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Global Terrorism: The FBI's Role

Speaker: Robert S. Mueller III, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Presider: Terence P. Moran, Anchor, "Nightline," ABC News
February 23, 2009
Council on Foreign Relations

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TERENCE P. MORAN: Let's start with just a very simple statement, which is simple but remarkably true: Robert Mueller is reshaping the FBI for the modern era. His leadership is transforming a venerable institution that was designed to meet the law enforcement and national security threats of another era into a 21st-century security service.

Now, progress, of course, never happens overnight, especially in the federal government, perhaps. But what Director Mueller and his team are doing is nothing short of remarkable.

Remember, for a moment, Mr. Mueller took over the FBI on September the 4th, 2001. His entire tenure at the bureau has been shaped by the terrible challenges of 9/11. And he and the men and women he leads -- (inaudible) -- front lines -- (off mike).

Director Mueller is a graduate of Princeton and the University of Virginia Law School, and he is a Vietnam War veteran -- a Marine decorated for bravery. He has served the country as a lawyer over the years as well, first as a federal prosecutor in Boston and Washington and San Francisco, and then as head of the Criminal Division in the Justice Department under the first President Bush.

We're honored to have him here today. Director Mueller. (Applause.)

ROBERT S. MUELLER: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Terry. That's perhaps one of the nicest introductions I've gotten from any of the TV stations, so I -- (laughter) -- most appreciate it.

I am -- I am indeed honored to be here to spend a few moments with you this afternoon.

Nearly three months ago, several men in a rubber raft landed on the shores of a bustling financial capital as the sun began to set. They scattered in different directions, carrying backpacks with automatic weapons, hand grenades and satellite phones. Within just a few hours, innocent civilians were lying in the street, buildings were burning, hostages feared for their lives, and a city was under siege.

News of the attack quickly circled the globe, from traditional media coverage to streaming video, blogs, text messages, and even twitters. The attackers used that same technology, not only to monitor the movements of police and rescue teams but also to evade capture and to communicate with their leaders, who were some distance away.

It was an attack both highly coordinated and deceptively simple in its execution. And of course, I am speaking about Mumbai, in which terrorists killed more than 170 individuals and wounded more than 300.

This type of attack reminds us that terrorists with large agendas and little money can use rudimentary weapons to maximize their impact. And it again raises the question of whether a similar attack could happen in Seattle, San Diego, Miami or Manhattan.

The world in which we live has changed markedly in recent years, from the integration of global markets and the ease of international travel to the rise and the reach of the Internet. But our perception of the world -- and our place in it -- also have changed.

Last year, scientists captured the first pictures of what they believe to be faraway planets circling stars -- circling stars outside of our solar system. Astronomers have identified more than 300 of these so-called "extrasolar" planets in the past 13 years. These modern-day explorers seek to confirm what they believe to be out there; to see what has not yet been seen. These discoveries make our world seem at once smaller and yet infinitely more vast. And they leave us with the feeling that there is much more out there to be found.

From a law enforcement and intelligence perspective, there is always more to be found. And we are not quite so optimistic about what we will discover: new threats, new technologies and new targets. The universe of crime and terrorism stretches out infinitely before us, and we too are working to find what we believe to be out there but cannot always see.

In the aftermath of September 11th, our worldview was somewhat limited. We were primarily concerned with al Qaeda's leadership and its structure. Today, we still face threats from al Qaeda, but we must also focus on less well-known terrorist groups, as well as homegrown terrorists. And we must consider extremists from Visa Waiver countries, who are merely an e-ticket away from the United States.

Our primary threat continues to come from the tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. But we are seeing persistent activity elsewhere, from the Maghreb and the Sahel to Yemen. We are increasingly concerned with pockets of people around the world that identify with al Qaeda and its ideology. Now, some may have little or no actual contact with al Qaeda. Yet fringe organizations can quickly gain broader aspirations and appeal. And should they connect with the core of al Qaeda, from training to the planning and execution of attacks, the game becomes radically different.

In several of the plots we have disrupted since September 11th, some have asked whether individuals in question -- the individuals in question had the intent and the capability to carry out their plans. There will always be a tension between acting early to disrupt a plot in its planning stages and continuing to investigate until we are certain that the individuals in question are poised to attack, and in each case, that calibration will be different.

If you take the planned attack against Fort Dix as an example, the men we convicted had engaged in target practice in the woods of Pennsylvania; they had watched al Qaeda training videos; they had a map of the base and a plan to get in; and they had purchased semiautomatic weapons, albeit from an FBI sting operation. And like the Mumbai attackers, these men wanted to inflict as much damage as they could. And as the Mumbai attacks illustrate, the simplest of weapons can be quite deadly when combined with capability and intent.

We must also recognize that events outside of our control may impact our national security. World politics often shape terrorist and criminal threats against the United States. Those same politics can alter the perception of the United States in the eyes of the international community. And what of civil -- civil unrest, resource scarcity and a shifting global economy?

A crisis in the Horn of Africa may well have a ripple effect in places such as Minneapolis, as we shall discuss in a moment. The fall of communism opened the door to a virtual army of cyber-thieves. The integration of cultures around the world has facilitated state-sponsored espionage, a thriving child pornography market, as well as heightened gang activity.

