Director Reports on Terror Threat
A Report from the Director
Terrorism has been in the news a lot lately, with a series of unrelated arrests and indictments taking place across the nation—in Denver and Dallas, in New York and Springfield, Illinois—following investigations by the FBI and its partners that disrupted alleged plots to bomb a courthouse, a skyscraper, and other potential targets in our cites and communities.
Today, Director Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill at a Senate hearing focused on that same subject—in particular, how the threat of terrorism is being addressed eight years to the month after the attacks of 9/11. Joining him were the heads of the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center—Janet Napolitano and Michael Leiter, respectively.
If you want a sense of how the post 9/11 FBI operates, then the Director’s prepared statement is worth a read. It lays out the evolving terrorism threat as we see it today…as well as some of the key capabilities, initiatives, and approaches that have strengthened our anti-terror operations and turned us into an intelligence-driven organization that’s more predictive and preventative.
The threat, as described by the Director, is coming at us from many different directions today:
- Credible intelligence indicates that al Qaeda itself—centered in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan but also active in Europe, Africa, and elsewhere—still wishes to attack the U.S. here and abroad.
- Other extremist groups affiliated with al Qaeda have embraced its “vision of violent jihad” and are expanding operations, which may include launching attacks within the U.S. These groups have relocated to Pakistan and Afghanistan specifically to attack coalition troops and have coalesced in places like the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, Somalia, Central Asia, and Iraq.
- Then there are the so-called homegrown extremists—inspired by al Qaeda’s ideology but not connected directly to any extremist network—living and plotting attacks within our borders. The capabilities of such extremists vary widely, but in recent months we’ve disrupted a number of homegrown plots at various points in the planning spectrum—from scoping out targets to gathering explosives and readying to strike.
- Finally, Americans have actually been recruited to travel overseas to fight or train for terrorist groups. With their experience, training, and network of extremist contacts, these foreign fighters are a concern to us, both overseas and when they return to the homeland.
It takes a different kind of FBI to address these kinds of threats…and that’s exactly what has been built over the past eight years.
The Bureau today is steeped in all things intelligence, as you can read in the Director’s statement. We have the internal machinery in place (national collection plans, standardized roles and processes, etc.). We have the operational tools—Field Intelligence Groups in our 56 field offices gathering, sifting through, and pushing out information locally and nationally, along with more than 100 Joint Terrorism Task Forces nationwide doing the same. We have partnerships in place and working well throughout the intelligence, law enforcement, and global security communities. We are even gathering intelligence from recovered bombs and IEDs themselves. And we have an intel-driven mindset—seeing beyond single cases to the big picture threats, patiently mapping out networks of associates over months and years.
“The FBI’s plan is to understand the threats not only to disrupt plots but to dismantle networks so they no longer pose a threat. We want an intelligence picture of a network that is complete enough for us to avoid leaving any pieces of the network operating after we take action. Moving from simply understanding a case to mapping loose networks of associates can take months or years. Targeted intelligence-gathering takes time and requires patience, precision, and dedication. The process is labor-intensive and often does not provide a clear picture quickly, but it is at the core of understanding the threats facing the homeland.”
Director Robert Mueller
- Director Mueller’s testimony