Thank you, Dr. [Robin] Niblett, for that kind introduction; for your leadership here at the Royal Institute of International Affairs; and for your lifetime of dedicated work in the service of international cooperation and global security. I also want to thank Prime Minister [David] Cameron and the members of Her Majesty’s government for their hospitality during my visit to the United Kingdom. And I’d like to thank this group of distinguished colleagues, inspiring leaders and devoted public servants for participating in this important conversation. It’s a privilege to join you here today as we honor the unique bond between our nations; as we reaffirm the cherished values and ideals that we share; and as we rededicate ourselves to building the stronger, safer, and more united world for which we have fought together in the past, and toward which we continue to strive today.
The United Kingdom and the United States have long been close partners and staunch allies and the connection between us – which Winston Churchill referred to as our “special relationship” – is one with deep roots and a rich history. Almost all of America’s founders proudly considered themselves Englishmen and many were hesitant to shed that honorable title, even after the start of the American Revolution. And the revolution itself – though it pitted us against one another in armed conflict – was inspired by the ideals of the British Enlightenment: responsive government, robust rights and liberties, and the fundamental equality of all people.
Those ideals have been a source of mutual understanding and shared strength ever since – and while they have been threatened by injustice within our nations and hostility from beyond our shores, they have continued not only to endure, but to expand. Through the courageous struggles of prominent leaders and humble citizens; of freed slaves and former colonial subjects; of suffragists, ethnic minorities, religious dissenters and gay and lesbian advocates – we have extended the rights of liberty, equality and justice. Through the tremendous courage and sacrifice of our countrymen –in two World Wars, in battlefields of Korea and today in the skies over Syria and Iraq– we have defended our beliefs against tyranny and oppression. And together, we have come to the aid of others inspired by the principles that we share.
Today, the values that have guided and defined us for centuries are facing a persistent threat: the rise of global terrorism and extremism – a scourge that has inflicted its pain on both of our nations in the recent past. Ten years ago, this great city endured devastating attacks on its public transportation system, and you suffered another attack in the Underground only this week. In the United States, as you know, we have also suffered terrorist attacks and we are currently investigating last week’s tragic shootings in California as an act of terror. And as recent events in Paris, Beirut, and Mali remind us, we are far from alone in being targeted by these agents of violence. These attacks are carried out with a single, repugnant purpose: to harm, frighten and intimidate anyone who believes in open and tolerant societies; in free and democratic governments; and in the right of every human being to live in peace, security and freedom. As two nations who serve as beacons of those ideals to people around the world, we have a special responsibility to take on this terrorist threat, and to prevent it from causing the destruction it is so desperate to inflict.
As Attorney General of the United States, my highest priorities are the security of our country and the safety of the American people. At the Department of Justice, we are working tirelessly to uncover and disrupt plots that take aim not only at the United States, but at nations around the world. We are acting aggressively to defuse threats as they emerge. And we are vigorously investigating and prosecuting individuals who seek to harm innocent people. To stop plots before they can be brought to fruition, we are going after individuals engaged in preparatory activities like fundraising, recruitment, planning and training. Our approach has yielded important results: since 2013, we have charged more than 70 individuals for conduct related to foreign terrorist fighter interests and homegrown violent extremism and we continue to take action designed to monitor and thwart potential extremist activity.
But no nation can fight terrorism alone. As our world continues to grow more interconnected and interdependent, cooperation and joint action are more essential than ever to combating cross-border threats like terrorism, cybercrime, corruption and human trafficking. And while modern technology has helped to widen the circle of opportunity for so many citizens around the globe, it has also provided new channels that criminals can exploit for their own ends. Online, violent ideologies can rapidly proliferate and spread and threats can leap borders and oceans in an instant. No nation can exist in a bubble of isolation; no country can imagine themselves immune from world events; and the security of each state increasingly depends on the security of all states. The words of four centuries past ring ever true today, “no man is an island entire of itself.” In this environment, our strategic understanding and our common humanity demand that we supplement nationwide vigilance with international cooperation.
That is why the United States is working with organizations like INTERPOL and EUROPOL to share information on foreign fighters. It’s why we have provided resources, including FBI agents, to support INTERPOL’s Fusion Cell, which investigates the training, financing, methods and motives of terrorist groups around the world. And it is why we have crafted information-sharing agreements with more than 45 international partners to identify and track suspected terrorists – a partnership that has now provided INTERPOL with approximately 4,000 profiles on foreign terrorist fighters. From efforts to degrade terrorist capabilities, to building cooperative networks that help to preserve and share information and evidence after an attack, we are demonstrating our deep commitment to collaboration worldwide.
