Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, New York
September 28, 2007
DAVID L. WESTIN: Good afternoon. Good afternoon. It's my pleasure to welcome you today to today's meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations. I am David Westin. I'm president of ABC News, and I have the great privilege of being able to introduce our guest speaker, the director of the Federal Bureau of Intelligence, Mr. Robert Mueller.
I have two housekeeping things to cover before I get to Director Mueller. Number one, please turn off your pagers, cell phones, I-phones, Blackberries, anything you may have that is wireless. And I must confess when they ask me to do that, I always put mine on mute, on vibrate. Please don't do that, because I'm informed that the RF system we have with the microphones will cause us all sort of buzzes and we won't be able to hear the director. So just turn it all the way off. If you do that you'll save yourself a great deal of embarrassment. And I'm not above embarrassing you.
Secondly, this is on the record, as these always are, and we are being watched and listened to by people around the country, and indeed, around they world. On CFR.org there is a simultaneous webcast that is going on. And hence the cameras we have here.
Now to Director Mueller. I think all of us know his remarkable record, because we heard a lot about it some six years ago during the confirmation hearing. So let me refresh your recollection because it has been six years.
Director Mueller is a graduate of Princeton and of the University of Virginia Law School. He is a decorated Vietnam veteran, having served n the Marine Corps. He's had a very distinguished record as a federal prosecutor, having served in Boston and in San Francisco and in Washington. And among the responsibilities he had was as assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division under the first President Bush, and also as U.S. Attorney in San Francisco.
All of that experience and his success in those positions made him the right candidate to go forward and lead the FBI in the summer of 2001. And since then so much has happened we may forget some of the issue that the FBI was confronting when the president turned to Director Mueller.
If you recall the bureau had suffered through some of a scandal with the Hanssen spy investigation, where an FBI agent who had been discovered to be a spy. There had been problems with the Timothy McVeigh prosecution, because of the failure to turn over documents in a timely fashion to the defense.
And also there was the Wen Ho Lee investigation that had been mishandled I think it's far to say. So it made sense for the president to turn to Director Mueller to face these and other issues.
Then Director Mueller took over the helm of the FBI on September 4 of 2001. One week later we had the terrorist attacks here at ground zero as well as on the Pentagon in Washington and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I think it's fair to say that those terrorist attacks changed all of our lives in various ways. And I suspect it's also fair to say that of all the lives that have been changed, few have been changed quite as much as our guest speaker.
So it's my great privilege to welcome Bob Mueller.
ROBERT S. MUELLER: Thank you, David. And thank you for having me here today. It's a wonderful opportunity not only for me to say a few words, as I will about terrorism and the threats that we face, but also to have a discussion and a dialogue, and to answer what questions you might have with regard to my remarks, or with regard to just about anything else you want to ask about.
Two weeks, not far from here, the bells tolled at Ground Zero, and we commemorated the sixth anniversary of September 11th, and we marked the passage of yet another year without a terrorist attack on our soil. But it is important for us all to pause and reflect on how we reached this milestone so we can better understand what we must to do to reach yet another such milestone. And this path grows for us more complicated every year.
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, the focus on the nation was very quickly crystallized, and our objective was clear. We knew who we had to go after, where our enemies were, and how to take out their training camps, finances and their leaders.
In many ways back then the solution was relatively straightforward. But today that is not the case. Six years later, the fight against terrorism has evolved in ways both subtle and dramatic, and it is far from over. The terrorist threats we face have changed, and it's fair to say they have not diminished. And so today I'd like to recrystallize our understanding of those threats by giving you my perspective on where we are now, and where the FBI needs to go to defeat these threats.
In the past it has been said that al-Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan had been largely disrupted, finances damaged, and al-Qaeda's communication diminished as well as -- as well as its hierarchy diffused.
But today the horizon looks somewhat different. Al-Qaeda is not an organization that will go quietly into the night. And just as the FBI has changed and developed new tactics, new tactics to confront al-Qaeda's asymmetrical warfare, al-Qaeda in turn has also adapted. And so today we face a three-tiered threat.
At the top is the traditional al-Qaeda organization. As reported in the recent national intelligence estimate, al-Qaeda has found new sanctuaries in the ungoverned -- ungoverned spaces, tribal areas and frontier provinces of Pakistan. And as a result, al-Qaeda is regenerating its capability to attack us.
And from al-Qaeda's perspective the destruction of their camps in Afghanistan, the freezing of their finances, and the elimination of many top leaders were setbacks, but they were not death blows. Theirs is a lifetime mission, and they will continue to make -- continue to make every attempt to strike us again, regaining strength.
The middle tier, the middle layer, is perhaps the most complex. We are finding small groups who have some ties to an established terrorist organization and may either receive a small amount of training or some funding, but they are largely self-directed. And you can think of them as al-Qaeda franchises. Such groups are a hybrid of homegrown radicals and more sophisticated plotters, and are much harder for us in the intelligence community to track. This trend continues and the arrests earlier this month of small groups in Denmark and Germany are good examples of this tier.
