- Robert S. Mueller, III
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- National Sheriffs’ Association Winter Conference
- Washington, D.C
- January 29, 2009
Good morning. It is great to be here among friends. I first spoke before the National Sheriffs’ Association in June of 2002, just nine months after the September 11th attacks. Much has changed during the past seven and a half years—for the FBI, for your departments, and most importantly, for our relationship.
Franklin Roosevelt once advised that the best recipe for a speech was to “be sincere, be brief, be seated.” I will try to follow that advice, and spend the balance of my time taking questions.
As you probably know from experience, the FBI is fond of acronyms—so much so that we even have an online database just for FBI acronyms. It goes on for many, many pages. It struck me that you, the National Sheriffs’ Association, share an acronym with another group—the National Security Agency. The FBI has a strong relationship with both. And our connection to both NSAs reflects our dual role as both a law enforcement agency and a national security organization.
The September 11th attacks required the FBI to readjust its priorities and personnel. We made a number of necessary changes, from upgrading technology to overhauling our human resources practices. In those first years after the 9/11 attacks, it sometimes seemed that every time I met with state and local partners, I was giving updates on the FBI’s changes.
But there are at least two things that have not changed, and will never change. The first is our mission to protect and serve our country and fellow citizens. The second is our commitment to working with our partners to accomplish that mission. And that mission has grown more complex—and more dangerous—as threats have evolved.
Today, Americans look to law enforcement to dismantle gangs openly wreaking havoc on the streets while also detecting terrorist cells operating in secret. They need us to investigate white-collar crimes on Wall Street while also nabbing bank robbers on Main Street. And they expect us to track down child predators on the run and computer hackers on the Web.
The issue we come back to again and again is this: How do we protect the country from terrorism while at the same time protecting our communities from crime? The short answer is threefold: intelligence, technology, and partnerships.
Since 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the FBI has made it a priority to improve our intelligence capability—from collection to analysis to dissemination.
Preventing the next attack depends on all of us having the right information at the right time. Preventing crime is no different. In order to detect and deter crime and terrorism, we have to work as a team. In the FBI today, our mantra is to “share by rule, and withhold by exception.”
Today’s FBI is an intelligence-driven organization, and an intelligence-sharing organization. We have improved both the quantity and quality of our intelligence reporting. And we have also improved our technology, so that we can get it into your hands faster.
For example, you can access our intelligence reports through Law Enforcement Online, also known as LEO, which supports over 120,000 partners. You can search and compare cases nationwide through the National Data Exchange, or N-DEx.
Earlier this month, we launched the e-Guardian system, which allows us to quickly share information about suspicious activities. And we are in the midst of developing the Next Generation Identification system, which expands on IAFIS and will include advanced biometrics.
But intelligence and technology alone are useless without strong partnerships. Our partnerships have come a long way since 2001.
On the national security front, we increased our Joint Terrorism Task Forces from 35 in 2001 to over 100 today. And on the criminal front, we now have over 200 Safe Streets Gang and Violent Crime Task Forces, on which FBI agents work with over 1,300 state and local partners. That is six more than we had last year, and 28 more than we had in 2001.
We also have personnel assigned to 44 Fusion Centers across the country, working both counterterrorism and criminal matters. And we have 14 Regional Computer Forensics Laboratories nationwide, where we work side by side on investigations ranging from child exploitation to computer intrusions.
We have done all this in order to make sure you get the information you need to protect your communities. Whether the threat comes from violent gangs or terrorist cells, we are committed to working with you to fully understand each threat and then confront it head-on.
That being said, we know that we may not always agree on which threats are the most pressing. Counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber will remain the FBI’s top priorities. But we realize that these are not necessarily your priorities—especially those of you whose cities and towns have experienced a spike in violent crime.
Over the past several years, we have seen the crime rate drop, then rise, then begin to drop again—but not everywhere. While we are glad that crime has decreased overall, we are concerned about the increase in homicides in some small and mid-sized cities.
Despite our national security mission, we have never lost focus on our responsibility to combat crime. We are now at about a 50/50 balance between our criminal and national security programs. We will not cut back on our counterterrorism efforts. But given the recent surge in financial fraud and certain “hot spots” in violent crime, we will continue to hire new agents to tackle those challenges.
We understand the pressure that comes with being overworked and understaffed. We have all been asked to do more with less. As Sheriff Ted Kamatchus told Congress in 2007, “current levels of staffing only allow officers to respond from one 9-1-1 call to another.” Unfortunately, for those of us in law enforcement, there is never a shortage of work.
All too often, your efforts go unnoticed, but you deserve the highest credit for the work you do. And you also deserve more resources. When I testify before Congress, I make it clear that you are the first line of defense against crime and terrorism. While a great deal of important funding appropriately goes to the homeland security mission, more needs to go to supporting state and local crime-fighting efforts.
Our experience has proven that our strength lies in our partnerships. That is why I have always advocated funding our task forces, where state and local law enforcement play a crucial role. And I will continue to do so—because the FBI relies on your eyes and ears and expertise as we work together to prevent both crime and terrorism.
Given the challenges we face, the FBI will not be able to assist on every bank robbery and drug case. But we do remain committed to using our resources to focus on the most significant crime problems where we can add value. Whether that comes in the form of a new technology or a new task force, or advocating for you in the halls of Congress, we will be there with you.
We know how difficult your jobs are, and how deep your dedication runs. The sheriff has been an icon in countless Western films—along with gunfights, horses, and of course, saloons. Whether they starred Gary Cooper, John Wayne, or Tommy Lee Jones, the sheriff was often portrayed as a lone figure of law and order, isolated from the larger law enforcement community.
Happily, your reality is a far cry from Hollywood’s version of a sheriffs’ life—though perhaps you might wish saloons were a more frequent reality. You are not separated by hundreds of miles of tumbleweed. You are connected by BlackBerries, laptops, and cell phones—and most importantly, by personal relationships that span the globe.
You are not just a part of the larger law enforcement community; you are the heart of it. And we in the FBI are proud to work beside you.
Since its inception 100 years ago, the FBI has worked with you to protect our communities. Together, we have tracked down fugitives and rescued children. Together, we have dismantled violent gangs and terrorist cells. Together, we have survived an attack on our homeland, and prevented another from happening.
Side by side, we have stood watch over our country, in times of tragedy and triumph. And we will continue to stand watch—together.
Thank you again for having me. God bless you and your work.