Remarks as prepared for delivery
Good morning, everyone. Thank you, Assistant Attorney General [John] Carlin for those kind words and for your outstanding leadership of the National Security Division. I also want to thank the Center for Strategic and International Studies for co-hosting this conference and for its dedication to providing insight and substance to world leaders making momentous decisions related to national security, international relations and global development. It is a pleasure to be with so many trusted colleagues, distinguished scholars, dedicated public servants and Justice Department alumni as we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the National Security Division. And it is a privilege to join you in reaffirming our shared determination to defend our nation, to protect our people and to uphold our ideals against the evolving threats that we confront today.
On Sunday, Americans everywhere paused to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the deadliest act of terrorism ever committed on American soil. The attacks of September 11, 2001, killed nearly 3,000 people at the Pentagon, in New York City and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. That awful day shook Americans’ sense of safety and well-being. It brought home, in the most graphic and painful fashion, the fact that there are agents of hatred and intolerance who seek to harm our nation because of our values and our standing in the world. And it forced us to take a hard look at our approach to national security in the 21st century.
What we saw showed us that addressing the scourge of international terrorism required closer collaboration between our intelligence community and our law enforcement agencies. We needed to break down the silos that had separated our important work and hampered our ability to assemble often scattered pieces of information into a coherent picture. This was a vital exercise because, after 9/11, our mandate sharpened to highlight as never before not just the investigation and prosecution of terrorist attacks but their prevention. And thus, in 2006, as part of this effort to connect our strengths in this area, was born the National Security Division (NSD) – the Justice Department’s first new litigating section in nearly half a century.
In the decade since, the men and women of NSD have compiled an extraordinary record of success in protecting our nation and safeguarding our people. In just 10 years, they have forged closer ties with our counterparts in the intelligence community and our allies overseas, enhancing our collective ability to detect threats as they arise. Working closely alongside those partners, they have helped to thwart numerous attacks on our shores, saving an untold number of lives and preventing unimaginable devastation. Together with their counterparts in U.S. Attorney’s Offices around the nation, they have brought hundreds of terrorists and their accomplices to justice, demonstrating that our nation’s courts can fairly and effectively handle terrorism cases. And crucially, they have exercised careful oversight over our intelligence gathering and other national security activities, ensuring that in our pursuit of terrorists and spies, we do not undermine the very constitutional rights and liberties we are sworn to protect.
By its very nature, so much of NSD’s work remains unknown to the American people and does not receive nearly the recognition it deserves. But we are a stronger and safer country because NSD is on watch every day of the year. Because of their work, countless lives have been saved. Those who have benefited from their dedication and their efforts may never know their names, but we do and we will not soon forget.
I had the opportunity to witness the division’s outstanding work firsthand in 2009, during my time as United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, when a combined law enforcement and intelligence effort thwarted an al-Qaida-sponsored plot to attack the New York subway system – one of the most serious terrorist plots against America since 9/11. That successful investigation and prosecution – which put a number of al-Qaida operatives in jail – would not have been possible without the strong partnership between the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the National Security Division and my time as Attorney General has only deepened my admiration and gratitude for NSD’s tireless efforts to safeguard the United States.
Of course, the threats facing our country have changed since 9/11. There is no question that we must remain watchful for the kind of carefully planned attacks on major targets favored by al-Qaida. But the emergence of ISIL, which uses social media to spread hateful propaganda and encourage lone-wolf attacks, requires us to adapt to a more diffuse brand of terrorism. Meanwhile, rival nations continue to seek a military advantage by stealing our assets; others flout international norms by attempting to increase their nuclear capabilities or develop weapons of mass destruction. And as digital technology becomes a critical component of everything from our defense systems to our kitchen appliances, we must confront increasing threats in cyber space – from the theft of security and trade secrets by state-sponsored actors, to destructive attacks by terrorists and rogue states. These are among the most pressing national security concerns of our time. They are complex and fast-moving and they require quick thinking and nimble action. I am proud to say that NSD has risen to the challenge, helping to develop new tools, new approaches and new partnerships to meet these new threats.
