Home News Speeches The FBI: Protecting America From Evolving Threats
  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Anti-Defamation League
  • New York, N.Y.
  • November 03, 2005

It is good to be here in New York. The Anti-Defamation League and the FBI share a strong bond of friendship. We have enjoyed a long and cooperative relationship, benefiting greatly from education and training programs you have provided to us and many others in law enforcement.

It is an honor to be with you, particularly as you recognize the family of Leon Klinghoffer for its work in educating the public about terrorism and the danger of the terrorist threat.

I want to share the words John F. Kennedy spoke in 1961:

"Terror is not a new weapon. Throughout history it has been used by those who could not prevail, either by persuasion or example. But inevitably they fail, either because men are not afraid to die for a life worth living, or because the terrorists themselves came to realize that free men cannot be frightened by threats, and that aggression would meet its own response. And it is in the light of that history that every nation today should know, be he friend or foe, that the United States has both the will and the weapons to join free men in standing up to their responsibilities."

Kennedy's words bear repeating because, in the nearly 45 years since they were spoken, the terrorist threat has remained. Beirut ... Egypt Air flight 648 ... Berlin ... Pan Am 103 ... Nairobi.

Of course we will never forget the attack on the Achille Lauro. For many Americans, it was their first view into the ugly reality of terrorism. Twenty years ago, I was working in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston and heard the news. Like you, I found the images shocking and haunting. Like you, I have carried them with me, along with a sense of urgency that we must prevent such acts in the future.

It is a new day in the war on terror, and it is a new FBI on the front lines.

Let me tell you a story. It is a true story about what did not happen this Sept. 11. On that day, a group of men were to enter a military recruiting center on a busy street in Santa Monica and kill everyone inside. Their plan was to go underground for a month, and then on Yom Kippur return and open fire on the families gathered outside a temple in West Los Angeles.

The attack that did not happen was not a big story. At the end of August, the news of the arrests was swept away in the winds of Hurricane Katrina. But there are people who are alive today, who might not be otherwise, because the new mandate for the FBI and our law enforcement partners is intelligence and prevention. That is today's FBI.

The case was broken when the terrorists committed a series of gas station robberies to raise money to finance the attacks. Police in Torrance, Calif., arrested two of them and discovered documents that listed Jewish locations and military posts. A couple of years ago that might not have registered, but the Torrance Police had an officer assigned to the FBI's Joint Terrorist Task Force.

They asked him to take a look. He called in the rest of the Task Force. Hundreds of investigators worked around-the-clock at an FBI command post to identify other members of the cell. Thousands of phone records were analyzed. Thousands of man-hours were spent backtracking until the entire cell was uncovered.

Their plot—hatched by a cell that began in a jail cell—was born out of a radical group in Folsom Prison, inspired by al Qaeda, fueled by hate and prejudice. They had raised money, obtained weapons, set the dates, and chosen their victims. They were poised to strike.

What stopped it? Our tighter links to local law enforcement, our improved ability to gather and analyze intelligence, our surveillance capabilities, and our improved computer databases.

I want to take this opportunity to tell you more about how the FBI is working to make our country safer. I will discuss how we are changing to meet today's evolving threats, update you on the war on terrorism, and describe our commitment to the ideals that define the FBI.

In his book, "The World is Flat," New York Times columnist and author Tom Friedman contends that advances in technology, travel, and communication have broken down walls between continents, countries and individuals. Now, anyone can hop online, on board or on the phone and connect with the world.

Unfortunately, as technology evolves, criminals and terrorists also evolve. 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. In this environment, 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.

Ironically, the same terrorists who shun our way of life are more than willing to use our technology to carry out and publicize their attacks—from airplanes used as missiles, to coordinated attacks on mass transportation, to videotaped beheadings posted on the Internet.

Fortunately, we, too, are tearing down the walls that previously separated us. At the same time, we are strengthening our intelligence capabilities, our technology, and our partnerships to win the war against terrorism and crime.

Today, the FBI's top three national security priorities are counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber security.

Shifting our priorities meant a systematic evaluation of all aspects of Bureau operations. Everything from how we communicate, both inside and outside; how we refocus on terrorism, but continue to uphold our other responsibilities in other areas.

