Director Comey Remarks During May 11 ‘Pen and Pad’ Briefing with Reporters
Director Comey: I’m not here, by the way, to talk about any pending investigation. To and including the investigation in connection with Secretary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server. You’re welcome to ask me about that, but I promise you you’re going to get the same answer which is that I’m not going to talk pending investigation. That I remain close to that investigation, to ensure that it’s done well and has the resources that are needed.
As I’ve told you all before my goal in any investigation is to do it well and do it promptly. Especially investigations of intense public interest. All that remains true. It remains under investigation, and I have nothing else to say about that.
I actually came this morning from ... We did our memorial service ‘cause police week is kicking off. It’s always a good event for us, but always heartbreaking to see the families of people. One of the special agents who was killed in a terrible cold case [squad] shooting at [Washington], here in DC. One of the kids work for us, which is a wonderful thing.
The only thing else I wanted to hit at the outset with you is, I also got a briefing this morning on the quarterly stats for homicide, in the nation’s largest cities. I’ve talked to you about this before and I was very worried about last fall. I am in many ways more worried, ‘cause the numbers are not only going up they’re continuing to go up in most of those cities faster than they were going up last year. I worry very much, it’s a problem that most of American can drive around. From the Las Vegas trip you can’t tell that more than 60 people have been murdered in Las Vegas this year. From the miracle mile in Chicago you can’t hear the sounds of gunshots that have killed over 200 people so far this year. Lots of other cities, as I’ve said most of them ... I think it was 42 or 3 I got briefed on. Most of them have seen an increase. It’s again, happening in certain parts of the cities. The people dying are almost entirely Black and Latino men. We can’t drive around that problem.
I raise it with you all because I hope it’s being reported on at local levels, but in my view, it’s not in the attention of the national level it deserves. I don’t know what the answer is, but holy cow do we have a problem. Obviously I continue to believe it’s really important that law enforcement and communities, especially communities of color, continue to talk to each other. The bureau’s still trying to be a part of that drive and that conversation. Mike has arranged for me to go down to the 16th street Baptist church in Birmingham, week after next, as part of trying to continue that conversation. Especially about race and law enforcement. I’m sure some of you will hear about that when I do it.
That’s it. Now I’ll be quiet. We’ll try to do our usual organized way. I usually begin at my left hand.
Pete: On Apple, two questions if I may. First of all, was your on the spot math in London correct? Was it in fact 1.3 million or whatever we all figured out it was?
Director Comey: Mike loved that I was just winging that.
Pete: Secondly, with the two cases having collapsed for obvious reasons, aren’t we left with a court order in Brooklyn that says that Apple doesn’t have to respond to an All Writs act order? Is that where we still are? That Apple is not responding to All Writs act orders in the Federal Government?
Director Comey: First, I’m not going to get into ... I probably shouldn’t have been cute trying to estimate for you how much it costs. It costs a lot of money. My wife discovered that many of you misreported my salary, which is $178,100.00. She wanted to know where the extra 4 grand was. It cost a lot of money. In my view it was well worth it.
So to your answer your question Pete, about the cases. Yeah, there is a court order that’s not been vacated. The decision by the Magistracy Judge in Brooklyn, that I’m sure will be cited and discussed, certainly in cases if there are future cases in that jurisdiction. I have no doubt elsewhere. As I’ve said many times before, the San Bernardino case was about that phone.
Given the prevalence of devices that we can’t unlock, in law enforcement investigations, I’m sure there’s going to be other court cases. We’re collecting data on ours. I think Amy has testified to this, first six months of this fiscal year, the number’s about 4000 devices were examined by FBI experts. About 500 of ‘em could not be unlocked. I expect that number just to grow as the prevalence of this technology grows with new models. We got to continue to grapple with this as a country. I’m sure there will be cases and cases where that decision will be a feature. I’ve said before, I think litigation is a poor place to try to resolve issues that involve values we all hold dear. In individual investigations, I’m highly confident that prosecutors are going to pursue court orders to try to get into devices, where they have a search warrant.
Pete: Can I just follow up on that and ask you? We understand why you wanted to get on the phone in San Bernardino, you’ve made that quite clear that you didn’t think the investigation wouldn’t be thorough without doing so. Having done that now, did you find any breakthrough evidence in it?
Director Comey: I’m not going to say. Even in hindsight I’m very glad we got into the phone. It was important.
[Shall I] give you a pen?
Speaker 3: Just piggy backing what Pete was asking, have you had to use that same tool that you used to get into the San Bernardino phone and other phones yet?
Director Comey: I don’t think we have yet. We’re trying to figure out a mechanism where we can use the tool to help in other investigations. Again, it’s a narrow thing which is a 5C operating at on iOS 9 system. We’re trying to figure out how we can help state and local law enforcement, if they have a court order. How we can do that and still maintain the viability of the tool. That work is underway right now. I expect in the near future we’ll have figured out how we’re going to do it.
Then we’ll tell local law enforcement, “If you send us a phone here are the rules”. Look, I want to make sure that if there are ways to use it in appropriate cases we do, but I don’t think we’ve used it yet.
Speaker 4: In [inaudible]. Two very good questions. In terms of the basic narrative of San Bernardino. Is that still as you described it earlier a no information about direction from overseas, control from overseas, but simply inspired by [inaudible]?
Director Comey: Right. Nothing’s changing in our assessment of it.
Speaker 4: Then, on the issue of the violence. Why do you think that this story hasn’t gotten as much attention? Does the country truly understand the impact of what I call chronic plague play where you literally have hundreds of people being shot and killed in greater numbers maimed [inaudible].
Director Comey: I don’t know. The answer to the first part of the question. The second part of the question is, I think because it hasn’t been talked about on the national level a whole lot. I’m sure people don’t fully appreciate what’s going on. As I’ve said, there’s been lots of local conversations and reporting. Chicago’s has a ton of it. Chicago has generated some national attention, but I don’t think there’s been a whole lot of reporting looking at ‘What’s going on?’ and ‘Why does Dallas see a dramatic spike and Houston doesn’t?’.
Remember I talked to you all about, last fall, the map in the calendar makes no sense. It’s a complicated hard issue but the stakes couldn’t be higher. A whole lot of people are dying, and I don’t want to drive around it.
Sorry, go ahead.
