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By Casting a Global Net

Director Mueller speaks at the Chatham House in London. Photo courtesy of Chatham House
The FBI has several thousand open terrorism-related cases at any given time, Director Robert Mueller said on Monday.

On Monday, FBI Director Robert Mueller spoke at the Chatham House think tank in London about the evolving threat of terrorism and the FBI’s role in combating it through global partnerships and intelligence work.

Al Qaeda, Mueller said, remains a resilient enemy that "continues to adjust its strategies and tactics."

Referring to the terrorism trial underway in Great Britain now, Mueller said that the "plot to bomb United States bound airliners reminds us that al Qaeda's core organization still exists and still thirsts for dramatic, mass casualty attacks." 

The current terrorist threat, he said, includes three tiers:

  • First, the core al Qaeda organization that has established new sanctuaries in the "ungoverned spaces, tribal areas, and frontier provinces of Pakistan," enabling it "reconstitute its leadership, recruit new operatives, and regenerate its capability to attack."
  • Second, largely self-directed groups with "some ties to an established terrorist organization" that operate as "al Qaeda franchises" and include the London bombers and terrorist cells uncovered last September in Denmark and Germany;
  • And third, homegrown extremists who are "self-radicalizing, self-financing, and self-executing" and who are inspired by al Qaeda but not directly linked to it.

The fight against all these groups continues.

Mueller revealed that the FBI has "several thousand open terrorism-related cases" at any given time. He cited intelligence and international partnerships as the keys to disrupting terrorist networks and preventing attacks.

"We never know when a fragment of information uncovered in one country could unearth an entire network of terror in another. ... The intelligence we seek often resides where our adversaries are based, not where we are based," he said.

The process. The FBI, he said, continually mines for intelligence, sifting for scraps of information like a "phone number...or a name...or a receipt from a bank transaction" that might yield important clues. Then, we use the key pieces of information we've collected to help paint a larger picture. Finally, once the threat is under control, we use our cases as "intelligence collection platforms." 

"There is not a terrorist group that we have taken down since September 11 in which one or more of them have not decided to cooperate," Mueller said. "And from that cooperation comes a vast pool of intelligence."  

Partnerships. Mueller praised British authorities, saying that the Bureau's relationship with them "remains a model of international intelligence and law enforcement cooperation." 

For example: The FBI's office in London—known as a Legal Attaché—has "20 to 30 in-person meetings every week with British intelligence and law enforcement officials" where intelligence is shared and each other's investigations are supported. Mueller said that FBI staff in the U.K. "works every day with officials in the security services, with New Scotland Yard, and with Britain's other 57 constabularies." 

Mueller predicted that al Qaeda and like-minded terrorists will be defeated, but only together: "Our enemies live in the seams of our jurisdictions. No single agency or nation can find them and fight them alone. If we are to protect our citizens, working together is not just the best option, it is the only option." 

Read the full text of the Director's speech. Also see the Chatham House website.

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