Humility, Dedication, and a Drive for Service: Defining the Character of the FBI
Remarks prepared for delivery.
Thanks, Andy, for the introduction, and for your own service as deputy director and as acting director. And thank you, Attorney General Sessions, for your leadership, and for your warm welcome back to this Department of Justice that means so much to both of us.
I am also deeply grateful to the president and the Senate for their shared and strong support. I look forward to working together for the good of the country.
Looking out over the crowd, I see friends from every chapter of my life, and it makes me grin. People who have believed in me, supported me, guided me, and inspired me. People who have kept me grounded.
To my family—my wife and far-better half, Helen, and to my kids, Caroline and Trip—there’s no way I could set out on this endeavor without your love, your support, and, to put it mildly, your patience—albeit with more than a little eye-rolling. And to my parents, I am grateful beyond words for everything you’ve done for me. Thank you.
And to my FBI family, thank you for being so warm, welcoming, and enthusiastic over the past few weeks. Rejoining you and getting caught up on the phenomenal work you’re doing makes me feel even more honored to serve as your Director. Thank you for all you have done—and will do—to protect the American people and uphold the rule of law.
I spent my first full day on the job—August 3—at the Miami Field Office for the memorial service of Special Agent Rickey O’Donald.
The quiet dignity and grace of Rickey’s family that morning were a humbling reminder of the stakes we face every day in this fight. And the palpable strength and solidarity within the Miami office were a galvanizing reminder of the character of the men and women who make up this exceptional agency.
A couple of weeks later, I had a similar reaction, visiting an Atlanta agent, who years ago had worked on one of my very first cases as a line prosecutor, but who had recently been shot badly in the arm, only about a month before his retirement.
Vintage Bureau—he didn’t want the attention. I actually first learned about the incident from mutual friends in the office.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, I went to the Houston Field Office to see how they were faring. The examples of folks going above and beyond to help each other and their community were almost countless. Predictably, they had little interest in accepting my thanks, but wanted enthusiastically to talk about important investigations they had underway, and their ideas about how we could do even more, even better.
And they’re not alone. People from Headquarters and other divisions moved as fast as they could to get down there, to do whatever needed to be done. Just as they did with Florida, in the Virgin Islands, and now Puerto Rico, where the same stories of bravery, camaraderie, and modesty came through.
It’s a pattern I’ve seen throughout my career: The more dire and daunting the circumstances, the more the Bureau rises to the occasion.
To them, I would say: That’s what defines your character both as individuals and as a team. Hard work. Dedication. Commitment. The very qualities on our shield. Fidelity. Bravery. And integrity.
My wife and kids might already be tired of hearing this from me. But I wake up every day fired up to come to work. Fired up to be part of this extraordinary group. And fired up to see what we can do next.
When I was thinking about what I wanted to say today, I kept coming back first to the history of the FBI. To the history of this great and storied institution.
Because that history is our foundation. It’s who and what we are.
It’s a history of dedication to protecting the American people, no matter what the challenges may be. It’s a history of service over self. It’s something a lot easier to talk about than to do, day in and day out.
To the men and women of the Bureau, I would say this: When we need people to go where others fear to tread, when we need people to do the tough work of keeping this agency running—and running well—when we need people to build bridges with the public, when we need people to face down the darkest and the worst life has to offer, we turn to you, again and again.
To be clear: That history hasn’t come without missteps. It hasn’t come without errors in judgment. But we take those mistakes, and we learn from them. We get better at doing what we need to do, and closer to being the very best we can be.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge those who have come before me. From my seven predecessors—Directors Hoover, Kelley, Webster, Sessions, Freeh, Mueller, and Comey—to the tens of thousands of agents, analysts, and staff who dedicated their entire careers to the Bureau: Each brought their own unique experience, insight, and leadership, and helped build this into the finest law enforcement and national security agency in the world.
I want to particularly acknowledge former Director Webster, who is here with us today, whose legacy has stood the test of time, and about whom our mutual friend, former Attorney General Griffin Bell, once said:
“Judge Webster was and is the kind of person of honor and integrity who would have been able to lead in any endeavor for which he had been selected.”
Today’s FBI builds on that remarkable history. Today’s FBI integrates intelligence analysts with case agents. It now includes accountants, lawyers, scientists, pilots, nurses, IT specialists, engineers, linguists, detectives, veterans, and scores of other disciplines.