The FBI has always been good at collecting information, but we had to become better at analyzing and sharing intelligence information. To prevent attacks, we had to increase the most important aspect of terrorist intelligence information: its predictive value.

Prior to 9/11, the FBI and the CIA were legally prohibited from sharing information between criminal and terrorism cases. Even FBI agents working terrorism intelligence matters could not compare notes with FBI agents working on criminal cases concerning the same terrorists. The Patriot Act has changed all that. Removing those legal walls has given us an indispensable tool in the war against terror.

Today, the FBI and CIA are not only sharing information on a regular basis, we are exchanging employees and working together on cases virtually every day. FBI agents working on terrorism intelligence see the same data and work side-by-side with agents developing criminal cases.

To maximize coordination among intelligence, counterterrorism and foreign intelligence units, we have brought them under a new National Security Branch. By viewing a broader landscape, we can better identify patterns and connections. We are developing a national intelligence service with enhanced recruiting, training, and career development.

As part of that branch, we have also added Field Intelligence Groups, in which analysts, agents, linguists, and surveillance specialists work as teams in each of our 56 field offices. Working together, they gather, analyze, and disseminate information. These FIGs are the backbone of our intelligence efforts across the country.

Intelligence helps us know more, but technology helps us know what we know. Every day, technology is helping us to better collect, analyze, and share intelligence. Our goal is to provide the right information, to the right people, at the right time.

More often than not, this means working with local police on task forces.

When New York was put on high alert recently, it was because of a threat to the subway system based on intelligence information out of Iraq. When the information was found not to be credible, people questioned whether it was right to alert the public.

This case highlights the difficulty of finding clarity in threats as well as the difficulty of knowing what to make public. We immediately shared the information—as we should—along with our concerns about the validity of the information. Mayor Bloomberg, Commissioner Kelly and the NYPD carried out their responsibility to protect their citizens.

The biggest issue in counterterrorism is time. With terrorist threats, we are collecting and analyzing at the same time we need to be acting. And while that presents a significant challenge to all of us, the intelligence community must continue to work in concert with operational components. We will improve with time and experience, and we will all be safer for it.

Our bottom line is protecting our citizens against terrorism. The prevention of terrorism takes precedence in our thinking and planning; in our hiring and staffing; in our training and technologies and, most importantly, in our investigations. It means that every counterterrorism lead is addressed. To give you some idea, there have been nearly 20,000 separate entries in our lead tracking system in the past six months alone.

Cooperation has improved internationally as well. Back in the '70s, when I was a federal prosecutor in San Francisco, if a case had links to Sacramento, it was an exception. Today, FBI agents are working with our law enforcement partners from Rome to Romania. Together, we are gathering intelligence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we are training police from Budapest to Saudi Arabia.

Due to the united efforts of virtually everyone engaged in this war-law enforcement, intelligence, the military, and the diplomatic community—we have achieved substantial progress against al Qaeda. We have removed their sanctuary in Afghanistan. We have disrupted their operations. And we have captured many of their leaders and associates.

Pull out the threads of top leadership, and the entire fabric begins to fray. For al Qaeda, life is much more difficult today. They are trying to rebuild, but their network is under pressure. They no longer have unlimited funds. They are worried about being caught.

Despite our progress, al Qaeda still seeks to attack us, through self-starter cells that follow the calls to Jihad on radical websites. Attacks like Madrid, Bali and London can be seen as examples of this.

Of course al Qaeda is not the only threat. There are still state-sponsored terrorist groups such as the Iranian supported Hizballah which, before 9/11, had killed more Americans than any other terrorist group.

As we confront international threats, we cannot forget terrorists who operate in our own country using violence to intimidate and coerce Americans. They are also a deadly threat, as we came to understand in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

On that date, a 20-foot Ryder truck, parked next to the federal building, exploded, killing 168 men, women and children. Prior to 9/11, it was the worst bombing disaster in the continental United States. We will never forget Oklahoma City.

Along with domestic terrorists, hate crimes remain a concern. Our annual report on hate crime statistics included over 7,600 criminal incidents committed in 2004, resulting from antagonism over race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. Religion was the motivation in 16.4 percent of the crimes reported.

