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Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen Delivers Opening Statement Before the Senate Judiciary Committee


Washington, DC
United States

Good morning, Chair Durbin, Ranking Member Graham, and distinguished members of the committee. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today.

In 2006, Congress established the National Security Division (NSD) to carry out the Justice Department’s mission of combating terrorism, espionage, and other threats to national security. Fighting terrorism remains a priority for us, but the threat landscape has changed significantly in recent years.

Today, the United States faces dynamic threats from capable nation-state actors, like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. These countries engage in aggressive and sophisticated efforts, both inside our borders and abroad, to undermine the security, economic interests, and democratic institutions of the United States.

NSD’s work has evolved to respond to the challenges we face from nation-state adversaries. We are focused especially on our enforcement of sanctions and export controls, and on countering malicious cyber activity, foreign malign influence, and foreign investment risks.

And increasingly, our efforts in these areas interact with corporations and the business community. Corporations are on the front lines when it comes to enforcing critical national security tools, like sanctions and export controls. The bottom line is that companies make business decisions every day that have serious consequences for our national security.

When corporations and their executives break laws that protect national security, we use the full range of our authorities to hold them accountable. Last fall, NSD secured the first-ever guilty plea by a corporation for supporting terrorism and a $778 million penalty. Last spring, NSD obtained a guilty plea from the subsidiary of a British tobacco company for violating sanctions against North Korea. The company paid a $629 million penalty, the largest ever criminal penalty for violating North Korea sanctions. And just last month, we joined with our partners in the Criminal Division to secure a guilty plea by Binance, the world’s largest cryptocurrency exchange, for violating Iranian sanctions. That case involved a $4.3 billion financial penalty — one of the largest criminal penalties in Justice Department history — and a guilty plea by the company’s CEO.

Finding and prosecuting corporate and individual wrongdoers is a core responsibility for NSD. But we also need companies to prevent people from evading sanctions and export controls in the first place.

We rely on financial institutions and technology companies to be gatekeepers, building strong compliance programs to prevent, detect, and report violations. Our private sector engagement and voluntary disclosure policies encourage compliance and drive corporate responsibility. At the end of the day, every dimension of our relationship with corporations and the private sector advances our national security mission.

Given the critical role that businesses play in protecting our national security, NSD is investing in corporate enforcement. We are adding new prosecutors, more than doubling the number of attorneys assigned to investigate and prosecute violations of sanctions, export control, and foreign agent laws. NSD has also hired two veteran prosecutors to serve as the division’s first ever Chief and Deputy Chief Counsel for Corporate Enforcement.

Here’s why this work matters: our enforcement tools cut off Iran’s access to the financial markets and technologies it needs to support its weapons systems and brazen aggression. They prevent China from stealing cutting-edge technology that enables their military advances and human rights abuses. They block North Korea from funding its nuclear ambitions. And our efforts impose costs on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

I was in Kyiv last month, where Ukrainian officials showed me Russian drones recovered from the battlefield — drones made with U.S.-manufactured parts. I saw firsthand the devastation these weapons can inflict in the hands of our adversaries. The stakes are high and the consequences of violating these laws are real. That is why we are so determined to make sure that companies act responsibly and uphold their national security obligations.

I look forward to your questions.

Updated December 12, 2023