Speaker 4: Can you elaborate please, on the public statement from Amy Hess a couple weeks ago about the VEP? I think you’ve heard some rumblings from the technologist community about how is it possible for the bureau to spend a lot of money on this device, this tool and not fully grasp the mechanics of how it works? Can you elaborate on how that’s possible and why that decision was made in this particular situation?
Director Comey: Sure. Sometimes you can buy a tool that helps you accomplish something. Sometimes you can buy the guts of the tool, right? The software behind it, the code behind it. There’s a difference between those two things. Our goal, I know you’ve all heard me say this many times, the goal in San Bernardino was to investigate the case and get into that phone. We bought what was necessary to get into that phone. We tried not to spend more money than we needed to spend, but we spent the money we needed to to get into that phone. We did not in any form or fashion, structure the transaction of the thing with an eye towards avoiding the VEP. I would be shocked if anybody even thought about the VEP or the VEP at the time this was going on. We bought what we needed to buy, to get into the phone.
Speaker 4: Why isn’t it important to understand the certain mechanics and the basics of how it gets you into the phone, just for potential future purpose?
Director Comey: Why is it important?
Speaker 4: Why isn’t it important? It seems like that might be desirable to know how it works from start to finish.
Director Comey: I suppose it could be, but it might cost you a whole lot money. If your interest is in investigating a particular terrorist attack [inaudible] phone, I don’t know why you would spend that dough. The bureau is not in the interest of trying to purchase all kinds of vulnerabilities. We’re in the business of trying to investigate cases in any way.
I was over here and now I’ll go back across.
Speaker 3: Perfect set up. Thank you Eric. I wanted to ask a question right off the bat.
Given that some of the tech policy experts are saying that if you don’t disclose the vulnerability to the software maker, that increases the security risks for consumers, companies, anyone who might be using the phone or running the software on their computers. Should there be a policy ... Do you think it would be wise, from a policy perspective to say, “When you are purchasing exploits you should at the same time try to get as much information about the underlying vulnerability? Make sure you have the technical details on the underlying vulnerability so that you can at least submit it to the VEP, so they can make a decision about the disclosure?”. For the purposes of weighing security risks versus law enforcement equities.
Director Comey: I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve thought about that long enough to give you an intelligent answer. Among the things I’d want to ask, if folks were chewing on it as a policy matter is, if you can get it for free, okay. What if you have to spend multiples of the poor director’s salary to get that? I just haven’t thought about it well enough. It was not a consideration here. The goal was to get a tool to get us into the phone.
Speaker 3: Do you think you would have to spend much more money, in this case, to get that information from the-
Director Comey: I don’t know. My guess is we’d have to spend more, but I don’t know. I don’t know whether that was even part of the conversations with the private party. Again, our goal was, “You have a tool that you demonstrated to us to get us into the phone, how much does that cost? How do we get that quickly so we can get into the phone?”. I don’t even know if it was a consideration. As far as the policy question, I haven’t thought about that well enough to give you a good answer.
Eric: Two different issues, just following up on Peter on the rising bylaws. In the last year you linked that issue to police possibly backing off, the so called Ferguson effect . Now seeing the increase continue, you’ve got crosswise with the White House on this last year, do you stand by that? That it could be a Ferguson effect? What do you think now?
Director Comey: I resist the term Ferguson effect, because to me I think that is still what I’m talking about, the viral video effect and changes in the way police may be acting and in the way communities may be acting, in terms on how much information they share with police. Could well be at the heart of this, or could well be an important factor in this. The reason I resist Ferguson effect is Ferguson, at least to my recollection, wasn’t about videos. I think it is the potential effect of marginal pullbacks by lots and lots of police officers that is changing some cities. I continue to hear that privately from-
Eric: Did you hear anything in the briefings [to] say that made you more convinced of that or more questioning of that?
Director Comey: No, I just continue to hear. I’ve heard it from the folks who briefed me. I’ve heard it lots in conversations, privately, with police leaders. That they perceive lots of places in the country, a change in the way police are doing their work. As I said, and in the way communities are interacting with police. It’s a perception, I don’t know if it’s true or not, that folks are less likely to tell police when they see things. There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that’s suppresses crime. The getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, “What are you doing here?”. Instead doing your job, right? Responding to 911 calls, making arrests. What’s continuing to be suggested to me in private is, there’s lots of impacts to police departments at the margins and communities.
Again, I don’t know for sure whether that’s an answer. What I’m hopeful of and I’ve seen some signs of it is that academics will dive into this. The media will dive into this. Something has happened. Sometimes people say to me, “Wow, the increases of off of historic lows”. How does that make any of us feel any better, right? A whole lot of more people are dying this year, than last year. Last year, than the year before. I don’t why for sure. [crosstalk]
Eric: I know you don’t want to talk about the Hillary e-mails but I’m asking anyway.
Director Comey: [Are you ashamed?]
Eric: Yeah, I try not to. You’ve indicated publicly, in Niagara Falls and a few other places that you were going to finish this up on your own schedule. You were in no rush. The convention wasn’t a factor, nothing else was a factor. Is there a concern in the director’s office that this investigation is now the subject of so much scrutiny and speculation that you’re affecting a presidential election, in a negative way?
Director Comey: All I would do Eric is repeat what I said before. In any investigation, especially one of intense public interest, and I felt this about San Bernardino. We want to do it well and we want to do it promptly. I feel pressured to do both of those things. What I said at some places, I don’t tether to any particular external deadline. Look, I understand the interest in this particular investigation. I do feel the pressure to do it well and promptly. As between the two, we will always choose well. That’s the same general answer I hope I’ve [been giving] before.
Speaker 6: Following up on the violent crime issue-
Director Comey: You screwed up my [bouncing].
Speaker 6: I’m sorry. I was curious, ‘cause the property crime was down according to some of the statistics, 4.2 percent. Is there a threat of over simplification in terms of blaming this on the viral video effect? If, when you’re talking about the cities that are mostly responsible for the hike in homicides ... The hike in homicides, at least half are responsible or three cities are responsible for about half of that spike. Is there a way that there’s an over simplification here? Given that we’ve seen a big drop in property crime numbers from last year.
