- Robert S. Mueller, III
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- The Denver Forum
- Denver, Colorado
- April 13, 2006
It is good to be back here in Denver. The Denver Field Division of the FBI covers the states of Colorado and Wyoming. It has 11 satellite offices, and, recently, a new office building in Colorado Springs. Its central location is helping us to work more closely with our partners, some of whom have joined us here today.
In particular, I would like to recognize Denver Chief of Police Jerry Whitman and Aurora Chief of Police Dan Oates. Thank you so much for attending here today.
In today’s world of new and dangerous threats to our national security, the value of information has grown exponentially. Given the challenges we face, it is only by looking at information in new ways and improving our capabilities, that we can better protect communities such as yours.
Leonardo DaVinci said, “All knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”
I would argue that what we already know also profoundly influences what we perceive. If I had stood before you two years ago and told you that I had just seen a giant blue bear staring into the second story of the Denver Convention Center, you would have reasonably concluded that I had lost my mind.
Today, because you know that Lawrence Argent’s sculpture of a large blue bear does, indeed, sit next to your Convention Center, you are likely, I hope, to make a different judgment.
Some of you may be thinking to yourselves, “Yes, I see what you mean,” but without asking you, it would be hard for me to conclude whether that’s because you understand my point, or because you know that, “I See What You Mean,” is the title of that sculpture of the blue bear.
I use this example to give you an idea of the complexity of interpreting information and the challenges inherent in reaching conclusions from limited bits of information. Yet, that is what we, and other members of the intelligence community, are asked to do every day of the year, and with terrorism, countless lives may depend on making the correct assessment.
One of the key lessons of September 11 is that threats to our nation can come from anywhere at anytime. Our adversaries do not respect organizational boundaries or international borders. Instead, they are networked by modern information technology which has made the world even smaller.
For example, in Toledo, Ohio, three men were recently indicted for actively trying to wage jihad against American soldiers and coalition allies serving in Iraq. According to the indictment, the men were attempting to acquire and deliver explosives and computers to their co-conspirators in the Middle East. One of the men allegedly downloaded a video from a terrorist website, which depicted the step-by-step construction and use of a bomb vest.
In the war against terrorism, one cannot help but be struck by the dichotomy of the old and the new—airplanes used as weapons, plastic explosives hidden in donkey carts, tragic videotaped beheadings posted on the Internet. Terrorists who shun our way of life are more than willing to use our technology to carry out and to publicize their attacks.
Increasingly, the global community of the Internet is used not only to break down barriers and aid commerce, but to sustain and nurture centuries-old hatreds and to commit new types of crimes.
The threat of today, and of the future, is a dangerous convergence of terrorists, hostile foreign governments, and criminal groups operating over the Internet and through interconnected, sophisticated networks. We see organized crime laundering money for drug groups. Drug groups selling weapons to terrorists. Terrorists committing white-collar fraud to raise money for their operations.
This convergence of crime and terrorism means information is absolutely vital. The challenge we face today is transforming many bits and pieces of information into actionable intelligence, then disseminating that intelligence to the people who need it—all within a compressed time frame.
To meet this challenge, we are looking at information in new ways. We have improved our intelligence capabilities and adopted a more systematic, focused approach. One that is more closely coordinated with the larger intelligence community.
The FBI’s National Security Branch was established to better integrate intelligence throughout the investigative activities of our counterterrorism and counterintelligence programs. Its mission is to protect the United States against current and emerging national security threats—threats such as weapons of mass destruction, terrorist attacks, and espionage.
Our foremost goal is to identify and to disrupt threats before they cause harm, and this requires that we effectively gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence information.
The FBI has always been good at gathering information. It is how we fought the Soviet Union during the Cold War and La Cosa Nostra in the seventies and eighties, but until recently, the FBI primarily conducted investigations by tracking down leads which led to evidence to be used in prosecutions. Since September 11, we look at information as pieces of a larger puzzle—a puzzle we must rapidly put together to prevent future attacks.
