Home News Speeches The Cooperation of the Private Sector in the Counterterrorist Effort
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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • San Francisco Global Trade Council
  • San Francisco, CA
  • September 30, 2003

Thank you, Mark [Mershon], and good afternoon everyone. George [Vinson], thanks for your comments. And thanks to the Global Trade Council for inviting me. I always appreciate a good excuse to come home.

Before I begin, I want to take a moment to thank your President, Harry Orbelian. A certain unnamed source tells me that Harry once did an important favor for the Bureau. Here's the untold story.

A number of years back, as some of you may know, Harry managed a large antiques enterprise in town. One day, an FBI Agent paid Harry a visit. The Agent asked for his help in locating a certain highly valuable statue, one of thousands if not millions of pieces of artwork in the area. The time was 10 a.m. By 2 o'clock that same day, Harry had called the Agent to say that he not only knew exactly where the statue was, he even had a picture of it.

Well, it turns out, the head of the FBI office here at that time, and a beneficiary of Harry's detective work, was none other than my father. So I'm here to thank Harry officially on behalf of the FBI, and hopefully to repay in some small way our family debt.

What Harry asked me to talk about with you today, in line with George's comments, is the threat of terrorism and how we can go about defeating it together.

Let me start with the threat as we see it in the FBI. Terrorism is really nothing new. The term has been around since at least the French Revolution, and the Bureau has been addressing various forms of terror here in the U.S. since its earliest days.

Al-Qai'da, however, represents a new, more insidious form of terrorism - a far cry from anything we have seen before.

First, unlike other terrorist groups, al-Qai'da doesn't just want to influence policy or to make a statement. It seeks to destroy the United States and any other country it considers an enemy. To achieve that goal, al-Qai'da is willing to use any weapon, to forge any partnership, and to sacrifice as many lives as necessary.

Al-Qai'da is a global, multi-ethnic movement, with a presence in some 60 nations and direct and indirect links to any number of terrorist groups around the world. It has been compared to a holding company, bringing together many different entities under the common roof of international jihad.
Second, al-Qai'da's leadership is highly educated and experienced. Its operatives are often well-disciplined, well-trained, and well-armed. Al-Qai'da is incredibly patient, often taking months and years to plan intricate attacks. It mutates and adapts as we make progress and learns from its own failures. It is constantly generating new recruits, and its resources are deep.

What's important to understand, though, is not just the global reach of al-Qai'da but also its global focus. The list of countries that al-Qai'da has attacked or attempted to attack - along with those it considers its enemies - grows longer with each passing month. It includes the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco, India, Kenya, Pakistan, Singapore, Yemen, and the Philippines, to name a few. Unlike terrorist organizations of the past, al-Qai'da is essentially picking a global fight.

The question for all of us is: what can we do, individually and collectively, as distinct nations and as a global community, as representatives of both the public and private sectors, to defeat al-Qai'da and related terrorist groups?

Let me talk for a moment about how we in the FBI are addressing the threat and how we fit into the broader international campaign to defeat terrorism.

The FBI, as you probably know, is the lead federal agency in the U.S. for protecting the American people from acts of terror. Our primary mission today is one of prevention. That has always been our goal, and we have headed off quite a few potentially serious attacks through the years. But today - considering the scope of the attacks of 9/11, the continuing capabilities of terrorists, and al-Qai'da's desire to develop weapons of mass destruction - prevention is measured by a different yardstick. Heading off attacks here in the U.S. - and to the extent we can, overseas - is not just our number one priority, it's also the standard by which we are now judged.

Our strategy for doing that has several different pieces. First, it means identifying and disabling potential sleeper cells and lone wolves who may be planning attacks. Second, it means helping to create an environment in this country where terrorists find it difficult to plan and operate. Third, it means taking down terrorist logistical and support structures, all those who help with training, recruiting, fundraising, and the like. And fourth, it means tracking down one-by-one the various operative and leaders of terrorist networks.

To do all of that, the FBI is bringing to bear all of its law enforcement and intelligence capabilities. Our investigative skills. Our forensic and financial expertise. And our experience in developing assets and penetrating organizations, which we've put to use over the years in taking down major organized crime syndicates.

We're also improving in some critical ways. We're in the process, for example, of modernizing our information technology infrastructure. That's Silicon-Valley speak for "fixing our computers." Technology is key to our ability to draw connections and share information in ways that are proactive and preventative. To help us improve, we've hired some of the best and the brightest from private industry, including executives from the likes of IBM, HP, and Lucent. And we're making progress day-by-day.

Information and intelligence are also fundamental to prevention, and we are gathering more intelligence and analyzing it more quickly than ever before, centralizing it in Washington and sharing it with partners far and wide. Intelligence has now become for the FBI an effort that is recognized as important in its own right, and its status is on par with our major investigative programs. We recently hired a long-time intelligence expert from NSA to strengthen our overall intelligence efforts, and she is already making a difference.

Another important focus is partnerships. I've been with the FBI nearly 30 years, and I have never seen a greater priority put on relationships and teamwork. Today, we work more closely than ever with the CIA and other federal partners, with state and local law enforcement, and with our many international colleagues. We have plenty of new partners as well - like George and everyone in the Department of Homeland Security. Our cooperation today is such that if you hear about a success against terrorism - whether it's rolling up a sleeper cell here in the states or arresting a top al-Qai'da lieutenant like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan - you know that it was the product of teamwork.

