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Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein Delivers Remarks at the 10th Annual Utah National Security and Anti-Terrorism Conference


Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Thank you, John, for that kind introduction, and for your dedicated service as U.S. Attorney here in Utah. John is co-chair of our federal Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee. He provides critical leadership in coordinating the federal government’s efforts to prevent domestic terrorism. John is doing a superb job of protecting national security and advancing other federal priorities.

It is an honor for me to be here with more than 600 law enforcement officers from Utah and from around the country. The mission of pursuing justice attracted me to law enforcement, but the people who carry out the mission are what I treasure most about my job.

There is a parable I want to share with you. It is about a young man who applies for a job as a farmhand. When the farmer asks about his qualifications, the man says that he can sleep when the wind blows.

A few days later, the farmer is awakened in the night by a violent storm. He finds the new farmhand in bed. “What are you doing!” the farmer yells. “We need to prepare for the storm.” The man replies, “I told you that I can sleep when the wind blows.”

The farmer runs outside to inspect the property. He finds the shutters are securely fastened. Logs are stacked by the fireplace. The farm tools are in the shed. The tractor is in the garage. The cows are safe in the barn. The chickens are in their coops. The haystacks are covered with tarpaulins. Everything is secured.

The farmer then understands the meaning of the young man's words, "I can sleep when the wind blows."

Law enforcement agencies must always be prepared for the storm --- be it the literal hurricane that caused such devastation in Texas this week, or the figurative storm of a terrorist attack.

You represent the thin blue line that protects our families, our communities, and our nation.

Law enforcement is indispensable to a civilized society. Unfortunately, some people take for granted the many extraordinary men and women who provide it.

That was not always the case. In 1962, President Kennedy encouraged citizens to honor police officers "who by their faithful and loyal devotion to their responsibilities … established for themselves an enviable and enduring reputation for preserving the rights and security of all citizens."

Today, American police agencies take great pride in their professional standards. They respect new constitutional protections. They follow extremely detailed policies and procedures. And they face unprecedented scrutiny.

Many critics simply do not understand the challenges you face. Police officers never know what dangers the next call will bring. The work can be stressful, demanding and frightening for officers and their families.

You work day shifts and night shifts, on weekends and holidays, in blizzards and rainstorms, during parades and riots. Your offices never close. And you always need to be at your best, especially when other people are at their worst.

Some people fear the police, and we understand why. Police officers do not stop motorists to congratulate them for obeying traffic laws, and nobody calls 911 to report that everything is OK.

But when danger lurks or tragedy strikes, people hope to find a police officer nearby. That is why public confidence in the police remains high, notwithstanding unfair criticism. According to a recent Gallup poll, police are one of the most respected institutions in America.

You are the guardians who run toward danger, so the rest of us can get away safely. So let me take this opportunity to thank you, on behalf of President Trump and the entire Department of Justice. We understand your work. We appreciate your work. And most importantly, we support your work.

The President’s first executive orders included instructions to protect law enforcement officers, promote national security, and prevent violent crime.

We know that public safety depends on honorable law enforcement officers. That is why Attorney General Sessions ordered the Department of Justice to always consider your interests when developing our strategies. We count on you. And we want you to know this: you can count on us.

More than 85 percent of law enforcement officers work at the state or local level. You are on the front lines in the noble task of keeping our communities safe.

This conference allows you to share your experiences, strengthen your partnerships, and enhance your ability to protect national security and prevent terrorist attacks.

The threats we face are always changing.

If we want to prevent attacks, we need to be vigilant. The key is to collect all available information and generate actionable intelligence to disrupt terrorists before they strike.

How many of you are old enough to remember the original Space Invaders video game, from the late 1970s? Rows of alien ships move across the television screen and drop bombs. They get closer to the ground each time they hit the side of the screen. You are at the bottom with a gun, firing upward. You can move left and right as you shoot. You need to dodge the alien missiles.

The first few times you play, you race back and forth across the screen, dodging missiles and shooting wildly.

After you play for a while, you may start to notice a pattern. If you move smoothly across the screen, you can kill all the aliens without getting hit. It requires you to step back and analyze the situation. You need to use the available intelligence to develop a strategy. That is the challenge we face.

Yesterday, I visited the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York City. It is a powerful reminder that liberty requires eternal vigilance. Freedom makes us vulnerable, but liberty makes us resilient.

Since 9/11, law enforcement has worked with our Intelligence Community to disrupt dozens of terrorist threats.

We must never let down our guard, because our enemies do not fight fair. Terrorists are cowards who target unsuspecting people going about their lives — watching a soccer game, dancing at a nightclub, traveling to work, walking down a street.

I receive regular briefings from the FBI, the National Security Division, and other Intelligence Community partners. Those briefings reveal the volume and complexity of the cases you handle.

In recent months, a few trends have become clear.

The number of Americans trying to travel to join the Islamic State has dropped significantly. Two years ago, it was six to ten per month. Now, it is often one or none. A great deal of the credit for that decrease belongs to our military, which has fought ISIS and other Islamic extremists on the battlefield. People are less inclined to join a losing cause.