Now, admittedly, this overview sounds rather dire, and it does underscore the need for first-rate intelligence and strong international partnerships. Hockey great Wayne Gretzky was once asked -- was once asked how he consistently managed to be at the right place on the ice at the right time. He said that while some players skate to where the puck has been, he skates to where the puck will be. The same is true for those of us in the FBI: We need to know where the threat is moving, and we need to get there first.

The tools upon which we built our reputation generally as a law enforcement organization -- the development of sources, surveillance, communication intercepts and forensic analysis -- are the same tools necessary for an intelligence service. And our challenge comes in developing the intelligence to disrupt an attack before the fact.

To be effective, we must deliberately collect intelligence to fill gaps between our cases and gaps in our knowledge base. And that intelligence gathering will differ from city to city and state to state, just as criminal and terrorist threats differ.

We must also determine if threats around the world translate to potential threats here at home. If there is a suicide bombing in Somalia, are we at greater risk? Do we understand the full extent of that threat?

We must weigh the value of an early prosecution of select individuals against the benefit of collecting the intelligence necessary to dismantle the entire network. As Jonathan Evans, director of MI-5, has said, "Knowing of somebody is not the same as knowing all about them." And he is right.

In every case where an individual poses a threat, we must ask key questions: Where has this individual been? Who are his associates? Where are they now? What are they doing? And who are they talking to? This targeted intelligence-gathering takes time. It requires patience, precision and dedication. And it requires a unity of effort here at home and overseas.

Intelligence enables us to see the unseen, to discover new threats on the horizon. And yet even the best intelligence will not provide complete certainty, given the nature and number of the threats that we face. And the question remains for us: How do we protect ourselves from threats that emanate overseas? We cannot close our borders or cut off the Internet. We must start at the source.

The day before the attacks in Mumbai, Special Agent Steve Merrill -- our legal attache in the FBI's New Delhi office -- was enjoying his first day off in nearly a month. He was on his way to Jodhpur, India, to play cricket on the U.S. embassy team in the maharajah's annual tournament. And for the record, you do not need to know how to play cricket to work in the FBI's New Delhi Office -- (laughter) -- but it certainly does not hurt.

The moment he learned of the attacks, Steve made his way to Mumbai. All he had were the clothes on his back, a BlackBerry and his cricket gear. He immediately made contact with his Indian counterparts and got to work. No red tape, no turf battles; just first responders working shoulder to shoulder in a time of crisis.

For three days, Mumbai was a blur of gunshots, explosions, fire and confusion. And in the midst of that mayhem, Steve helped to rescue Americans trapped inside the Taj Hotel, he set up lines of communication with his FBI and intelligence community counterparts, and he coordinated the arrival of our Rapid Deployment Team.

And even before the crisis ended, the investigation had begun. Agents from FBI offices in New Delhi and Islamabad joined forces with the Indian government, the CIA, the State Department, MI-6 and New Scotland Yard.

And through these partnerships, we had unprecedented access to evidence and intelligence. Agents and analysts conducted more than 60 interviews, including that of the lone surviving attacker. And our forensic specialists pulled fingerprints and DNA from improvised explosive devices. They recovered data from damaged cell phones, in one case by literally wiring a smashed -- a smashed phone back together. At the same time, we collected, analyzed, and disseminated intelligence to our partners at home and abroad, not only to determine how these attacks were planned and by whom, but to ensure that if a second wave of attacks was in the offing, we possessed the intelligence to stop it.

Our work in Mumbai was not out of the ordinary. To counter these threats, we must first understand them through intelligence. And once we gain an understanding, our law enforcement authorities allow us to move against individuals and networks.

We are not an intelligence service that collects, but does not act; nor are we a law enforcement service that acts without knowledge. Today's FBI is a security service, fusing the capability to understand the breadth and scope of the threats with the capability to dismantle those same threats.

But we understand that we do not operate in isolation. Through our international training programs at the FBI Academy, we are on a first-name basis with thousands of officers around the world, a brotherhood and sisterhood of partners. And in a time of crisis, that familiarity -- that friendship -- fosters an immediate and effective response.

We must continue as an organization to work together with our law enforcement and intelligence partners here and around the world. But we must also work here in the United States with the citizens we serve, work with them to identify and disrupt those who would do us harm. Too often, we have run up against a wall between law enforcement and a community here in the United States, a wall based on myth and misperception of the work we do.

We know that the best way to tear down that wall is brick by brick, person by person. And yet we understand the reluctance of some communities to sit down at the table with us. They may come from countries where national police forces and security services engender fear and mistrust. Oftentimes, the communities from which we need the most help are those who trust us the least. But it is in these communities that we are and must redouble our efforts.

One pattern in particular concerns us. Over the years since September 11th, we have learned of young men from communities in the United States, radicalized and recruited here to travel to countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen or Somalia. They may be recruited to participate in the fighting, or in the extreme case to become a suicide bomber.

A man from Minneapolis became what we believe to be the first U.S. citizen to carry out a terrorist suicide bombing. The attack occurred last October in northern Somalia, but it appears that this individual was radicalized here in the United States, in his hometown in Minnesota. The prospect of young men, indoctrinated and radicalized within their own communities, and induced to travel to such countries to take up arms, and to kill themselves and perhaps many others, is a perversion of the immigrant story.