The third layer of threat comes from self-radicalized homegrown terrorists, homegrown extremists. They have no formal affiliation with al-Qaeda, but they are inspired by its message of violence.
In today's information age, you don't need training camps to become a terrorist. All you really need is an Internet connection. And the web is terrorism's new frontier offering both persuasive inspiration, but also practical instruction. And we are not focused on just one of these threats, but we focus on all three of them simultaneously. When America's hammer fell on al-Qaeda, al-Qaeda broke into 100 pieces. Some of our adversaries were stopped, but others spread. And the network is now diffuse.
We have persistent links to places such as east Africa. We now also have links in areas such as North Africa, and the Sahel. These extremists are attracted to the al-Qaeda brand name and theology, and openly affiliate themselves with al-Qaeda. And al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is but the most recent of these examples.
Our adversaries are evolving, and so are their tactics. And we must anticipate that terrorists will try to obtain weapons of mass destruction, but also that they will turn cars into bombs and drive them into airports. And we must prevent extremists from building suicide vests, and we must also stop them from gunning down soldiers at Fort Dix, or blowing up a pipeline at JFK.
Our current landscape remains treacherous, and so what do we do? How do we approach this? And there is no simple answer. Dozens of papers, dozens of books, have been written about potential solutions, many of them by individuals here today.
Certainly one critical aspect of our response is intelligence, especially intelligence that we gather from sources and wires. Our primary goal is the same as it has always been, and that is to find out what terrorists are planning by intercepting their communications and working with human sources.
This has become more difficult due to the advances of technology, from untraceable cell phones to undetectable online communication. And we need our laws to be as modern as our technology so that we can do our job while always at the same time respecting the civil liberties we are sworn to protect.
We in the FBI have dramatically improved our recruitment and use of human sources since 2001. And human sources have provided us with valuable information. And the need for these assets continues to grow, both for us as well as for others in the intelligence community.
We are witnessing the evolution of terror cells that are increasingly immune to traditional intelligence collection, and we all seek stronger weapons to find and neutralize these threats, these cells.
We in the FBI believe that the most effective of these weapons is our partnerships, not just here within the United States with our state and local counterparts around the country, but partnerships that stretch across the globe from a joint terrorism task force in Albany, New York, to a battlefield in Afghanistan.
Combating terrorism is not a matter of applying either military strength or intelligence assets or law enforcement tools. The old dichotomies between law enforcement and intelligence, and between law enforcement and the military no longer apply.
Combating terrorism requires a combination of all of these resources, and not just within our borders. We know from September 11th that threats can originate from anywhere on the map. And they often overlap the jurisdictions in the military, intelligence services and law enforcement agencies.
Let me spend a moment giving you a real life example of what we face, and how our interest, our cases, are intertwined.
In April, 2005, two college students from Atlanta had allegedly traveled to Washington, D.C. to record videos of potential targets including the Capitol and the World Bank headquarters. One of them subsequently traveled to Pakistan to seek terrorist training, and the other traveled to Bangladesh to continue his terrorism-related activities. They have since been arrested, and have been indicted on charges of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists. That's the first thread.
Six months later, a Swedish national and a Danish man were arrested in Bosnia. They were found with plastic explosives and were preparing to bomb targets in Europe; our second thread.
And in June of last year of 2006, Canadian officials arrested 17 individuals who were part of a homegrown cell known as the Toronto 17. This group had acquired bomb-making materials and planned to attack a number of government targets in Canada. And that's the third and final thread.
Three different cases, spanning at least seven countries, and these individuals seemed to be unrelated. But as we came to find out, they were not.
At the center of this web was a figure that seemed to exist only in cyberspace. He called Irhabi 007. Translated, those who speak Arabic know that Irhabi 007 means terrorist 007. And this individual facilitated communications among the groups. He then posted thousands of files online, including videotaped beheadings, detailed manuals to -- for the construction of car bombs and suicide vests. And he taught not just the ideology of terrorism, but also the technology of terrorism.
And who was this facilitator? One would think perhaps he was a veteran of the Afghan fighting, the Afghan camps, or a lieutenant to bin Laden. Instead, a phone number found on a scrap of paper in the safe house used by the Bosnia terrorist led to a basement apartment in London. And there British authorities found Irhabi 007.
His real name was Younis Tsouli. He was then a 22-year-old student, and he is now a guest of UK authorities at Belmarsh Prison. While examining his computer the authorities discovered the surveillance videos of the Washington targets that had been filmed by the two subjects from Atlanta.
Investigators also found that Tsouli had been in steady communication with the plotters in Canada, in Denmark, in Bosnia, and in the United States. He used his computer skills to develop a global virtual network for terrorists and their supporters. And it took a global network of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to unravel these disparate plots, and to bring those responsible to justice.
Officials from the United States, to Britain, to Denmark, to Canada, and from Bosnia to Bangladesh, all coordinated our respective investigations. We made joint decisions as to when to move in and disrupt the plots so as to protect the integrity of each country's investigations.
