Remarks by U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center Regional Roundtable
PHILADELPHIA – U.S. Attorney William M. McSwain was honored to speak today at the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center Regional Roundtable in Philadelphia, PA. The Delaware Valley Intelligence Center (DVIC) was established to create cross-jurisdictional partnerships between agencies and serves as the informational fusion center for the Delaware Valley region. U.S. Attorney McSwain’s remarks are below.
Thank you all for gathering here today. I would especially like to thank Inspector Walter Smith, Executive Director of the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, Philadelphia Police Department, and Stacy Irving, Senior Advisor, Homeland Security Planning & Strategic Partnerships, Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, Philadelphia Police Department, for inviting me to speak. It was not too long ago that many of us were gathered in this same place for the 2018 Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council Conference, which was an in-depth and highly educational program that helped all of us to further our collective mission of keeping our country safe.
Safeguarding our national security is critically important to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, just as it is for everyone here today. It is also, without question, the number one priority of the U.S. Department of Justice. The Department of Homeland Security has prioritized state and major urban area fusion centers such as this one, because they know that intelligence collection and information sharing are critical in this fight. That is why the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center is so important. This cross-jurisdictional partnership between local, state, and federal agencies, as well as private sector participants, ensures that the Delaware Valley region has a community-focused public safety strategy. Everyone benefits from a continuous flow of intelligence and information to assist public safety field operations.
Our region has already seen firsthand how these relationships can help. For example, on May 12, 2015, an Amtrak Northeast Regional Train derailed after departing Philadelphia on its way to New York, which was the worst train disaster that our area has experienced in decades. Moments after the crash, emergency calls went out across the area, and scores of first responders from federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities responded. There is no doubt that authorities knew who to call that day because of relationships built through groups like this one.
We can only succeed with the collaboration and partnership of each of you. And those partnerships cannot be built in a day. We all need to work together when times are good so that we know what to do and who to call when they are not. To this end, one of my first initiatives after I became U.S. Attorney in April was to visit the nine counties that make up the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and meet with their district attorneys and local law enforcement leaders. It is a priority of my Office to continue to foster these relationships and always keep our lines of communication open. These personal connections are crucial to successful prosecutions everywhere across this region.
Additionally, I want law enforcement to know how much my Office appreciates them. The first public speech that I gave after becoming U.S. Attorney was to the Philadelphia Police Department leadership and to recruits at the Police Academy. As I said to them, no prosecutor has ever prosecuted any case without the help of an outstanding law enforcement partner, whether that is at the federal, state, or local level. There are no greater heroes than those in law enforcement who have dedicated their lives to keeping our communities safe – to the point that they’re willing to risk their own lives to do it. And there is no better way to support law enforcement than to make sure that they have the assistance needed to protect our community from terrorism.
I am aware of some of the difficulties in prosecuting national security cases. There are many law enforcement partners to consult and so many levels of review in the Department of Justice that it often may feel difficult to see a prosecution through to its natural conclusion. I want to share with you that the Department of Justice is working to eliminate some of those hurdles. DOJ has put new procedures in place to streamline the review process to make sure that if a national security prosecution is the correct approach, DOJ will have the most efficient process in place to pursue these significant cases.
My Office has had great success in the past few years in our efforts to prosecute national security cases and hold people accountable for terrorism, violations of the Armed Export Control Act, and cybercrime. For example, Keonna Thomas, a Philadelphia woman who was charged and pled guilty to one count of attempting to provide material support to a terrorist organization, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. Thomas plotted to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State and told another individual that taking part in a martyrdom operation “would be amazing.” This case, prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams and a colleague from the Counterterrorism Section in the Justice Department’s National Security Division, was investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Philadelphia Police Department.
And many terrorism cases involve agency partnerships not only at home, but also abroad. Ali Charaf Damache, also known as “Theblackflag,” was indicted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in 2011 and extradited from Spain last year for his involvement in conspiring to provide material support and resources to terrorists. He is currently awaiting trial. Two of his co-conspirators, Colleen LaRose (also known as “Jihad Jane”) and Jamie Paulin Ramirez (also known as “Jihad Jamie”), have previously pled guilty and are serving ten years and eight years in prison, respectively. Again, First Assistant U.S. Attorney Williams prosecuted these cases in conjunction with the Counterterrorism Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, the Office of International Affairs in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Philadelphia, the FBI Field Divisions in New York, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and authorities in Ireland and Spain. Sometimes it takes many hands and many minds across the globe to get the job done right.