The parents of many of these young men risked everything to come to America to provide their children with a brighter, more stable future. For these parents to leave a war-torn country only to find that their children have been convinced to return to that way of life is indeed heartbreaking. And it raises the question of whether these young men will one day come home, and if so what they might undertake here. These parents are understandably worried about the welfare of their children. And we too are concerned, not only for these families but for the larger community.

Members of the FBI's Community Outreach Teams meet with members of these communities to look at these issues. And together we are making progress, but there remains much work to be done. The simple truth is that we cannot do our jobs without the trust of the American people. And we cannot build that trust without reaching out to say, "We in the bureau are on your side and we stand ready to help."

The world we live in has changed in countless ways. And while change can have negative consequences, it can lead to new discoveries. It can herald new perspectives, new ideas and new ways of doing business. Yet even in times of great change, certain constants remain: the desire for safety and security, the hope for peace and prosperity, and the need for solidarity against forces that might otherwise divide us.

These constants are the same in communities and countries around the world. It is these constants that we in the bureau strive to protect each and every day.

The universe of crime and terrorism will no doubt continue to expand, and we in the FBI will continue in our mission to find what we believe to be out there, but cannot always see. We understand that when one of us is at risk, we are all at risk. An attack against one of us is an attack against all of us, and any failure is a collective failure. And only by moving forward together, as one community, will we make the lasting progress we need to address the threats of today and the threats of tomorrow.

Again, thank you for having me here today. I'd be happy to continue the dialogue. (Applause.)

MORAN: Thank you, Director Mueller.

Here's what we're going to do. I'll just follow up with a couple of questions on the director's remarks and then we'll open it up for questions from the audience, including the press -- I guess my colleagues in the press back there.

But, Director Mueller, let me begin where you began, Mumbai -- an attack that was such a fire-bell warning for cities around the world. The swarm tactics that were used there, some commentators are talking about the coming swarm. Do you believe that that kind of attack is a harbinger of the kind of attack cities will see? And given how low-tech and cheap it is and the big payoff that you get, do you think it's a matter not if the United States will suffer an attack of that manner, but when?

MUELLER: Well, starting with Mumbai, without a question of a doubt, when you have an attack like that that was successful in the eyes of terrorists in terms of the publicity and the like, you have those who see that as a method of gaining the same type of publicity. And so we are concerned about that.

In terms of if you look at the attacks over a period of time, you start with September 11th, and it was box cutters. You didn't even have weapons when it came to September 11th. And yet you see, whether it be Fort Dix or Mumbai, the planning that goes into undertaking such an attack, which was to a certain extent successful in Mumbai, that does not escape the attention of those down the road.

Now, whenever something like this -- it doesn't -- it's not that we haven't thought about this in the future, it's not that when you have something like a Fort Dix or a Lackawanna Seven or what happened in Torrance in terms of cases that we've had in the past that we haven't anticipated this type of an attack. But as the terrorists look at this as a possible way of proceeding in the future, so do we look at it and reinvigorate our efforts to make certain that we've done everything we can to prevent those type of attacks.

I'm not going to speculate on what may or may not happen in the future.

MORAN: Figured I'd try.

But let me ask --

MUELLER: It was a good try, too.

MORAN: -- thank you -- how we fight this kind of attack. And let me first ask a cultural question.

Set aside the work of law enforcement with counterterrorism. I think a lot of people after 9/11 thought -- there was a saying, "We're all Israelis." And I don't think it would have surprised Americans if we'd woken up one day to find a shopping mall or a sporting event hit by terrorism. Is there something in American culture that has protected us, or is that just whistling past the graveyard?

MUELLER: I wouldn't say that there's something in American culture that has protected us. I would say that every country has its own dynamics -- own dynamics that fosters the type of radicalism that would translate into suicide bombings. And there is no country, including ourselves, that is free from that kind of extreme radicalism.

But each country's a little bit different. I mean, the U.K. is different from what you see in France, what you see in the Netherlands, what you see in other countries, whether it be Somalia or Yemen, around the world. And we have our own problems here in the United States, so we are not free from it.

Whenever you think about whether or not, because we're an immigrant country, because of the aspirations of most communities are to assimilate and realize the American Dream, then you look at north of the border and the arrests that were made back in 2006 in Toronto -- 16, 17 individuals who had been locally radicalized and who were on their way to undertaking attacks -- and you become far less -- you put far less emphasis on what perhaps others would point at to being a distinction between the United States and other countries.

MORAN: Going from culture to law enforcement. There is a suggestion -- it was in an article in The New York Times recently by John Arquilla -- that the meeting of this threat by means of elite forces is not the best way to go; that you can take a lesson from one aspect of the surge in Iraq, using local police forces sort of embedded as counterterrorism units in local communities. What do you make of that idea?

MUELLER: I think if you look at areas in which violence is spawned, they are areas where the rule of law does not prevail. And it's not just Iraq or Afghanistan or to a certain extent Yemen or currently Somalia, but it's here in the United States also. We've had times, occasions where you need to establish the rule of law to proceed for reconstruction: Katrina, the riots in Los Angeles some time ago. And so if you look at failed states where violence is being taught as a goal in and of itself pursuant to some philosophy or theology, generally there is a rule-of-law deficit in that particular area and no real respect for the rule of law. And so as a precondition for success in many of these countries, one, in my mind, has to focus on having an established judiciary, having the prosecutorial elements, having a law-enforcement entity that is fair and objective, all of which are preconditions in my mind for building the capabilities of a democratic state.

