FBI Partnering with Fusion Centers to Tackle Threats
Remarks prepared for delivery.
Thank you, Mike, for the introduction, and to you and the National Fusion Center Association for the invitation to join you today. It’s an honor to be with you for your 14th annual conference.
I’m grateful for the opportunity this event presents to share ideas and best practices. Partnerships and information sharing are vital to our mission of protecting the American people, and I’m thrilled to see so many great partners here in this room today.
Thank you for your service, and thank you for working shoulder to shoulder with us to tackle the threats we all face.
In the 16 months since we last spoke, much has remained the same. We’re still dealing with a whole slew of national security and criminal threats. But several threats in particular have been rapidly evolving, and they highlight the urgent need for us to work even more closely together, to pool our resources and throw everything we’ve got at the problem.
So this morning, I’ll highlight a few of our most pressing concerns, and then I’ll talk about our continued efforts to share information with you as effectively and efficiently as possible, and to engage with you even more often.
When it comes to the cyber threat, we’re seeing attacks that are more pervasive, hit a wider variety of victims, and carry the potential for greater damage than ever before.
With the ongoing conflict raging in Ukraine, we’re particularly focused on the destructive cyber threat posed by the Russian intel services, and cyber criminal groups they shelter and support.
These are sophisticated actors that constantly shift tactics, use new infrastructure, and change targets. And their actions could have devastating effects on our national security, our economic security, and our public health and safety.
One type of attack that’s especially pervasive and problematic is ransomware. Between 2019 and 2021, the number of ransomware complaints reported to the FBI increased by 82%.
And last year, we saw ransomware incidents against 14 of 16 U.S. critical infrastructure sectors.
Ransomware groups have compromised networks for private companies, hospitals, grade schools, first responders, law enforcement, and local and tribal government operations.
In fact, 60 government facilities, including state, local, tribal, and federal, were targeted in 2021 alone. I can’t think of anything ransomware groups would consider off-limits.
Targeting of those vital networks is in some ways even more dangerous when it’s done by nation-states, like Russia. Their efforts may look the same as a criminal attack at first. For example, if they’re using ransomware, the victim’s data will be encrypted. But when a nation-state is responsible, there may not be a decryption key available at any price
To be sure, the FBI has been working at combat tempo against these destructive cyber threats, using all of the tools at our disposal. We’ve now set up Cyber Task Forces in all 56 of our field offices—similar to the Joint Terrorism Task Forces you’re all familiar with.
The task force model allows us to share information quickly, surge resources where they're most needed, and collaborate with our partners, including fusion centers, most effectively.
FBI cyber experts are not waiting for indications of an attack but hunting for them. And when we uncover a potential attack or receive an intrusion report, we analyze the information, work to establish attribution, and push the information we’ve developed to wherever it can do the most good.
That can mean employing our tools or arming our partners to use theirs, or both. We know you’re aware of the threat, but this is the time to be extremely vigilant, because you may see the first indications of Russian cyber activity in your communities before we do.
And that’s why it’s crucial that we keep our information flowing, fortify our networks, and stay on guard.
Of course, we never take our eyes off the hallmarks of our mission, like preventing terrorist attacks.
The greatest terrorist threat we face here in the U.S. today is from lone actors. These include homegrown violent extremists, who are inspired by foreign terrorist organizations and extremist ideologies, and domestic violent extremists, driven by personal grievances, which may include social, racial, or political biases.
In these cases, we see individuals resort to violence to advance their ideological, political, or social goals. I know I don’t need to tell you how serious the domestic terrorism threat is, or about the challenges it presents.
That’s why, over the last couple of years, the FBI has surged resources to a growing number of domestic terrorism investigations, and we’re working collaboratively with community groups to provide training on preventive measures to protect communities.
We’re also working with our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners. Through partner calls, situational reports, and intelligence products, we’re sharing threat information and strategies to combat those threats.
We’re also growing our Joint Terrorism Task Forces and inviting more and more officers from state and local police departments all over the country to join us.
I know many of the fusion centers represented here today already work side-by-side with JTTFs to coordinate resources and expertise. Of course, beyond these national security threats, we’re also combating a wide range of criminal threats.
And top of mind is the ongoing rise in violent crime. Gun violence, homicides, aggravated assaults, all are occurring at an appalling rate.
Our 2020 detailed crime data—which we released late last year—highlights this trend.
Overall violent crime in the United States—which includes not only murder but also assault, robbery, and rape—rose by more than 5%.