The key operational forces for fighting terrorism here in the U.S. are what we call our Joint Terrorism Task Forces. There are 84 nationwide - including one here in San Francisco and several in the Los Angeles area. These task forces - which include representatives of a range of local, state, and federal agencies - do all the investigative legwork and keep their finger on the pulse of what's happening in a given community.

Another important partnership - announced two weeks ago - is the new Terrorist Screening Center. This multi-agency center will support those who work to keep terrorists from crossing our borders by creating a single, comprehensive watch list available across the board 24 hours a day.

Overseas, as many of you know, we have 45 international offices - what we call Legal Attaches or Legats. These offices are where we build the partnerships that are so critical to fighting international terrorist and criminal networks. It is hard to forge agreements, arrange renditions, make persuasive arguments on issues, and discuss cases when your "partner" is sitting at a desk thousands of miles away. We need to be on the ground overseas, with Agents who know the cultures, the legal and criminal justice systems, and the players in a given country. Our Legats give us that presence.
Our success against terrorism will be determined, in large part, by the quality of the relationships we develop worldwide. On his various trips around globe, Director Mueller has heard again and again from international officials that we have to stop meeting at crime scenes. We need to meet more often before attacks, so we can prevent them from occurring in the first place.

More and more, we're doing that. The cooperation internationally since September 11 has been outstanding. More than 3,000 terrorist operatives have been arrested worldwide in the past two years, including top al-Qai'da leadership. And even when there are attacks, our partnerships are only getting stronger. In recent months, for example, the FBI has sent teams to cities like Riyadh, Jakarta, Casablanca, and Baghdad to help investigate terrorist strikes. Before September 11, when the FBI went overseas we were focused on developing evidence for a prosecution in U.S. courts. Today, we are giving little thought to where a case will be tried or who will get credit. We are just going to help. And we have seen the difference in cooperation from international partners.

In line with that theme of cooperation, let me talk about some specific ways we can help each other in this broader campaign to defeat al-Qai'da.

As much as they would like to, terrorists cannot spend forever hiding in the remote corners of the world. They have to interact with society, particularly if they intend to strike inside the United States. They will go shopping and set up bank accounts. They will buy equipment, weapons, and technology. They may contact and communicate with supporters and fellow operatives here and overseas. They may try to go back and forth across borders. They may try to commit petty crimes - like credit card fraud - to support their activities.

All of these are opportunities to identify and stop terrorists from doing harm. And everyone can play a role by keeping their eyes open and reporting any unusual or suspicious activities to our Joint Terrorism Task Forces or to our Legats overseas.

If you are in the diplomatic community, for example, you may encounter individuals with questionable backgrounds who are attempting to obtain passports. You may pick up bits of useful information on suspicious characters from your respective countries. I understand that several consulates on the West Coast have provided the FBI with relevant information relating to terrorism in recent months. In one case, a diplomatic establishment gave us information on stolen passports that it had reason to believe were in the possession of individuals from the Middle East. That's exactly the kind of cooperation it takes to defeat the global threat of terror.

Those of you from the business world can - and have - played an important role as well. A number of banks and financial institutions, for example, have helped us track down sources of terrorist funding. Other organizations have provided us with information on specific individuals or specialized experience on key issues. We appreciate that help. We also appreciate your keeping an eye on suspicious purchases, whether it is chemicals or weapons or technology.

In this day and age, I would also make this suggestion: know whom you are hiring. We had a case recently where a company used a temp, liked his work, and brought him on board full-time without conducting any background checks. That employee later raided the company's electronic systems and fled to the Middle East. Which brings me to another point: make sure you have good digital security. If you haven't already, you might want to join our local chapter of InfraGard, a joint effort between the FBI and private sector companies focused on guarding critical infrastructure by sharing information and strategies.

Our relationships, of course, go both ways. We in the FBI understand that it is in our best interests to support you just as you support us. It is up to the FBI to help you understand what to look for, to share strategies, to work with you to harden targets, and most importantly, to share threat information that may impact this community or your countries back home. I believe we're doing a better job of that -- not perfect, but better. Please, if you have questions, concerns, ideas, or issues, don't hesitate to contact us. When it comes to terrorism, we want to make sure that no stone is left unturned.

Let me close on a personal note. When I left San Francisco 17 months ago, one of the things I took with me was a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge that was given to me by my friends and colleagues here. That picture now hangs in a central spot in my new office in Washington. It shows the bridge back in 1936 when it was still under construction. You can see both sides of the bridge as they are being formed, but the structure doesn't yet fully span the Bay.

I like that picture not only because it reminds me of the city I consider my home, but also because it says a great deal about our work ahead. Our future success, in my mind, hinges on our ability to build bridges of cooperation and mutual support between our countries and our organizations. The stronger those bridges are, and the faster we build them, the safer we will all be. More than anything, that is the message I want to leave you with today.

Thanks for having me, thanks for your support of the FBI, and God bless.

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