Home News Speeches The Post 9/11 FBI: Working Worldwide to Prevent Terrorist Attacks
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  • John S. Pistole
  • Deputy Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco
  • San Francisco, California
  • September 11, 2006

Good evening. My thanks to all of you for inviting me here tonight.

As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, there are three parts to a strong speech. First, he said, be sincere. Second, be brief. And third, be seated. I hope to meet all three requirements in short order tonight.

Five years ago today, we awoke to a new chapter in American history. Many have likened September 11 to another “day of infamy”—December 7, 1941, the date of the Pearl Harbor attack.

My parents were married on Valentine’s Day in 1941. I remember talking to them in the aftermath of September 11. They compared that day to the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. And they experienced the same raw emotions we did—from fear and shock to unimaginable sorrow and rage.

For some of you, the 9/11 attacks hit close to home. You may have had family or friends on United Flight 93, bound for San Francisco from Newark. That flight, which crashed in Pennsylvania, is an ever-present reminder of the power of a small group of people determined to defend freedom.

In the past five years, we have seen terrorist attacks in Indonesia, Pakistan, India, Kenya, Spain, and Great Britain. We have read reports of foiled terrorist plots around the world, and even some here at home. With the news of the most recent bomb plot out of London, we are reminded once again of the simple truth that we are still a target, and that terrorists remain determined to strike us.

Today marks the five-year anniversary of a profound change in our way of life. Five years of recovery and revamping, of preparation and planning. Five years of wondering where and when they will try again, and what we must do to stop them.

Since September 11, I would venture to say that we have all come to see the world in a different light. Certainly, the watershed events of that day forced those of us in the FBI to see things differently.

Since that day, we have approached every day as if it were September 12. We have moved forward with the same sense of urgency and consequence we felt on 9/11 as we watched the destruction unfold.

Tonight I want to talk about the changes we have made in the FBI in the past five years. I want to talk about the importance of partnerships and information sharing. I also want to touch on what we must do in the years ahead to stay on course.

Let me start with the key changes we have made in the FBI. On September 11, our number one priority became preventing another attack on America. Today, our top three priorities—counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and cyber security—are all national security-related. To meet these new priorities, we have changed both our structure, and the way we do business.

We have doubled the number of special agents in counterterrorism. We have created specialized units to address emerging threats, from chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats to international terrorists seeking entry to the United States.

Our terrorist financing group investigates and dismantles terrorist financing mechanisms. And our Counterterrorism Fly Teams travel around the world on a moment’s notice to respond to terrorist attacks.

On May 13, 2003, I led an FBI team to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to investigate the bombings of three housing compounds. Nearly 40 people died in that attack, including eight Americans, and scores of others were wounded. Our joint investigation with Saudi Arabian authorities was testament to the need for global cooperation and information sharing.

That case also served as the first instance in which we deployed an investigative team to a foreign country in which Americans were killed, where we were not seeking to prosecute those responsible here in the United States. We were there to only to provide guidance and forensic assistance. That investigation marked a sea change in the way we do business around the world.

Perhaps the most pervasive change in the FBI in recent years is the integration of intelligence into every investigation, in every area. We are in the information business, in much the same way that many of you—particularly in Silicon Valley—are in the information business. In its purest form, intelligence is simply information.

Throughout our 98-year history, we have excelled at gathering intelligence and using it to build cases and win convictions. In the past five years, however, we have focused on analyzing and disseminating that intelligence to our colleagues in law enforcement and intelligence.

We created the National Security Branch to bring counterterrorism, counterintelligence, intelligence, and our newly created Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate under one umbrella, to ensure that we share the right information with the right people at the right time.

We have also created field intelligence groups in each of our 56 offices, combining the resources and the skills of agents, analysts, linguists, and surveillance specialists. These groups, known as FIGs, collect and analyze raw intelligence and share it with our colleagues at home and abroad. They help us connect the dots between cases, and identify gaps in our intelligence.

Prior to 9/11, court rules and internal procedures barred agents from coordinating investigations and sharing information with members of the intelligence community. The general rule was to share only that intelligence relevant to a particular investigation.

Thanks to the Patriot Act, we are enabled and empowered to share information. Today, we are sharing by rule, and withholding by exception.

Together, we are collecting, analyzing, disseminating, and acting on the best possible intelligence to present to federal prosecutors for possible federal prosecution.

We are also reaching out to you for help. You know the issues in your community. You may know about specific criminal and terrorist threats that affect your businesses, your neighborhoods, and your families.

Here in San Francisco, FBI community outreach specialists and agents routinely meet with community leaders, from various “town hall” events to our ever-popular Citizens Academy program, where people like you get a hands-on look at some of the work we do every day.

