Home News Speeches Protecting American Communities on the Front Lines
  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Annual Conference of the National Sheriffs' Association
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • June 24, 2002

Thank you, Sheriff Bittick, and good morning everyone. It's great to be here, to take a breath between congressional hearings, and talk with the law enforcement professionals who are on the front lines of protecting America's communities.

I want to thank you for all the hard work and the support and the guidance you've given to the FBI over the years, particularly since September 11. We recognize the great burden that has now fallen on your shoulders, and we appreciate how faithfully and effectively you have carried that weight these past nine months. You were, quite admirably, a step ahead of the game when it came to handling the tragedy that unfolded and the events that followed; three years ago, NSA launched an innovative training program on terrorism to help you prepare for attacks. And in addition to running the successful Neighborhood Watch program, we applaud you for now taking on the Citizens Corps effort on behalf of your communities. So again, thank you for everything you do for all of us in the Bureau, and thank you for the tremendous job you do for the American people.

Last October, when I met with your leadership for the first time, I said that I wanted to join you at this national convention in Tulsa. I have been looking forward to the opportunity to talk with you about our relationship, one that is changing and evolving and one that I believe holds great promise for all of us.

As we all know, our relationship over the years has had its share of ups and downs. But in more recent times, it has started to take root and really impact our respective operations as we have begun working more and more closely on joint investigations and task forces of all kinds.

Shortly after September 11th, we opened a new chapter in our relationship. Our nation had just experienced the worst terrorist attack in history, and we found ourselves with a new overriding priority and a huge responsibility we knew we could only tackle together: to head off acts of terror. It is a new era for law enforcement, one that requires us all to share information, to create solid operational links, and to support one another like never before -- in short, to create a true partnership.

I want to make it clear that the FBI is absolutely committed to building this new relationship. In our eyes, we are together full and equal partners. We are proud to serve alongside you, and we respect your abilities and your contributions. In fact, going forward I am convinced that the FBI is only going to be as good as its relationships with you and with law enforcement at every level.

Last month, as you know, the FBI spelled out its ten priorities for this new era. On that list are all the things you would expect: our terrorist prevention mandate and top priority; counterintelligence; cyber crime; public corruption; civil rights; and our other criminal programs. But also on that list is something you might not have expected: law enforcement cooperation. It's not a criminal or national security responsibility, but it is a fundamental and historic part of our mission. And it is absolutely essential to the success of every other priority on that list. That's why we felt so strongly about making it one of our top ten priorities.

Shortly after the events of September 11, we in the FBI had the opportunity to show you the seriousness of our commitment. You and others raised concerns about our changing relationship, and we came together to talk about how it could and must be improved in a time of national need. We told you to give it to us straight, and you did. You said that relationships and information-sharing could be improved. You said that you wanted to be kept in the loop and to be partners in the war on terror, and you told us that you could help us through your extensive local connections. You offered suggestions and expressed interest in an advisory group to work through mutual issues of concern.

We appreciated your candor and your support, and we have been working ever since to address the issues that you and others raised. Our efforts fall into two main areas.

First, based on discussions with your leadership and others, we felt it important to establish some permanent mechanisms to help us build cooperation and resolve issues. After exploring the idea with NSA and other organizations, we created an Advisory Board made up of representatives of law enforcement and the FBI that meets regularly to share mutual concerns and improve how we work together. Sheriff Bittick is a member of that board, and we appreciate his participation and input. So far, we've had some very productive sessions.

Along the same lines, we in the FBI decided to formalize and solidify your importance in our own structure as we moved forward with our reorganization. In December, we announced that we were creating two top posts devoted specifically to addressing your needs, and we filled them with two professionals with extensive police experience and strong reputations in the ranks of law enforcement. Both have spent time with you here.

We asked Kathleen McChesney to be Executive Assistant Director of Law Enforcement Services, heading up one of the four major branches in our new structure. Kathleen is on point to build relationships both nationally and internationally. She is responsible for the many programs you have come to rely upon, whether it is law enforcement training, high-tech criminal justice services, or laboratory support. She is a respected voice both inside and outside the Bureau, and I rely on her a great deal when it comes to law enforcement relationships.

Reporting to Kathleen is an Assistant Director for a new Office of Law Enforcement Coordination, who is specifically devoted to building relationships with state, municipal, county, and tribal law enforcement. As you know, we recently selected former High Point, North Carolina Police Chief Louis Quijas for that job. Louis could not be here this morning, but his job is to listen to you, to talk with you, and to address your issues and concerns in a way that benefits us all. He is the point of contact for your organization and for the many other associations and groups we work with so often. Louis not only gives you a voice in the Bureau, he also gives you a seat at the table. He will be there with us as we develop plans and strategies for the war on terror and for major investigations, helping us factor in your strengths and capabilities. Louis has hit the ground running, already putting together a list of objectives for his office in the coming months.

Kathleen and Louis form a strong team for you at FBI Headquarters. We also have dozens of Special Agents in Charge nationwide who work with you on a regular basis. I've made it clear to the SACs that relationships with you must be a priority. And they have responded. Many of you have told me that partnerships at the local level are stronger than ever. We recognize that challenges remain, but our goal is to have solid and productive relationships with every Sheriff and every law enforcement official across the nation.

Personal relationships are a critical piece in determining whether we are in sync in the war against terror. A larger, more complicated issue is information-sharing. It involves not just a broad interplay of relationships, but a host of legal, technology, policy, and cultural issues. I couldn't possibly cover every angle of the issue for you today. But I do want to touch on some of the high points, and I do want to assure you that this issue has our attention.