Reporting is up 6.7 percent from 2003. While this is an improvement, we need to do better at tracking and reporting. It is the same groups preaching hate and intolerance here in our country that plant the seeds that grow into terrorism. We are focused on that. It is an area where the ADL has always excelled in tracking, training, and gathering information.

In Oklahoma City, Aryan Nations member Sean Gillespie targeted a woman because of her religion. Unable to find her, he firebombed the Temple B'nai Israel synagogue. When he was arrested and interviewed by FBI agents, he told them he would kill blacks, Jews, abortion doctors, and homosexuals if he could get away with it. On Aug. 30 of this year, Gillespie was convicted and sentenced to 39 years in prison.

I mentioned our new priorities earlier. But civil rights and hate crimes remain one of our highest priorities because I believe it is important that the civil rights of all of us are protected. Since 2003, we have disseminated raw intelligence reports and strategic intelligence assessments on right-wing extremism to our law enforcement partners.

These efforts demonstrate how we are working in new ways against new threats. But we are guided by ideals which do not—and should never—change. Those ideals, as stated in our motto, are "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity."

The men and women who serve in the FBI are fully engaged in the fight against crime and terrorism. They are working day and night to protect the American people while upholding our civil liberties. We understand that we will be judged not just on how we disrupt and deter terrorism, but also on how we protect the civil liberties which we cherish.

That is why the FBI puts a premium on thoroughly training our special agents about their responsibility to respect the rights and dignity of individuals. They receive extensive instruction on constitutional law, criminal procedure, and sensitivity to other cultures. In partnership with the ADL, and with thanks to my predecessor Louis Freeh, all new FBI special agents make a visit to the Holocaust Museum to see for themselves what happens when law enforcement becomes a tool of oppression.

The FBI has a long tradition of hard work, honor, and dedication to protecting the American public. We are a relatively small organization, but a determined one. We are committed to fighting the terrorists and criminals who target our country, and we do not give up. The FBI has proven this time and again. When a case is all but forgotten, we continue to investigate until those responsible are brought to justice.

These are the values that should remain constant as we grow into a national security agency ready to meet evolving threats. The war on terrorism is not over. When I come to New York, I cannot help but be reminded of the attacks of Sept. 11—the New York skyline on that blue, cloudless morning. Remembering that day is a sobering reminder of the determined enemies we face.

Yet freedom will prevail. We will not rest and we will not weaken. We will go after terrorists and we will stop them before they strike. Three weeks ago, people gathered on the street outside a Temple in West Los Angeles for Yom Kippur. There was no attack, no bloodshed. The men who planned that carnage were behind bars. The attack that is prevented is a smaller story than the one that succeeds. Maybe that is what they mean when they say, "No news is good news."

On that morning, it was good news for all of us.

Thank you for your support.

God bless you.

 
Recent Speeches
10.29.14
The FBI and the IACP: Facing Challenges Together James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Association of Chiefs of Police 121st Annual Conference, Orlando, FL
10.16.14
Going Dark: Are Technology, Privacy, and Public Safety on a Collision Cour James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Brookings Institution, Washington, D.C.
09.18.14
The Men and Women of the FBI: Defining Excellence, Every Day James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Director’s Awards for Excellence, Washington, D.C.
07.10.14
Celebrating a Milestone Mark F. Giuliano, Deputy Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jackson Field Office 50th Anniversary Event, Jackson, MS
07.07.14
Protecting Critical Infrastructure and the Importance of Partnerships James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI WMD Directorate/Interpol International Law Enforcement Critical Infrastructure Symposium, Miami, FL
06.23.14
Keeping America’s Children Safe James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Press Conference on Operation Cross Country VIII, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
05.19.14
Confronting Corporate Crime James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York City Bar 3rd Annual White Collar Crime Institute, New York City, NY
05.19.14
Combating State-Sponsored Cyber Espionage Robert Anderson, Executive Assistant Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Press Conference Announcing Charges Against Five Chinese Military Hackers, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
04.28.14
The FBI and the ADL: Working Toward a World Without Hate James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Anti-Defamation League National Leadership Summit, Washington, D.C.
02.26.14
The FBI and the Private Sector: Closing the Gap in Cyber Security James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, RSA Cyber Security Conference, San Francisco, CA
More