Home News Speeches Houston Forum on Crime and Terrorism
  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • The Houston Forum
  • Houston, Texas
  • March 24, 2006

Good afternoon. Thank you, Willie, for that kind introduction. It is great to be here in Houston.

I am glad to see one of my favorite Texans, Harold Hurtt, who is chief of the Houston Police Department. Harold also serves as president of the Major Cities Chiefs. I’ve had the pleasure of working with him for several years now, and he has been a terrific friend and partner to the FBI.

John Steinbeck once wrote that, "Texas is a nation in every sense of the word." He was right. Texas has it all, from the depths of the Earth, with the oil and gas industry, to the far reaches of space, with NASA—and everything in between. International borders and seaports, museums and stadiums, small businesses and global industries. The economic and intellectual vibrancy here in Houston creates tremendous opportunity for commerce and for culture—but it also presents opportunity for crime.

Today I want to talk to you about the impact of globalization on crime and terrorism. I also want to tell you what the FBI is doing to protect you from criminals and terrorists, and how our experience combating traditional crime has prepared us to meet the complex threats of this century.

I'll start with a bit of history. Back in the early 1930s, Bonnie and Clyde were on a crime spree in North Texas. But then, they crossed over the Texas border and into Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois, New Mexico, Iowa, and Louisiana. They left behind a trail of prison breaks, hold‑ups, kidnappings, and murders.

The FBI was created for just this reason. Criminals had begun to take advantage of the latest technology—in this case, the automobile—to cross state lines and evade local law enforcement. Because of its national jurisdiction, the FBI could chase them across state lines.

The nature of crime has changed dramatically since Bonnie and Clyde. Today, we confront sophisticated spies, hi‑tech hackers, and ruthless terrorists. We face corrupt corporations, violent gangs, and international crime rings, and our enemies may be based anywhere in the world, or anywhere on the World Wide Web.

All of this has been made possible by globalization. We generally think of globalization as a phenomenon that affects commerce alone. But it also affects crime and terrorism. Modern technology makes it possible for an investor in New Delhi to electronically manage his stock portfolio in New York, but it also enables terrorism and crime to jump from Sarajevo to San Antonio with a single keystroke.

In a sense, Bonnie and Clyde were harbingers of the globalization of crime. While they escaped in stolen cars to cross borders, modern criminals and terrorists can hop on an international flight, or they can hop on the Internet and ignore borders entirely.

The FBI's challenge is to defend America against global terrorism and to protect Americans from global crime, while at all times upholding our civil liberties.

If you read the Houston Chronicle, you know the FBI is rising to that challenge, and tackling crime that may be global in nature, but local in impact. For instance, the FBI recently helped secure the conviction of a Houston man for trafficking women from Central America and forcing them into servitude in Texas. Last fall, we coordinated with our law enforcement partners throughout the United States, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico to arrest over 650 suspected members of the MS-13 gang.

What you should know is that the FBI is working hard, and working well, and working with partners throughout the world to keep you safe. What you might not know is how the FBI is working to do this.

Instead of giving you a list of the technology, the intelligence, and the partnerships that are critical to our success, I would like to walk you through a hypothetical example of a case—a verbal "ride‑along"—so you can see some of our investigative tools at work.

Let's call the protagonist of our story Officer John Smith, and let's make him one of Harold Hurtt’s officers at the Houston Police Department.

Just before going on duty, Officer Smith logs onto his computer to check his LEO account. LEO stands for Law Enforcement Online. It is like AOL for law enforcement officers—a secure Internet service operated by the FBI, so state and local officers can access intelligence information.

Officer Smith reads the latest intelligence bulletin issued by the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. This bulletin reflects a concern that individuals associated with a recent terrorist attack in Europe may be living in the United States. It also says the European terrorists called phone numbers in the United States, including several pre-paid cell phones bought in Texas.

Officer Smith then reports for duty. A short time later, he sees a car speed through a red light at a downtown intersection. He pulls the car over and asks the driver for his license and registration.

Officer Smith uses the computer in his patrol car to enter the license plate number into the FBI's National Crime Information Center, or NCIC. NCIC is a vast computer database of fugitives, missing persons, and stolen property. When Officer Smith runs the plate number, it tells him the car is stolen.

NCIC also runs the driver’s information against the consolidated terrorist watchlist that is maintained by the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center. In other words, Officer Smith will soon know if he is dealing with a simple stolen car, or if he is dealing with a wanted criminal or even a suspected terrorist.

Moments later, Officer Smith gets a message back from the Terrorist Screening Center, alerting him that the driver’s name matches a name on the watchlist. Officer Smith immediately calls the screening center. An FBI agent tells him the driver may have ties to terrorism and asks him to gather more information and report back.

