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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • American Jewish Committee Annual Conference
  • Washington, DC
  • May 08, 2003
Thank you, Richard, and good morning. Since my first very productive meeting with David [Harris], I have looked forward to meeting with all of you and having an opportunity to talk about the war on terror, to brief you on significant changes at the FBI, and to hear your questions and concerns.

This is also my first chance to recognize the AJC's response to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Your actions truly made a difference: your aid to victims and their families. Your help in rebuilding the Greek Orthodox Church near the Twin Towers. Your meetings with international leaders to encourage concerted efforts against terrorists. I particularly want to thank you for all you have done over the years to support the FBI in its counterterrorism and civil rights programs.

For our part, we remain committed to responding strongly to your concerns, your need to have information that might affect your communities, your worries about their safety. I want to emphatically assure you today that the FBI is dedicated to protecting you and your communities and we are appreciative of your input on all our mutual concerns. At every level of our organization, particularly in our field offices, we are actively working with Jewish organizations here and across the country to address specific issues and to strengthen productive ways of working together and sharing information.

Last week President Bush addressed the nation to announce the end of combat operations in Iraq and to issue a report card on the war on terror. "The war on terror is not over," he said, "yet it is not endless. We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide."
These are hopeful and welcome words for a nation that was catastrophically attacked a short 20 months ago. The mandate from President Bush to the FBI could not have been clearer: Prevent future terrorist attacks in America.

If the mandate was simple, the devil has been in the details. In September 2001, the FBI was not positioned to most effectively carry out that mandate. By late October, we got a major legislative assist from the USA Patriot Act. I know you strongly supported those provisions and I am glad now to have the opportunity to thank you for that support - it has been tremendously helpful. But we were still left with the formidable task of realigning programs and building brand new ones from the ground up-all with a finite number of agents and professional employees who in the past had been assigned to criminal priorities.

Today I think it's fair to say that we are a profoundly different organization. So, while I want to focus my remarks this morning on the FBI's role in the war on terror, I would like to give you a summary of our focus, our priorities.

The September 11th attacks against New York and Washington changed the course of history, changed the meaning of national security for the United States, and reemphasized FBI priorities.
Today our top three priorities are focused on protecting the country. Preventing terrorist attacks, on our shores and overseas, is number one. Second, protecting the country from foreign intelligence operations and espionage. I think you know that the FBI is the only agency with this ticket - if we don't undertake it, no one else is there to do it. Third, protecting the United States from cyber crime and cyber attacks.

The next five priorities relate to traditional FBI criminal jurisdictions: our top two, public corruption and civil rights, which again are responsibilities unique to the FBI. Then organized crime, white collar crime, and significant violent crime.

You've likely heard the debate on whether the FBI should stay in the business of violent crime. I believe we must. I believe we have a limited but important role to play in protecting American streets from violence, that we bring some special skills and resources into the mix. Our partnerships with state and local law enforcement agencies in violent crime and fugitive task forces over the past 10 years have made a great difference. I believe these task forces laid the groundwork for today's effective network of joint terrorism task forces.

Priority number 9: strengthening our partnerships with law enforcement and with the intelligence community at home and abroad. We will only be successful to the extent we build on those partnerships. Number 10: upgrading our technology, which was not at all where we need it to be to achieve today's operational missions, but which is already much improved.

Let me turn now to our specific role in the nation's war on terror. Our mission could not be clearer: to prevent acts of terrorism against America. That means preventing terrorists from entering the country; it means rooting out sleeper cells and neutralizing terrorists who are in the country; it means taking the fight overseas and, with our partners, capturing terrorist leaders and dismantling international terrorist networks. Finally, it means cutting off sources of terrorist funding.

To reliably accomplish these tasks we knew we had to do much more than gather information and evidence that would build cases, much more than reach out cooperatively to our counterparts on specific investigations, as we had in the past. Basically, it boiled down to two things:

1. Forging partnerships, domestically and internationally, with our law enforcement and intelligence colleagues as well as reaching out as appropriate to private organizations, industries, and academic communities, and
2. Building an intelligence capability almost from the ground up including using state-of-the-art technologies.

With these two enhanced capabilities, I believe the FBI will be correctly positioned to meet the President's mandate.

For my first point: we have come a long way to create a seamless network of investigators and analysts that will intercept terrorists and terrorist plans.

At the top level, I join George Tenet and others at the Presidential Daily Briefing, and George and I make sure we're operating with the same information. We've exchanged top managers, agents, and intelligence analysts between our two agencies. We have similar working relationships with agencies like the Department of Homeland Security.

