Thank you, Jim [Letten]. I appreciate your kind words, and I want to thank you for your leadership here in New Orleans. I’m glad to be here in your hometown, and I continue to be inspired by the resilience of this great city. But I also realize that time, alone, has not brought the healing and rebuilding we’ve seen in New Orleans. This progress has been the result of hard work, steadfast resolve and unwavering optimism -- the very principles that guide the critical work being done each day within our national network of fusion centers.
This morning, we’ve gathered to discuss the future of this work and to identify ways to build on the extraordinary progress we’ve seen in recent years. It’s my pleasure to welcome each of you here and to join you in launching what I know will be a productive and worthwhile discussion about the importance and potential of our fusion centers. I’d also like to thank the organizers of this conference for developing an excellent program and bringing us all together.
Many of you have traveled from across the country to participate in this conference, and you represent many different disciplines. I’m grateful for your engagement, for your commitment to sharing information, and for your outstanding service to your communities. The contributions that you make every day, often in the face of great challenges, allow our federal, state, county and municipal governments to meet their most important responsibility -- protecting the safety of the American people.
I’m proud of what’s been accomplished, in a very short time, by our fusion centers. And I’m encouraged by the efforts of my Justice Department colleagues, especially the FBI agents, analysts and investigators who’ve been instrumental in strengthening these centers. I’m also grateful to count the Department of Homeland Security as our partner in this work. Together, our two agencies, and our 72 fusion center staff teams, are providing a more accurate picture of threats to our citizens, our economic infrastructure and our communities. We’re also improving our ability to respond to, and often prevent, disaster.
I’ve seen this for myself. In October, I traveled to Las Vegas, where Lieutenant Tom Monahan of the Las Vegas Police Department led me on a tour of the Southern Nevada Counter-Terrorism Center that he runs. During the brief time I was on site, a potential crisis was identified and averted. That day, the actions of the fusion center staff – and their community partners – in all likelihood prevented a gang-related shooting. Because the fusion center team members had established a relationship with the local school security community, they were able to communicate clearly and act quickly. Most importantly, they were able to protect, and likely save, lives.
Similar outreach efforts are being employed each day, all across the country. In light of the results we’ve seen and the partnerships that have been established with the private sector and across government agencies, I’m confident that we’re on the right path. That said, we cannot yet be satisfied. We cannot become complacent. And we cannot ignore the unfortunate fact that threats to our people, to our communities and to our national security remain a significant problem.
Recent history proves this.
· Last fall, after one of the most serious terrorist plots since September 11th was uncovered, Najibullah Zazi was arrested and charged with conspiring to detonate bombs on New York City commuter trains. Yesterday afternoon, Zazi pleaded guilty to conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiring to commit murder, and providing material support to Al Qaeda. This attempted attack on our homeland was real, it was in motion, and – were it not for the combined efforts of our law enforcement and intelligence communities – it would have been deadly.
· On Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was charged with attempting to murder nearly 300 passengers and crewmembers aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253, as it landed in Detroit.
· Earlier this month in New York City, a U.S.-trained Pakistani physicist was convicted of attempted murder and armed assault. This woman had shown a clear intent to kill Americans and, at the time of her arrest, possessed documents that referred to “a mass casualty attack” and listed locations, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge.
· Three months ago in Minnesota, charging documents were unsealed against 8 individuals who are believed to have provided material support to a Somali-based terror organization. These cases are part of an ongoing FBI investigation that to date has resulted in 14 arrests and 4 guilty pleas.
· Last April, five men from New Jersey and Pennsylvania were imprisoned for plotting to kill U.S. soldiers in an armed attack on the military base in Fort Dix, New Jersey.
These cases are just a few of the dozens of terror plots our government has prosecuted or dismantled in recent months. As chilling as these cases are, they represent just a snapshot of what confronts us. We are at war. This is the reality in which we live. And our fusion centers are on the frontlines of America’s best, and most effective, efforts to fight back. I’m proud that this administration is committed to using every weapon in our arsenal to win this war. At the Justice Department, we’ve reinvigorated our commitment to sharing intelligence and providing law enforcement officers at every level with the tools and training they need to avert and combat disaster.