Director Comey: I don’t know. Anytime you talk about crime there’s always a worry of over simplification. I’ll say it again, I don’t know what is driving this. It could be, it’s simply a collection of individual factors in different cities. It’s hard for me to believe that there isn’t something broad that’s affecting it. Maybe there could be. Maybe we’re seeing a jump in homicide in different cities all over the country are driven by factors in those particular areas. Again, Chicago’s had a huge increase. Again, when you see the numbers, I think you’ll see a significant number of cities have seen a significant jump in their homicide rate. This quarter against last year, and last year was an increase. I don’t know. There’s always a danger of over simplification, these are really hard questions. Academics wrestle with it. I’m just urging, I think everybody’s got to wrestle with it ‘cause something’s going on. That’s my message.
Speaker 7: If this really is trivial to viral video effect. What’s the public policy solution there? Right? Private citizens have the right to report police officers operating in public?
Director Comey: Of course. There’s nothing wrong with scrutiny. If that is a part of what’s going on in these cities and I’ve said this publicly many times, it’s incumbent upon leaders in the police organizations and in the communities to agree. We all want the same kind of policing. We want up close, respectful, appropriate policing. We want police officers to get out of their car, at midnight or 2 a.m., walk up to the 5 guys at the street corner and say, “Hey, do you guys live around here?”. Have a conversation with them up close. Everybody wants that. If there’s something going on in the community where there’s fewer and fewer of those conversations, leadership in the police needs to make sure that their officers understand that’s what’s expected. Leaders in the community need to say, “That’s exactly what we want. We want you out of your cars talking to these people in an appropriate, respectful way”.
Sometimes what I’ve said I think has been misconstrued, I’m not against scrutiny of police, I think that’s fabulous and has worked some important changes in the last couple years and I hope it continues to. What I’m worried about is, we all agree we want the same kind of policing, and if it’s not happening we need to talk about why. That’s it. I’m going to keep bouncing though, ‘cause I promise [inaudible].
Speaker 8: An issue related to that is the pledge to develop a database on police encounters with residents. Are you concerned that it’s taking too long to get that up and going? The last we’ve heard that it’s like a workable database won’t be up and running for at least 2-3 years.
Director Comey: Yeah.
Speaker 8: What’s your-
Director Comey: I’d love to do it tomorrow, but the good news is everyone in law enforcement agrees we’ve got to build it. The hard part is the execution of it, not the willingness. Actually the thing that you were worried about most is that folks don’t want to do it, that’s not the case. People want to do it. Big departments, small departments, at the federal level. There’s good progress being made, but yeah, it’s going to take ... I don’t know exactly what the estimate would be. It’s going to take us probably at least two years to get it up and running. That does frustrate me, because I think as I said to police organizations, there’s nothing more inherently governmental than law enforcement’s use of deadly force in encounters with citizens. We, in government, ought to be collecting that data and sharing in an transparent way with everybody. The good news is everybody agrees with that. The execution? We’ll do it as fast as we can do it.
At the same time, we’re also pushing to get better crime data for the country. Which will take ... I hope we can get it done in three years. Everybody in law enforcement is committed to five years, from this past fall. We will be in at NIBRS world, which is a richer data world for all of us. The country will be much better off.
Speaker 8: Isn’t participation an issue, and then right now you don’t get even total participation even in crime data collection?
Director Comey: Yeah, it’s voluntary. Sure.
Speaker 8: Correct, and this case too. Aren’t there departments out there who are hesitant to provide data on deadly encounters with residents?
Director Comey: No department has told me that yet. I’ve heard from all the police organizations and sheriff organizations that everybody’s on board with this. We’ll see as we get down to the delivery, but it is voluntary except we have an opportunity to talk about it publicly. You can imagine the circumstance that nearly everyone’s doing it, and we can point out who’s not doing it. Talk about it.
Catherine: On the e-mails director Comey, are you doing a security inquiry?
Director Comey: I’m sorry?
Catherine: On the e-mails are you doing a security inquiry?
Director Comey: I don’t know what that means?
Catherine: So it’s a criminal investigation?
Director Comey: We’re conducting an investigation. That’s the bureau’s business. That’s what we do. That’s probably all I can say about it.
Catherine: The reason I ask is because Mrs. Clinton consistently refers to it as a security inquiry, but the FBI does criminal investigations. I just want to see if you can clear that up.
Director Comey: Right, it’s in our name.
Director Comey: I’m not familiar with the term security inquiry.
Speaker 10: Three quick things. One, would it be possible to get the data you’re referencing in terms of the last quarter? Just so we’re all on the same page.
Director Comey: Sure, it’s not my data I got it from the major city chiefs, but Mike will follow up to see if we can get you that data.
Speaker 10: Two, I think you used the words you were ‘too cute’ perhaps talking about how much you spent on Apple. I know you’re an advocate of transparency in government. It was tax payer money, I assume that was used to pay to crack the phone. Why not say how much it cost? Just flat out.
Director Comey: A variety of reasons that I don’t want to get into. I’m not comfortable giving you the precise number.
Speaker 10: Okay.
Director Comey: What difference? Let’s imagine-
Speaker 10: You already said that it’s more 1.3 million if you just factor out my salary. Why not just clear that up and just be transparent about how much it actually cost?
Director Comey: I think I’ve been transparent enough that people understand it cost a lot of money. For a number of reasons I don’t want to give [inaudible].
Speaker 11: You’re worried about making it more expensive for the next time?
Director Comey: [crosstalk]
Speaker 10: A negotiating point.
Director Comey: A number of reasons.
Speaker 10: It’s related-
Director Comey: I don’t want to waste your tax payers money. Go ahead.
Speaker 10: [crosstalk] weighing an amendment to rule 41, so that you guys can remotely access computers not in an jurisdiction. What would you say to privacy advocates who are very concerned about this potential change?
Director Comey: Yeah, I’d want to correct your characterization of it. It does nothing to change any of the FBI’s authorities. We still need to get a search warrant. Make a showing of probable cause. Explain to the court what we’re doing and how. It’s just the question is, what judge can issue a search warrant. In complex computer crime cases, given the nature of the dark web for example and given the nature of huge bot nets, it is problematic for some of our most important investigations. If we have to go to dozens of different magistrate judges in a bot net case, or if we’re unable to go to a magistrate judge ‘cause we can’t say for sure where the computer is. Even if we have probable cause to believe that computer is involved in serious criminal activity. It’s to solve that problem where the digital age has made physical location, a less of a determinant than it is in the pre-digital age.