Breathtaking advances in technology now permeate everything we do—both in the threats we face and in the ways we combat those threats. But we know we don’t stand on our own. We work more closely than ever before with our federal, state, local, and international partners, and with our partners in the intelligence community, on task forces of all shapes and sizes.
On the afternoon of 9/11 this year, I accompanied MI5 Director Andrew Parker through The FBI Experience, the newly reopened tour here at Headquarters. I hope many of you will get a chance to take that tour yourselves. As someone who spent the afternoon of the 9/11 attacks right here in this building, to find myself reliving those events amid artifacts from that day, on the anniversary itself, in the company of my British counterpart, was sobering, to put it mildly.
In spite of the darkness of that morning 16 years ago—a darkness we will never, and should never, forget—I felt proud of the progress we have made since then. I felt strengthened by our shared sense of purpose and our common bond. And I felt ready to face the challenges to come, together with our partners here at home and around the world.
The threats we face are significant, and the premium on vigilance doesn’t stop. I am determined to do my very best to put the FBI in the best position to meet those threats, to make this extraordinary institution even better and stronger.
We look at how much the world has changed in the past 10 years, and it’s sometimes hard to even imagine where we might be 10 years from now—the dangers we may face at that point.
We do know that terrorist threats are becoming more agile and more challenging to detect. We do know that foreign intelligence threats are targeting our economic assets, not just our military secrets, and enlisting a wide array of non-traditional operatives, not just the intelligence officers of old. We do know that transnational criminal organizations are expanding their activities and their footprints. And we know that cyber and digital advances are transforming all these threats, and most others.
So we know that we will have to up our game and adapt through innovation, with new ideas, new strategies, and, especially, new technologies. And we will embrace those changes. We will evolve to stay one step ahead, as the Bureau has done before.
But let me be clear: Some things cannot and will not change.
Our mission is simple but profound: to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. That mission hasn’t changed, and it won’t change—not as long as I have anything to say about it.
We’re going to abide by the rule of law and our core values.
We’re going to follow the facts independently, no matter where they lead, no matter who likes it.
And we’re going to always, always pursue justice.
And to my new and once-again colleagues: While the world around us may change, we’re going to push forward with determination and grit. With honesty and integrity and accountability. And most importantly, with heart.
That is who you are. That’s what you are. That’s your legacy.
* * *
I’d like to close on a brief personal note, before we all get back to work. To pause and absorb the significance of this moment. Not for you, maybe, but for me.
Because this very moment means the world to me: Standing here in the sunshine, with my family and friends here today, and with my new FBI Family gathered in this courtyard, across the country, and around the world.
We all spend so much time thinking about what we have to do, where we need to be—the weight of our responsibilities. But we don’t spend nearly enough time “in the moment,” especially the happy moments.
Because the best parts of your life go by in a blur. Your wedding, the birth of a child, the quiet Saturday afternoon when nothing’s going on, but everything seems right with the world. Time seems to race ahead and you can’t capture every nuance, no matter how much you want to.
I talked to a recent graduating class of intelligence analysts at Quantico, and I told them to savor that moment—that very moment when they graduated—with their families and friends and loved ones there to support them, with a new job on the horizon, when everything is wide open and nothing has gone wrong yet. And I told them to drink it in. To lock that day down, and to commit every detail to memory. To hold that feeling in reserve, for a day that might not be so golden. Because those days are coming.
It’s hard to appreciate those golden hours when you’re in the midst of them. It’s much easier in hindsight, with the benefit of nostalgia.
But I truly appreciate this moment.
Facing this challenge with a team of people who seek no special recognition and no special privileges is both humbling and exhilarating. At a moment when our country seems so divided, service to the larger community unites us.
That’s the essence of the FBI at its best. We all know about the Bureau’s exceptional talent, and the courage of the folks who work here is unquestioned. But the magic ingredient—the “secret sauce” of their success—is the drive and passion for service that run throughout this place.
The men and women of the Bureau are willing to give everything to protect America’s future, and to fiercely safeguard the rule of law.
That’s what inspires me. That’s what drives me to do the best job I can. And to them: It’s why I’m so honored to be in service with you and to be part of your family.
Thank you very much.