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Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco Delivers Remarks on the Justice Department’s Role in Combating Modern National Security Threats


Chicago, IL
United States

University of Chicago Law School 2023 Legal Forum Symposium

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good afternoon. Thank you for that warm welcome, and thank you, Dean Miles, for your very kind introduction.

I want to thank everyone with the Legal Forum, particularly Caleb Jeffreys and Peer Marie Oppenheimer, for organizing today’s symposium and for bringing us all together. And thank you, Professor [Geoffrey] Stone, for what I’m sure will be a lively conversation in a few minutes. I can’t think of anyone better to facilitate this discussion – Professor Stone is as thoughtful as they come on these issues which is why, in the wake of the 2013 Snowden disclosures, President Obama asked him to help lead the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.

The report that Geoff and his colleagues issued, aptly entitled “Liberty and Security in a Changing World,” made a real difference in helping us address tough questions about the government’s use of its national security authorities – including how to do so in a dangerous world consistent with the Constitution, our values, and in a way that earns and maintains the trust of the public we serve.

Today, we gather to discuss reimagining national security and its many challenges – from climate change, erosion of international norms, and threats to democracy, to emerging and disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing, ever-shifting cyber threats, and more.

And I’m struck that we are engaged in this effort in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attack in Israel, which has ignited regional tensions and sparked heightened threats here at home.

As leaders of our Intelligence Community discussed earlier this week, we have seen reactions from terrorists and violent extremists from across the ideological spectrum threatening attacks against U.S., Israeli, and Jewish interests worldwide.

So, while the hub of the conflict may be thousands of miles away, its spokes extend to our homeland – as evidenced by this week’s arrest of a Cornell student for violent threats and the horrific fatal stabbing of a 6-year-old boy just 40 miles from here – which the Justice Department is investigating as a hate crime.

And the threat here at home is being supercharged by social media, stoked by our adversaries through malign foreign influence campaigns, and exacerbated by all too easy access to high powered weapons. So, it has never been more urgent to “reimagine national security.” And that means devising new solutions, calling on new ways of thinking, and seeing around corners – all of which will require your help.

With the time that I have today, I’ll talk about the current threat landscape, how the Justice Department is evolving to contend with those new threats, and what this means for you.

Let me start with the threat landscape.

Every day, the Presidential Daily Brief – the PDB – provides the President and senior officials with an overall threat picture.

When I served as the Homeland Security Advisor during the Obama Administration, I spent every morning discussing those threats with the President – and much of that time was spent on global terrorism.

But by the end of my tenure, I was spending more time every morning on cyber threats – particularly those from nation-state actors. And over the last decade, the threat landscape has continued to morph.

Authoritarian countries seek to project power at home and abroad through repression, by challenging international norms, and via the use and abuse of emerging technologies. Today, China harbors the intention and capacity to reshape the international order to its benefit.

Meanwhile, Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine has disrupted peace and stability across Europe, representing the most profound repudiation of international law in my lifetime.

Critical and emerging technologies are playing directly into this geopolitical competition, transforming economies and militaries in the process.

From quantum computing to artificial intelligence, our adversaries actively seek to steal sensitive technologies to build up their military might and repressive reach.

In the cyber realm, nation-state actors have become only more sophisticated and brazen in their ambitions – often entering into marriages of convenience with transnational criminal groups to threaten America’s lifeline sectors.

Meanwhile, as evidenced by recent events in Israel, the threats posed by non-state actors persist. And, as we saw with the rise of ISIS, they pose a danger of inspired violence here at home. 

Through deployment of cryptocurrencies and money laundering techniques, these malign actors finance their activities and evade detection.

Domestically, we’ve seen a real uptick in lone violent extremists, radicalized by personalized grievances ranging from racial and ethnic bias to anti-government sentiment. The number of FBI domestic terrorism investigations has more than doubled since the spring of 2020. 

And of course, ruthless drug cartels like the Sinaloa and Jalisco Cartels continue to wreak havoc on American communities – most notably through the sale and distribution of synthetic opioids – including the deadly drug fentanyl – which last year killed more than 110,000 Americans.

This brings me to what we in the Justice Department are doing about it.

The answer is that we continue to evolve along with the threats.

When I first entered the Justice Department – pre-9/11 – our primary tools were our cases. Prosecutors and agents worked hand-in-hand to investigate criminal violations, make arrests, and secure convictions.

And while prosecution is still a critical Department tool, as the threats have evolved – so too has our approach.

When it comes to national security threats, our focus today is how we can prevent and disrupt the threat before something happens – how we can act, as we say, “left of boom.”

We’re doing this in three ways.