Officer Smith goes back to the car and asks the driver some routine questions. The driver says he is a student from Europe, here to study at a nearby university. He claims he is doing some sightseeing and getting to know the area.

While talking to the driver, Officer Smith notices a camera, several cell phones, and a map in the car. When he asks to look at the map, he sees there are circles drawn around a sports stadium, a medical center, a shopping mall, and the port area.

Red flags go up. Officer Smith arrests the driver for possession of a stolen car and takes him in for questioning. He then calls a colleague who is assigned to the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force here in Houston.

The Houston Joint Terrorism Task Force is made up of federal, state, and local law enforcement officers from more than 45 agencies, literally working side‑by‑side to track down all counterterrorism leads.

So Officer Smith has called the Joint Terrorism Task Force to help him get some answers as quickly as possible. The Task Force investigators check the State Department's databases and find out that the driver is in the U.S. on a student visa, but is not enrolled in any university.

In the meantime, the Houston police run the driver’s fingerprints through the FBI's comprehensive database, comparing them against over 51 million sets of prints. They get a hit. This individual had been arrested before under another name. When the FBI agent runs the alias through the Terrorist Screening Center, he gets yet another hit.

Then the agent enters the numbers of the cell phones found in the car into the FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse, which instantly checks the information against more than 50 databases, looking for possible links to terrorism or crime. The check reveals that one of the cell phones found in the car was called from a phone connected to the European terrorist attack described in the intelligence bulletin that Officer Smith had read earlier.

The FBI agent immediately alerts the FBI’s legal attaché offices in Europe, or legats. We have 54 such offices in cities across the world, where FBI agents work closely with their international counterparts.

And so, within hours of the arrest, the Houston Police Department, the FBI, the CIA, and European law enforcement and intelligence agencies are working hand-in-hand on this investigation. Has the man been sent to the United States to do reconnaissance on possible targets? Or is he here to recruit members for a terrorist cell?

As the pieces of the puzzle come together, it becomes clear that the work of just one police officer set in motion a chain of events that led to an international investigation, the identification of a potential terrorist cell, and the prevention of a possible terrorist attack.

Remember, in real life, law enforcement often has fewer leads to go on, but this example illustrates the range of investigative capabilities available to all levels of law enforcement.

Law Enforcement Online already has nearly 50,000 users, and we are on our way to doubling that. The National Crime Information Center processes over 5 million transactions from law enforcement officers every day. The Joint Terrorism Task Forces have tripled from 35 to 101 since September 11. The Terrorist Screening Center has fielded over 3,000 calls from law enforcement in Texas alone, and nearly half of those calls resulted in positive matches to names on the watchlist.

These tools have been pivotal in solving real counterterrorism and criminal cases. For example, last summer in Torrance, California, local police arrested two men in a gas station robbery. When they searched the men’s apartment, they found documents listing the addresses of U.S. military recruiting stations and synagogues.

The Torrance police officers did just what Officer Smith did—they called the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Working as a team, the task force, along with 200 Los Angeles Police Department officers, undertook a sweeping investigation, and uncovered the rest of the terrorist cell.

As alleged in the indictment, their plan had two phases. First, they would attack the military recruiting stations on Sept. 11, 2005. A month later, on Yom Kippur, they would open fire on families gathered at the synagogues.

The plot was disrupted, and we believe many lives were saved because of the close coordination between the local police and the FBI. This is just one case—but our state‑of‑the‑art information-sharing tools help us every day to detect criminal and terrorist activity and to shut it down—before any harm can be done.

In every such case, the partnerships among federal, state, local, and international law enforcement are critical. This has always been true—72 years ago, it was local police and the FBI that finally put a stop to Bonnie and Clyde.

Modern law enforcement faces challenges more complex than at any other time in history. But we are ready and able to meet those challenges.

Sam Houston once said, "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may." The same is true of all Americans. We cherish our open society, where the rule of law prevails, and freedom and opportunity flourish. We have been targeted by those who would undermine the law, exploit our openness, and use our freedoms against us.

But whatever the source of oppression is—corrupt CEOs, gangsters, or terrorists—the FBI is there. Their goal is to threaten your freedoms. Our goal is to protect your freedoms.

We are a relatively small organization. There are only 12,000 FBI agents to cover the world, while Texas alone has over 85,000 licensed peace officers. But we are a determined organization, made stronger by our partners across the globe. We are committed to fighting the terrorists and criminals who threaten our way of life.

From Paris, Texas, to Paris, France; from Beaumont, Texas to Baghdad, Iraq; the FBI is working with our partners day and night to secure justice, not tyranny; safety, not terror; and freedom, not oppression. We will never give up, and together we will prevail.

 
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