Our Joint Terrorism Task Forces are one of the most effective vehicles for sharing information and intelligence with you. That is why we put out the call to our Special Agents in Charge shortly after September 11 to get a task force up and running in every field division. Today, 47 of our 56 field offices have fully funded and fully functioning task forces. The rest are in motion, and we expect to have them in place by year's end. These task forces are really the most valuable tool we have for keeping you up to speed on terrorist investigations and for folding you into the war on terror. And clearly, they help strengthen our relationships all around.

During our conversations with you and with state homeland security directors, one of the things you said would be most useful in addressing terrorism is general information on what to be aware of and what to look for based on what the FBI has learned. In response, we began a weekly Intelligence Bulletin four months ago that shares exactly this kind of information. You've told us these bulletins are helpful, and we'll continue to refine and improve them based on your input and feedback.

And I know that at the state and local level, field offices are responding to your needs by initiating or participating in groundbreaking information-sharing efforts. At the national level, of course, we have many projects and plans underway to build our information-sharing capabilities. Shortly after the events of September 11th, we started a terrorism watch list. We plan to make it a permanent program in the Bureau, providing a single repository of information on individuals who are wanted on criminal charges, who are of investigative interest to us, and who are sought by other agencies and governments. We are creating an Office of Intelligence to help ensure the vigorous and fluid flow of information both inside and outside the FBI. We have been given nearly half-a-billion dollars by Congress to modernize our information technology, which will dramatically improve our ability to manage and analyze intelligence and share it government-wide. We created a new Records Management Division, not just to help fix what went wrong in the Oklahoma City bombing investigation, but also to put in place mechanisms and policies to manage the vast amounts of information that we gather everyday relating to terrorism.

Finally, coordinating our overall national efforts is an Information Sharing Task Force at FBI Headquarters. Last week, we appointed an FBI executive to head up that project to improve the flow of information with law enforcement at every level.

One of the fundamental issues we are addressing is how we communicate threat warnings and advisories. Let me just say, I understand your frustration with these alerts -- with both the content and how fast they get to you. I know how disconcerting it is to hear threat warnings for the first time on CNN and the like, which many of you have probably experienced. But I hope you realize that some of our information-sharing systems are just not quite up to the job yet and that we are working hard to address the issue. We continue to refine our processes and to look for the best possible mechanism or combination of mechanisms to get you information.

These many issues that we're working on together, from strengthening the quality of our relationships to improving the level of information-sharing, are beginning to make a difference. Much work remains to be done, but I think we're heading in the right direction. Communication and information-flow have improved. Relationships are stronger, in many cases the best they have ever been. And many more efforts are underway to build on this progress.

One of our challenges is that even as we build our relationships, the FBI is undergoing a deep and fundamental transformation that is going to change how we work with you. In this post September 11 world, with global threats ranging from terrorism to espionage to cyber attacks and organized crime, the FBI must focus its resources upon its greatest responsibilities.

Prevention of terrorist strikes, as I said and as you know so well, is by far and away our most urgent priority right now, and it is no easy task. Our society is so open, our population so large, our landmarks so plentiful, and our borders so widespread. We in the FBI must work with you to prevent attacks not only in our cities and neighborhoods, but in every nation where America has a presence. We must make sense of reams of information that pour in from around the world. We must coordinate with every agency under the sun. At a time when the nation is watching us closely, we must be especially careful to dot every "i" and cross every "t" when it comes to gathering evidence and managing investigations. We are racing to overhaul our technology, to improve our analytic capability, and to get a grasp on changing laws and investigative guidelines so we can do the best possible job now for the American people.

Last month, as part of our second wave of change, we announced that we are reassigning 480 additional Special Agents to help us with our prevention mandate. Around 400 of those Agents will be shifted from narcotics investigations; the rest will come from violent crime and white collar crime.

That decision, as important as it is to our country, impacts all of you. We are well aware of the extra burden this puts on you, and I want you to know that we in the FBI appreciate your support and the extra effort that all of you are making on behalf of your communities.

At the same time, though, I want to assure you that we will continue to work with you and support you in protecting your communities from violent crime, drugs, and white collar crime. For example, we will still support you on the more complex, cross-county bank robberies, but we may do fewer "one note" jobs. We will stay on various violent crime task forces and drug squads, but perhaps with fewer representatives. We will still investigate white collar crimes with you, but in some cases we may raise the dollar threshold limits.

These are general guidelines, not hard and fast rules. We are giving our local Special Agents in Charge a great deal of flexibility so they can decide how best to match local needs against our national priorities. And whether you are checking fingerprints or criminal backgrounds, brushing up on your skills at our National Academy in Quantico, or calling upon our Lab for support, you can continue to count on us for a host of law enforcement services.

In short, we will continue to build on our strong, historic partnership with state and local law enforcement.

I know that all of you are aware of the President's proposal to create a new Department of Homeland Security. Though much still needs to be worked out, that initiative could obviously drive significant changes in the Bureau in coming months -- changes that, again, could impact our relationships. Later this week in congressional testimony, I will give our assessment of how the President's proposal, as we understand it, complements our new reorganization.

As we move through this time of change, I want to encourage all of you to keep the lines of communication open. We want and need your input, both positive and negative. No one likes criticism, but constructive feedback and an open dialogue are signs of a healthy relationship. And I believe that we in the FBI must in all cases welcome constructive comments and honestly admit where we could have done better. If we do so, I am confident we can learn from our mistakes and become an even stronger institution.

As I look into the future, I see a great deal of promise and possibility in this new era for law enforcement. I see a Bureau that is better equipped, better managed, and better coordinated than ever before. I see us working with you so seamlessly that it will become more and more difficult to separate successes. I see us as partners and friends, professionals who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect one another and the communities we serve.

It's going to be an exciting, yet challenging time for all of us. I look forward to making the journey together, working side by side with you as we have for nearly a century. Thanks and God bless.

 
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