Home News Speeches Unity: The Greatest Weapon Against Terrorism
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  • Robert S. Mueller, III
  • Director
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • Citizens Crime Commission James Fox Memorial Lecture
  • New York, New York
  • April 26, 2006

Good afternoon, and thank you all for having me here today.

It is great to be back in New York. I have a lot in common with your police commissioner, Ray Kelly. We both were Marines. We were both in Vietnam, and we have both spent most of our adult lives in law enforcement.

There are other similarities as well. We are both often accused of being micro-managers. Of course, we both deny it, although sometimes I wonder about Ray. While he runs a vast police organization from the commissioner’s office, legend has it that if you dial 9-1-1, there is actually a 50-50 chance Ray will answer the phone.

It is indeed a pleasure to be here. The Citizens Crime Commission has long been a good friend to law enforcement—especially to the New York Police Department and the FBI’s New York field office.

I am especially honored to speak at the annual James Fox Memorial Lecture. You may know that Jim spent most of his career as a spycatcher during the Cold War. I knew Jim Fox when we were both in San Francisco. I was an assistant U.S. attorney, and he was the assistant special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s foreign counterintelligence program.

I remember that primarily because I was on the criminal side of the house in San Francisco, and he would never tell me anything.

It was not long after the Cold War that Jim Fox found himself facing an entirely new enemy. As assistant director-in-charge of the New York field office nearly a decade before September 11, he saw one of the first indications that international terrorism had come to our shores.

It came on a snowy day at the end of February 1993. An individual drove a yellow Ryder rental truck into the sub-basement of the World Trade Center towers and parked. A short time later, 3,000 pounds of explosives tore through three levels of the garage and into the hotel above. Six people were killed, and tens of thousands were forced to flee from the towers through the thick, black smoke. Fourteen-hundred were injured.

Running a case like that was a significant challenge. It was a massive crime scene. There were thousands of potential witnesses and they had very few clues.

Under Jim’s command, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the entire New York field office were mobilized. Jim and Commissioner Kelly were joined at the hip. There were no secrets between them. All information was shared.

The FBI, NYPD, and ATF went to work as a single, coordinated entity. In less than a week, the bombers were identified and rounded up.

One crucial moment in the investigation came when an NYPD bomb technician named Don Sadowy found a mangled piece of wreckage. Because Detective Sadowy had graduated from New York’s Automotive High School in Brooklyn, he recognized the twisted part as a piece of the rear-end of a truck. Because his former partner had worked auto-theft, he knew that there were hidden vehicle identification numbers on those parts.

An FBI specialist on stolen cars named Jamie Sedeno worked with experts in the NYPD lab to locate and raise the hidden numbers and identify the truck. When the Joint Terrorism Task Force agents and detectives arrived at the rental store, they learned, fortuitously, that the man who had rented the truck was on his way back to re-claim his cash deposit of a full $225.

Mohamed Salame was arrested a few hours later. His accomplices were identified quickly. They were tracked down and captured in Jersey City, in Pakistan, and in Egypt by FBI special agents and New York City detectives.

There are few stories that better illustrate the benefits and importance of the Joint Terrorism Task Force concept. We can gain so much from the expertise of our local partners. We can share the FBI’s knowledge and resources with them. Jim Fox understood that a long time ago.

Solving that case sent a message to the terrorists that no matter how far they ran, they would be tracked down and brought to justice.

The picture of al Qaeda was just emerging. That same year, under Jim’s command, FBI agents and the New York Police would swoop down on more terrorists. Several individuals were arrested as they literally stirred a chemical mixture of explosives in 55-gallon drums. These explosives were to be used to bomb New York’s bridges and tunnels. The individuals were arrested, tried here in New York, and ultimately convicted.

In 1998, New York detectives and FBI Agents of the JTTF answered the call when al Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in East Africa. They tracked down suspects in a half dozen countries.

Then again in 2000, America’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force had its 20 th anniversary at the restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. A year later, the World Trade Center would no longer be standing.

The war, in which Jim Fox had fought some of the opening battles, was being taken to a new and catastrophic level by our enemies.

Indeed, in the wake of the immediate devastation of September 11, there was no time to do a study. There was no time for broad contemplation. We had to work together quickly to engage the terrorist threat—here on U.S. soil, and abroad—and do so in new ways.

We in the FBI had to reshape the way we thought and worked. We often say it was like changing the tires on a car that is hurtling down the highway at 70 miles an hour.

Let me take a few minutes to tell you how far we have come working together.

We have built on the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force concept. Before September 11, we had 35 JTTFs. Now we have over 100. We have gone from less than 1,000 agents and detectives on the Joint Terrorism Task Forces to over 4,000. We have gone from a 1,000 intelligence analysts to over 2,000, and we are still hiring.

We have tripled the number of linguists to over 1,400. We have expanded the number of our international offices, also known as Legal Attaché , or Legats, to 54, and have plans to increase the number to 60 by the end of this year. We have produced more than 20,000 intelligence reports, assessments, and bulletins since September 11.