And this is the future of counterterrorism. We are seeking terrorist leaders in foreign bases, but also lone actors in suburban basements, and also small but sophisticated groups who want to carry out terrorist attacks across the globe.
The threat exists not only in the mountains of -- in the mountains of Pakistan, but also in the shadows of the Internet. We recognize that no one agency, no one country, can do it alone. And this is where the FBI can play a critical -- a critical role. Our responsibilities place us at the intersection of the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities.
For example the FBI has many employees currently stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there we work side by side with the military on the front lines. W work as a team interviewing detainees, searching safe houses, collecting biometric evidence, analyzing explosive devices, and tracing terrorist financing.
We are also fully integrated in the intelligence community. We work shoulder to shoulder with CIA, NSA, Department of Homeland Security. And just as important we share information on a daily basis with our intelligence counterparts in every continent, from MI-5 in Britain to the Mabahith in Saudi Arabia. And as I'm speaking about Saudi Arabia, I can tell you that the Saudis have been particularly strong partners in addressing terrorism, and terrorism financing in the Kingdom and around the world.
We have 56 field offices throughout the United States; over 400 smaller resident agencies. And we work closely with our 800,000 state and local law enforcement partners. Now we also now have 60 offices overseas in cities around the world. Our agents and our analysts in these legal attache offices work exceptionally closely with their foreign counterparts, acting as liaisons, sharing intelligence and providing investigative support.
The intelligence we need to prevent a terrorist attack here n New York might well come from a source in the Netherlands, or a fragment of a note found in Najaf. And the FBI's operational responsibilities span the realms of America's law enforcement, intelligence and military operations, and, as well, extend across the globe.
And so our goal, our mission, is to be an effective bridge. And our mission is to serve all of our partners, so that together we may protect our citizens.
You as members of the Council on Foreign Relations have long understood that the answers to America's most pressing concerns would like in great part outside our borders. And the incorporating charter of the Council describes your mission this way: to afford a continuous conference on international questions affecting the United States.
And for more than 85 years the Council has done just that. It has laid the groundwork for critical public discourse, and it has provided a forum for the best minds to come together and discuss the most important foreign policy issues facing America.
When this Council was established back in 1921 the FBI was -- had been in existence for only 13 years. No one then could have imagined the changes that lay ahead, or the grave threats that we would face in the next century. And today those threats emanate from both inside and outside our borders, and combating them defies the traditional metrics of war.
We tend to like to measure progress in how many terrorists have been caught, how many plots have been disrupted, and how much money have we frozen. But it is difficult to measure progress in counterterrorism. We cannot quantify freedoms protected and lives saved; we cannot gauge the absence of fear; we cannot measure the lack of damage other than saying, none of our cities was attacked, none of our citizens was harmed, none of our security was penetrated today. And yet this is our definition of success, however imperfect.
Over the past six years we've made substantial progress against our enemies, but we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent. While we guard against terrorism everyday, we must recognize that we may be attacked again. Terrorists have attacked other nations -- I just mentioned Denmark, Germany -- and they still want to attack us. And we are safer, we have become safer over the last six years. But we are still not safe.
And as we face these threats, as we change to address these threats, we know that our path is clear. President Woodrow Wilson once said that the history of liberty is a history of resistance. And we are on the side of liberty. And so we will continue to resist oppression and guarantee safety; continue to resist tyranny, and secure justice; continue to resist terrorism, and defend liberty.
I think we all understand that the struggle against terrorism will not end in a single decisive battle. It may persist for generations. And we may well have setbacks along the way. And it will demand more than technology and intelligence, more than even partnerships. It will demand the continued resolve and the resistance of the American people, as well as the FBI.
It is a struggle that has been hard fought for six years, will continue to be hard fought and hard won, but we will ultimately win. And I can tell you that we in the FBI will do everything, everything in our power, to continue to write the history of liberty.
Again, thank you very much for having me today, and it's an honor to be here.
WESTIN: Thank you, thank you very much.
The format is now, I have the prerogative to ask two or three questions of the director, and then we'll give the lion's share to all of you to continue the conversation.
Let me pick up with something you referred to actually twice in your talk, and that is, the events in Denmark and Germany in this last summer. When the suspects were arrested and it was reported in the media, your counterpart, General Hayden over at the Central Intelligence Agency, said, and I won't have exactly the quote, but to paraphrase it, that this was a particularly troubling development, because these were people we might come through John F. Kennedy Airport with and think nothing about it. It doesn't fit what we perhaps too conveniently like to think of as a profile, as it were.
Do you agree that that is a particularly dangerous mutation of what we're seeing with terrorism? And if so what does it mean for the FBI?
MUELLER: Well, it is -- it's not necessarily a recent mutation. Over the years, since September 11th, we have come to understand, whether it be the intelligence community or the FBI, from a variety of sources, that al-Qaeda wished to attract persons who would pass scrutiny at the borders, whether it be with a passport that gives you immediate access, or a person with a different background.