And much of the credit also goes to law enforcement officers, for proactive policing that keeps us safe. In recent years, the Department of Justice has filed public charges for terrorism related offenses against more than 145 foreign fighters, homegrown extremists and ISIS supporters in more than 40 districts. The FBI currently has ongoing investigations in all 50 states.

The decline in the number of Americans who seek to travel to join ISIS is a positive development. But a word of caution is in order: some people who would have left America now pose a danger here instead. Some foreign fighters have left ISIS territory to find new battlefields and new targets. Others have returned to their home countries. Returning foreign fighters can present significant security risks because of their ideology, combat training, and connections to terrorist networks.

The Department of Justice also remains vigilant about the threat of domestic terrorism. Violent domestic extremists have plotted attacks on government buildings, businesses, and houses of worship. They have planned and carried out assassinations of police officers, judges, doctors and civil rights leaders. They have acquired biological and chemical weapons, illegal firearms, and explosives. They have carried out killing sprees that terrorize local communities.

Violent domestic extremists pose a particular danger to law enforcement officers — not just because you go into dangerous situations, but because some extremist groups target the police.

In June 2014, two Las Vegas police officers were killed during an ambush attack while eating lunch. The killers then murdered another innocent victim. During the attacks, they declared the beginning of a so-called revolution.

There are many other examples of attacks by criminals fueled by a pernicious anti-police ideology – Dallas, New York, Baton Rouge, Kissimmee, and other tragedies.

Domestic terrorism is often motivated by hatred and bigotry. Last October, three suspects were indicted on federal charges for a plot to target an apartment complex in Garden City, Kansas, where Somali immigrants live and worship. The charges include civil rights violations. Those defendants are now awaiting trial.

In Charlottesville this month, we saw and heard people openly advocate racism and bigotry. Our Department of Justice responded immediately. We are working closely with local authorities on potential criminal civil rights prosecutions.

The First Amendment often protects hateful speech that is abhorrent to American values. But there can be no safe harbor for violence.

Yesterday, you heard a presentation about Dylann Roof’s diabolical attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof murdered nine innocent and unarmed members of a Bible study group. He espoused his desire to spark a race war. Roof was convicted on hate crime charges, and sentenced to death.

We face serious challenges. But we have some very effective tools to confront terrorists, whether they promote domestic or foreign ideologies. Our most powerful tools include our Joint Terrorism Task Forces and fusion centers, which are well represented at this conference. JTTFs operate in of each of the FBI’s 56 field offices, including Salt Lake City. And there are 79 state and local fusion centers, including Utah’s Statewide Information and Analysis Center under the leadership of Commissioner Keith Squires. Fusion centers collaborate with JTTFs to identify, analyze, and share information about terrorist threats.

The JTTFs include about 4,000 members nationwide from more than 500 state and local agencies and 55 federal agencies. JTTFs improve information sharing and help pool the knowledge and talents of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

I saw the value of coordination firsthand when I served as U.S. Attorney in Maryland. In my current job, I understand better than ever how JTTFs and fusion centers help maintain a unified and responsive first line of defense and keep policymakers informed about threats. So I want to thank all of the JTTF and fusion center members here today. Your outstanding work makes a difference.

One of our most significant and growing challenges is that terrorist groups often use encrypted communication channels.

The use of encrypted services poses a novel threat to public safety. We can disrupt attacks only if we are able to learn about them.

After a terrorist attack, obtaining stored electronic information is an effective and necessary law enforcement technique. But, as we saw after the San Bernardino attack, obtaining electronic data can be time-consuming, expensive, and uncertain if technology providers refuse to cooperate.

Unfortunately, some companies are unwilling to help enforce court orders to obtain evidence of criminal activity stored in electronic devices. I hope that technology companies will work with us to stop criminals from defeating law enforcement. Otherwise, legislation may be necessary.

We need to preserve cyber security, without depriving law enforcement of the ability to lawfully access data when lives are at stake and our Constitution and laws allow it.

Another important challenge is to improve critical incident response planning. A Highway Patrol Trooper or local police officer may be the first to encounter a perpetrator or respond to the scene of a terrorist attack, as we saw following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the San Bernardino attack, and the Boston Marathon bombing. Meanwhile, the FBI may have intelligence about the suspect and his associates. That intelligence could help first responders. State and local law enforcement agencies may have intelligence about suspects and their associates that could prove valuable in disrupting further attacks. We need to get information to the right people when they need it.

The hours and days immediately after an attack are chaotic and consequential. When both state and federal jurisdiction exists, it can be challenging to coordinate our efforts and avoid duplication. Putting a critical incident response plan in place ahead of time maximizes our chances of apprehending the perpetrators and preventing them from doing further harm.

When we remain vigilant and prepare in advance for the storm, people can sleep when the wind blows. We all sleep better knowing that law enforcement officers are always on duty.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for participating in this conference. The threats we face will continue to evolve. Our mission to keep our neighbors and our communities safe remains the same. And the bravery that you bring to that mission endures.

Thank you for taking on this challenging work. It is an honor for me to join with you. I pledge that I will do everything in my power as Deputy Attorney General to make sure you have the support you need to keep American safe.

Thank you.

National Security
Updated August 30, 2017