At the field level: we now have 66 Joint Terrorism Task Forces nationwide, staffed with personnel from the FBI, state and local law enforcement, first responders, also CIA and other federal agencies. To me, these are the heart of counterterror operations, and, because of the reach of state and local agencies into American communities, also their eyes and ears. JTTFs are gathering information, sharing information, conducting interviews, and chasing down every query and every lead.
We are also doing better at disseminating information. Our expanded Terrorist National Threat Warning System allows 60 federal agencies to receive vital information. Our National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems bulletins, including "Be on the Look Out" alerts, go to 17,000 law enforcement agencies. Same for our weekly FBI Intelligence Bulletin.

Finally, partnerships at the international level. I thank my predecessor Louie Freeh for the FBI's 45 legal attaché offices. It's my plan to continue what Louie started. We need to address global crimes. There is nothing like working shoulder to shoulder with colleagues on common issues.

Now, my second point: the FBI's is also building its intelligence capability.

We've put in place a dedicated intelligence component, headed by an experienced Bureau executive and reporting to an Executive Assistant Director who has come to us from NSA. In the meantime, with the help of CIA, we've quadrupled our strategic analysts and upgraded their skills, and we are building up a cadre of reports officers. We are creating intelligence units in field offices to take raw intelligence, strip out sources and methods, and disseminate relevant information to our partners.

Finally, we've created a terrorism database of tens of millions of documents from past and present investigations and from documents seized in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq-and all of it searchable so we can spot patterns and relationships. Our "document exploitation" project has already resulted in thousands of new leads that have taken us to the doorsteps of terrorists around the world. It will take time to grow and season this capability, but we have made a good start that is already making a difference.

One last improvement is the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), which is addressing the flood of information that comes in daily from around the world. TTIC was stood up last week. This center is a logical and necessary development in our war on terror. Now, for the first time, it will be possible for analysts working on the big picture to identify gaps in intelligence and use JTTFs to go out and collect the needed information.

This leads to my final observation of where the FBI is in the war on terrorism. With the authorities provided us to track down terrorists there also comes great responsibility. Let me assure you that the FBI remains committed to protecting civil liberties and acting within the boundaries of the Constitution.
The modern FBI has a number of internal and external safeguards built in to ensure the protection of civil liberties. But, the fact of the matter is that the FBI is, like any other organization, an organization of human beings. And, inevitably, human beings sometimes make mistakes. That is part of the reason that every New Agent is required to attend a training session at the National Holocaust Museum. I think you know that this program was begun by Louie Freeh after his first visit there in 1994. It ensures that our Agents begin their careers understanding and knowing what happens when police officers become instruments of state repression. No one comes away, not one of the new agents comes away from that experience unchanged, and it is our hope that those lessons stay with our agents for the rest of their lives.

Let me conclude by saying I am confident that the war on terrorism will not make us forget the lessons of the past or our commitment to civil rights. Rather, I believe it will strengthen our resolve not only to address terrorism, but to remember and cherish the precious freedoms of our country for which we fight.

I thank you for having me here today - it's an honor to be here.

Recent Speeches
Law Enforcement and the Communities We Serve: Tied Together in a Single Ga James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI/BCRI Annual Conference on Civil Rights, 16th Street Baptist Church, Birmingham, AL
A Different Way to Be James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Special Agent Memorial Service, FBI Headquarters, Washington, D.C.
Privacy, Public Safety, and Security: How We Can Confront the Cyber Threat James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Conference on Cyber Engagement, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.
Expectations of Privacy: Balancing Liberty, Security, and Public Safety James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Center for the Study of American Democracy Biennial Conference, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH
The Darkest Night Brings the Brightest Stars: Lights of Love, Joy, Hope, a James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Commemoration of the Bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA
Standing Together Against Terrorism and Fear: Tossed by the Waves but Neve James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, NYPD SHIELD, New York, NY
Confronting the Cyber Threat James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sixth Annual Financial Crimes and Cyber Security Symposium, Federal Reserve Bank, New York, NY
Keeping Our Communities Safe Through Shared Perspectives, Information, and James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, Chicago, IL
Law Enforcement and the Communities We Serve: Bending the Lines Toward Saf James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, University of Chicago Law School, Chicago, IL
Strength and Honor: The Legacy of Those Left Behind James B. Comey, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Concerns of Police Survivors Police Week Luncheon, Alexandria, VA