And part of the concerns we have is the fact that al-Qaeda has attempted to recruit, may well be converts by the time -- most particularly is persons with passports that will escape scrutiny at the borders. One of our concerns, you're talking about Denmark and you're talking about Germany, these are individuals who were arrested in both countries with a clear intent and capability to undertake attack. They did not require a visa to come to the United States as one was actually a station chief. And the agency put it to me some time ago when we were talking about a particular terrorist, I think it was in Belgium, he said that individual is an e-ticket away from the United States.
And so you can understand if you are looking for individuals who will pass scrutiny you might well wan to identify those persons who have passports that will -- from Europe or elsewhere that enables them to get into a particular country and then be an e-ticket away from JFK.
So it is troubling. We work with Homeland Security. We have a number of let's say initiatives would be a word, but the -- not necessarily -- collusion is probably the wrong word also -- but agreements with and working relationships with our counterparts overseas to address this particular phenomenon. We're all concerned. I mean European countries, I mean if you think that Germany isn't concerned about terrorism, it's wrong, particularly in light of -- in light of recent arrests.
So we all share that concern. Our challenge is to exchange the information, and to be alert to those individuals within our various borders who present a risk.
WESTIN: And when you talk about recruiting and attempts to recruit, what have we earned about how al-Qaeda goes about recruiting that you can share? Have we learned much about that? Because that could be a point at which you could try to intercept early on.
MUELLER: Well, all of us, whether it be the UK after the July 7th and 21st bombings a couple of years ago, or ourselves, or the Canadians with the 17 who were arrested a year or so ago, all look and scrutinize, how did these persons come to and believe in this I call it a deviant strain of Islam, to the extent they are related to al-Qaeda. And how can we together as countries address it?
And you'll have certain pathways into radicalism. They're not always the same. But you can have individuals who are all of a sudden in a foreign country that are divorced from their parents and their society; have no place to go; and this deviant form of Islam will be the home for them.
And then there'll be some paths. It may be the two individuals from Atlanta doing, coming up and doing videotape surveillance. Those are the first steps. And it'll be a first, and then the next step may be, okay, I'm learning about how to construct a hydrogen peroxide bomb.
One of the things that we should not be so focused on are the elements of the Islamic religion whether it be mosques or elsewhere. The radicalization can take place any place at any time in a number of different venues. And if you look at the various terrorist attacks we've had since September 11th around the world, you'll see there are very many avenues to radicalism and to -- on the path of terrorism.
WESTIN: Another thing you talked about in your talk was the need to have our, I think you said laws as modern as the technology --
WESTIN: -- while make sure we uphold the civil liberties I think we're sworn to defend, I gather was your language.
It strikes me that you have been in a particularly valuable position to observe where we are drawing that line, we, the government. And you are drawing the line to some extent, perhaps, everyday. And I wonder what you've learned that you'd like to share with this audience? Where would you draw the line?
In particular, we've heard a lot of concerns raised on both sides frankly that we're not protecting our civil liberties, or on the other hand that we're not going far enough with intelligence gathering. Are there areas where you think we've been too concerned as a country with civil liberties, or on the reverse, that things that maybe we haven't been paying attention to that we should be paying attention to?
MUELLER: My own view is we always should be concerned about civil liberties. We always should have the dialogue, and the debate, on the impact on civil liberties, mechanisms we adopt to protect the country. And you're right, the debate goes on. There isn't any particular issue. Just about every issue has -- relating to terrorism in this day and age -- has a -- some balance between civil liberties on the one hand and the impact on privacy on the other hand.
But we were talking before about the impact of technology on your business, the news business. Well, the impact on our business has been as -- as substantial. And what you find is the technology is a steep curve of growth in terms of voiceover IP, the Internet, digitalization, wire transfers. And yet our capacity, both by way of the expense of keeping up with that curve, as well as the transformation in our laws, just has not kept pace.
And the same way you have to change to the marketplace, we have to as an organization as well as a country is understand that that growth in technology requires us to have a very swift debate, and then take measures that are necessary to assure that we can continue to do the kind of investigative -- have the kind of investigative capability, intelligence gathering capability, that enables us to continue to gather information with regard to the communications. Because with the communications from the sources comes the anticipation and the plan.
For us, going back to -- if you look at the FBI, and our role, before September 11th we were I would say renowned to a certain extent in terms of our ability to investigate a case. I would like to think that we still are. But since September 11th we have recognized that it is not investigating an incident that has happened before that is as important as investigating and preventing another September 11th.
And that's a function of gathering intelligence; it's a function of within the guidelines and within the Constitution, within the statutes, and with the applicable attorney general guidelines, gather intelligence to prevent an incident as opposed to utilizing the tools of forensics, the fingerprints, the like, of investigating an attack after it occurred.
And that is a dramatic change in our scope which requires a somewhat dramatic change in our capabilities, but also requires a dialogue in terms of, how do you give us those tools? What tools do you give us to adequately secure the safety of the American public while at the same time assuring that we do not undercut civil liberties.
WESTIN: Last thing -- this is a little closer to home in some ways before I turn it over to everybody -- and that's anthrax.