That’s what I worry about. If folks talk about it like it changes the FBI authorities. Not a teeny bit, not at all. It’s question is what judge we can go and make the showing to.
Go to Paula.
Paula: First question, last night the stabbings in Massachusetts. Have you seen any link to terrorism in that case yet and the motives?
Director Comey: I don’t know enough to say.
Paula: Following up on that, how was the status of the FBI’s relationship with Apple and other tech companies? I know you’ve said that you want to continue to have a conversation. It basically seems that things are becoming increasingly acrimonious. You double down in the EDNY case, but then you guys pulled out cause he said that he would give you the password. Microsoft came out and sued you. Tech overwhelmingly sided with Apple. How are things specifically with Apple, and then generally the tech industry?
Director Comey: Actually pretty good. We have differences in litigation, but I think that’s why litigation is not a productive place to discuss collision among values, [pre-values]. Overall, I’d say our relationship with Apple and the tech companies are productive and appropriate. Often times tech companies are victims, and we’re investigating things people are trying to do to them. I hope the tech companies think we do that well. Often times, we’re serving them with lawful process and they’re cooperating with lawful process. I characterize it as overall well. It’s not a monolith. With some, especially for litigation, it can be tenser than others. Not that folks would imagine, actually. Yeah, so that’s my verdict on it.
I’ll bounce over here, sir.
Speaker 13: Have you seen anything going on on the hill, on the encryption issues that Senator Burr Feinstein had a draft working proposal? Have you seen that? Is it something that you would support?
Director Comey: I’ve seen it. The bureau doesn’t take position on legislation so I have nothing to offer there. One of the things I like about it, is it continues to drive the conversation that I think we need to have. How we, as a country want a govern ourselves. That’s it. I have to stop there ‘cause it’s department of justice’s job to take position on litigation.
I’ll go across to you.
Speaker 14: Couple of questions. First on the iPhone case. Do you personally know yourself who the third party contractor was who unlocked the iPhone for the FBI?
Director Comey: Yeah. [crosstalk] personally know yourself. Yes.
Speaker 14: You have that knowledge?
Director Comey: I have a good sense of who the person.
Speaker 14: A good sense, or you know the identity of the contractor?
Director Comey: I have a good sense. I couldn’t give you people’s names.
Speaker 14: What’s the name of the company let’s say that they’re with?
Director Comey: I don’t want to answer that one.
Speaker 14: Another one, the FBI’s shared responsibility committees were reportedly supposed to be rolled months ago. It seems like that has run into some delays. The pilot launch is still in process. What’s the delay? Does it have to do with the criticism that those projects have received from civil rights advocates?
Director Comey: I don’t think so. First of all, I don’t have any reason to think it’s connected to criticism. Last time I got briefed on it that we’re trying to pilot it in ... I forget, 3 to 5 cities, I think. To see how it works. I hope that the folks who are concerned about it will engage, and dig into the details of it. I think if they dig into it they’ll be like, “Oh that sounds pretty sensible”. Unless I’m missing something, nothing about any criticism or controversy has delayed what we’re trying to do.
Actually, explain to everybody, I think that you get this. What we’re trying to do is, we’re trying to use our good offices to connect providers. Social service providers, medical providers, counseling providers. Who may be in an appropriate situation able to take a referral from us of someone that we’re looking at who we don’t think we need to use the criminal justice system to incapacitate, and see if they can redirect. Especially that young person, troubled person. We see it as trying to foster some sort of off ramp. There won’t be a lot of these cases, but in cases where we find someone we think, “Hope we don’t have to lock that person up. Maybe we can get them the help that they need”. That’s the idea.
Not to be run by the bureau, but the reason we’re driving it is because we know everybody. The idea is SAC in your community, pull that group together tell them, “When you have an appropriate referral you’ll send somebody to them”.
Speaker 14: If not criticism, do you know why the delay?
Director Comey: I don’t.
I’m going to keep bouncing. Bounce.
Speaker 15: I guess today the FBI agent association is going to be one of those law enforcement agencies on the Hill that’s speaking out against the sentencing reform bill. Do you share a stance with them at all, or do you think that some of the issues that you were talking about with the homicides rising in cities, is it all playing into people speaking out against some of those issues in particular?
Director Comey: I don’t know. I don’t know what their concerns are. As I said, I wouldn’t comment on specific legislation. What I’ve said publicly is, my general sense is that the ideas animating that the work in the Senate and the House seems sensible and general to me. I don’t know what their particular concerns are. I don’t connect the two to arise in to what they’re talking about in the hill. Which, to my mind, my recollection focuses in a good way trying to reduce recidivism, trying to give people skills and drug treatment. Those kind of things in jail. Which I think is one of the few things people across the spectrum agree upon. I don’t know if that.
Speaker 16: Just a follow up on that actually. I wanted to ask about the criminal justice reform records as well. How much do you think the rising homicides rates should factor into those discussions on the hill? Do you think they should impact the course of these proposed reforms?
Director Comey: Yeah, to the extent that the conversations on the hill are trying to reduce recidivism and trying to get people skills and treatment or whatnot. I see them as in a way they’re connected, because it’s about trying to reduce repeat offense. That’s probably what I would say about that. More generally, I don’t know enough about the specifics beyond that kind of stuff to offer a reaction.
I got to keep bouncing. [crosstalk]
Mike: I got two questions. First on the e-mails, I know you don’t want to talk about any details. Normally conduct investigations if it leads to criminal charges. We all learn what you found. In this case, given the scrutiny that you’ve acknowledged, regardless of whether this results in criminal charges, do you foresee a mechanism by which you can give a public accounting or report to tell us what you found?
Director Comey: I don’t want to say at this point, Mike.
Mike: Number two, right. Back in January when the Iran nuclear accord was signed, the White House said it had secured a commitment from the Iranians to provide information, assistance, on locating Bob Levinson who was not returned as part of the swap. It’s now been 4 months. Have the Iranians provided any new information that would help you identify what had happened to Bob Levinson?
Director Comey: Not something I can comment on. Bob Levinson remains top of my mind. Literally every day, I think about Bob.
Speaker 18: Thanks for doing this. I just wanted to clarify something that you said, that I thought you said at the top, that you’re evaluating whether or not the iPhone hacking tool can be used in other cases? I just want to clarify that that’s what you said. Then I have an additional question.