MORAN: Let's talk about communities in the United States that might be vulnerable to jihadist recruiting. You mentioned Somalian Americans. And apparently, there was a first American citizen suicide bombing, Shirwa Ahmed. Do you believe that he had developed or was part of a recruiting network in Minneapolis in the Somali community or in the United States?

MUELLER: I'd go so far as to say we certainly believe that he was recruited here in the United States, and we do believe that there may have been others that have been radicalized as well.

MORAN: Within the Somali community?

MUELLER: I'm not going to get -- we've got ongoing investigations. I will just say that there are others out there that we do believe were radicalized.

MORAN: How big a deal is it, frankly, that -- for jihadist wannabes in the United States or around the world, that an American citizen blew himself up and killed 28 people?

MUELLER: Well, it's the first time we've had somebody go all the way to the extreme of blowing himself up in a suicide attack. But we have had, over the years since September 11th, a number of individuals who have traveled to Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia, and they may be Somali or they may be converts who are not necessarily out of the Somali community but have gone over to Somalia to train and to fight.

And so, over a period of time, we have identified these individuals. Some of them have returned, some have been prosecuted, and some of them remain overseas. It is a constant problem in which the issue with regard to the individual from the Somali community here is just one manifestation of a problem that we've had since September 11th.

MORAN: And how do you -- how do you walk the line? How do you navigate the tension between getting into, say, the Somali American community and trying to develop facts, because there they might be vulnerable to jihadist recruiting, and on the other hand how do you avoid alienating them with the heavy hand of FBI surveillance?

MUELLER: Well, it's always a balance. I think the Somali community, other communities in the United States with whom we intersect daily, understand that we're there to protect, we're there to serve that community. You'll have individuals who will react badly towards us, but you also will have a number of individuals that come in, and we have what's called citizen academy -- citizen's academies in every one of our field offices, where we have members of the community come in over a 10-week period to see what we do and how we do it. So they're exposed to how we handle civil rights, both the complaints that we follow up on, but how we spend a great deal of time focused on protecting civil rights and balancing the civil rights/civil liberties against the actions that we take.

We try to understand the communities, what motivates the communities. Each one of our offices we -- has an outreach program to Muslim American, Sikh American, Arab American communities in their divisions. I meet periodically with the national leadership. And I would say overall there is an understanding that the worst possible thing that could happen to the Muslim community in the United States, or instance, is another attack. And consequently, there is an effort, a joint effort to address these issues when they crop up.

MORAN: Okay. I'm going to open it up for questions in just a second. But you touched on international partnerships, and Mumbai sounded like an example of the way things can work. A Hollywood version of the international partnership in these kinds of things is one of cultural misunderstanding and betrayal and turf wars and -- it seems often to star Leonardo DiCaprio or -- (laughter). So would you get the same kind of result, cooperation, in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia?

MUELLER: Each country is a little bit different, but I would say yes.

MORAN: Yes?

MUELLER: Yes. We've gotten terrific cooperation in Saudi Arabia, Egypt over the years. And it's not just law enforcement, it's also from the intelligence side of the house.

We have a class -- we put through our national academy down in Quantico approximately 1,200 individuals a year, of which the vast majority are state and local law enforcement. But a substantial minority increasingly has been law enforcement officers from around the world. They are vetted before they come in. They can be from Egypt, they can be in Japan, they can be Indonesia, Pakistan, Yemen. And they come in and they spend 10 weeks with us -- it is a full 10 weeks -- down in Quantico, and they come out of that course understanding a great deal about the FBI, which is all well and good, but more importantly with the relationships that have been developed with law enforcement, not just in the United States but around the world.

And so if you have a Mumbai, we will inevitably will have National Academy graduates on the Mumbai police force who have -- one of more that have been through the academy, understand understand how we operate. And that has been -- I keep telling my friends at the State Department it's one of the great opportunities to develop friendships around the world, and important friendships around the world that will contribute to the ability to work on something like a Mumbai.

MORAN: So Hollywood's got it wrong?

MUELLER: Periodically, yes. (Laughter.)

MORAN: All right, let's open it up for questions. Now, we invite council members and members of the press to ask some questions. What we'd like you to do is wait for the microphone -- there are some microphones around -- and speak directly into it so we can hear you, and then please state your name and your affiliation, and stand up when you have a question. Let's go right here.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. Sam Speedie (sp). I helped to set up public security offices in New York and New Jersey after 9/11, actually working under former senior bureau officials.

My question is, there's been a proliferation of former senior managers from the U.S. intelligence and law enforcement community who have entered state and local government leadership positions in the private sector since 9/11, and I'm just wondering, in your view, have these individuals, with their experience and contacts, been effectively woven into the fabric of the protective security structure for the country?

MUELLER: Yes, I'm not unaware that over a period of time the bureau has had a reputation of being -- not working well with state and local law enforcement, and I think certainly since September 11th there has been a great deal to rebut that and change that and turn it around.