WESTIN: Because we had attacks in, not only in Florida and in Washington you had, but here in New York, and even ABC News, NBC News, CBS -- that was just after 9/11, actually, it was the fall of 2001 -- and we really haven't come to any conclusions that I'm aware of about what happened, why it happened, who was behind it. Is that investigation ongoing? Do you think we'll ever know, really, what was behind the anthrax attacks? I mean, what -- why has it been so difficult figuring out who did this to us?
MUELLER: Well, you're a newsman, you'd know whether there had been any resolution. (Laughter.) And there are -- there are -- I can tell you -- what I can tell you, it's an ongoing investigation. And it's a very important ongoing investigation -- has been since September 11th, we have never let up. We have substantial numbers of agents and personnel still dedicated to it. We have learned a tremendous amount. And I can tell you that the investigation is ongoing. I get briefed on it, generally, about once a month. And my expectation is we will have resolution down the road. --
WESTIN: Oh, is that right? You think we will --
MUELLER: Ultimately -- at some point. Yes.
WESTIN: Well, that's interesting.
Okay, so now this is the time when you all join in the conversation. A couple of requests. One is, when you get called on, please stand up, wait for microphone to come to you, then identify yourself and your affiliation. Second, please try to keep it to one question and fairly concise, because I want to make sure everyone gets to talk who wants to. And the third thing, I apologize to my colleagues in the working press, I'm going to call on the members first, in part, because you'll have an opportunity -- the director has graciously agreed to spend a few minutes back here in the Dillon Room afterwards -- so I want to make sure we get to the members first.
So, okay, first question over here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Mr. Director, this is just a question, not a --
WESTIN: I'm sorry -- name please.
QUESTIONER: My name is Roland Paul (sp), I'm a lawyer, like your training. And it's certainly not a suggest that you reduce your efforts in any regard, when Admiral McConnell was here in June, on the record, he said that the terrorism threat was on the ascendant trend. And I assumed that he meant that there were -- more adherence. Maybe he meant more than that, but isn't there an offsetting thing, in that maybe these terrorists these day are more amateurish now that you've taken down so many of the leaders. In other words, the attacks in London were failed, several of them looked kind of amateurish. You just mentioned in your remarks that the central guy was only 22 years old. I thought maybe -- I'm asking, maybe they're not quite as qualified as they used to be?
MUELLER: Well -- no, it doesn't take much to, unfortunately, to be qualified to undertake a terrorist attack. If you look at the -- if you look at the July 7th attacks in the London underground -- hydrogen peroxide boiled down, relatively rudimentary, you can go on the internet and learn much about it -- and they were devastating; upwards of far over 50 that were killed in those attacks.
In the recent attacks in London, outside the night club -- Tiger Tiger Night Club, and then in Glasgow we were, I think, the MI5 and the Met (ph) would say we were somewhat lucky, and that more people weren't killed. In the German case that was just taken down a couple of weeks ago -- that we had been working on with our counterparts there for any number of months, at the time it was taken down, those individuals had hundreds of liters of hydrogen peroxide, they had fuses, and were at that point moving towards constructing those devices.
And so, yes, it is not on the same level of a September 11th, in terms of numbers and organizations -- and organizations, but nonetheless around the world we've seen a number of attacks where 50 to 100 or more have been killed. And so I -- because of the profusion of cells, if you will -- because of the internet, because of the ability to recruit, to train and to give the learning as to how to construct explosive devices, it is a different world, as I tried to say, and as dangerous, if not more dangerous, when you are looking at one attack on the part of al-Qaeda.
QUESTIONER: WESTIN: Yes, sir. Right here.
QUESTIONER: Mr. Director, my name is Isaac Shapiro, I'm with the law firm of Skadden Arps. We see, from time to time, videos with Osama bin Laden's likeness appearing. Does your agency or any other agency you know of, credible evidence that he is either alive or dead?
MUELLER: Well, you've seen a number of videos most recent -- recently from bin Laden. We at the agency, and others, look to determine the authenticity, so to speak, of those in a variety of ways. And generally he and Zawahiri, when they do the videos they go out of their way to put into the text, references to that which has occurred relatively recently. I would think probably for the purpose of showing to the world that, yes, they are still alive, this isn't a video from six, seven, eight years ago. Not all of them are that way, but most recently we've seen at least one that would fit that.
QUESTIONER: But is it really he?
MUELLER: I would -- I would say the best guess -- our best information is, yes.
WESTIN: Down in front -- Jim.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) I'm Jim Syron (sp), Mr. Director, and --
WESTIN: Could you -- is that working?
STAFF: Is it working?
WESTIN: It's not working.
STAFF: It's not working --
WESTIN: This happens to ABC News all the time. The audio's always -- (inaudible, laughter.) It's ABC -- always it's the audio.
QUESTIONER: First, thank you for your service. And I make, initially, the observation that many years ago when I was an assistant United States attorney, I was aware of a certain rivalry and tension between FBI and local law enforcement -- notably NYPD, which often disclosed a lack of shared purpose. They were at cross purposes.
