Major Executive Speeches

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Photograph of Robset S. Mueller, III

Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation

National Defense University
Washington, D.C.

March 28, 2007

Good morning. It is an honor to be here.

Today I want to talk about the changes we have made in the FBI to better predict and prevent terrorism. I want to focus on the FBI’s international operations and on our partnership with the military.

First, though, I want to talk about the diverse threats we face and the importance of interagency cooperation in defeating those threats.

Terrorism: A Different Kind of War

In the wake of September 11, you disrupted al Qaeda’s central operations. You captured or killed roughly 80 percent of al Qaeda’s key leaders and operatives. You destroyed their training camps and their means of communication.

In spite of these successes, we still are not safe. The global war on terrorism presents a different kind of war—one unlike any we have fought before.

In this war, there is no clearly defined enemy. Al Qaeda is shadowy and nebulous, with no headquarters and no clear hierarchy. As we all know, they are seeking out new staging grounds for recruiting and training. They are promoting from within. And they are using seasoned operatives to plan attacks around the world. Every day, they are seeking to rebuild what you tore down.

We also face a new threat: homegrown terrorism. Al Qaeda is no longer merely one cell; it is a movement. We face two distinct threats: al Qaeda itself and extremists the world over who may not be connected to al Qaeda, but who are inspired by its message of violence and hatred.

Just as there is no clearly defined enemy, there is no clearly defined battlefield. No country is immune. The war zone stretches from Baghdad to Britain and from Battery Park to Bali. And while globalization has made the world smaller, technology has given terrorists a multitude of weapons, from dirty bombs and IEDs to mobile phones and the Internet.

To win this war, we must continue to work together. Whether we call it interagency cooperation, information sharing, or partnership, the effect is the same. Our continued success depends on continued collaboration.

Changes in the FBI to Adapt to Post-9/11 World

To that end, we have made a number of changes in the Bureau in the past five years.

Prior to September 11, the FBI investigated crimes after the fact. Today, intelligence drives our operations, allowing us to stop criminals and terrorists before they strike.

The National Security Branch oversees our counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and intelligence operations. And we stood up a directorate to investigate threats from weapons of mass destruction.

We hired more than 2,100 intelligence analysts and set up Field Intelligence Groups in each of our 56 field offices. Agents, analysts, surveillance experts, and language specialists collect and analyze intelligence to connect cases and individuals. They identify gaps in our knowledge and anticipate what may lie on the horizon.

We have tripled the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country, from 33 to more than 100. These task forces combine the resources of the FBI, the CIA, NCIS, OSI, Army CID, and state and local police officers, just to name a few.

Today, our agents are embedded at SOCOM, CENTCOM, PACOM, NORTHCOM, EUCOMM, and the JSOC. They share information about the FBI’s counterterrorism, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts. And, in turn, you are sharing your counterterrorism strategies and initiatives with us.

There has been much talk, and some criticism, about the changes we have made. Yet at the end of the day, terrorist organizations are simply that—organizations—much like La Cosa Nostra or violent gangs.

Our agents approach the terrorist hierarchy as they would any criminal organization, armed with the same toolkit: intelligence, analytical skills, sophisticated investigative techniques, state-of-the-art technology, and the experience to pull it all together.

The end result may be a prosecution in a public courtroom, or the quiet disruption of a plot, the details of which the public may never know.

This change in mission is akin to any corporation that shifts from its traditional base to an emerging market. Apple took its innovative approach to computer technology and created the now ubiquitous iPod.

Apple simply took what it does best and applied it in a new way. Likewise, we in the FBI have taken what we do best—intelligence gathering and investigations—and applied those skills in a new way, to a new threat.

In the past five years, we have changed the way we do business. We have developed new techniques, new sources, new partnerships. We better understand the scope and nature of terrorism.

But we also understand that we cannot secure safety at the expense of civil liberties. We are judged not just by our ability to defend the nation from terrorism, but also by our commitment to defending the rights and freedoms we all enjoy. We know that we must have the support of the American people to be successful.

Some have called for a domestic intelligence agency separate from the FBI, similar to Britain’s MI5. However, a new agency that would collect intelligence and then turn to law enforcement to take action would only add an unnecessary step.

We do not have the luxury of time, nor do we have room for error. Starting from scratch will only set us back.

Our strength is logically working through intelligence—step by step—to predict and prevent crime and terrorism. In the last two years, we have stopped a number of terrorist plots.

In August 2005 in Los Angeles, we arrested four extremists who were planning to attack U.S. military facilities and synagogues. In February 2006, we arrested three men in Toledo on charges of conspiring to travel to Iraq to attack American forces. In July, we disrupted a plot to attack the subways of New York.

This past December, we arrested a man who planned to set off grenades in a Chicago-area shopping mall during the holidays. And just last week, a former sailor was indicted on charges of providing information to suspected terrorists about the location of Navy ships and the best ways to attack them.

We cannot know whether these extremists would have succeeded. But we do know they wanted to harm as many people as possible in the name of violent jihad and that we had to do everything in our power to ensure their plans did not become reality.