Part of it has been the -- we do have a number of former agents who are certainly in private industry, but also, for instance, the new chief of the Chicago Police Department is a former agent. That does help these relations. But, more importantly, we had, I think, 34 joint terrorism task forces on September 11th; we have more than 100 now. And on those joint terrorism task forces we'll have a number of representatives from a variety of federal agencies, but also many of the state and local law enforcement are represented on these task forces, as well as safety task forces, and now mortgage fraud task forces, in which we work shoulder to shoulder, day to day, developing cases together. And I think that goes probably further than anything else in breaking down the walls and developing the relationships. If you go out, have a beer or glass of wine afterwards, it's worth its weight in gold in terms of developing relationships, and since September 11th there's been a great deal of that.

I might also say, the question is often asked, well, what about the intelligence community -- CIA, NSA, DIA? Likewise we have over a hundred, I think, persons working over at CIA. We have any number of persons working now in the FBI. The number-two person in the National Security Branch is from the CIA. You have the National Counterterrorism Center, and a number of mechanisms across the intelligence community as well that have broken down those walls, and it meant that we're working much more smoothly together than we were prior to September 11th.

MORAN: I'm going to take a moderator's prerogative here and follow up on that. Is counterterrorism still too diffuse in the United States government? Does it need to be more concentrated, since all of you have got all of these things?

MUELLER: No, I think one of the things one has got to recognize is, unlike the U.K. which is fairly small -- I think they've got something like, at most, 48, 50 police departments -- we've got 17,000 police departments throughout the United States, and our population is 300 million. We have a vast expanse of territory. We've got 12,500 agents in the FBI. And the only way we can be successful is working together with state and local law enforcement and leveraging our work, together as well with the intelligence community. And it's bound to be -- there's always a trade-off between centralization in terms of terrorism crosses borders in ways that other criminal activities do not, which requires the fusion of information and intelligence gathered by the CIA, NSA and others overseas with what we produce domestically, and that is now happening.

And so there needs to be some degree of centralization, but by the same token you have to have your fingers in the communities around the United States, whether it be Seattle or San Diego or Boston or Miami, in order to identify the Mohamed Atta that is swimming in the waters of those particular communities. We can't do it with 12,500 agents in the United States; you have to do it with state and local law enforcement, and we do it in the form of over 100 joint terrorism task forces. So I think it's probably the right mix, given that particular threat.

MORAN: Okay, let's go on. The gentleman back here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Dan Prieto, Council on Foreign Relations.

In the last administration there was certainly no shortage of controversy over what one could consider domestic intelligence, whether it was warrantless wiretapping or national security letters or DOD programs like Total Information Awareness. Can you do us a favor and look back on that and discuss what were growing pains versus what were errors, and then look forward into this administration: Do we need a more coordinated strategy for counterterrorism intelligence in the United States, and if so, who should lead it, and what's the relationship between the DNI and the FBI in that?

MUELLER: You just came out with a treatise on this, did you not? (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: Fair enough.

MUELLER: Yeah, I got you. I know there's a book; I don't mean to tout it, but I -- (chuckles) -- but I know you have written on these subjects.

What we've done, it's always -- with a country as large and diffuse a democracy such as the United States, you're always going to have -- when you try to develop something, particularly in response to a 9/11, you're going to grow by fits and starts, you're going to make mistakes, but you're also going to have a great many successes. One of the successes I think was the Patriot Act, for instance, at the outset, because it broke down the walls between the intelligence community and the law enforcement community, and over a period of time we'll try to correct those perceived mistakes.

I will say it is not an easy -- it is not an easy balance, and that is on the one hand security and on the other hand -- you have to secure the homeland, you have to secure your people, and then on the other hand you want to make sure that you do it balancing the civil liberties and civil rights and privacy rights concerns that you have, on the other hand. And it's not only in the statutes and not only set up by the Constitution, but in decisions you make day in and day out on how you handle your cases. And we are attuned to that daily, and it is always a tough balance, and hopefully most of the time you'll get it right, but there will be sometimes that you do not.

I would say that I believe that we've come a great ways in terms of appropriately centralizing counterterrorism and intelligence in the National Counterterrorism Center. We have the kind of analysts there every intelligence agency does. You have access to the information you need to draw up the appropriate analyses and to take the steps that are necessary to have a strategic vision of where you need to go to prevent a terrorist attack. And I am always hesitant to expand intelligence efforts without there being a specific goal at the end. Developing intelligence for intelligence sake in my mind is exceptionally dangerous. I am very comfortable being a part of the Department of Justice because I think that sends a signal in terms of the development of intelligence within the United States, which is an appropriate signal to send. That does not mean that we cannot adapt greater mechanism to coordinate, particularly with additional threats that we may see coming down the pipe.

If you look at -- just as an aside, if you look at what we're doing in terms of the cyber threats, we have task forces that have been put together to address that with the expertise from across the law enforcement and the intelligence community, and as we address threat after threat, we'll have to come up with new mechanisms, in my mind, to develop both the intelligence but also the capability of acting on that intelligence to disrupt the threat, whether it be here or a state actor or a terrorist actor overseas with the appropriate legal tools.

MORAN: And one of my colleagues in the press back there, this fellow right on the end there -- right behind you.

QUESTIONER: Hussein -- (inaudible) -- newspaper.

Do you believe the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, poses a threat in this country through some Lebanese-American groups, similar to the Somali experience? Thank you.