Let me give one example of how critical it is that we work together. Terrorists, like other criminals, count on the difficulties that law enforcement agencies have in sharing information across borders – difficulties that are magnified now that electronic information may be stored in many different countries and may quickly disappear. But starting some years ago, criminal justice experts from the U.S., the UK, France and the other G7 countries created the 24/7 cyber network – a rapid reaction system that now links approximately 70 countries. Thanks to that system, after the recent horrific attacks in Paris, French investigators were able to work immediately with the U.S. Department of Justice and with U.S. Internet Service Providers, to preserve data from social media accounts and webpages identified as connected to the attacks, and to seek emergency disclosures to protect lives. It is this kind of innovative thinking about international information sharing that we need to increase.
Of course, it is also important to emphasize that our efforts to fight terrorism must always be compatible with safeguarding privacy and civil liberties – exactly as the 24/7 cyber system is designed to be. Often, in conversations like this one, there is an implicit assumption that our safety must be balanced against our rights and our values; that there is a necessary trade-off between the hopeful optimism of our ideals and the cold reality of our national security. But the view that we must abdicate our values to maintain our security presents a false choice. Rather, our security exists to protect our values, because they are the wellspring of all that we are. Progress within our nations has always been driven by our desire to live up to our ideals – of inclusiveness and opportunity, of equal rights and equal justice – and if we curb those rights in a misguided bid for short-term security, we betray not only our ancestors; not only ourselves; and not only our children – but all those for whom the United States and the United Kingdom represent the possibility of a better, freer future.
In this regard, I am proud to say that the Obama Administration, with the support of Congress, has made the protection of civil liberties and privacy a priority in the fight against terrorism. The record is a remarkable one: President Obama has created unprecedented transparency regarding our guidelines for collection and use of signals intelligence, including signals intelligence collected in bulk. The President nominated and the senate has confirmed, an independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, as envisioned by Congress. And just last week, independent public advocates were appointed to advise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, as called for by the USA Freedom Act.
Moreover, in all of these efforts, as President Obama has made clear, our goal is to extend privacy protections not only to U.S. citizens, but to foreign nationals as well. That is why, after years of negotiation, I am very happy to say that we were able to initial in September the U.S./EU “Umbrella” Data Privacy and Protection Agreement regarding law enforcement information. And it is why – in a truly unprecedented step – the Administration has supported legislation to extend judicial redress rights to foreign nationals for privacy breaches regarding law enforcement information – legislation that, thanks to strong Congressional support, already has passed our House of Representatives, and is now pending in the Senate.
These actions are not only unprecedented, but reflective of the United States’ deep commitment to the principles they protect, as well as the importance of our relationship with our European partners in this struggle. That is why it is particularly disappointing that the European Court of Justice – in a case based on inaccurate and outdated media reports – recently struck down the Safe Harbor Agreement in the Schrems decision. And it is highly concerning to us that data privacy legislation advancing in the European Parliament might further restrict transatlantic information sharing – a step that not only ignores the critical need for that information sharing to fight terrorism and transnational crime, but also overlooks the enormous steps forward that the Obama Administration and Congress have taken to protect privacy. It is important that all of us – on both sides of the Atlantic – work to set the record straight regarding our commitment to protect not only the safety of our citizens, but also their civil liberties and privacy.
But one thing I am confident of in our work on these issues and in the larger fight against terrorism – we will not lose ourselves to fear. We will respond to this and other threats the way we know best – by reaffirming the very ideals that distinguish us from those who wish us harm: freedom of speech; religious tolerance; the open exchange of ideas; and government that represents the will of its people. These are the principles of Runnymede and Philadelphia, of the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution – the principles that we have risen to defend time and again and emerged victorious. For centuries, these ideals have inspired countless men and women around the world to seek the better life that is the promise of humanity and to demand that the elemental dignity of all mankind be recognized and respected. And we must keep their promise alive.
There is no doubt that we come together at a time of uncertainty, facing dangerous threats and determined adversaries. But in this moment of global challenge, we remain dedicated to the task that remains before us and to the work that so many have given their last full measure of devotion to fulfill. Our nations may have been bloodied, but we will remain unbowed – in defense of our citizens, in solidarity with our allies and in allegiance to the values that make us who we are.
The road ahead will not always be easy. We will encounter more times of uncertainty and setbacks. But as we move forward in the work that will secure our homelands and prove our principles once more, we are fortified with the strength of our time-tested traditions, by the partnership of our longstanding allies and by the legacies of the brave men and women who fought to make our nations everything they are today. I am confident about the road ahead. I know that our promise will endure. And if we can lean on our faith in our enduring values – and hold fast to our unshakeable belief in the cause of justice and the rule of law – then I have no doubt that out of a long and difficult night of challenge, a brighter day will come.