Director Comey: Yeah. We’re trying to figure out, in theory it can be used in any case where there’s a court order for a 5C running iOS9. We’re trying to figure out what mechanism, what way should we build that accomplishes that goal. Allows law enforcement around the country, with court orders, to be able to use our tool.
The reason it’s a little tricky is one of the great thing about our criminal justice system is discovery. If we use it in a criminal case in such a way that it becomes a feature of litigation, then the nature of the tool may be exposed and it’s utility may be significantly decreased. We’re trying to be thoughtful about how to do that. Is it enough to help our colleagues in state local law enforcement in such a way where we say, “Look we’re never going to testify”. I’m just imagining this. “We’re never going to testify. Send it to the lab. We’ll open it, if we can. We’ll send it back to you, but to the extent that you need to establish chain of custody or have witness testimony to use what’s on that phone. You’re not going to be able to”. That’s one possibility.
Another is we’ll say, “We’ll take the risk and we will be prepared to testify and risk the tool being exposed”. Then it’s utility diminishing. That’s what we’re sorting through right now. Does that make sense?
Speaker 18: Yes it does. Are you looking to see if they can be used beyond the 5C? If it can be used on other models?
Director Comey: I think we’ve already checked that out as part of our own work. My recollection is we’re highly confident that it works only on a 5C, running on iOS9.
Speaker 18: I just wanted to ask one additional question just on the encryption issue. We’ve been talking about the data arrest issue. The data that resides on like a phone. What about the data in the motion side of things? How much is this a concern for you when you’re dealing with surfaces like What’s App, that’s doing end to end encryption of text messages? How are you viewing that as being ... Is it as significant as data at rest or more significant? Are you looking at bringing court cases on that side of the equation?
Director Comey: Thank you for that. It’s hugely significant. I would sort it this way. The data at rest problem affects non-national security law enforcement overwhelmingly. The data in motion, at least today, overwhelmingly affects our national security work. Terrorists and their fellow travelers are increasingly using end to end encrypted apps. What’s happening is those two circles though, are slowly coming together. Increasingly drug gangs and carjacking gangs are using data in motion facilities that are encrypted. To over simplify, data in motion tends to affect national security work. Primarily, data at rest tends to affect criminal work primarily, but the two are coming together, because encryption of both data at rest and data in motion becoming ubiquitous.
You take What’s App. What’s App has over a billion customers. Overwhelmingly good people, but in that billion customers are terrorists and criminals. That now ubiquitous feature of all What’s App products will affect both sides of the house.
Speaker 19: Including the Brussels attackers, right? They were using What’s App?
Director Comey: Yeah, I don’t want to say. It’s a huge feature of criminal ... Excuse me, a terrorist trait craft. By its ubiquitousness, if that’s even a word.
Director Comey: It’s ubiquity? It’s affecting the criminal work in huge ways.
Speaker 18: Are you thinking about bringing a case against What’s App? Is this under consideration?
Director Comey: I’m not, but it’s going to be inevitably. It will be an impediment to criminal wire tap orders. In criminal cases and national wire tap orders in national security cases. Whether there will be litigation cases down the road, I don’t know. That collision is going to happen, just the way it’s happening in data at rest.
Speaker 20: You spoke about the off ramp option earlier and these intervention groups. Can you describe a little bit more when you would foresee that being used? Is it the kind of option, had it been available, that that [PI] would’ve used in cases that it did bring through the criminal system?
Director Comey: Yeah, thank you. I don’t of an example where we would have used it. So, no I don’t. Which is why I imagine it’s going to be of a marginally utility going down the road. The idea is, let’s imagine we have a 16 year old that we’ve either encountered online or someone has reported to us is expressing affiliation for ISIL. We look at it and say, “Actually this kid hasn’t moved towards trying to be a killer. He’s actually just confused and screwed up, and he’s looking for sources of meaning. It’s early yet. What if we could introduce him to the share responsibility committee and see if they could help the kid as a possible off ramp”. That’s the idea. I honestly don’t imagine it happening a lot. Going backwards I can’t think of a case where we would’ve used it.
Speaker 20: Can I ask you about some comments that were made by one of your predecessors up in New York City? The very reticent of mayor Giuliani. He mentioned that while he was running U.S. attorney’s office there, a fair amount of information that they dealt with in certain types of investigations was classified. That, at least on occasion he was fairly confident that some lawyers in office probably took home some of the information that was classified, when they were feeling overworked or behind the 8 ball. You think that ever happened when you were in charge of that office?
Director Comey: The place got much better when I took over. I honestly don’t know what he’s talking about, but there’s no doubt the government investigates it all the time. Administrative investigations, sometimes criminal investigations, of mishandling of classified information. I don’t know of a case where it happened. The incidents of classified information are cases in SDNY were sufficiently unusual. I think people showed great care. That’s my reaction.
Last bounce. You’re bounced in early, but I’m going to bounce back.
Speaker 21: I’m taking another shot at the Clinton e-mails. It’s impossible to separate this from the presidential race. We’re only 6 months out at this point. Do you feel a personal responsibility to the American people to wrap this up or get it to a solution as quickly as possible here?
Director Comey: I’m going to stick with what I said earlier. Yeah, I couldn’t have said it any better.
Mike: Just following up on that What’s App-
Director Comey: So we’re going to reverse bounce now, Mike.
Mike: On the What’s App. To what extent did the conspirators in Paris and Brussels use encrypted apps such as that?
Director Comey: I’m not in a position where I feel comfortable giving you details. I’m going to avoid the particular investigation, and I’ll just state it at the general. Highly confident that the use of encryption, both for data at rest and data in motion, is now a central trait craft of ISIL and other terrorist groups. Especially ISIL.
Speaker 23: Speaking of ISIS. The last time we talked you said you’d seen the leveling off of foreign traveler cases. Where does that stand? Backing up from just that isolated part of it, what is your sense now about the volume of ISIS recruitment in the United States? Is it still at the same level? Have you seen any change there?
Director Comey: I think the ISIL, so called Islamic state brand, has lost significant power in the United States. We are seeing that trend is continued since we talked about it in October, whereas-
Speaker 23: That trend you mean for travelers?