MUELLER: What I would say is, as you're well aware and everybody in this room is well aware, Hezbollah is deemed a terrorist group and has proved itself over the years to be a terrorist entity with capabilities around the United States -- not around the United States, around the world I should say, and it certainly is something that I would keep our eye on. Now, I did want to -- it's not around the United States -- I didn't mean to say that. I said Hezbollah has capabilities around the world and we keep our eye on that threat within the United States.

MORAN: Have you got a sense of how serious that threat is in the United States, or do you want to share?

MUELLER: No. (Laughter.) Yes and no. I guess I have a sense of it, but I don't want to share. (Laughter.)

MORAN: All right.

MUELLER: Maybe because a client supplied most of it.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. Elisa Massimino, executive director of Human Rights First.

I wanted to get back to the comment you made about intelligence gathering, and also cooperation, and get at it just a little bit from a different angle. President Obama was only on the job a couple of days when he set us on a new path in terms of detainee treatment and interrogation with these executive orders, back to compliance with the Geneva Conventions and closing Guantanamo and all of that. But over the last eight years we've heard, from President Bus on down, the need to go to the dark side to use enhanced interrogation techniques, and that doing so produced accurate information and intelligence that saved American lives.

During that time, the FBI has consistently expressed skepticism about that approach, and you yourself have expressed publicly some skepticism about whether or not that was necessary. So there's been a lot of talk about the benefits. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about what you think the costs of a policy of official cruelty have been and whether or not you think that was a positive thing for our national security.

MUELLER: You know, one of the nice things about my job is I get to stay away from a lot of the policy debates, so I'm not going to wade into those waters. I will say that over a period of time -- I mean, as far as the FBI is concerned, we have followed our protocol for many years, which is somewhat different than the protocols of others. It has been successful for us.

MORAN: FBI agents who are in the field around the world follow FBI protocols in questioning suspects?

MUELLER: Yes.

MORAN: In Afghanistan?

MUELLER: Yes, no matter where you are you follow the same protocol.

MORAN: Even if you're detailed to another --

MUELLER: Yes.

MORAN: Okay. Harry?

QUESTIONER: Yes. Harry Huntington (sp) -- (inaudible) -- retired.

I have a question about Somalia. Years ago I covered Somalia. It was a fragile state at best, and today it's chaos. And I wonder how the bureau would approach covering Somalia in terms of the links between the states and Somalia as far as, like, the young man who went and blew himself up. How do you handle such a chaotic situation?

MUELLER: I think there are a number of minds at the State Department, DOD and elsewhere who are working hard to try to develop a strategy for what is happening in Somalia as it continues to face internal turmoil. From our perspective, we're concerned about -- as I indicated, individuals may leave the United States and end up fighting with a terrorist group -- Al Shabaab -- in Somalia, but it's not unique. I mean, Somalia is not the only state with sanctuaries or potential sanctuaries for al Qaeda or those who lean towards al Qaeda.

And we are a nation of immigrants. Just about every nationality, country in the world has a substantial population in the United States, and so what may be happening with Somalia today is not so different than has happened with any number of countries where we've had a number of immigrants in the past in countries where there has been civil war, in countries where there have been terrorists activities -- Ireland being one that is somewhat similar, and yet we have a fairly large Irish community that doesn't -- the fact that the IRA was undertaking for any number of years a terrorist campaign in Northern Ireland is something that we would work in with our counterparts but -- and work with the community in the United States, but Somalia is not much different than that and there are any number of instances where we have some concerns about terrorism overseas, we had concern about facilitators here in the United States, and we have concerns about terrorist acts that have been learned overseas being undertaken in the United States, and we try to keep our eye on that.

MORAN: Right in the back there, another colleague in the media I think -- back by Howard.

QUESTIONER: Hi, Director. Josh Meyer from the L.A. Times.

You've spoken about the FBI's role overseas, and since 9/11 the footprint has expanded significantly. Can you discuss whether you have had any frustrations with some of our allies overseas in terms of getting information? I know you, for instance, went to Yemen to talk to them about some frustrations we had with getting access to some people there. And a related question is, how do you sort of articulate the difference in gathering intelligence overseas between the FBI and the CIA? I mean, how do you guys de-conflict what you're doing? What do you see is the FBI role in gathering intelligence that's different than the CIA's overseas?

MUELLER: Yes, we have certain countries which, either by lack of capability or lack of desire, there are challenges in terms of gathering information that we think would be helpful to both them and us. We have, in a number of countries, for instance, in order to help in their capabilities, sent out fingerprint training teams along with hardware and software that's necessary in order to educate those, to take fingerprints that would be beneficial in that country but also ultimately beneficial to us.

In terms of operating with the agency overseas, the presumption is the agency is the lead when it comes to intelligence gathering overseas, which is the way it should be. The reverse presumption is the case in the United States. We're the intelligence entity within the United States. And what you will find is countries will have both an intelligence service as well as one or more law enforcement services. We naturally develop relationships with the counterpart law enforcement agencies, whereas the agency develops relationships with the intelligence counterparts.