Our National Security section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office does not only focus only on traditional terrorism cases. For example, we uphold the Arms Export Control Act, which prohibits the export of high tech military technology that is critical to the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. We must keep important technology out of the hands of potential adversaries. In United States v. Baltutski, we charged a group of individuals who conspired to purchase and unlawfully export night vision devices to Belarus. Baltutski arranged for hundreds of thousands of dollars to be secretly wired, via offshore shell companies, to purchase these items, pay for shipping, and pay his network of buyers. For his efforts, Baltutski received a sentence of 15 years’ incarceration, which is one of the longest sentences under the Armed Export Control Act in U.S. history. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Livermore and colleagues from DOJ’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, and the National Security Division, and was investigated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations and the FBI. That case took extensive and dedicated investigative work to result in such a significant sentence.
We also continue to defend ourselves from cybercrime attacks. More and more criminals are exploiting the convenience and anonymity of the Internet to commit crimes and cause serious interruptions and destruction across the United States and around the world. It is my belief that cybercrime will only become more sophisticated, as technology advances and criminals seek to invade and destroy our financial markets, electrical power grids, emergency response systems, and nuclear plants, often from the comfort of their own homes. In the last few years, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has successfully prosecuted numerous cybercrimes, including individuals who hacked into everything from a gas company’s computers, to systems that read utility meters remotely, to Comcast’s server. We are dedicated to continuing our efforts in this field.
And this really just scratches the surface. As you all know, so many of our cases and investigations are not currently public. And many matters do not end in prosecution, but instead produce new investigative leads and sources of information that can be equally (if not more) valuable than a case in the court system.
As we have been sadly reminded by recent events, not all terrorism is international. Far too often in this country, we as a nation have grieved the brutal murders of innocent people as a result of mass shootings and domestic terrorism. Americans should be safe from such terror, no matter who or where they are. Studying in school or going to work, worshiping at church or cheering for friends at a marathon, relaxing at a movie theater or enjoying an evening at a night club – all of these activities should be safe-havens for every American. But as we know, places like these have turned into horrific crime scenes over the past few years where innocent lives have been lost. One more mass shooting is one too many.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office takes seriously every threat of gun violence in our community and will do everything in our power to prevent tragedy from occurring. As but one example, we recently charged An-Tso Sun by federal complaint with possessing ammunition while being in the United States on a nonimmigrant visa, which is a felony under federal law. According to the complaint, on or about March 26, 2018, Sun told a fellow student, “Hey, don’t come to school on May 1st . . . I’m going to come here armed and shoot up the school.” Then he added: “Just kidding.” But this was no laughing matter, as the complaint alleges that multiple items were recovered from Sun’s bedroom, including stockpiles of ammunition, and various firearm accessories and shooting equipment. This case is on-going.
I am proud to say that this was another example of numerous investigative and operational bodies working together. From the student who first reported the alleged threat, to the Upper Darby Police Department and the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office, to the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations and my Office, we worked together to successfully prevent a potential school tragedy.
But we cannot do it alone. I recently addressed the media about the An-Tso Sun case and I urged all parents and citizens to take notice of what is going on around them. We need to remind people that law enforcement is not the first line of defense. That duty belongs to our citizens. They are the ones who will see the first clues that something is amiss in their everyday lives. They are the ones who might get a bad feeling about something at their schools, in their offices, during their social activities, and who will need to pick up the phone. As a group, we need to continue to encourage people to make that call. There are too many stories of parents, of teachers, of neighbors, who belatedly say they “always knew something was wrong” about someone in their lives, but they didn’t sound the alarm and instead chose to stick their heads in the sand. We need them to make the call.
When they do make the call, they will call one of us. And because of the partnerships built through cooperative intelligence centers like DVIC, we will be ready.
Thank you for your partnership with my Office, thank you for all that you do for our community, and God Bless you.