Likewise, FBI investigations were case-driven from the bottom up. As the head of a field office, if there were gangs or drug activity in your area, that was where you would direct resources, but now we say, “know your domain.”
Today, the head of our Denver office, Rick Powers, directs his agents and analysts to look at it this way: If you were a terrorist operating in Colorado, where would you attack? What potential targets are in your backyard? A stadium, a shopping mall, a convention center?
And while we know more, still, my chief concern is always that which we do not know. But by better understanding that which our enemies target, we can better understand how to target our enemies.
As we recognize the necessity of intelligence gathering, we must also recognize the need to protect our civil rights. It has always been my belief, that in the end, we will be judged not only on whether we win the war against terrorism, but also on how we protect the civil rights we cherish.
While it is necessary to gather information, it is also vital that we effectively analyze that which we do collect. It is through analysis that we transform raw data into actionable intelligence.
To that end, we have doubled the number of intelligence analysts, and in every field office we have established Field Intelligence Groups—agents and analysts working together. For instance, here in Denver, six agents, 24 analysts and nine language specialists share one mission—to protect.
When it comes to analyzing information, technology is crucial. It helps us pull together disparate information to identify patterns and connections. We have dramatically upgraded our technology since September 11, particularly when it comes to replacing computers, updating our networks, and developing databases. We continue to build a modern information technology infrastructure. Last month, we selected Lockheed Martin to upgrade our information management systems. Improved search, analysis, and information sharing capabilities, all help us to know what we know—and to share that which we do know.
Along with better analysis, we are also disseminating information more effectively. The legal and operational barriers that once prevented information-sharing no longer exist. Thanks to the Patriot Act, today, there is free exchange of information between the law enforcement and intelligence communities. Since September 11, we have disseminated more than 20,000 intelligence reports, assessments, and bulletins to our partners.
We are seeing information in new ways, and we are working in new ways. Today, our cases frequently have an international nexus.
For that reason, our 54 international offices, or Legal Attachés, have become absolutely critical to our overall operations. We plan to have 58 open by the end of 2006. What began primarily as a liaison, now assists our counterparts overseas on joint investigations; intelligence-sharing; and the development of new methods to detect, disrupt, and prevent terrorist attacks.
Global connections have aided our ability to track down fugitives from justice. Since the first of the year, 43 international fugitives in 10 countries have been located—countries such as Armenia, Ghana, the Philippines, and Tonga.
We are also working more effectively with our partners here at home. State and local law enforcement are the eyes and ears of our communities nationwide.
Three of the four hijackers who piloted planes in the September 11 attacks had contact with state and local police, even though they were in the United States for only a short time.
Today, officers making traffic stops can contact the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, where multiple agencies bring together disparate “watchlist” information for the purpose of identifying known potential terrorists. The Center stands at the crossroads of intelligence and law enforcement. It allows officers on the street to receive guidance based on the most up-to-date terrorist information available.
Since the start of the year, the Center has fielded more than 500 calls in Colorado alone. And in half of those calls, the person who has been stopped is a match with a person whose name is on the watch list.
Partnerships among the law enforcement and intelligence communities act as a force multiplier. The FBI is a relatively small organization with only about 12,000 agents compared with around 800,000 law enforcement officers spread throughout the United States. That is why, since September 11, our Joint Terrorism Task Forces have increased from 35 to over 100 across the country.
Here, law enforcement, intelligence, and first responders work in the same room, literally shoulder-to-shoulder, tracking down terrorism leads. The Denver Division has a total of 67 participating agencies and has addressed over 5,000 investigative leads in the last two years alone. In communities like yours it is partnerships that determine our success.
Let me give you a couple of examples:
In 1992, the Denver law enforcement community recognized the threat from violent gangs trying to dominate the local crack cocaine market. In response, the FBI, the Aurora and Denver Police departments formed the Metro Gang Task Force. Today, it is a partnership of nine federal, state, and local agencies all working to dismantle criminal enterprises.
