Christopher A. Wray
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Clarksburg, West Virginia
July 10, 2024

Director Wray's Remarks at the 100th Anniversary of the FBI’s Fingerprint Program

Director Wray spoke at a July 10, 2024, event at the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia, marking 100 years of fingerprints and criminal history records at the FBI.

Transcript / Visit Video Source

Remarks as delivered

Morning, everybody. Thank you, Tim.

It’s great to be here to mark the centennial of the FBI’s fingerprint program. And, I have to say: It’s particularly inspiring to be celebrating this historic and momentous occasion with all of you—both those of you in the room and those joining online.

As you heard, I know we’ve got a number of special guests with us this morning, from our CJIS employees—who, in my book, are the real stars of today’s event—to:

  • Current and former FBI leaders
  • Representatives from some of the congressional offices in the area, whose support means we can keep offering indispensable services like the ones we’re celebrating today and keep creating new capabilities to face the threats of tomorrow

We’re honored to have all of you here to celebrate this milestone. 

Significance of the Fingerprint Program 

You know, milestones are a good opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going. And I’d like to do that—briefly—today. 

But I want to start in the present, to give any folks in the audience who may not be as familiar with our operations today some context for what those of you who make up the program are accomplishing each and every day. 

The FBI’s powerful Next Generation Identification (or NGI) System contains 162 million sets of fingerprints connected to criminal history information. It is one of the largest biometric databases in the world, and is critical to securing the U.S. from terrorism and crime.

And when an agency—anywhere in the country or really around the globe—submits a ten-print card, NGI can fire back an accurate search result within minutes.

In fiscal year 2023 alone, CJIS received and processed 74 million fingerprints.

And, not too long ago, we processed—you processed—our one-billionth (that's with a "b") electronic fingerprint transaction.

So, it’s no wonder the NGI System is renowned as such a vital tool among our law enforcement partners everywhere—not just with state and local departments across the country, but also among our international partners throughout the world. 

You know, it can be hard to grasp what the impact of these figures—162 million, 74 million, and especially one billion—actually looks like. So instead of just rattling off numbers, let me just talk about that impact—some of the cases the repository has helped solve over the years:

  • In 2002, fingerprint evidence helped us identify one of the infamous Beltway Snipers and piece together his crimes as we raced to stop the rampage.
  • In 2019, a fingerprint query helped confirm the identity of the subject who mailed those improvised explosive devices targeting multiple U.S. government officials, the news media, and others.
  • And in 2020, fingerprints revealed the identity of a woman who had mailed deadly ricin powder to prison employees in Texas and to the president. 

Those are just a few examples of the impact you have every day. 
It’s impossible to know how many lives you’ve saved, cases you’ve helped close, thanks to our fingerprint identification services over the years, but there is not a doubt in my mind that the American people are safer because of your work.  

How We Got Here

That’s where we are today, but we didn’t get here overnight.

The FBI’s biometrics story stretches out back to a time not just before CJIS’ existence, but before the FBI was even known as "the FBI." In about two weeks, we’ll celebrate the Bureau’s 116th anniversary. That means this organization—then simply called the Bureau of Investigation—was just 16 years old when it saw a need in the law enforcement community and answered that call, pioneering a national fingerprint repository.

It was as true to our ethos of innovation then as it is now. In fact, in his first report to Congress on the FBI after its founding in 1908, Attorney General [Charles] Bonaparte described the Bureau itself—described us—as "an innovation." And we’ve never stopped holding ourselves to that standard, including when it comes to the speed and sophistication of our biometric services.

What began with paper fingerprint cards sent through snail mail and manually filed became IAFIS, Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, in 1999, and was then transformed into the NGI System in 2014—shrinking fingerprint processing time from months to minutes.

Today, about 97% of all criminal and civil electronic fingerprint submissions to the NGI System are fully automated—a far cry from the paper method used a few decades ago. It’s important to note, too, that we not only search and analyze fingerprints for open cases. We also process latent fingerprints for use in cold cases and use fingerprints to help uncover the identities of victims and bring closure to families.

We can even detect whether fingerprints have signs of being intentionally altered, and, at times, have been able to work around those alterations to achieve a positive identification. 

Not only that, but the NGI System has expanded to include biometric capabilities, biometric modalities, as well—things like:

  • Facial recognition and palm print searches;
  • Text-based searches for scars, marks, and tattoos; and
  • The latest innovation: the NGI Iris Service that allows users to enroll and search iris images quickly and easily, and can even easily link to other biometric records within the system. 

You want to talk about the textbook illustration of innovation.

And I’m proud that we’ve maintained that focus on growing our capabilities, because there’s simply no other way to remain as effective as a law enforcement and intelligence agency when the threats are as dynamic and evolving as they are today. As you saw in those case examples I mentioned, fingerprints advance both criminal and national security investigations. 

And our biometric services don’t just stretch from coast to coast—they extend beyond our borders, as we forge relationships and agreements with our foreign law enforcement partners. Through those agreements and CJIS’ foreign biometric exchange program, we share fingerprint records with our partner federal agencies here in the U.S., who can then identify and stop criminals and terrorists before they can enter the country and harm our citizens. So, even though times have changed, today—just like 100 years ago—the FBI’s leadership in biometrics is saving lives in innovative ways. 

Celebrating People

That’s a lot to celebrate, and what makes it all possible are the people behind all those services. 

CJIS’ Biometric Services Section is made up of about 600 personnel, which may sound like a lot until you realize they’re responsible for keeping the trains moving on criminal justice repositories containing hundreds of millions of records. Our biometrics teams work around the clock to provide quick, reliable identification and investigative services, in addition to supporting non-criminal-justice agencies with things like employment vetting and processing. 

They also update, analyze, research, compare, and review identity histories to keep them accurate, and they process the 3% of fingerprint submissions that are still done manually—which amounts to a whopping two million entries just in the last fiscal year. 

That’s not a 9-to-5 job. It’s a 24-hour-a-day, 365-days-a-year mission. 

And as much as we associate innovation with automation, the excellence I see every day at CJIS proves just how critical the human element is. Thanks to the people of CJIS—many of you—the FBI’s biometrics capabilities are saving lives. 

So, today, we celebrate not just this centennial anniversary, but the people behind the advances. And we pay tribute to the generations of FBI employees who kept pushing us forward, because they’ve shown us that, while our adversaries can be, at times, formidable, working with our partners across law enforcement, we—the good guys—can be unstoppable.


And I believe that if we continue on this road, with an enduring commitment to innovation and our partnerships, we’re gonna stay on the cutting edge of criminal justice technology. We’ll have a more agile and resilient FBI. And, working together, we’ll have a safer nation. 

So, with that, I’d like to give a hearty congratulations to the folks of CJIS, once again, for carrying forward the FBI’s legacy of innovation and the importance of partnerships. I can’t wait to see where you take us next. 

Thanks for having me.