Instead of pursuing a narrow, ideological approach to fighting terrorism, combating crime, and protecting the safety of our people, today’s Justice Department is committed to being flexible, pragmatic and aggressive. This approach is working. By focusing on improving communication and collaboration, we’ve helped to prevent hundreds of crimes and to protect even more lives.
The backbone of this effort is the combined work of thousands of FBI and other federal agents, state and local police officers, Department of Homeland Security officials, and intelligence experts around the world. Every day, they work to prevent terrorist attacks and combat crime. This work – your work in our fusion centers– helps keep us safe. While I realize that you’re happy to labor in the shadows, content in knowing that your efforts help save lives, I’m committed to making sure that the facts about your work – as well as your record of success – are well known and better understood. Yes, you’ve proven that you don’t need to be patted on the back and thanked publicly for the work you do. But I assure each of you that I will continue to highlight and defend your outstanding work.
From my vantage point as Attorney General, and from what I’ve witnessed in the field, I’ve seen why our fusion centers must be at the center of state, local and federal intelligence. I’ve also learned a few important things:
First, when it comes to keeping our people safe, a one-size-fits-all approach is not the best answer. Our fusion centers reflect this. That’s why they’re set up around the specific needs, and threats, facing local areas. Although these centers aren’t, and shouldn’t be, run by the federal government, I know that you need our support. That’s exactly what you can expect from your Justice Department, and, later today, you’ll hear more about the investments we intend to provide in the months ahead.
Second, although our fusion centers were initially established to combat terrorism, they’ve been designed and equipped to expand beyond that goal. This is critical. Our research shows that, when asked to prioritize the most pressing security issues they face, our local, state and tribal law enforcement partners – quite a diverse group – all cite the same things: gangs, guns and drugs. In the work of protecting our people, fusion centers can, and must, tackle every type of threat and all forms of crimes.
Finally, there’s one key point I want to mention: I do, and always will, oppose the argument that we must sacrifice our Constitution’s safeguards to protect our national security. That’s simply, and dangerously, false. Discarding the values that have made us the world’s greatest nation, and its brightest beacon for justice, will not make us stronger. And it will not make us safer. Our fusion centers were established with this essential truth in mind, and they’ve been carefully designed to protect the privacy rights of our citizens. Those who’ve raised questions should know that, yes, these centers have given law enforcement new tools and capacities for connecting agencies, personnel and information. Yes, they’ve improved our ability to prevent attacks and combat crime. But, no, they do not and never will jeopardize every American’s guaranteed right to privacy. The protection of our civil liberties is of critical importance – to me, to the Justice Department, and to this administration. It’s an issue we take very seriously and, later in this conference, you’ll hear more about some of the specific steps we’re taking to ensure and enhance privacy rights.
Last year, when I became Attorney General, I took an oath to support and defend our Constitution. I also pledged that protecting our people would be the Justice Department’s top priority. Let me assure you that supporting the work you do is not a passing issue for the Department. It is at the very top of our agenda. Today, when threats to our safety can come from halfway around the world or from just down the block, the work of our fusion centers makes it possible for me to fulfill my responsibilities and keep my word.
Again, I want to thank you for your excellent work and for the effort each one of you has made to be here today. I understand that we have nearly 1,000 participants, and your strong presence gives me great hope about the days ahead. I’m particularly heartened by the fact that, in this “sold out” crowd, some of you are here on your own dime and on your own time. Despite the budget challenges and increasing demands you face, many of you have made enormous personal sacrifices to be here. Thank you all.
It’s been a pleasure to join you and a privilege to salute your work. I wish you a most productive conference, and I look forward to working with you all to make even greater progress in strengthening our fusion centers and protecting the American people. I am proud to call you my colleagues.