But in this day and age, where terrorist threats, trafficking of persons, children, cyber threats and the like, all too often what in the past has been a relatively rigid wall or box for intelligence versus law enforcement has now merged, and what you seek is to maximize the intelligence so that you can focus the law enforcement efforts to disrupt a plot, stop a cyber intrusion, and that requires understanding your discrete authorities but also assuring that the information, once gathered, is integrated so that the policymaker has an overarching view. And if you travel around the world, I can tell you the relationships are just terrific, and understanding that in order for us to be successful we have to work together.

When I was at Justice with Dick Thornburgh -- here's a former attorney general -- he would remember, I think, trips we took, and we would go into a particular city and sit down and talk with the FBI representative, the LEGAT there, and then sit down and talk to the station chief, and they weren't talking. That is not the case anymore. Everybody understands that you have to share intelligence in order to be successful. You collect that intelligence under different authorities and different circumstances, but once that intelligence and that information is collected, it has to be -- it has to be shared.

MORAN: Okay. All right, back here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you. Judith Kipper. A quick question and then a more serious question.

I'm wondering, since 9/11, if you have need of speakers in the various areas that you have referred to -- native speakers of the languages of those places. The other question I have is, during an economic downturn we know that there is more violent crime in the United States, and I suspect we'll be seeing quite a lot of that this year and perhaps next year. I'm wondering, for the FBI, how much of your time, effort, commitment, attention is spent on drugs and the murderers and thugs, et cetera, versus extremists who are maybe at this moment a little bit sexier -- foreign, everybody is whipped up about them and so on. Is there a perception that the extremist threat is more important?

MUELLER: Well, certainly in the wake of September 11th we had to adjust our resources and recognize that counterterrorism had to be the number-one priority of the bureau, and stopping terrorist attacks. I'll tell you, the top three priorities for the bureau now are counterintelligence and protecting our secrets from theft by countries and cyber. On the criminal side it's public corruption, civil rights, transnational organized crime, including gangs, white-collar crime, and violent crime.

We established those priorities. We've moved almost 2,000 agents from the criminal side of the house over to doing national security. Right now the balance is about 50/50, but my expectation is, given some of the threats on the domestic scene, that that may shift in the near future, both because, as you point out, the growth of gangs throughout the United States and international gangs -- MS-13, it's in the United States, it's in Los Angeles, Northern Virginia and Maryland, but also in Honduras, Guatemala, quite obviously El Salvador, Mexico, where we have the jurisdiction and the capability for addressing it, and so that form of violent crime we'll be putting more resources on, and of course the subprime mortgage crisis that we're carefully looking at. We have close to 1,900 cases around the country that we are doing.

And so we have to ramp up and find ways of being more effective, more efficient, and addressing those cases as well as the cases we have against rather large institutions for misrepresenting their assets over the last year or two. We've been through this before. We had the Enron, the HealthSouth. We had a number of the large institutional frauds the beginning of -- back in 2001, 2002. We had the savings and loan crisis in the early '90s. We've been through this before, we'll get through it before, but there will be a reallocation of resources dependent on what we see, but the one thing I will say is that we can never take our eye off the counterterrorism threat. And so that will remain our number one priority, but when it comes to the other criminal priorities, there probably will be an adjustment, given what we see on the horizon.

MORAN: And the language question?

MUELLER: Oh, on the language question, yes, we've done a lot better since September 11th, but we are missing agents and others in some critical areas, particularly unique dialects in some countries, particularly the Middle East and also Southeast Asia. And we are also -- a number of us are looking for these languages. I'm looking for the same type of people that the CIA, NSA, and others are looking for in terms of these dialects and these languages, and we've made substantial progress but we're not where we need to be or want to be.

MORAN: And if I could just follow up on the balance between counterterrorism and other responsibilities, is it cooler if you're an FBI agent, working on counterterrorism than if you're working on subprime mortgages, and is there a cultural development within the bureau that you have to be wary of?

MUELLER: Well, I think over a period of time there is an adjustment. What you'll find is persons who have been doing drug cases for a long time really come in and enjoy doing the terrorism cases. Much of the same expertise you bring to a drug case is the same type of expertise you'll bring to a counterterrorism case. I have, over the last several years, developed career paths for agents so that they will better know what they're going to go in and build up, those capabilities. If you're going to be addressing a cyber worm that was developed in Morocco or Turkey, as one recently was in which we were able to make arrests in both of those countries, you've got to have that cyber expertise as well as that investigative expertise. And what I don't want is somebody coming in who has been with a software manufacturer for five years, joins the FBI and then is off doing a drug case, thank you very much.

And so, what we try to do is we are much more careful to develop the expertise in particular areas, and because persons develop that expertise, whether it be in cyber, whether it be an accountant who is working on a large white collar criminal case, you get that same satisfaction as that traditional agent would have busting down doors and arresting the narcotics trafficker.

MORAN: Great. Okay, there in the back here, another reporter, I believe. No, the fellow with the white hair and the beard.

QUESTIONER: Thanks. I'm Steve Hirsch. I'm a freelance journalist here in Washington.

I only ask this specifically because you just mentioned Southeast Asian languages, which is not a part of the world that is often discussed in terms of terrorism, but it is sometimes. How do you assess the threat from Southeast Asia and how do you assess the links between Southeast Asian groups like JI with the more central -- al Qaeda, et cetera -- from the Middle East?

