Department of Justice Seal

Remarks as Delivered by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey at the FBI's Centennial Anniversary

Washington, D.C.
Thursday, July 17, 2008 - 10:00 A.M. EDT

Good morning. Director Mueller, thank you for that kind introduction. More important, thank you for your long and distinguished career of service to our Nation. When you were sworn in as the sixth Director of the FBI on September 4, 2001, no one could have imagined the challenges that you would face beginning just one week later. You have faced and responded to those challenges with characteristic fortitude, intelligence, and skill, and I feel privileged to serve with you.


Bob follows in a long line of distinguished FBI directors. And we are honored to have three of them with us today – William Webster … William Sessions … and my good friend and former colleague, Louis Freeh – as well as our many other distinguished guests and friends.


This month marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the FBI. As we celebrate this milestone, we pay tribute to the FBI’s storied history. We honor the way this agency has transformed itself to meet the dangers of a new era. And on behalf of a grateful Nation, we honor and thank all the fine men and women who have ever carried the badge – especially those who paid with their lives to serve our country and keep us safe. It is truly a privilege to be a part of this ceremony.


I am especially honored to be addressing you today because the President has asked me to deliver these remarks to you on his behalf. The President intended and wanted to be here to speak with you in person, but today he is paying his respects to his former Press Secretary, Tony Snow, who was taken from us far too soon. Please know, however, that the President has you in his thoughts and that he is with us today in spirit.


As we all know, Washington is a town full of confusing acronyms. But there has never been any doubt about the meaning or significance of one of them – the F-B-I. You and your cases have become the stuff of Hollywood legend. You have inspired generations of children who have grown up dreaming of joining your ranks. You have brought peace of mind to law-abiding citizens. And to criminals everywhere, you have brought something else – the swift hand of justice.


As you may have heard, however, the FBI rose from fairly humble origins. It is hard to imagine today, but at the beginning of the 20th century, the Justice Department had no law enforcement agents of its own to investigate crime; instead, the Department was forced to rely on Treasury Department agents for help. In 1908, Congress passed a law ending this practice, and the Bureau of Investigation, as it was then called, was created.


The Bureau had 34 agents at its beginning. Expectations, at the time, were correspondingly low. In his annual report to Congress six months after the creation of the Bureau, one of my predecessors, Attorney General Charles Joseph Bonaparte, made brief reference to the creation of a small force of special agents, and added, these are his words: "the consequences of the innovation have been, on the whole, moderately satisfactory."


One hundred years after that somewhat tepid endorsement, I am happy to report that the FBI’s current contribution to the investigation, prosecution, and prevention of crime has gone from moderately satisfactory to absolutely extraordinary. Over the past century, the FBI has grown into one of the world’s most admired law enforcement agencies. From just 34, your ranks have swelled to more than 30,000 agents, analysts, and professional staff. Your offices have expanded from a single bureau in Washington to a network of offices spanning the Nation and the globe. And your investigations have pushed the frontiers of law enforcement and forensic science – taking us from the age of fingerprints to the age of DNA. Simply put, you are regarded, justly regarded, as the gold standard in law enforcement circles everywhere.


The reason for the Bureau’s success is no secret. It is due, completely, to the efforts of the men and women who go to work every day to support the mission of the FBI -- to protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to our law enforcement partners within the United States and abroad, while simultaneously safeguarding the civil liberties and civil rights of the American people.


Throughout your history, the FBI has adapted to meet new threats whenever they have arisen.


During the 1920s and 1930s, the FBI took on America’s most notorious gangsters and FBI agents tracked down dangerous criminals like John Dillinger and "Baby Face" Nelson. When FBI agents surrounded the man known as "Machine Gun" Kelly, he surrendered – despite his nickname – without firing a shot. As the story goes, he yelled at the government agents, quote, "Don’t shoot, G-Men!" The name stuck. And from that day forward, Americans have embraced with pride the G-Men and G-Women of the FBI.


During World War II, the FBI took charge of protecting the homeland. Agents gathered intelligence and infiltrated dangerous spy rings. When a Nazi U-Boat landed off the coast of Long Island in 1942, the FBI apprehended the saboteurs before they could strike. And thanks to the vigilance of the FBI, Nazi agents never again launched another attack on America’s homeland.


During the second half of the 20th century, the FBI responded to new challenges. When organized crime networks expanded their reach, FBI agents used new racketeering laws to expand theirs. When the drug trade threatened our cities and children, FBI agents helped in the effort to hand drug traffickers a one-way ticket to prison. And when Soviet agents infiltrated our country and sought to undermine our freedom, FBI agents uncovered them, and put them behind bars.


Today, the men and women of the FBI are writing a new chapter in this proud history. Just as your predecessors adapted to meet the challenges of the 20th century, you are adapting to meet the challenges of the 21st. Those dangers became clear on September the 11th, 2001. On that day, we learned that the oceans which separate us from other continents can no longer protect us from danger. We learned that, whether we like it or not, we are at war against ruthless men who despise freedom, and want to destroy America.