The numbers do not tell the whole story. We have changed our very approach to national security. We stood up a Directorate of Intelligence so that we would be poised not just to do the best investigation after the attack, but to have the best intelligence available to preven t another attack.

We have now formed the National Security Branch to coordinate our intelligence, counterterrorism, and counter-espionage efforts. The National Security Branch works closely with the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, to ensure our efforts are synchronized with the rest of the intelligence community.

Since September 11, we have been evolving, and we have been succeeding.

You have read about some of the attacks that have been prevented. There are others that we cannot talk about even now. A few merit discussion here because they demonstrate how law enforcement must adapt to new, and changing, threats.

In 2004, working with our partners overseas, we learned of extensive surveillance by suspected terrorists to target buildings here in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Those buildings included the Citicorp Tower just a few blocks from here, the Stock Exchange downtown, the Prudential Building in Newark, New Jersey, and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

The level of detail collected by the terrorists demonstrated a high degree of training in surveillance. Like the September 11 plot or the East Africa bombings, these plans appeared to call for attacks that would require logistical support and funding from terrorist bases overseas.

Before September 11, a recruit would go through months of training in a camp in Afghanistan before being given an assignment. Now what we see is a new threat: decentralized and more diffuse. Now, we see individuals “self-recruiting,” being “self-radicalized” through the Internet. We see them recruiting their friends and forming cells that answer not to a particular leader, but to an ideology.

We have seen home-grown terrorist cells raise small amounts of money through street crimes. The cell responsible for the Madrid bombings sold drugs and counterfeit CDs. They also stole cars to raise the money to launch their attack.

As you heard from Sir Ian Blair of Scotland Yard when he spoke here last week, the London bombings appear to also be the work of two unrelated home-grown cells.

Recently, the New York and Atlanta JTTFs arrested two men in connection with an alleged terrorist plot. The plot included discussions about blowing up oil refineries and disabling navigational aids on airplanes. In Los Angeles, a cell directed by former gang members robbed gas stations to raise money to buy weapons.

The Los Angeles case is a good example of the intersection of local crime and the terrorist threat. It began when police in Torrance, California, arrested two men for a gas station robbery. When they searched the apartment the two men shared, they found documents listing the addresses of U.S. military recruiting stations, the Israeli Consulate, and synagogues in the Los Angeles area. The Torrance PD called in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

For a month, the Los Angeles JTTF focused on everyone who had had contact with the two suspects. Eventually, the picture emerged of a home-grown terrorist cell that had been spawned by a small radical group operating in Folsom Prison. They viewed themselves as “al Qaeda of California.”

The L.A. Joint Terrorism Task Force identified three members who were operating outside the prison and attempting to recruit others. Their plan was to attack the military recruiting stations on September 11, 2005, and then attack the synagogues on Yom Kippur.

That plot was disrupted. They were arrested. Many lives may well have been saved, and yet, most people have never even heard about that plot.

The simple truth is, the attack prevented makes far fewer headlines than the attack which succeeds.

Today, the terrorist’s target is less likely to be a government building with layers of security. It is much more likely to be a soft target.

Terrorists may launch the most devastating attack they can afford, be it against a subway or a bus; a house of worship; or a shopping mall.

Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of local law enforcement’s participation in these efforts. From Los Angeles to New York, it remains a key factor to our success.

The NYPD has over 1,000 persons dedicated to the counter-terrorism effort. They have assigned 130 of their detectives full-time to the JTTF, making them the largest contributor to any JTTF in the country. During the Los Angeles case, the LAPD temporarily assigned 200 additional persons to the JTTF out there in an effort to address that case.

Our nation’s successes in driving the terrorists from their bases, cutting them off from their money, disrupting their communications, and capturing many of their leaders have forced the terrorists to change. At the same time, because the terrorists may no longer receive orders from a central hub, identifying them may be a greater challenge.

Our job may be more difficult in that sense, but we in the FBI—and I know in the NYPD—are firmly committed to the task. Today’s threat is just as likely to come from our own streets as it is from people who are sent from overseas.

Because today’s threat may be funded by street crime, the importance of local law enforcement has risen exponentially.

We have shown the terrorists that they cannot frighten the governments of free people into changing their course, so they will try to frighten free people into changing their governments. When political change is driven by fear and violence—even in a democracy—no one is truly free.

One extremely important note: In this challenging time in our history, the FBI will be measured not only by our ability to protect the nation from terrorism. We will also be measured—as we should be—by our commitment to protecting the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

If we accomplish the first goal, but fail in the second, it will indeed be a pyrrhic victory.

I want to close in keeping with the theme today: Our greatest weapon against terrorism is unity. That unity is built on information sharing and coordination among our partners in the law enforcement and intelligence communities. It is built on effective outreach to the public as our eyes and ears.

Jim Fox had the wisdom to understand that concept way back in 1993. Today, it is more important than ever before. You are our partners in the fight against crime and terrorism. Together, we will protect our citizens, our cities, and our country. Together, we will prevail.

Thank you for having me here today. I would be happy to take some questions.

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