9/11, we became aware that -- this is the ABC mike -- (laughter) -- 9/11 we became aware that there was almost an impenetrable firewall between CIA and FBI, and that was a source of criticism in the 9/11 Report. And I wondered how you would characterize those relationships today? Have they changed? And do you have a good working relationship with local law enforcement through the Joint Terrorism Task Force? And also, what does your relationship with the CIA look like?
MUELLER: Both good questions. We have gone -- made tremendous head-way with our state and local counterparts around the country, and even here in New York, in terms of building those relationships. We had, I think, 34, 35 Joint Terrorism task forces on September 11th, we have over 100 now. We have safe street task forces, violent crime task forces -- you name it.
I understand, we understand that our success is dependent upon our relationships with our state and local counterparts. Here in New York, the first Joint Terrorism task force had rocky times. And over the last several years, I think Ray would agree that those times are behind us. And I will tell you that Ray Kelly has done a terrific job, not only participating and supporting that particular task force, but also protecting New York, and the things that he has done.
So across the board, I believe our relationships are much better with state and local law enforcement, as they have to be. Part of this comes from my having spent some time in a U.S. attorney's office doing homicide cases, working with homicide detectives, and recognizing that the skill sets that we have at the state and local level are as important as the skill sets we have at the federal level, and we have to make use of both.
On the -- with the agency, the passage of the Patriot Act was instrumental in breaking down the walls, both actual and perceived, that prevented us, in some instances. -- not all instances, because it can be institutional -- from sharing information and working together. Since September 11th, we made huge progress there. And not only here in the United States, but over -- overseas, we recognized that there may be a law enforcement agency in a country that is as important to the success of our efforts, as the intelligence agency in that country -- which is the natural, the natural partner of the agency. And so both overseas and here, we recognize that our success, again, is dependent upon those relationships.
Now there -- I'm not going to tell you that there aren't individuals that are still around, and personalities, but it's -- it's not institutional, it is personalities, and there may be particular issues where we would still have a problem. But overall, we've exchanged personnel -- we've got personnel in the National Counterterrorism Center; the number two person in my national security branch is from the agency. And so we've come a very long ways from where we were on September 11th.
WESTIN: Two over here and then down the front.
QUESTIONER: Hi, my name is Noshmi Khan (sp). I'm a student at the Kennedy (sp) School, but formerly an attorney. I really appreciate the job you have.
WESTIN: No, Bob and I'll say, once you're an attorney, you're always an attorney. Right? (Laughter.) Isn't that right? Isn't that what we say? (Laughter.) My other question is, why aren't you an agent? (Laughter.) Go ahead.
QUESTIONER: Well, you'll find out after my question. (Laughter.) But anyway, my question is, first of all, as an attorney, and as an attorney in the Muslim-American community, I'm very familiar with the Siddiqui, the Mateen, as well as the Bahaidir (ph) cases.
QUESTIONER: And my concern is why isn't the FBI doing a better job of using the resource within the Muslim American community, because this community really feels under siege. You know, for example, when those cases came up, people felt that there is entrapment; that there is really no home-grown terrorism, but what there is -- a feeling of being under siege. And as you said very eloquently, many of these cases have not gone beyond the first step.
So what I'm asking you is what is the FBI doing to reassure the Muslim American community so then the next step, and the next tip will come from a community member, from a mosque in Queens, rather than a note somewhere else or from an informant? Thank you.
MUELLER: I will tell you that since September 11th, every one of our offices have had substantial outreach in the Muslim community. We have what's called "citizen academies" in which we bring in, over an eight- or 10-week period, persons from not only the Muslim community, the Arab American community, the Sikh community and others to explain what we do. And so in every one of our field offices around the country we have had substantial outreach that I think has made a -- a big difference, because we do get those tips from the Muslim community.
A number of the cases that we have have been tips from the Muslim community. I meet periodically with the national leaders of the Muslim community, and we discuss ways on how we can better express ourselves, express what we're doing, and lead to greater understanding on both -- both sides.
I will tell you, in the course of the meetings with the leaders of the Muslims' community, I am fairly blunt in saying that the worst thing that could happen to the Muslim community in the United States is another September 11th. And it is not just law enforcement that can protect the United States; it has to be ourselves, together.
Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the Muslim community in the United States is every bit as American and supportive as anybody else. And -- but also may have opportunities that others do not have to identify those persons who are getting on the wrong track. And we have to work together to assure that this does not happen. It's not just the law enforcement or intelligence community, but also is the -- is the Muslim community. And we have -- we have seen that support.
WESTIN: Down in front. Please, do we have microphone? Thank you.
QUESTIONER: Roswell Perkins, Debevoise & Plimpton law firm. Reverting to the question of relationships to other intelligence agencies, during the Rumsfeld era there was a great deal of talk and controversy over the expansion and scope of the intelligence branch of the Defense Department. Could you characterize your relationships with that intelligence arm of the Defense Department and what the relationships are and the relative scopes?
