeton graduate who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, he was known for his formal bearing and serious demeanor.
(Reporting by David Ingram; editing by Gunna Dickson)