We are also building relationships within the moderate Muslim community. Increasingly, mainstream Muslim leaders are challenging the extremist ideology of hatred and violence.

Agents from the North Bay, including Marin and Sonoma counties; the East Bay into Oakland; and the South Bay into San José and San Francisco proper, are reaching out to Muslim community and religious leaders, one-by-one, face to face.

These efforts improve our understanding of your communities. We know that some people view the FBI with suspicion, and we must bridge that gap. We must build confidence in one another and forge lasting relationships. We must reach the point where you are willing to come forward and say, “I have seen or heard something that you need to know.” The cycle of terrorism can only be broken if we stand together.

Next, I would like to touch on the importance of technology in meeting our new mission. And what better place than the Bay Area to do that?

Intelligence provides the information we need, but technology enables us to find patterns and connections in that intelligence. Today, through sophisticated databases, we can conduct federated searches, and track known and suspected terrorists through biographical information, travel histories, and financial records.

We are sharing that technology with our law enforcement colleagues. The Terrorism Screening Center, for example, provides federal, state, and local officials with real-time connectivity to a database of nearly 400,000 known or suspected terrorists. When a police officer encounters a suspicious person, he or she can access that database on the spot for information and direction. With this technology, we have taken a great leap forward in our ability to identify and track terrorists.

These structural changes are the result of careful consideration and thorough execution. Director Mueller spoke to you in April of 2002—just seven months after the attacks of 9/11. He talked about the many changes underway in the Bureau—from training and technology to intelligence collection and analysis.

I am proud of what we have accomplished since then. I have been an agent for 23 years, and I have seen more changes in the past five years than at any other time in the Bureau’s history.

We encourage our more than 30,000 employees to think creatively to solve problems, to not be limited by old ways of thinking. A story I once heard has stayed with me over the years. On the first day of class, a high school trigonometry teacher told her students that their entire grade would be based on one final exam. She was tough, but fair. She told the students that the exam would be “open book” in that they could put anything they wanted on an 8.5-by-11-inch piece of notebook paper.

The day of the final exam came. One of the students placed a blank piece of paper on the floor. An upper classman walked in and stood squarely on the piece of paper. The student looked at the first question, and passed the test to the upper classman. He filled in the right answer and handed it back. This went on until the end of the exam.

The teacher applauded this creative approach. We, too, applaud that kind of creativity, so long as it is legal, moral, and ethical. This story illustrates the power of thinking outside of the box...of seeing opportunities where others see only problems...of seeing the possibilities in growth and change rather than the constraints.

In the past five years, we have done a great deal of thinking outside of the box in terms of our capabilities, and what we must do to prevent another terrorist attack. We have had many suggestions from outside observers, including the 9/11 and WMD commissions and several key congressional oversight committees. We have implemented the vast majority of those recommendations, and, as a result, we are stronger and better equipped to confront the many threats against us.

Yes, there is always more to be done. As the terrorists evolve and adapt, so must we. We must continue to think in new ways, and work with new partners. We must use every resource we have—from personnel to intelligence to technology—to ensure that what happened September 11 does not happen again.

I want to turn now to the power of partnerships.

In the past five years, we have come to realize that we cannot fight crime and prevent terrorism alone. With the emerging threat of homegrown terrorism and the continuing threat from al Qaeda, the role of state and local law enforcement becomes that much more important. They are often the first to see new trends in crime and terrorism. That is why partnerships like our Joint Terrorism Task Forces are so vital.

Before September 11, the San Francisco, Oakland, and San José task forces had just 40 members. Today, there are more than 120 agents, analysts, and officers working together, including the Bay Area police departments and sheriffs’ offices, the California Highway Patrol, the U.S. Park Police, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, just to name a few.

Together, they are briefing their fellow police officers on trends in terrorism, and sharing the most up-to-date intelligence on criminal and terrorist threats.

Our partnerships with those of you in the private and public sectors are equally important. We participate in a number of working groups analyzing potential risk factors and threats, including airport security; the San Francisco and Oakland harbors; the railways, bridges, and oil refineries; the sports venues and the skyscrapers; and other potential targets.

For example, the Bay Area Terrorism Working Group combines the resources of law enforcement, regulatory agencies, and private companies in the CBRN sectors. This group meets quarterly to share information on trends in terrorism, including weapons of mass destruction, and to discuss planned responses to emerging threats.

The InfraGard program is one of our strongest private sector partnerships. Using a secure computer server, members from a host of industries—from Silicon Valley IT companies to financial networks and food distributors—share information about cyber crime, corporate espionage, and terrorism.