MUELLER: Well, the intelligence community has come together as a result of the -- I think, in part as a result of the legislation passed that directed there be an office of a director of national intelligence. And we participate more fully in that, in the intelligence community, as a result of -- of that. And having an individual who is an independent arbiter above the intelligence communities, who did not also -- was not also the director of the CIA, has made a difference. So generally we coordinate, we cooperate, and we are on any number of intelligence mission capabilities with the DIA.
You take the arena such as the cyber arena, where we share substantial vulnerabilities as well as some capabilities, we'll work very closely with our friends in the military. And while I will say that the agency probably has a stronger relationship with the military intelligence than we do, for reasons that relate to the fact that they're overseas, our relationship with DIA has always been good.
WESTIN: Back at the back.
QUESTIONER: Thank you for the job you're doing, and I regret to tell you I, too, am a lawyer. My name is Nancy Lieberman (sp).
MUELLER: You don't have to apologize -- (laughter.) Sooner or later, I'll get a question from somebody who is --
WESTIN: Not a lawyer!
MUELLER: Not a lawyer. (Laughs.)
QUESTIONER: Maybe someday I won't be. Anyway, could you tell us in general how many special agents you have who speak Arabic and Farsi, both operating in the U.S. and abroad, and what are you doing to streamline your department's ability to hire and cut through the bureaucracy that we all read about? Because these people are finding it difficult to join in.
MUELLER: Well, I would have to get you specific statistics. We have over -- in terms of the special agents, we have over a hundred who speak one of those languages -- whether it be Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, and the like -- but not at all levels. We have a much smaller number, probably less than half that amount, who would be at the -- at the three level.
And we have a focused recruitment program to -- to build that up over a period of time. But we are competing with other agencies who have similar focused recruiting programs, because we all need the same skills and the same specialties.
There is -- in terms of the delay it takes to get somebody on board, with the background checks, we are always frustrated by this. Mike McConnell, the ODNI, has made this one of his pet projects, to cut through it. And there is a -- but I will tell you there is a balance to be had in terms of having to do a thorough background check, because once you give somebody access to our computers and you give them access to some of the critical information in there, you can face another Hansen, the way we faced a Hansen. And so we have to do thorough background checks.
We ought to modernize it and use tools that -- that are becoming more available in the digital world. But at some point in time, you're still going to have to do that in-depth background check, checking -- I mean, if we did a check on you, we'd go back to where you first lived and who knew you when you were 5 (years old), that type of thing. And you have to do that in order to be assured that the persons you're getting would -- are going to treat the -- the information to which they have access with the appropriate -- appropriate security. So it's a balance -- all of us, I think, the balance is too -- on the side of "it takes too long," and we've got to -- we've got to shorten it, and we're moving towards doing that.
WESTIN: Sorry, we had a question over here. I've ignored this side of the room. I apologize.
QUESTIONER: My name's Steve Hellman (sp). I'm very self-conscious about the fact that I'm not a lawyer. (Laughter.) But my question relates to the FBI's original mission. Obviously your -- your basic mission is law enforcement across the country. Has September 11th transformed your mission to being basically counterterrorism? I mean, how has this affected your overall law enforcement capability?
MUELLER: It's -- it's required us to prioritize. I mean, if you look back at the history of the Bureau, you'll see that we've had to shift priorities a number of times over the course of our history. One of them was at the outset of World War II, when there was concern, substantial concern about the German presence in Latin America. And Hoover turned to the Bureau and said, "Okay, you're my counterintelligence force in Latin America." And we had hundreds of agents and others who then undertook an intelligence -- it's not one operation, but covered the intelligence of Nazis in Latin America. So we have had -- over a period of time, had to adjust.
In the wake of September 11th, we had to prioritize on the criminal side of the house. We shifted agents over to counterterrorism, and our three top priorities on the national security side are counterterrorism; counterintelligence with threats from China, Iran, Russia, and the like; theft of the secrets in cyber.
On the criminal side, it's public corruption and civil rights, because if we do not do public corruption and civil rights, it will not be done. And so we have focused on public corruption and civil rights. In the last couple of years, we've successfully prosecuted -- investigated and prosecuted over 2,000 individuals at the federal, state, and local level in public corruption cases. Civil rights cases, we've gone back 60 years in some cases, in cold cases, to bring justice to those civil rights abuses.
White-collar crime -- Enron, WorldCom, any number of these cases we have had to focus on in the past. Organized, transnational, and national organized crime. Bulgarian organized crime, Russian organized crime, Asian organized crime, Albanian organized crime, all of -- we are a country of immigrants, and when the immigrants come, there are other aspects that we have to address.
And lastly, violent crime. And violent crime, because anybody who has worked in this business knows and sees what violent crime can do to tear up a community. And to the extent we can help state and local, we need to. We are at about 50 percent on our criminal -- on our criminal priorities and 50 percent on our national security priorities. But we'll have to continue to prioritize.
We'll not be doing the number of drug cases we did in the past; we'll not be doing the number of bank robberies; we won't be doing the same number of smaller white-collar criminal cases. But we are continuously looking at our priorities and making that judgment as to where to put our resources where they can maximize the impact, whether it be on the national security side or the criminal side.