Director Comey: That is the drop in the numbers of people traveling or attempting to travel. I’ll probably screw up the numbers but you’ll get the idea. You imagine 14 in the first half of 2015, we were seeing 6, 8, 10 a month. People trying to travel or successfully travelling. Since last August, it’s averaged about 1 a month. That trend is now sustained and it’s gone on for ... Coming up on a year, this August. There’s no doubt that has happened that is lasting in terms of the attractiveness of the nightmare, which is the Islamic state, to people from the United States. That’s true.
Their ability to motivate troubled souls, to inspire them, remains a persistent presence in the United States. We have north of a thousand cases where we’re trying to evaluate where somebody is on the spectrum of consuming to acting. That number continues to tick up slowly. We haven’t seen a material change there. There’s still a presence online and troubled people are still turning to this and at least being interested in it. They’ve lost their ability to attract people to their caliphate from the United States, in a material way.
Speaker 23: Just to be crystal clear, in terms of people trying to go physically you’re seeing a steep decline in that?
Director Comey: Correct.
Speaker 23: In terms of people consuming the social media who might be at some point conspired to do something that’s still a problem?
Director Comey: Yes, it still is a problem. I don’t know the numbers well enough to characterize whether the rate of increase has changed. It’s just ticks up slowly. We have not seen the diminution that we see in the traveler world, in the radicalizing online world.
Catherine: Yes, I have an ISIS related question. These kill lists have gone from military to government, now to the average Americans. How would you assess the credibility of this threat? Is it really down to local and state to notify people, or do you see a larger role for defense in this?
Director Comey: There’s a we, often with our joint terrorism task force partners, in New York. We just recently did it with NYPD. We have a duty to warn, which we take very seriously. We go and try to find anybody on any list that’s put out in the United States.
ISIL’s been engaged in this so called doxxing since the beginning. Which is interesting is that their lists have gotten less specific and more like they just pulled it out of the phone book or found it on a website somewhere. Which is an interesting trend. I don’t know exactly what that shows. You remember two years ago they were focused on particular lists of service members, now they’re drifting towards just putting out hundreds of hundreds of people that they just pulled off some-
Catherine: Like municipal databases is what someone was talking about.
Director Comey: Yeah. Now they’re sort of publishing portions of the phone book, but look, we take it very seriously. I’m sure it ruins a whole lot of people’s days. We go find those folks and say, “Joe Smith, just want you to know that your name was on this list. We don’t have any specific credible threat that’s focused on you, but we want you to know this. If you see anything that concerns you please call us”. We do that with hundreds and hundreds of people.
Catherine: Given what you were just saying, that there’s upwards of a thousand cases, right? Of people we’re trying to figure out where they are on the spectrum as it relates to ISIS. How concerned are you about a Paris style or Brussels style attack happening in the United States? We haven’t met since before that and now obviously a lot has changed.
Director Comey: It’s something that we focus on every day. We’ve been doing this now for two years, and how long have I been in this job? 8 months? You remember way back, two years ago, we talked about how we the FBI see three strands to this thread. The effort to attract people to come to the caliphate. The effort to use social media and others to inspire people to act. The third is people who’ve traveled to the war zone, gotten the worst kind of training, coming back out to kill people. That terrorist Diaspora, I’ve talked about for a long time. Someday it’s going to be much larger than the terrorist Diaspora out of Afghanistan by the Mujahedeen after the 1980s.
What we see in Paris and Brussels is a manifestation of that element of the threat. The killers who travel and then return to engage in acts of violence. We have far fewer people in real numbers and dramatically far fewer per capita from the United States that have gone there. That’s not our only focus. We’re focused on those people. We’re also very much focused on people coming back to the EU and then making a hop over here.
We see no evidence of a plot like that in the United States. First of all we know that they acknowledge privately, the ISIL savages how hard it is to get into the United States, but they very much want to. We know that third prong of the thread is something that we have to worry about every single day.
Catherine: [Do you have] have a concern though? There is an ongoing issue with information sharing regardless of what officials say publicly. There’s still behind the scenes issues there. Can you just elaborate on that and what your concerns are with the information sharing and with their lack of a comprehensive database of terrorists?
Director Comey: I’ve had lots of conversations with European colleagues about this. I worry when I talk to them about it that I sound arrogant, and I really don’t mean to. Three thousand people were murdered in our country 15 years ago. We as a country then set out to change the way we approach counter terrorism dramatically. We’ve invested probably hundreds of billions dollars since then, in this country. That has bought us a capability that is really good. Not perfect, but really good. That took us 15 years of effort. Our European colleagues have not gone on that journey. Paris and Brussels is spurring them to move farther down that journey. What we’re trying to do is help them in any way that we can. Show them what we’ve learned, what we’ve done over the last 15 years. That the answer has to be breaking down all silos that separate information and operations from each other. We’ve done it across cities. Think of the progress we’ve made in the relationship between NYPD and FBI in 15 years.
What they have to do in Europe is take that, and replicate it across over 20 countries, many different cultures. It’s a very hard thing to do. I know they’re motivated to do it. Our goal is to help them as much as we can. Without sounding like we know the world, but help them as much as we can make that journey and as fast as they can. It’s hard. Think about what we’ve done in 15 years. It’s really hard.
Catherine: It also affects us, it’s not just them because you said your big concern is that someone from the EU zone could make it into the US. That there’s not adequate information sharing with the US. Someone could hypothetically slip through, right?
Director Comey: Oh sure. That’s why we spend so much time trying to build information sharing agreements with partners all over the world, not just in Europe. Why we spend so much time investing in our legal attaché operations, our relationships with our [characters 00:47:51] and partners. That’s the answer. We have to. Europe is hours from here by an air flight. We think of it as part of the same thread environment. This is something else that I’ve shared with our European partners. One thing we’ve done in this country is decide to be safe as Americans. We have to understand any threat anywhere in the world.
I begin each morning with a briefing about terrorist related threats worldwide. If there’s a threat in Madagascar, that isn’t particularly aimed at Americans, I’m going to hear about it. Our theory is a threat anywhere could be a threat here or a threat to Americans overseas. What I’ve said to our European counterparts is that’s the way we’ve approached the world now after the pain of 3000 people murdered in our country. We think about it worldwide, and please ask us. We will share with you what we know.
I’m picking on Madagascar ‘cause I don’t know anyone in Madagascar. We may know something about Madagascar that you wouldn’t have imagined that the FBI know about Madagascar, but it’s because of the way America’s decided to think about the terrorism threat. Think about it globally, so we can be safe, that allows us to help you in ways you might not expect.
