The FBI and the IACP: Bound Together by Partnership, Friendship, and Commitment
Thanks for the opportunity to be here. I am grateful to the IACP for the chance to have this conversation. I thought I would take the time to go through a few of the challenges we all face together, and also talk about the importance of building ever stronger partnerships and friendships.
First, since this is our first chance to kind of sit and talk together, I wanted to say a word or two about my own frame of reference and some of my initial observations since coming back into public service. I have only been back for a couple months now. I am working hard to meet as many people as possible and get up to speed on all the great work that’s under way. I have been meeting with every division, every program and traveling around the country to our different field offices. I think I have been to 11 different field offices in my first 11 weeks, where I have had the opportunity to meet a lot of your dedicated officers as well.
I have been lucky to work with the men and women of the FBI for a huge chunk of my professional career. First, as a line prosecutor out in the field, I got to work with agents on everything from bank robberies, to public corruption, from kidnapping to financial fraud. After that, in DOJ’s leadership more at the headquarters level, I had the opportunity to see firsthand the unbelievable way that agents, analysts, and others tackled national security threats, both on the day of 9/11 itself and in the first several years afterwards. I can tell you that I could not be more fired up to be back and part of the Bureau’s next chapter. It took me all of maybe five seconds walking back in the door to remember how much I missed this mission and the opportunity to work with folks like you. That mission is very simple to say, but much more profound to execute: to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. That mission has not changed, and it is not going to change, not as long as I have anything to say about it. Abiding by the rule of law and by our core values; following the facts independently, no matter where they may lead; and pursuing justice—those are the FBI’s anchors and I am determined to make sure that we adhere to them, no matter the test. That’s what you can expect from me.
Over the last few weeks, people have been asking me substantively about my goals and priorities for the Bureau. To calibrate expectations appropriately, I want to tell you I am still in learning mode. I take seriously my responsibility to get up to speed on the facts and all the things that are underway to be able to assess the state of play. I am still in the process of determining my own long-term priorities and where I can best devote my energy for the cause of law enforcement and national security. I do know that my immediate priority has been to bring a sense of calm and stability to the Bureau.
In a society sometimes fixated to a fault on results, I am somebody who is a big believer in the importance of the integrity of process. That’s part of how I am hoping to sort of steady the ship. By staying laser-focused on the mission and the work itself, day in and day out, left foot right foot, grinding away. Following the rules. Following the law. Following the guidelines. Trying to make sure we are doing the right thing, but in the right way. Treating everybody with respect. Those are not glamorous concepts. As my wife and kids will tell you, I am anything but glamorous. But that is the approach I intend to pursue—steady, rock solid, and dependable. I think that’s the Bureau at its best.
One of the things that has really struck me since being back, and it struck me almost within the first day or two and has struck me consistently over my first 11 weeks, is the strength of the partnerships that have developed over the last decade, especially compared to the way partnerships were before 9/11 and the immediate aftermath. My own appreciation for the importance of partnerships is heavily shaped by my last government tenure, through things like the JTTFs and counterterrorism, Project Safe Neighborhoods and gun crime, OCDETF and drug enforcement. Those are all things I spent a lot of my time on when I was in government before.
I came into this job already hard-wired to be focused on the importance of partnerships. I was intrigued, to put it mildly, to see where the Bureau was in 2017 on those kinds of things. I can tell you I am very pleased by what I have found. Partnerships are much more a part of the FBI’s DNA than I imagined I would find. I hope you see that as well in your work with us.
I know that our SACs are working daily with you and they have given me a lot of feedback on how things are going, what’s working, where we can improve. I have to tell you that one of the things that struck me in my conversations that’s different is that right from the beginning I am hearing about partnerships in just about every conversation.
The Bureau that I remember from before was proud, was passionate, was perfectionist, was persistent. All those things remain true in spades. What’s changed though, and changed notably in my view, is what it is that they are most proud, most passionate, most perfectionist, most persistent about—and that’s partnerships. I have to tell you that I wasn't expecting to find that, but I am very, very happy I did.
It’s not just at the leadership levels. In going out to the field offices and getting case briefings, one of the things that struck me was that those briefings at the line level have regularly included state, local, and folks from other federal agencies as a part of task force briefings as well. In fact, when I visited the Newark Field Office, just as an example, recently, over half of the briefings done in joint groups were actually led by the state or local task force members. That, to me, is a sea change. I am quite confident I would have not seen that in the late ’90s or early 2000s. I think it is a reflection of just how much we value you.