WESTIN: Yes, right down in front here.
QUESTIONER: Hi. Claire Chisney (sp) from Random House. I'm not a lawyer, as well. (Scattered laughter.)
I so appreciated your stress on the need for international cooperation right now, the increased need between security and intelligence communities. And what I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on is the -- the increased difficulties, in particular with our policy in Europe right now, alongside the increased need for intelligence communication.
I've been doing some work on the Curveball case, and looking at the relationship between the BND and the CIA, and I find it fascinatingly complex and complicated, given the histories, but also the current policies of the current administrations. And I wonder how that's affecting your work.
MUELLER: One of the -- I talk to -- when I talk to our people, I talk about the impact of globalization on our work. I mean, you read Tom Friedman's book, "The Earth is Flat," and you see it -- it goes to financing, it goes to manufacturing overseas. Well, globalization affects us as well. And the advent of technology has meant that your everyday terrorist or crook or what-have-you can jump across borders and boundaries with the click of a mouse.
The borders, with the Schengen Agreement in Europe, are basically open. And that is a challenge to all of us in our business of law enforcement and intelligence, because every country has a different judicial system; every country has a different conglomeration of intelligence and law enforcement agencies constrained by their own jurisdictional boundaries. And for us to be successful we have to reach across those jurisdictional boundaries to develop relationships and often -- most often, as opposed to multilateral, I believe that bilateral relationships are most effective.
And what we have come to find is that we -- we face the same threats, and when we -- when we sit down to a table, the overarching policies of the government and the like sort of are put to the side; that we've got a common mission, and most of us understand that to be successful we have to exchange information very, very quickly. In the old days you exchanged -- you exchanged information by letters -- rogatory, mutual legal assistance treaties. It was exchanging evidence for a courtroom. Today, it's exchanging e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, and the like very swiftly so we can prevent the next attack, whether it's going to be in Denmark, Germany or the United States.
And will tell you that I was in France. And we've had a, you know, an up-and-down with France over a period of time, but all during that period of time, we have had very good relationships with our counterpart over -- over there, the DST, the DGSE, and understanding that we have to work together. Now, there'll be glitches; there'll be issues that we'll disagree on, but generally it is good and getting better.
WESTIN: One last question. I have to pick somebody. I'm going to go over here.
QUESTIONER: Thank you, Mr. Director. My name is Prene Guptier (sp); I'm not a lawyer. I'm a writer and journalist, but I'm not reporting on this. But thank you for your comments earlier.
I -- I -- what I'd like to find out from you is it's generally a concern among students overseas about coming here. Foreign students have always nourished American education, and educators in this country are indeed trying to recruit more foreign students to come here. There's a sense of feeling unwelcome to America, myself being a beneficiary of having come here many, many years ago -- in the last century, indeed. But what are you doing to work with institutions of higher education, both here and elsewhere, to promote the tradition of American education and that that tradition be sustained? Thanks.
MUELLER: Well, you're probably talking to the wrong person in terms of the bringing of foreign students to the United States. Absolutely, we're supportive. To the extent that people come to our country and learn -- learn about us, it disputes, in my mind, some of that which is portrayed, whether it be on the Internet or television around the world. And I will tell you that students that I've talked to and even the parents of students that I talk to around the -- the world believe that there may be a perception outside the United States that they would be unwelcome, but almost to a one, once they're in the United States, they find they are welcomed and find a place in our society, in our universities, and are -- are happy doing it.
We've had a substantial -- there was certainly a substantial dip after September 11th in numbers of students coming to the United States from a number of foreign countries. That is now up, at a point that is almost close to September 11th. I say -- I'm not necessarily the person to talk to, because my concern is security. Is there -- who is coming to the United States? What do we know about them? And is there some effort being made, coordinated or otherwise, to insert in the United States persons who ultimately could present a threat to the United States?
We recognize we want students, we want persons, travelers from around the world, and we do everything we can to assure the -- the safety of the American public while at the same time assuring that the persons who travel to the United States understand the essence of what we are, which is an open, welcoming society, and brings -- we're all, most of us, are immigrants, sooner or later. And so we have an openness to our society that I think is unmatched in just about any country around the world.
And I think students that come to the United States understand that, and we ought to encourage it. But at the same time, we ought to be careful in terms of -- of doing what we can to make their time in the United States beneficial, but at the same time assure that we do pick up on those anomalies where you have an individual that has something other than the goodness of his or her university education in mind when they're coming to the United States. And we have found instances of that.
WESTIN: So before we conclude our meeting -- we need to end it now -- let me just remind you the members will exit, as I understand it, through those doors, and the members of the working press over here who want to will have a few minutes with the director back in the Douglas Dillon Room back here.
I want to thank everyone for coming to the meeting today and for participating. And especially I want to thank, first of all, for your service, frankly, and secondly for being with us today. This was very informative -- sobering, but properly so.
WESTIN: And that concludes our meeting. Thank you all very much.
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