I remember the morning of September 11th, 2001 as if it were yesterday. I did not lose a friend or loved one, nor was I nearby the World Trade Center towers or Pentagon as people died. But like so many others working in government that day, I am an American and I love my country.
And so the horrific images, the heroic stories of that day, and the days and weeks that followed still make me stop and shake my head in disbelief.
In a few weeks, we will mark the five-year anniversary of those attacks. During this period, our way of life has changed so much. Our children and grandchildren will grow up in a world much different than ours. With advances in technology, such as the Internet, change is natural, of course, among successive generations. But the most dramatic change is the nature of the enemy our country today faces – a stateless enemy sometimes hidden and nurtured here in our neighborhoods, taking advantage of the very laws they mock with their killing and destruction, as a shield from detection and prosecution.
Much has changed, but the threat remains and so much our determination to prevent terrorism.
Last Thursday, we had a vivid example of the prevention of terrorism with the disruption of what would have been a major terrorist attack with massive casualties. Thanks to the vigilance of the British authorities, a terrorist plot to kill more innocent men, women and children was disrupted. It was an international success for intelligence and law enforcement, with over 200 FBI agents working with their British counterparts to investigate every possible lead here in America, to make sure that plotting was not taking place on this side of the Atlantic as well.
Our investigation into this disrupted plot is ongoing. The FBI continues to work with its counterparts overseas to analyze the evidence seized. From this, we will track down every possible lead to ensure that there is no threat to the homeland.
Last week’s events are a chilling reminder of the threats that continue to exist. As the President has said, “The terrorists have to succeed only once to achieve their goal of mass murder, while we have to succeed every time to stop them.”
Staying one step ahead of ideologically-driven killers who do not value human life, who do not respect the rule of law, and whose organizational structure is constantly evolving, requires constant attention and tireless dedication.
So, for those of us in government whose job it is to protect our country from terrorism, every day is September 12th…
Every day is that day after.
The day of questioning and probing.
The day of anger and determination.
The day of commitment and re-dedication.
The day of urgency and purpose.
The concept of prevention, while always in the picture of law enforcement, took on a particular meaning and urgency after September 11th.
Prevention is the goal of all goals when it comes to terrorism because we simply cannot and will not wait for these particular crimes to occur before taking action. Investigating and prosecuting terrorists after they have killed our countrymen would be an unworthy goal. Preventing terrorism is a meaningful and daily triumph.
At the Department of Justice, our strategy of prevention is built on four primary pillars of activity:
First, aggressive criminal and intelligence investigations.
Second, utilization of partnerships, information-gathering and collaboration at every level: international, national, state and local.
Third, prosecution and incarceration of terrorists. And, finally, containment of the radicalization that leads to homegrown, al Qaeda-inspired terrorists.
Let me address briefly each in turn.
Investigation The aggressive national security investigations (the combination of criminal and terrorist investigations), where we use every lawful tool to prevent terrorism, forms the first pillar of our strategy.
Winning the war on terror requires us to win the war of getting information. Like tiny but important pieces of a complicated puzzle, we can now take the most innocuous, seemingly unrelated pieces of information and connect the dots of a complex terrorist plot.
The reasons are many. The Patriot Act closed law-enforcement and intelligence gaps so that a local cop can check a national terrorist list when he arrests a thief or drug dealer and the FBI can check with the CIA when investigation a ring of art thieves.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – commonly referred to as FISA – has been available since 1978 to gather foreign intelligence through electronic surveillance. It, too, is a valuable tool in investigations.
Senator Arlen Specter is currently sponsoring legislation that would update FISA in light of today’s new technologies. I applaud his effort to ensure that this important anti-terror tool is kept current and urge the Congress to support this important piece of legislation.
To enhance our abilities to conduct aggressive national security investigations we reformed the FBI, establishing a Directorate of Intelligence to oversee all FBI intelligence activities.
And the FBI has enhanced its workforce, doubling the number of intelligence analysts, hiring additional linguists and implementing new training.
There are now intelligence groups in every single FBI field office where analysts, linguists and surveillance specialists work as teams. These Field Intelligence Groups play a major role in making sure that the FBI gathers the intelligence we need and then shares that intelligence with counterparts in law enforcement and the intelligence community.
Field intelligence groups participate in Joint Terrorism Task Forces – what FBI Director Mueller calls the “eyes and ears” of communities around the country. We have increased the number of joint terrorism task forces from 35 to 103.
These are a few of the steps we have taken, working with Congress, to enhance our ability to investigate terrorism-related activities.
Cooperation The second pillar of our strategy is cooperation. “It takes a network to defeat a network.” This is a central truth of the campaign to prevent terrorist attacks and illustrates our widespread use of partnerships and cooperation at every level of government.
Last week’s disruption of the UK bomb plot highlights the success of international cooperation. Our prosecutors train one another, share information and one another’s sensitive intelligence. The level of cooperation between the United States and our foreign counterparts is outstanding and is truly the untold story of the war on terror.
At home, we have dramatically improved collaboration among federal agencies. Indeed, we have applied a new mentality of constant sharing and communicating with our partners – and this includes our state and local partners as well.
We are standing up intelligence fusion centers across the country because we realize that partnerships increase our abilities exponentially. The FBI is a relatively small organization of 12,000 agents when compared to the 800,000 state and local law enforcement officers across the country. Our combined abilities are so much greater, so united we will stand.