First, we are using all tools to detect threats before they advance.

We do this through use of our intelligence authorities – but also through our collaboration with the private sector.

Let me start with the former.

Under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act – and specifically section 702 of that law – the U.S. can collect foreign intelligence from certain non-U.S. persons located abroad.

Over the last 15 years, Section 702 has proven indispensable to our efforts to identify and disrupt a wide-range of threats to Americans – from cyberattacks, to murder-for-hire plots, to terrorist activity – which is why reauthorizing it this year is so critical.

But intelligence alone is not the answer. We must proactively engage with both private sector and international partners to address today’s threats.

In the cyber context, we need more victim reporting about ransomware attacks so that we can identify and arrest attackers, seize their crypto assets, disable their tools and techniques, and dismantle their infrastructure – all of which helps us prevent the next set of victims.

Greater victim reporting translates into fewer ransoms paid – in fact, this year, the percentage of ransomware attacks that resulted in the victim paying fell to a record low of 34%.

Second, we’re going after the broader ecosystem that enables criminal activity and hostile state behavior.

Our focus extends beyond punishing criminal actors through criminal process to dismantling the ecosystems that enable their illicit activities.

In the context of the war in Ukraine, we’re not only actively working with international partners to prosecute Russian war crimes, we’re leveraging new tools to disrupt the Russian war machine.

Immediately after Russia’s unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 – sparking the largest land war in Europe since WWII – we launched Task Force KleptoCapture, a dedicated effort to enforce sanctions and export controls. The Task Force has successfully seized or restrained over $500 million in assets belonging to Russian oligarchs and their proxies – from luxury yachts in Spain and Fiji to houses in the Hamptons.

And, wherever we can, we’re directing that money to Ukraine to support reconstruction efforts.

Third, we’re using all our tools today to prevent nation states from amassing new, dangerous capabilities for use tomorrow, while proactively identifying how we might leverage new technologies to our benefit.

Today, reimagining national security means recognizing that the threats we face also come from authoritarian governments amassing sophisticated technologies – like semiconductors that will power next-generation weapons.

So earlier this year, I announced the launch of the Disruptive Technology Strike Force, a multi-agency effort to prevent our adversaries from illicitly acquiring sensitive U.S. technology to advance their authoritarian goals.

We are cutting off those supplies, for instance, by disrupting networks feeding sensitive technology to the Russian military. Just two days ago, we announced charges and arrests in connection with a sophisticated global procurement scheme in which defendants allegedly used false names and front companies to funnel millions of dollars’ worth of dual-use electronics to Russia – including to companies affiliated with the Russian military.

But while we’re taking active steps to prevent our adversaries from developing sensitive technologies that could be wielded against us, we’re actively looking for new ways to deploy new technologies to our benefit, while attending to associated risks.

Nowhere is this challenge more urgent than with AI.

As the recent Executive Order on Artificial Intelligence makes plain, AI holds great promise and great peril – so we have to harness the opportunities and control the risks.

For example, while AI could be used to strengthen our cyber defenses – whether by helping us to detect an anonymous attack or building more secure code – it could be weaponized to make our adversaries’ offensive cyber weapons more effective and to accelerate the spread of disinformation that corrodes public trust.

How we navigate this double-edged sword will ultimately come down to our ability to mitigate risk without foregoing useful tools that could make us safer.

As we confront the use of AI and other emerging technologies, and as we react to the evolving threat landscape, we must rely on three fundamentals:

First, we have to keep our ability to pivot and respond by using old tools in new ways and developing new tools.

Second, we must maintain our commitment to the norms and values that underpin our democracy.

And third, we need good, smart people to help us design, implement, and enforce policies that will further our nation’s security while safeguarding the civil rights and civil liberties we collectively cherish.

That’s where you all come into the picture.

As aspiring lawyers at one of the best universities in the country, you are smart, driven, and inevitably eager to leave an imprint on our society.

While the law will give you a powerful vocation – you, like me, will be unable to predict the twists your career will take.

When I first joined the Justice Department, there was no National Security Division – a division I would later lead.

The role I occupied in the White House had not been conceived yet – that would come after 9/11.

The biggest problems you’ll spend your life solving will, most likely, not be problems you’re focused on right now.

And developing the right answers will require hard work, but most importantly, your adaptability and agility in the face of new challenges.

Because at the end of the day, being a good lawyer isn’t just about being technically proficient. Being a good lawyer is also about navigating the gray, doing what is wise.

So, my hope is that some of you will put your skills and good judgment to work in public service, to take on the many challenges I have outlined today. We need you!

Thank you again for having me today. I look forward to taking some questions.

National Security
Updated November 3, 2023