In our battle against terrorism, for instance, the Justice Department, led by NSD, has moved quickly to address two of the most disturbing trends stemming from the rise of ISIL: both the danger of radicalized Americans traveling overseas to join extremist groups and then returning home, as well as the threat of attacks committed here in the United States by homegrown violent extremists. NSD’s efforts have yielded impressive results: since 2013, we have publicly charged more than 100 individuals in over 35 districts for conduct related to foreign terrorist fighter or homegrown violent extremist activity. And, when tragedy does strike – as it has in Orlando, San Bernardino, Boston and elsewhere – NSD responds, working around the clock to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Of course, we cannot simply prosecute our way out of the problem, especially with prevention as our mandate. Communities around the country have expressed a strong interest in developing ways to divert individuals tempted by extremism and we have listened. Along with government and NGO partners at the federal, state and local levels, we are working to support the creation of community-led intervention programs designed to help at-risk individuals resist the siren song of radicalization.
NSD has been just as agile in adapting to the threats we face in cyberspace. The Digital Age has opened new horizons for spreading knowledge, boosting innovation and fostering prosperity around the world. But our ever-growing reliance on the Internet has also opened a new front for malicious actors in their quest to do us harm. Like terrorism and espionage, cyber threats require action by every part of the federal government, including its prosecutors and law enforcement officials. That’s why NSD founded a new nationwide program in 2012: the National Security Cyber Specialists network – or NSCS – which brings together NSD attorneys, prosecutors in each U.S. Attorney’s Office and experts from the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section. This unique partnership allows us to deploy both criminal and national security tools against cyber intrusions; to bring criminal charges where appropriate; and to support diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic actions against cyber adversaries.
NSCS has proven to be a model of the kind of integrated and flexible response that this threat requires and its successes have been noteworthy. In recent years, NSCS attorneys have brought first-of-their-kind charges against five hackers in the Chinese military for stealing trade secrets and other information for the commercial advantage of Chinese firms. They have indicted seven Iranian hackers affiliated with that nation’s Revolutionary Guard Corps who conspired to attack our financial sector and who accessed the control system of a dam in New York. And they pushed to hold North Korea publicly accountable for the destructive cyber attack on Sony Pictures, for which it was ultimately sanctioned. These groundbreaking actions send a clear signal: Whether you are a rogue hacker or a uniformed solider, the shadowy corners of the Internet will not provide respite for long. The light of our efforts is right and the reach of our resolve is long.
In this arena as well, prevention is our priority. Consequently, we have expanded our outreach to the private sector, which controls most of the Internet, holds our most valuable information and needs the support of our nation’s government to build resilience and withstand attacks. By raising awareness, sharing guidance and information and offering technical assistance to American companies, we are helping to ensure that government and industry present a united front against the menaces we confront in cyberspace.
In these and in all of the division’s efforts – from protecting classified information and enforcing sanctions regimes to prosecuting those who attempt to illegally ship sensitive technology to foreign shores – NSD is charged with carrying out the highest priority of the U.S. government: the protection of the American people. At the same time, it is entrusted with the preservation of American ideals. Those missions are often thought to be in tension with one another, but in the final analysis, they are one and the same. Because what sets us apart from our adversaries is our devotion to the rule of law and our commitment to our founding principles of liberty, justice and equality. These are the ideals that generations of our forbearers have fought and died to defend overseas and marched and bled to uphold here at home. These are the ideals that make us a beacon to the world, giving hope to those who love freedom and human dignity and striking fear in those who traffic in hatred and reckless violence. These are the ideals that form not just the bedrock of our safety, but the foundation of our freedom and upholding them is not a luxury – it is a responsibility, one that NSD fulfills with fidelity and integrity every day.
That responsibility is a heavy one and will not be lifted any time soon. As long as there is a United States, there will be forces in the world who wish us ill. And as we weather the challenges to come, we will look to the men and women of the National Security Division to respond to those forces as they have for the last ten years: firmly, decisively and in accordance with the traditions and principles that make our country great. For a decade, NSD has excelled at everything we have asked of it. And I am confident that in the decades to come, the division and its partners will continue to keep our nation safe, our people secure and our values strong.
I want to thank all of you for your dedication to that sacred mission. I want to thank you for your devotion to that noble cause. And I want to congratulate Assistant Attorney General Carlin and all of my colleagues in the National Security Division on this tremendous milestone.