I also want to note that, at every level, the people of this country are partners in this effort to prevent terrorism. Tips are welcomed by federal, state and local intelligence and law enforcement officials. We must remember that with the vigilance of both the people and the government, our network can dwarf that of the terrorists.
Prosecution Third, aggressive investigations, facilitated by cooperation with our partners, leads to arrests and prosecutions – and this is where prevention is most visible. Putting a would-be terrorist behind bars is a tangible example of protecting the American people.
Central to these efforts, of course, is the question of when to arrest and begin prosecution. Simply put, we need to gather enough information and evidence during our investigations to ensure a successful prosecution, but we absolutely cannot wait too long, allowing a plot to develop to its deadly fruition. Let me be clear, preventing the loss of life is our paramount objective. Securing a successful prosecution is not worth the cost of one innocent life.
Determining when to arrest would-be terrorists depends on countless factors like the dangerousness of the possible attack, the parties involved, and the imminence of the plot becoming operational.
No two cases are the same and decisions about arrest are difficult ones that must be made on a case-by-case basis by career professionals using their best judgment – keeping in mind that we need to protect sensitive intelligence sources and methods and sometimes rely upon foreign evidence in making a case.
Although every situation is different, and flexibility is critical, there is one thing that does fit every case: adherence to civil liberties and the rule of law. Those concerned with civil liberties should be reassured, and all Americans should find satisfaction in knowing that we are fighting terrorists according to our constitution.
Finally, our last pillar is countering radicalization. I am often asked whether we are safe. We are safer than we were on September 11th, but we are not yet safe. We have new tools, new laws and we have re-organized our government. We now have a Department of Homeland Security, focused totally on security, and we are much better at sharing information.
The fact is that while we have had significant success on some fronts, new fronts on this war have developed.
We’ve taken away the ‘home base’ for al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We’ve destroyed training camps, cut off funding channels, and disrupted means of communication. We have captured or killed many of al Qaeda’s key leaders. This has weakened and fractured al Qaeda.
It has also driven al Qaeda to the Internet, where their ideology has inspired and radicalized others. There are between 5,000 and 6,000 extremist websites on the Internet, each one encouraging extremists to cultivate relationships with like-minded people. These are the home-grown terrorists that you have heard about.
This radicalization is happening online and can therefore develop anywhere, in virtually any neighborhood, and in any country. Academic settings, mosques and community centers can ferment radicalization as well. Anywhere that the disaffected can gather can become a home-base for the development of radicalism.
Radicalization is also occurring in prisons. The FBI’s National Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Prisons are working to stem the growth of these intentions behind bars. We are also working with academic leaders to identify potential recruiting venues. But we must also identify the recruiters themselves, the leaders of these homegrown cells.
The threat of homegrown terrorist cells – radicalized online, in prisons and in other groups of socially isolated souls – may be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda, if not more so. They certainly present new challenges to detection.
It is therefore essential that we continue to develop the tools we need to investigate their actions and intentions with the help of our partners, and prosecute those who travel down the road of radicalization.
Next Steps I want to close by mentioning a few steps that we need to take in the immediate future to keep our prevention efforts robust.
At the Department of Justice, there is a critical restructuring step that needs to be finalized: the establishment of a new National Security Division. Acting on a recommendation of the WMD Commission, the President directed me to bring together the Justice Department’s national security elements to create a division that would specialize in intelligence and other national security matters and respond to priorities set by the Director of National Intelligence.
The new structure has been worked out – but unfortunately the Senate has not yet confirmed its leader, the President’s nominee to be Assistant Attorney General for National Security, Ken Wainstein. It is extremely important that Ken’s confirmation be among the very first items of business when the Senate returns to business in September. To delay his confirmation is to lose precious days in the campaign to prevent terrorism.
The nominee to be Assistant Attorney General of the Criminal Division, Alice Fisher, also awaits Senate confirmation. The Senate’s failure to confirm these two fine public servants is unconscionable and hampers our efforts to do all we can at the Department of Justice to keep America safe.
As I mentioned earlier, we need to update FISA. Senator Specter’s legislation addressing that issue, as well as the terrorist surveillance program, should be passed.
I am also optimistic that Congress will act soon to establish a solid statutory basis for the military commission process, so that trials of captured al Qaeda terrorists can move forward again and we can bring them to justice. We have been in ongoing conversations with Congress in recent weeks to establish such a system, and we are optimistic that we’ll soon have legislation that protects the security of the United States while also affording detainees a full and fair process.
Conclusion I would like to end these remarks as I began them, with a note about the ongoing threat and our ongoing vigilance.
While time has a tendency to numb both the pain of loss and the desire for justice that our nation felt five years ago, I am confident that each of the employees of the United States government who work on preventing terrorism brings a Flight-93-type passion to their jobs every day.
They know that every day is important and that distance from 9/11 does not mean distance from the threat. These professionals know that safety is won and maintained 24 hours at a time on a clock that never stops.
I think Winston Churchill would have been proud of those serving in our armed forces – who fight terrorism by helping to establish its antithesis, which is democracy, hope and opportunity – and our civilians in government who investigate and prosecute the enemy at home and abroad.
Remember Churchill’s words: “Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
At the Department of Justice, never giving in means we steadfastly pursue the goal, every day, of preventing terrorism.
Thank you. May God bless you and may he continue to bless this great nation.