MUELLER: I would say that the threat has waxed and waned over a period of time. Indonesia, as you're well aware, is doing a good job of addressing it in a number of ways, the Philippines as well. And the fact of the matter is the agency and others were successful in removing some of the more potent leaders of JI and other affiliated groups, and so it is still a threat, and it's something that we keep our eye on, but there have been successes there, both in terms of the attention given by certain countries, as well as the work that's been done by other of our agencies throughout the world, and particularly Southeast Asia.

MORAN: I'll take a couple more here. This gentleman right over here.

QUESTIONER: Hi. Mark Brzezinski, McGuireWoods.

You mentioned the Visa Waiver Program and the importance of vigilance regarding travelers from Visa Waiver countries. As you know, the Visa Waiver Program just expanded by several countries. Does that worry you in terms of an expanded threat to the United States? And, as you know, many more countries want to join the Visa Waiver Program. Does the FBI have a role in assessing whether a country is appropriate for the Visa Waiver Program?

MUELLER: Before a Visa Waiver Program is established with a particular country, yes, there is substantial debate and discussion on that. We do have a role.

(Laughter.)

MORAN: You want to expand on that?

MUELLER: No. (Laughter.) Yeah, we have a role, and the fact of the matter is when you have a Visa Waiver country where you're not subjected to the scrutiny of a visa or an interview and the like, then that is one less precaution or screening mechanism that is out there. The Department of Homeland Security is doing a very good job of working with countries, though, to look at persons that are flying in and getting the information that is necessary to, again, have a sufficient screening mechanism to try to identify those persons whom we know to be affiliated with terrorist groups to prevent them flying into the United States.

MORAN: Okay. Right over here. Randy?

QUESTIONER: Randy Larsen, Center for Biosecurity, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

First of all, thank you for the extraordinary job you've done since 9/11. It's quite a job. My question is about Amerithrax. I believe that's what the FBI calls the investigation of the October 2001 anthrax attacks. When are you going to close that case? When is the general public going to get to see the information, and not just the bioscience but all of the information, hopefully?

MUELLER: Well, I haven't checked recently on -- the question of closure, as you put it, is there's supposed to be a definitive period on the sentence indicating that we had the right person. I think anybody associated with how the case developed over a period of time, and particularly how it ended feels comfortable that we did the right thing, we had the right person. And so whether or not the case is closed is, I think, really not consequential. There are things that we would be tying up. And I will say, if there were, at any point in time, in any case, not just anthrax, but if additional evidence or information comes in that causes us to reconsider, we obviously would, but we have not seen it.

Does that pretty much answer -- what was the other part of it?

QUESTIONER: Will the information -- will the information be released to the public?

MUELLER: Oh, the information. Yeah, we've asked the academy to do a scrub of the science, and it is -- they are looking at that hard. We adopted the mechanism of putting forth the search warrant affidavits as a mechanism of providing the information beyond just the science, and that is the vehicle for doing it. Beyond that, I'm not certain that there is another vehicle for the disclosure, for instance, of grand jury information. But most of it is out there in the form of those affidavits, and with regard to the scientific evidence in the case, that is being reviewed by the academy.

MORAN: Okay, well --

MUELLER: I think you'll have most of what you need.

MORAN: Last question here. And I'd just like to remind everyone, this meeting has been on the record. So, right in the back there --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER: Jeff Smith with the Washington Post. Two questions.

First, what does the arrival of the Obama administration mean to you in terms of -- what does it mean to you personally? What does it mean to you in terms of your focus, your priorities, your targets, your boundaries perhaps? And, secondly, I'm having trouble squaring away the hockey analogy that you raised at the beginning with your description of 1,900 cases just now on subprime lending. It seems like if you have 1,900 cases on subprime lending now, that now that those perhaps deceits and illegal actions have already had the impact on the economy they've had, would it have been better to have been sort of where the hockey puck was going at the time it was going there? What do you feel about the bureau's performance in that area?

MUELLER: Well, let me start with the Obama administration and then I'll get to the other. There's not much of a change. I've worked in the Bush I administration, the Clinton administration and the Bush II administration, now the Obama administration, and many of the persons who were in the Obama administration, particularly in the Department of Justice, I've worked with in the past. So for me personally, there is not much of a change, and there has not been a change in terms of our priorities. No one, whether it be the Bush administration or the Obama administration, wants another terrorist attack, and the emphasis has remained the same.
With regard to identifying the threat beforehand and moving on that threat, no, I think the bureau had allocated the resources that we can and should have as the caseload grew. I don't think that the subprime mortgage crisis was attributable solely, or even substantially, to the illegal conduct. It is when you had a number of these financial devices out there and the housing market turns rather abruptly, and then that is the greatest engine for the downturn. It is not our failure to anticipate that there would be this criminal conduct out there. And I think you would see, over a period of time, as the housing crisis got worse, the criminal conduct increased.

But I will tell you, when I talk about needing to identify the threat beforehand, it is something that we're spending a lot of time on now. We do not want to be reactionary, or reactive, in the future. We want to anticipate and to identify the threat beforehand, alert others to that threat, and then appropriately assign the resources to address it early on.

MORAN: Well, that was great -- a real tour of the horizon of the FBI. Thank you very much, Director. (Applause.)

And one more note, please. There's one more note here. I'd ask you all to remain in your seats for a moment as Director Mueller leaves the stage. So, with that, thank you for joining us.

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