In briefing after briefing, in every field office, no matter if it was a gang case, a counterterrorism case, a crimes against children case, it didn't matter. The involvement of our state and local partners was in some way front and center, whether it was a lead, a piece of evidence, a target. You were involved. That’s the way I think we need to be working today, tomorrow, and the days after that. Sharing information, sharing best practices, working together in joint investigations on task forces big and small, and tied tightly together.
I also want to thank you for sending your leaders to the National Academy. As you know, building partnerships is what National Academy does best. It’s a bridge that connects state, local, and international law enforcement and every National Academy yellow brick builds on that same foundation of friendship and collaboration.
There are a lot of stories that illustrate that, but one that really jumped out at me involves the Pulse night club attack in Orlando last year. The night of that attack, our ASAC in Tampa, or assistant special agent in charge, Ron Hopper, got a message about the shooting. It was like 2:30 a.m. when he got it from a task force agent. He asked the agent to get more information and then he called the Tampa communications and tactical ops center, and he called the task force agent’s boss on the JTTF.
At that point no one really had any news, so he just decided to pick up the phone and call the chief. Remember, we are talking about 2:30 a.m. on Sunday morning, but he picked up the phone. And he felt comfortable picking up the phone because he had already developed that kind of relationship with the chief.
That made it possible for ASAC Hopper very shortly after that to be able to walk into the command post and walk right in. He didn't have to introduce himself to anybody there because he already knew the people. He was able to walk right in and say, “John, Jerry, Danny, what do you guys need from us? What do you need from me? What can we do to help?”
That should be the goal of all of our interactions. We want our partnerships to be so strong that we won't hesitate to pick up the phone when we need to and call each other at 2:30 in the morning. I hope you feel that that’s the way it is where you are already, and if it’s not, we want to hear about it. Because the reality is, when the going gets tough we are going to need each other more than ever.
Now, as if our challenges weren't tough enough, I am acutely aware that many of you have also been impacted in different ways by natural disasters recently, between one hurricane after another and then the wildfires. In the midst of all that you were still there for your communities in their darkest hours, banding together to help in whatever way you can.
In Houston, our FBI squad agents partnered with the Houston PD to conduct more than 200 search and rescues. One example, with a five-ton truck they were able to rescue about 100 families from the low-lying Greenspoint neighborhood. Those Houston PD officers and those agents did that together. They did it without a second thought. Leaving their own flooded homes and their families to do that, to help their neighbors.
In Puerto Rico, we are not only offering law enforcement assistance with our local partners, but we are delivering humanitarian aid, together.
I know are dozens and dozens of similar stories because that’s what we need to do and that’s what we do. We are there for each other and the communities that we serve.
The only reason we are able to do it together is because we are nurturing those partnerships day in and day out. It’s something that takes work. It takes work day after day. It’s something we need to keep working at because our partnerships have never been more important than they are right now, given the state of play for law enforcement in this country. This is a uniquely difficult period in American law enforcement. I think it would safe for me to say that for many of you—for many of us—this may be the most difficult stretch in your careers.
The threats that we face keep accumulating. They are complex. They are varied.
I thought I’d give you some of my initial observations about them, starting with the counterterrorism front.
On the terrorism front we still face enemies who are plotting elaborate mass casualty attacks of the sort that we saw on 9/11. These are intricate attacks that could take months or years to plan. On top of that, changes in technology allow ISIS and others to recruit, radicalize, and direct people much more easily and remotely than ever before, all over the world, including right here in the U.S.
We also face homegrown violent extremists and lone actors who have self-radicalized right here in our backyards. We worry, and we have good reason to worry, that terrorists are turning to crude but agile weapons of attack, whether it’s from vehicles or drones. Attacks that can be planned much more leanly, with fewer participants, and can be adjusted or executed in a matter of days or even hours.
In short, we have a greater volume of more compact threats, and much, much less time to detect and disrupt them. That’s why it’s such a premium and why it’s so important that we continue to work together through partnerships like the JTTFs. I want to thank you for sharing your superstars with us on the JTTFs. I know it’s not easy for your departments to spare them, but it’s incredibly valuable for us and for our communities.
I want to turn to violent crime for a moment, because although terrorism remains and needs to remain our number one priority, I know that for many of you, violent crime is the biggest problem. Violent crime continues to rise across the country now for the second year in a row. You can know that we are going to be trying to do everything we can to help you. We are working with DOJ to help address violent crime as part of the revitalized Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Project Safe Neighborhoods, in my view, was very successful in the early 2000s. But one of the things that I think we can do more effectively this time is in the intelligence arena. The Bureau is much more mature and sophisticated in using intelligence to drive operations, not just in the national security arena, but across all fronts, including the criminal side as well. That is one of the places I think we can be more effective.