InfraGard enables otherwise competitive companies to share their security concerns, and to find common ground in the fight against crime and terrorism. There are more than 400 InfraGard members in the Bay Area, and more than 16,000 across the country. For us, that amounts to 16,000 partners in our mission to protect America.

Our partnerships also extend overseas. Terrorists are reaching across countries and cultures to recruit, raise money, and possibly plan attacks around the world. We must act as a global law enforcement and intelligence agency to prevent these terrorists from taking action, as part of a layered defense.

The ongoing London terrorism investigation is an outstanding example of high-level cooperation between the United States and Great Britain.

In the weeks before this matter became public, we deployed more than 200 agents to investigate possible ties here in the United States. We analyzed financial data, visa records, travel manifests, and other biographical information, and we consulted daily with our counterparts in the British security service.

We have combined our resources to fight domestic terrorism as well. Many of you may remember the bombings of the Chiron and Shaklee corporations here in the Bay Area in 2003.

Explosives residue, surveillance tapes, and computer forensic evidence helped us identify an animal rights activist as a likely suspect in both attacks. Two weeks after the bombings, this man fled law enforcement and has not been seen since. We continue to work with our federal, state, and local partners, our 57 legal attaché offices around the world, and our international partners, including Interpol, to bring this criminal to justice.

These investigations highlight the importance of global cooperation. Only by working together can we develop a complete picture of the threats against us, and a clear understanding of what we must do to defeat them.

At the same time, we understand that we must also safeguard the civil liberties of all Americans. We should be judged not just by our ability to defend the nation from terrorism, but also by our commitment to defending the rights and freedoms we all enjoy.

I want to finish by talking about what we must do in the years ahead to stay on course.

In the past five years, our military and intelligence partners around the world have destroyed many of al Qaeda’s training camps. They have captured or killed many of al Qaeda’s key leaders. As the President announced last week, some of the most notorious terror suspects have been transferred to Guantanamo to await public war-crime trials. We in the FBI, along with our partners, have disrupted aspects of al Qaeda’s and other terrorist groups’ funding and means of communication.

Unfortunately, while al Qaeda may be weakened, they still have the desire and perhaps the means to attack us. They will continue to recruit new followers, to plan attacks around the world, and to adapt their tactics to evade detection and capture.

Perhaps even more disconcerting, we also face threats from loosely defined cells and individuals who are not affiliated with al Qaeda, but who are inspired to take action for their own reasons.

These extremists may be self-recruited, self-trained, and self-executing. They answer not to a particular leader, but to an ideology. They share ideas and information in the shadows of the Internet. They gain inspiration from radical websites that call for violence.

This new breed of extremist may raise money by committing low-level crimes or by taking out loans or cash advances on credit cards, as some of the London suspects did. In short, these extremists operate under the radar, and that makes their detection all the more difficult for us.

We have already seen this new face of terrorism on a global scale in Madrid, London, and Toronto, and here at home in Torrance, Toledo, and Miami.

The 17 Toronto suspects, for example, lived, worked, and attended school in Canada. Most of them were second-generation Canadians from Pakistan. They trained in nearby and distant woods. They used the Internet to research bomb-making and potential targets. They had no formal links to al Qaeda. Yet, over time, talk turned to action, and a terrorist plot began to take shape. These homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda.

It has been five years since the last terrorist attack in America. Yet we must not be lulled into complacency. After all, the terrorists need succeed only once, but we must try to stop every plot, every time. And there are no easy answers when it comes to defeating an enemy that is obsessed, fueled by hatred that knows no bounds—without regard for human life. How do we stop an individual who dons a suicide vest and travels to Fisherman’s Wharf with the intent to kill himself and others in the name of jihad?

We must continue to improve our intelligence capabilities. We must continue to plan for the worst case scenario, with the hope that we will never encounter that dark day. We must continue to create strong networks with new partners around the world, and build on existing partnerships with old allies.

On December 8, 1941—the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor—the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle wrote the following words:

“We cannot know how long this war will last, how wide it will range, nor what it will cost us, in toil, in sacrifice, and in treasure. We do know that whatever the cost, we will pay it, and that our reward will be to hand down to our children the free America which our fathers bequeathed to us.”

Those words, written nearly 65 years ago, ring true today. We don’t know how long this fight will last, or how wide it will range. We don’t know what it will cost us in the end. But we do know that we must protect our children, our communities, and our country. We must never stop asking whether we are doing everything we can to defeat those who seek to do harm.

The threat is real; the stakes are high. We must—and we will—prevail.

Thank you. I would be happy to take your questions.

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