Speaker 24: Mister Director, I have a question about something relating to crime in terms of law enforcement’s ability to get information to protect people when they need help. The case of last week, involving the federal police officer who went on a shooting spree.
Director Comey: In Maryland, yeah.
Speaker 24: In Maryland. Turns out that there was a protective order issued. The order required him to turn in all weapons. As we reported the story out this week, we found out that there was basically an honors system. That he was to turn in the weapons that he had. There were two registered for the state of Maryland, but he had other weapons. He turned in 7 or 8. He withheld information about a gun that he bought legally, that they found out about after the fact. You have a situation where his wife went to the court and said, “I know he has these weapons”.
The court said, “You must turn in those weapons”. There was information out there about the weapon that was ultimately used to kill at least 2 people allegedly in Montgomery, Maryland that the law enforcement did not have access to. Does that strike you as a system that needs fixing? Where law enforcement can get the information that they need to protect people?
Director Comey: I don’t know enough, certainly about the particulars to comment. It all depends on what policy judgments have been made, and what laws reflect those policy judgments, which is not my thing.
Then I’ll go across there.
Speaker 25: Couple of questions. First on transparency. The section 702 of the FISA amendment [staff ] as you know is coming up for pre-authorization next year. Yesterday there was a hearing on the hill. One of the points that was raised ... I think the major point of controversy is the U.S. person query. I believe that on the NSA and CIA have apparently tracked the rough number of U.S. person queries on the 702 data, the prison data. The FBI’s cannot, correct? Can you tell me if you think why you can’t do it? Are you thinking of changing that so that you can track the number of queries made? Why wouldn’t you as the interest of transparencies, since other agencies are able to do so?
Director Comey: All I can say about this is at this point is that the DNI is driving an effort to see what we can accomplish in that regard. It’s largely a system problem, can you build your system in such a way to track it without grinding the entire operation to a halt? I know that work is underway now, to figure out ... If we can’t get a precise number is there an estimate that we can get that would be useful to people? I’m a huge fan of transparency. Especially around something like 702, which to me of the two things of we’re discussed. Remember we had a little conversation about a 215 and 702. 702 is far more important. It’s important to tell people as much as we possibly can about how it’s used. I think more will come on that space is the answer.
Speaker 26: Just to clarify two of the answers you’ve given on the iPhones. You’ve said at the very beginning that there, it I’m sure, that there are roughly 500 phones in investigations that you cannot get into now. Is that right?
Director Comey: Correct. Our CART examiners, and Mike will get you the exact numbers, but it’s something like 4000 phones in the first 6 months of this fiscal year. I think the number’s about 500, it might be 480 or something. That couldn’t be opened.
Speaker 26: You said you’re looking, then you said separately you’re looking now at the tool that you bought. That you won’t tell us how much you paid for but that’s separate. Whether or not that can be used to get into a phone. How many of those 500 are potentially can be upwards of those? How many are 5C iOS9s?
Director Comey: I think, and you can get the answer on this, I think the answer is none. I don’t think any in that set ... I think that’s right, but I could be wrong about that. You’ll have to check that with the STD people.
Speaker 26: Then [separately] back on the Hillary e-mails for a second. The [portrays] investigation, what impact has that had on the current investigation into secretary Clinton’s e-mails in terms of lessons learned, the visions that obviously came up with the [inaudible] FBI and across the street? The questions of what criminal charges should and would be brought? That has to be looming over you at this point.
Director Comey: I have no comment. What else ... All the way down the end.
Speaker 27: To go back to some of the issues that were race and diversity mentioned, at least passing at the beginning. It’s been about a year, more than a year since you gave your speech February, I think last year. How’s the FBI doing on recruiting African American and Latino agents? It seems like the numbers continue to mildly trend lower. Are you monitoring that? Can it be reversed? Maybe should it be reversed? Would the country be better off if people are interested in going into law enforcement to have them on the front lines of these police departments that are dealing with these hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of murders than necessarily coming to the FBI?
Director Comey: I hope both. First of all, yes it can be. Too early to say whether we’re going to be able to change the inflection of the line. Lots going on in the FBI to try and change that. I’ll probably have a better sense at the end of this year, as to whether we’re seeing a change. Anecdotally I feel, change in that area, change in the people who are expressing interest ... I don’t know whether that’s our reference or the show Quantico? More to come at the end of the year. I think both are possible.
In fact, I went and spoke to the national organization of black law enforcement executives in Atlanta. I said, “I have to confess to you, our interests are not aligned, because what I want to have happen is you hire great people of color, give them some years of training. Our average age of entry is 29 for special agents. Then I want to steal them”. I’m hoping both. That the people will be attracted to law enforcement and understand that it’s a tremendous way to community service. I think both can be true. In a way the more successful local law enforcement is at attracting a diverse workforce, the better that will set us up to be fed by that talent. That’s how I think about it.
I’ll go here and then I’ll go there.
Catherine I called on you.
Catherine: I’m hopeful that you can answer this one.
Director Comey: Is it Hillary Clinton related?
Catherine: Yeah, but this is a really important issue though.
Director Comey: I don’t doubt that all of your questions are important. I’m just telling you I’m predicting the answer. As short as you can.
Catherine: I actually keep my questions very short. [crosstalk 00:56:06] I consistently hear from security clearance holders that if they had done a fraction of what had been done by Mrs. Clinton’s team that they would already be in jail. Can you assure people that Mrs. Clinton and her team are being held to the same standard? That there isn’t a special set of rules because they are powerful and politically connected?
Director Comey: I’m not going to comment, other than to say there are no special set of rules for anybody that the FBI investigates.
Speaker 28: Just a really quick encryption related question. What is your stance for [inaudible] passage of the [Feinstein] legislation. Is that something that you think makes a lot of sense and ...
Yeah, I don’t want to comment on it for the reasons I said I think when Brian asked, because we don’t comment on particular legislation. I think it’s good that the conversation is staying alive. One of the things I worried about post San Bernardino litigation is, it would be a shame if we stopped talking about this. It’s going to be a bigger and bigger feature of all of our lives. Both the way we live, outside of the criminal justice system and then the way in which we investigate.
Hold on I was going to go to him. Kevin.
Kevin: Speaking of Donald Trump, are you-
Catherine: Now you want another e-mail question right?