This task force recently cracked down on one of the most powerful gangs in Colorado—the Gallant Knights Insane Gang. Its members were committing homicides, armed robberies, carjackings, and assaults on local streets on a regular basis. Task Force members utilized several sophisticated techniques, including court authorized wiretaps, to investigate the gang’s criminal activities. The investigation culminated with over 400 law enforcement officers making arrests, executing search warrants, and seizing assets belonging to over 60 gang members.
Even as we confront threats from international terrorism, we cannot forget terrorists who operate in our own country, using violence to intimidate and coerce Americans. Next week marks the 11th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing which, prior to September 11, was the worst bombing disaster in the continental United States.
In a more recent investigation, members of the Denver Joint Terrorism Task Force gathered evidence on a series of arsons in five western states. According to the indictment, environmental extremists waged a campaign of domestic terror using incendiary devices.
The suspects allegedly attacked U.S. Forest Service ranger stations, lumber companies, a high-tension power line, the Vail Ski Resort, and other public and private targets, causing millions of dollars in damage. This January, 11 defendants were indicted on charges of arson and destruction of an energy facility.
These are two successful investigations in Colorado, but successes like these are taking place from coast-to-coast. And while our mission of preventing terrorist attacks is our top priority, criminal investigations remain vital to our operations. Often overlooked is the importance of our history—our foundation—in criminal investigations. But many of the skills and techniques we develop chasing down criminals are the same we use to pursue terrorists.
A recent example from Miami reads like a movie script. On November 6, 2005, international flight number 462 arrived from Frankfurt, Germany, as scheduled at Miami International Airport. Along with its passengers, the plane carried a container holding 80 million dollars.
As the cash was prepared for transport, a dark colored pickup truck pulled up to the warehouse. Two masked men jumped from the truck and, at gunpoint, snatched up six bags of currency. They dropped one of the bags, but managed to spirit away 7.4 million dollars in cash.
Miami-Dade police responded to the scene and started an investigation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrived and began conducting interviews. FBI agents from the Miami Division joined our law enforcement partners at the scene.
Through their combined efforts, a number of suspects were identified. After several weeks of intensive physical and electronic surveillance, a 150,000 dollar reward was offered. Immediately, an individual came forward with a list of names and was outfitted with a listening device.
As a conversation was monitored, investigators learned that a rival group kidnapped one of the robbers and would only release him for a cut of the money. Based on the escalating situation, FBI agents and Metro-Dade police officers arrested three of the robbery suspects.
By tracing a cell phone call, Miami-Dade technical support located the kidnappers at a hotel near the airport. FBI agents and Miami-Dade detectives arrested the three kidnappers. FBI SWAT team members cleared the hotel and located a pick-up truck in the garage.
The kidnap victim—who was a suspect in the original robbery—was found in the backseat bound with tape. The suspect was freed for one brief moment, then put in handcuffs and arrested on the spot.
His three captors were charged with taking a hostage to extort stolen money. Three of his cohorts, along with the victim, were charged with armed robbery.
This investigation used both investigative techniques and intelligence activities. It demonstrates the tremendous value of intelligence, of informants, of technology, and, most particularly, the value of partnerships. Spontaneous and seamless cooperation among multiple state and local law enforcement agencies was key to solving this case.
In the FBI, our greatest strength is our ability to bring to bear the full array of our law enforcement investigative tools and our intelligence capabilities in pursuing criminals and terrorists alike. By looking at information in new ways, improving our capabilities, and working more effectively with our partners, we will succeed in making America a safer place in which to live.
Going back to the blue bear for a moment, information—like art—can change your perspective. Perhaps, today, you have gained a new perspective on why the FBI is uniquely situated to fight and win the War on Terror.
We live in a world of changing threats. And we face a ruthless and determined enemy. It is by using information to our advantage that we can ensure the safety of our families, our businesses, and our nation.
Together, we will prevail. Thank you for having me.