I want to put that in perspective, because it’s hard to visualize what 5% actually means.
It means in 2020 there were 65,000 more violent crime offenses than there were in 2019. 65,000. And homicides jumped nearly 30% in 2020, the largest single-year increase in more than 50 years.
Of course, I know I’m preaching to the choir, because we all know our most fundamental duty is to safeguard people’s right to live without fear of violence.
At the FBI, we’re working strategically with our state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners to meet that duty.
Our primary model for fighting violent crime remains our task forces.
Throughout the U.S. we’re leveraging:
- More than 50 Violent Crimes Task Forces,
- 175 Safe Streets Gang Task Forces, with nearly 2,000 TFOs,
- 23 Safe Trails Task Forces, which are working to reduce Indian Country crime, and
- more than 100 Transnational Organized Crime Task Forces, with another 600 members.
Last year, our task forces dedicated to fighting violent crime made more than 17,000 arrests nationwide, seized more than 8,000 guns, and dismantled nearly 300 criminal enterprises across the country.
That’s a lot of numbers, but what it comes down to is strong partners, working together, to make a lasting impact, so our communities are safer places to live and work.
Information Sharing and Engagement
These are all formidable threats, but I know that we’re not in this fight alone. Our real strength lies in our ability to work together as one law enforcement community, and that’s something we’re continuously working toward with all of you.
To ensure this connectivity, every fusion center has a designated FBI point of contact, many have embedded FBI personnel working side-by-side with their fusion center colleagues, and a handful are even operating in shared spaces with FBI field offices.
This means you have direct access to FBI personnel who can share information and offer FBI resources whenever necessary. And we are even further integrated through FBI network access in many fusion centers, and through the processing of security clearances, so we can share additional information at higher classifications.
In fact, we've now processed 170 security clearances for non-FBI fusion center personnel, a number that keeps growing every year. And during Fiscal Year 2021, our Office of Partner Engagement disseminated more than 1,037 products.
That’s an increase of 30% over FY 2020, and I hope it shows how serious we are about maintaining, and enhancing, constant and open communication.
On that note, I want to give a quick update on our eGuardian platform and the Threat to Life initiative, managed by OPE.
As this group knows well, eGuardian allows law enforcement agencies and fusion centers to contribute information on threats that can then be used by thousands of counterparts nationwide.
When the FBI receives non-federal threat-to-life tips and leads at our National Threat Operations Center, we conduct logical checks, then immediately dual route those tips and leads to the appropriate field office and designated state and local partner, typically a fusion center.
We now have 28 of our field offices and 26 of their state partners participating in this dual-routing initiative. In fiscal year 2021, we shared over 1,000 tips this way, which means we prevented as many acts of violence.
And even though we’re not far into 2022, in January and February, NTOC’s tips helped our state and local partners prevent at least two potential school shooting incidents. Talk about impact.
These are great examples of how we serve and protect the American people, together. Of course, we’re always looking for ways to deepen our partnerships.
During the FBI Intelligence Branch’s July 2021 Intelligence Sharing Summit at FBI Headquarters, many of you requested better clarity regarding the expectations surrounding engagement and information sharing with the FBI. We heard you, and last December, our Intelligence Branch commissioned a 120-day strategic review of the FBI’s engagement with fusion centers nationwide.
That review began in January, and is an exhaustive initiative to help us better understand the capabilities and unique needs of fusion centers across the U.S.
It will allow us to assess how we can most effectively engage with fusion centers of different sizes and structures. The review team is leveraging multiple sources of information, including customized surveys and interviews with all fusion center directors—in which I’m sure some of you participated—and their partner FBI field offices.
Once the review is finished, we look forward to sharing the results and the next steps we plan to take to engage more effectively, share relevant intelligence more quickly, and be as responsive as possible to your fusion center’s unique needs.
I know you feel, as I do, that strong relationships between all of us in law enforcement are not just nice to have, they’re an absolute necessity in our line of work. Every day, you gather, analyze, and disseminate intelligence that makes it possible to disrupt cyber attacks, dismantle terrorist plots, and protect communities from violence, often, at only a moment’s notice.
And the FBI, in turn, provides fusion centers with information they might need to take action locally.
I want to thank you for choosing and devoting yourselves to the important work of protecting our country.
Thank you for your service, for your support, and for your partnership with us. Because when we combine our unique capabilities and authorities, our strengths and assets, we’re so much stronger than if any of us were to try to do the job alone
Thanks again for having me today.