Director Comey: Yes, definitely. Go ahead.
Kevin: [crosstalk] That’s not e-mail but are you comfortable with him getting security briefings as a nominee.
Director Comey: Yeah, I’m not going to comment on that.
Speaker 30: To clarify that more than a thousand cases that are open we’re trying to evaluate where someone is radicalizing. Are all of those Islamic state cases, potentially Islamic state sympathizers?
Director Comey: Sometimes we can’t tell. I would estimate about 80 percent of them we know are Islamic state related.
Speaker 30: 80 percent?
Director Comey: Yeah.
Speaker 30: Then is there any equivalent scope-
Director Comey: Sometimes with people there’s a mix that watching [Iraqi 00:58:01] videos, that kind of thing. It’s harder to tell.
Speaker 30: Is there any equivalent scope you can give us for how many investigations you have open into domestic extremists? Anti government individuals. There’s obviously been more indictments since the standoff in Oregon. Can you give a sense of how many investigations you have open into that type of group?
Director Comey: Yeah, I can’t. We have a lot, but I don’t know the number off the top of my head. I don’t know, my instinct tells me it’s less than a thousand, but Mike would have to check that for you.
Speaker 30: About Clinton ... No I’m just kidding. We we’re just talking about travelers. The FBI has arrested several people who wanted to go fight with ISIS in Syria. Some of them have been sentenced 5, 7, eight years. How concerned are you that these people who wanted to go overseas will then get out of prison in the U.S. and be even more dangerous inside the US?
Director Comey: Optimistically, that after serving a long prison term they’ll be older, less [unmoored] and then subject to a supervised release term. One of the strengths of the federal criminal justice system is a long supervised release terms by really good probation officers. I think there’s a reasonable prospect that by virtue of their age, by virtue of their learning that lesson, by virtue of their supervision they will be materially different from a risk perspective. There’s always a worry.
Speaker 30: Even given the radicalization in prison that we’ve seen in so many cases?
Director Comey: Yeah, we don’t see a lot of radicalization though in the ISIL world, in American prisons. It’s something we worry about and watch very carefully, but I actually do not sit here worrying a whole lot about people radicalizing in federal prisons, especially.
Speaker 31: May I ask you a question about San Bernardino?
Director Comey: Sure.
Speaker 31: Given the [inaudible] interest in some kind of an attack, well before ISIS came on the scene. Do you, as FBI director, put the San Bernardino attack in an ISIS inspired category or not? If so, why?
Director Comey: I do now, because having gone through all we’ve gone through it does appear that a dominant influence on them was the ISIL propaganda and ISIL poison. This comes back to the question earlier. Often times early in an investigation or even afterwards it’s hard to untangle, because there will be [Iraqi] videos, al-Shabaab material, that kind of stuff in the mix. We make a judgment based on our assessment of what was the primary motivator for these people. Fairly typical path for people is they’ll start with [Iraqi] videos, which live forever on the Internet. Then that’ll be a gateway to particular interests in a particular group.
Speaker 31: Was that the fact here?
Director Comey: I don’t remember clearly enough to tell you. I don’t.
Speaker 32: Looking back do you think, “Gosh, we should have seen this, we missed something”, any of that?
Director Comey: Yeah, none of that yet. In San Bernardino, we’ve thought about it very hard, which highlights the challenge we face is, we cannot see something that we missed in these two killers. That obviously, sometimes you’ve asked me in the past what I worry about most. We’re worried about most the ones that we can’t see. That we built this very good counter terrorism in the United States over 15 years, but it can’t see everything. Then you add to that the increasing ubiquity, if I may use Pete’s word, of encryption both in motion and at rest. That makes it even tougher to see.
Speaker 30: Any indication they were using encryption?
Director Comey: I don’t know what I want to say. I can’t say at this point. I know the answer, but I don’t want to say it.
Speaker 32: Last November [inaudible] one time close associate Vladimir Putin was found dead in the Washington hotel room, the DC [inaudible]. Found that it was a result of blunt force injuries to his neck and torso. DC police is still investigating. Is the FBI participating in that investigation?
Director Comey: We are monitoring it. The DC police have the lead, but we’ve been kept informed.
Speaker 32: Have you had reason to believe that his death was the result of actions by parties, directed by parties, outside the United States?
Director Comey: I don’t want to comment until the DC police have finished their work.
Speaker 33: Director, just to follow up on the vulnerability equities process. Do you think the fact that the bureau can purchase and exploit, but not the underlying vulnerability and thus not be able to submit to the VEP amounts to a loophole in the process? Which is supposed to be ... Was set up to help [brokering], weighing of the equities amongst law enforcement intelligence agencies and cyber security interests to protect the public, to determine whether vulnerability used by the government should be disclosed? Secondly, has the bureau ever purchased an exploit before and still submitted the underlying flaws to the White House [to approve]?
Director Comey: The second part I’m not going to say. The first part, I don’t think of it that way. This process is an informal process set up inside the government to help us figure out when we should share with companies vulnerabilities and not? We don’t a vulnerability, is that a loophole? I wouldn’t think of it that way. Maybe if you were shaping your investigative conduct to avoid triggering the VEP process. I don’t know, That didn’t happen here so I don’t think of it that way. Yeah?
Speaker 34: To follow up briefly on Pete’s question, is you conclusion that the San Bernardino killers were inspired by ISIL, informed by which you found on the phone in connection with the tool that allowed you in?
Director Comey: Yeah, I’m not going to say.
Speaker 35: One more question.
Director Comey: I’ve worn them out.
Speaker 36: Beyond what was publicly disclosed in terms of the couple swearing allegiance to an ISIS leader. Can you give us any sense of how you came to the conclusion that the dominant influence was ISIS propaganda in relation to San Bernardino?
Director Comey: I can’t. A huge feature is exploiting their media and understanding their-
Speaker 36: From that? Came from that?
Director Comey: What they’ve been looking at, what they’ve been following.
Speaker 36: Did you just say the family can’t, you can’t assure people that it’ll be wrapped up before the election?
Director Comey: No I said I can’t answer that. I’m not going to answer questions like that.
Speaker 36: I think that seems just that it could last beyond the election.
Director Comey: No I’m not commenting is what I meant to say. You can squeeze any words you said on that one. I’m just not commenting.
All right everybody, we’ll see you again in 9 months.