We want to share that intelligence with you. We have agents and analysts in the field working more closely with your intelligence commanders to identify, prioritize and target some of the most dangerous criminals and their networks. We are looking at the factors that are driving violent crime and helping you develop and tailor strategies to address those drivers. We are providing crime trend analysis, including intelligence related to gun crime. We are developing targeting packages in cities that are seeing surges of violent crime. All of this should allow you to focus your very limited resources where they are more needed and most effective. It will help all of us to develop a more effective national strategy to fight violent crime.
We are also looking to help in other ways. Through our commitment to the Safe Streets and Violent Crimes task forces. Through our assistance with the review of crime scene CCTV footage. Through the analysis of cell phone activity, tactical training, behavioral analysis, training in the use of ViCAP, just to name a few. I look forward to working with all of you on that front.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the horrific events in Las Vegas, where I was just last week. We are all preparing and training for the next active shooter attack just like you saw in Las Vegas. Some of you know we have trained thousands of law enforcement executives, officers, and first responders, both in person and through our film, The Coming Storm. We now have a new documentary that takes a closer look at three specific active shooter events. We are going to keep sharing best practices, all of us, because unfortunately I think we all know it’s not a question of “if” but of “when” and “where.”
On top of all that, as you all know, we face a growing opioid epidemic. When I talk to SACs in the field and to many of you, this is often one of the very first things mentioned. I understand how hard this is hitting everybody across the country. You're seeing record numbers of overdose deaths and life-threatening addictions, not just in bad parts of big cities or low income rural areas, but in communities around the country. We need to educate the public about addiction. Arrests, expensive treatment options, and jail are only part of the answer.
The stark reality is that we can't tackle this problem alone. It’s grown way too big and way too sprawling. We are working with public health, treatment professionals, and educators to increase public awareness. The FBI and DEA have offered a film that we produced called Chasing the Dragon to educators at no cost. We have sent copies to every FBI and DEA field office across the country. We have held screenings for school groups, churches, and community forums. The film has nearly a million hits on the FBI’s YouTube channel.
We are also focused on transnational criminal organizations that traffic heroin and fentanyl. Much of the intelligence that we collect in these investigations comes from your officers and your deputies who know these communities inside and out. Thank you, thank you for that. We are going to keep doing what we can, running down the leads and working with you and our OCDETF partners to try and prevent people from becoming addicted in the first place. It’s going to take a herculean effort, but it’s something we are all in together.
Across all of these enforcement areas, and really most others, the Going Dark problem still presents another challenge for us—a challenge that grows larger and more complex with each passing day. As you know, we face a huge and increasing number of cases that rely on electronic evidence. We also face a situation where we are increasingly unable to access that evidence despite lawful authority to do so.
Let me just give you some numbers to put some meat on the bones of a problem I know you all are sensitive to. In the first 11 months of this fiscal year alone, we were unable to access the content of more that 6,900—that’s six-thousand, nine-hundred*—mobile devices using appropriate and available technical tools, even though we had the legal authority to do so. I just want to pause for a second to make sure that’s actually sunk in. Sixty-nine hundred* mobile devices in 11 months, and each one of those 6,900* devices is tied to a specific subject, a specific defendant, a specific victim, a specific threat.
That’s more than half* of all the mobile devices we attempted to access in that timeframe. And that’s just at the FBI. That’s not even counting those sought by you or our foreign counterparts. And that’s a huge, huge problem. It impacts investigations across the board—narcotics, human trafficking, counterterrorism, counterintelligence, gangs, organized crime, and child exploitation.
And there’s a balance that needs to be struck between the importance of encryption and the importance of giving us the tools we need to keep this country safe, but this is a pressing public safety issue for all of us. It’s a gigantic problem, and it’s an urgent problem, because as horrifying as 6,900* sounds, it’s going to be a lot worse than that in just a couple of years if we don't come up with some responsible solution. What that responsible solution is, I’m open to all ideas, because the solution is not clear cut.
It’s going to require a thoughtful and measured approach, yes, but we need that thoughtful and measured approach to get to an answer fast. We have a whole team at headquarters, some of our best people, devoted to trying to see if they can figure it out, but we're going to need to work together, both the government and the technology sector, to find a way forward and to find a way forward quickly, because this cannot be allowed to continue. I cannot accept that there is anyone out there who thinks the state of play as it exists right now, and the direction it’s going, is acceptable.
It seems like no matter where we look, our communities are hurt. Hurricanes have pummeled the East Coast and the Gulf, seemingly endless wildfires blanket the West Coast, and many of the people we serve are both scared and uncertain about what’s happening around the country and around the world.
I know that your departments are all struggling with many of the same problems—budget cuts, pension reductions, attrition, recruiting and diversity issues, tense relations with some of the communities you serve. There is clearly room for improvement for every agency, every department, every officer, every deputy, and every agent, and there are changes we're going to need to find to better understand our communities and to make sure that the people we serve there know that we're there to help.