Nearly seven years have passed since that tragic September day without another attack on our homeland. This is not for lack of trying on the part of the terrorists. Since 9/11, the FBI has worked with our partners around the world to disrupt more than a dozen planned terrorist attacks. You have helped save thousands of lives – including travelers at JFK Airport, passengers on New York-bound flights from London, and synagogue members in Torrance, California. And you have earned the lasting thanks of all Americans.


In many cases, we will never know the full stories of the plots you have stopped. And we will never know how many lives you have saved. But we do know this: since the war on terror began, we have put the terrorists on the run – and we have put the FBI hot on their trail.


Since 9/11, counterterrorism has become the FBI’s top priority. Under the strong leadership of Director Mueller, the FBI launched a carefully-staged reorganization. Agents who had trained their entire careers for one job suddenly found themselves performing another. Hundreds went from fighting traditional crimes to fighting terrorism overnight. And within months, entire offices began reporting to different divisions. These changes were difficult, but they were necessary. And we are safer today than we were on 9/11 because of them.



We are safer today because the FBI has turned its focus from investigating terrorist attacks to preventing them. Before 9/11, America treated terrorism primarily as a criminal matter. When terrorists launched attacks on targets like the World Trade Center, the Khobar Towers, the African embassies, and the USS Cole, we sent teams of FBI agents to investigate. These investigations were necessary, and many led to successful prosecutions. But on September the 11th, we realized that our mission was not simply to prosecute the terrorists after they committed their atrocities – our mission was to stop the terrorists before they harmed any more innocent Americans. Over the past seven years, that is exactly what you have done.


Today, because of your work, al Qaeda and other terrorist groups are on the defensive. We have more than doubled the number of intelligence analysts and translators in your ranks – so you can gather the intelligence necessary to stop the terrorists from attacking our country again. And we have greatly expanded the FBI’s contributions to America’s intelligence community.


We are safer today because the FBI has bridged the divide between its intelligence and law enforcement operations. Since 9/11, we passed the Patriot Act to break down the walls between the FBI’s criminal investigations and the intelligence community, and increased the flow of information within the FBI and across the government. We created the FBI’s new National Security Branch, and brought all the counterterrorism, counterespionage, and intelligence divisions together under one roof. And, most importantly, we have made great strides in converting the Bureau into a world-class intelligence gathering agency. With these reforms in place, the FBI is sharing more information than ever before, and has prevented a number of terrorist attacks targeting U.S. interests.


Finally, we are also safer today because the FBI is leading new counterterrorism partnerships at all levels of government. Before 9/11, agencies often competed with each other for turf during investigations. Today, the FBI and other government agencies are sharing the field. At every level of government, the lines of communication are stronger than ever.


At the local level, we have increased the number of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces from 35 to more than 100. These task forces bring federal, State, and local law enforcement agents together. And they have helped break up terror cells in places like Portland, Oregon ... Buffalo, New York ... and northern Virginia.


At the national level, we created the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center to consolidate terror watch lists from different agencies into one master list. And we created the National Counterterrorism Center where the FBI is working along with the CIA and other federal agencies to track terrorist threats and prevent new attacks.


And at the international level, the FBI continues to deploy agents to the scenes of terrorist attacks around the world to help track down those responsible for attacks in foreign countries including Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom – and to stop the terrorists before they can strike again. Over the past seven years, the FBI has opened 16 new offices overseas. Two of them are in Kabul and Baghdad – where FBI agents are now serving alongside our military on the frontlines of the War on Terror. In Baghdad and elsewhere, I have seen first-hand that the relationships with our international partners are stronger than ever. And here, I want to repeat that – while doing all of this – the FBI has also remained the gold standard in traditional law enforcement.


Today’s ceremony is a fitting celebration of the FBI’s extraordinary history and accomplishments. But even as we celebrate those accomplishments, it is important to remember that they have not come without a price. Over the course of its 100 years, the FBI has lost 51 men and women who were carrying out their sworn duty to pursue justice. They span the years from 1925, when a common thief shot and killed Special Agent Edwin Shanahan, to just last year, when Special Agent Barry Bush died in the line of duty. As we celebrate today and throughout this month, we must remember and honor each of these brave men and women, who gave their lives so that we could continue to lead ours.


It is equally important, however, to remember the many lives you have saved – that is, the many Americans who are still with us, and who we need not mourn, as a result of your valiant efforts. America is safer because of your work.


But we are not – and never will be – completely safe. The men who struck this country on September the 11th, 2001 are determined to attack us again. And they dream of even greater destruction than what we saw on that terrible day. Every day you come to work with a clear mission: To stop them from carrying out their plans. And, by anyone’s standards, you have succeeded in that mission in the past and I know you will continue to succeed in that mission in the future.


I want to leave you today with a few words from our thirtieth President, Calvin Coolidge, who was famous for his economy of expression. President Coolidge once said: "Patriotism is easy to understand in America; it means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country." FBI employees are charged with looking out for the safety of our country. You are true patriots – all of you – and you deserve to be extremely proud of the outstanding work you do on behalf of this Nation. On behalf of the President and of the American people, I thank you for your patriotism, your steadfastness, and your determination to protect our country.


Congratulations on this centennial, and enjoy the celebration today. You certainly have deserved it.