Our work is not limited to the domestic front. Just as there are no borders for crime and terrorism, there are no borders for justice and the rule of law. We have 59 Legal Attaché offices—called Legats—around the world.

These Legats are the FBI’s first responders, from assisting our British counterparts in the London bombings to finding the man responsible for the attempted assassination of President Bush in Tbilisi, Georgia.

Legats coordinate international investigations, such as the arrest of suspected terrorist Daniel Maldonado. Maldonado, an American citizen who converted to the Muslim faith, moved from Houston to Egypt in November 2005. He then traveled to Somalia to practice what he called “true Islam.”

According to the indictment, while in Mogadishu, Maldonado participated in a jihadist training program that included weapons and explosives. He said that he was willing to fight on behalf of Al Qaeda and even offered to act as a suicide bomber.

Kenyan military authorities captured Maldonado in January. Members of the Houston Joint Terrorism Task Force transported him back to the United States.

This case illustrates the continued need for international and interagency cooperation. Without the assistance of our counterparts in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia, Maldonado might have disappeared, only to resurface as an active terrorist.

Several of you are here from other countries. You have taken time away from home, away from family and friends, to be here. We thank you for your efforts. These partnerships make us all stronger and smarter.

Role of the FBI in Combat Theater Operations

Let me take a moment to talk about our role in combat theater operations. For the past four years, hundreds of FBI employees have been embedded with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan on a rotating basis. Being where the action is enables us to identify, evaluate, and resolve terrorist threats, faster and more efficiently than ever before.

FBI personnel working in the Middle East often comment on the high level of cooperation and camaraderie between the military and the FBI. As one agent put it, “there is no ‘Beltway mentality’ over there.” He’s right—you can’t get much further outside of the Beltway than Baghdad.

But his point is well taken. In theater, there is no time for turf battles. There is no room for political pressure. There is but one focus: to keep each other safe, and to keep America safe.

We have joined forces to interrogate detainees, collect biometric data, analyze pocket litter and explosive devices, and investigate terrorist financing.

For example, agents and linguists work in tandem with military personnel to interview detainees and collect fingerprints and DNA samples. The days of rolled ink prints on index cards are gone. Today, we can electronically capture 10 prints in fewer than 15 seconds.

We can run those prints via satellite against more than 50 million prints in our fingerprint database and receive a response in less than two minutes. These prints are simultaneously searched against the DOD’s biometric database. With this technology, soldiers and special agents can quickly find out whether suspected terrorists have ties to the United States.

Agents and analysts also exploit evidence from detainees to connect cases, individuals, and organizations. Our agents may travel with the military to conduct nighttime raids, collect intelligence, and secure terrorist safe houses.

A phone number may provide the link we need to identify a terrorist operative. A handwritten note may lead us to a training camp. One bit of evidence could be the key to preventing an attack and protecting our forces on the front lines.

We are also working together to investigate improvised explosive devices. Special agent bomb technicians conduct post-blast investigations. These agents often find themselves right in the middle of the action alongside their military colleagues, from roadside attacks on military convoys to suicide bombers.

Experts at the FBI’s Terrorist Explosive Device Analytical Center—TEDAC—use this intelligence to identify bomb-makers, train first responders, and to develop countermeasures.

I remember working on the Pan Am 103 investigation in Lockerbie, Scotland. The break in that case came from a fragment of debris—a fingernail-sized piece from the circuit board of a radio/cassette player—found in a ground search of the area covering more than 845 square miles. That device helped establish that the bomb had been placed inside a tape deck in a piece of luggage—intelligence that was instrumental in convicting those responsible.

TEDAC collects and analyzes the same type of intelligence. Electronics and explosives experts, agents, and analysts work with ATF and the DOD to link IEDs to their makers.

To date, TEDAC has developed more than 2,500 latent fingerprints from items such as cordless telephone circuit boards and remote devices—even batteries and electrical tape. They have made 60 fingerprint identifications and more than 1,000 forensic matches between IEDs.

These partnerships are vital to our safety and security. The intelligence we need to predict and prevent terrorism comes in bits and pieces, from biometric data to bomb-making supplies.

Alone, these bits and pieces might be meaningless. Collectively, they provide a big-picture view of the terrorist threat. They become part of the intelligence cycle between law enforcement, the intelligence community, and the military, both at home and abroad.


The war on terrorism is a different kind of war—one based not on territory, but on different ways of life—on freedom versus fear, on tolerance versus tyranny.

Terrorism is not a means to achieve military victory. It is designed to make us afraid of today, afraid of tomorrow, and afraid of each other.

Our greatest weapon against terrorism is unity. Unity between the FBI and the military, between federal agencies and the intelligence community, and between law enforcement and the citizens we serve. That unity is built on collaboration and connection. It is built on the idea that, together, we are smarter and stronger than we are standing alone.

From the dark days following September 11 we learned that unity made us safe. That same unity will keep us secure in the years to come.

We face a new enemy in a new kind of war—a war we did not start, but one we will end, together.


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