Because the reality is, we need their trust and we need their support, and we need their help. We need information. We need tips. We need leads, because we need to know what’s really going on in their communities. We may need their testimony. We can brag about some of the advances in technology to help law enforcement and national security—technological advances, electronic surveillance advances. We can talk about that all we want, but at the end of the day, I think everyone in this room knows that human beings, human sources, make cases. Without them, we're all lost. I'm not here to tell you for a moment that the FBI has all the answers to the many predicaments that we face. Far from it. But we want to be able to help you in whatever we can. We hope to be a national voice for the law enforcement community to address our collective challenges. We hope to be a bridge between law enforcement and some of the decision-makers in Congress, at DOJ, some of the people who sign our budgets, and even a bridge between law enforcement and the citizens that we all serve together.
We're proud to work with the IACP, the Major Cities Chiefs, Major County Sheriffs, NOBLE, and others to try to share best practices and try to figure out ways to help each other. We want to advocate for you and for your departments in whatever way we can appropriately can. Most importantly, we want to make sure our partnerships grow stronger every day.
Law enforcement is not easy, to put it mildly. This life that you and your departments have chosen isn't easy. You see a lot of darkness. Not just the literal darkness of late nights and long shifts, but the figurative darkness of the darker side of humanity. You put your lives on the line every day, but you do it because you want to serve others, to keep people safe. And you do it because you recognize that you're part of something bigger than yourselves. You're certainly not in it for the big paycheck.
Whether you see your career as a calling or a conscious choice that you made, I know that you are doing this day in and day out, and it’s a heavy lift, especially when law enforcement is viewed negatively in a lot of communities. My guess is that the vast majority of you do this work because you find it incredibly rewarding to help other people. I know that because there are so many stories that flow into us, and I'm sure they're flowing into you, of amazing cops and deputies going way above and beyond the call of duty to help the citizens that they serve. Stories of people doing more than what is expected, more than what is asked, and often with very little recognition.
The officer who pays for a hotel room out of her own pocket for the homeless woman and child sleeping outside on a cold winter night. The officer who drives a dad to Walmart to buy him a car seat for his kid rather than giving him a ticket. The officer who swings by the home of an elderly woman after his shift because she’s not able to mow her own lawn.
The cop who’s shooting hoops with a kid at a local basketball court trying to help him understand, shot after shot, that he’s there to help. The cop who convinces her squad to get everybody to pitch in to buy a bike for a kid who’s walking miles after school each day to his after-school job because he’s trying to save up for college. These are all stories, and they're stories that reinforce that being a police officer isn't just what you do, it’s who you are.
It’s part of what makes me proud to be back working with you. I've been on both sides a couple times now in my career, both in the private sector and in law enforcement. My wife often comments to me how much happier I seem when I'm in law enforcement, and I'm sure we've all had our own “aha” moments. Some of you may have heard me tell this story before, but for me, one of them was when my daughter was about 5 years old. She was in nursery school, and it was dad’s day at school. The teachers had asked all the kids the same set of questions, and then the teachers had written the answers down on these little construction paper teddy bears, and then they posted all the teddy bears all over the bulletin board.
All the dads show up. Some of the questions they had asked the kids probably in hindsight might have been a little dicey, like, what do mom and dad like to do when they're home alone? You got some very interesting answers from 5-year-olds on those questions. Some of them maybe were a little safer. One of them was, “What does your dad do at work?” I'm standing there, deep in thought, staring at this bulletin board of teddy bears, and I become aware of this guy standing right next to me. He’s looking over at me. Finally, I start looking over at him. I'm like, “Dude, you're in my space a little bit.” Finally he said, “Do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?”
This was when I was a line prosecutor. I looked at him for a minute. I looked back at the teddy bears, my daughter’s teddy bear, to the question, “What does your dad do at work?” said, “My daddy and his friends put bad guys in jail and help keep us all safe.” Then I looked over at his teddy bear and it said, “My daddy talks on the phone all day so mommy and I can buy nice stuff.”
I'm just saying, we may not be able to compete on paycheck, but we can compete on mission. If you want to talk about doing something that a 5-year-old can appreciate as really meaningful, it’s pretty neat to be able to do what we do.
I just want to say that there’s no amount of money that can make up for that kind of career fulfillment. There’s no amount of money that can make up for being able to do things for other people in your community and in your country. I want to thank you for everything you do to help us partner with you, and for your friendship, and for your support. I look forward to getting to know all of you and working with you.
* Due to an error in methodology, this number is incorrect. A review is ongoing to determine an updated number.