Robert S. Mueller, III, Director, FBI
Commonwealth Club of California San Francisco, CA
April 19, 2002
Thank you, Roy (Eisenhardt) and good afternoon everyone. It’s good to be back home. It brings back a lot of wonderful memories. My years in San Francisco were among the most satisfying and enjoyable of my career. It gave me the opportunity to work with some of the finest criminal justice and law enforcement professionals in the country. They taught me a great deal, and it was an honor to serve along side them.
As much as I miss San Francisco, I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve in what I believe to be the world’s finest law enforcement agency — the FBI. It is particularly rewarding to serve at this unparalleled moment in history, when America is depending on the FBI more than ever, when protecting the homeland from terrorist attacks has taken on new meaning and new urgency.
Like most Americans, I’ll never forget the day it all began. I had been on the job exactly one week when word came that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. We rushed down to the FBI’s command center, hoping it had been a terrible accident but fearing the worst. Minutes later, we watched in horror as a plane hit the second tower. Then, reality hit even closer to home, when across the Potomac, another plane rammed into the Pentagon.
Not long after learning that the third hijacked airliner had gone down, a controller from the Federal Aviation Administration, who was on the phone with his agency, told us more shocking news. A fourth plane had been hijacked. It was heading straight towards the nation’s capitol. And it was just 15 minutes away.
It was a surreal moment for us all, realizing this plane – this flying bomb – was headed our way, yet not knowing where it might hit: the White House, the Capitol, a school yard, or FBI Headquarters.
As we all know, Flight 93 never made it to Washington. The brave passengers on board – including many from the San Francisco Bay area – were determined that this flying missile would not reach its target, and they sacrificed their lives to save our city. They are among the true heroes of that day.
From those first moments, we in the FBI, like the rest of the nation, knew that the world had changed. And we knew that our institution would never be the same.
Our first thought was to do what we’d always done after a terrorist attack: set up command centers and start managing the crisis from a law enforcement perspective; get control of the crime scenes and begin gathering evidence; and deploy our vast investigative force to find out everything we could about the attacks.
At the same time, we realized that we had to conduct this investigation somewhat differently. These attacks were not just an act of terror. They were an act of war. The most pressing issue for the FBI and for the nation was to find out who we were at war with, and more importantly, to make sure we were not attacked again.
To do that, the FBI began working in concert with its many partners to find out everything we could about the hijackers and how they pulled off their attacks. We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts.
What emerged from our massive investigation was a sobering portrait of 19 hijackers who carried out their attacks with meticulous planning, extraordinary secrecy, and extensive knowledge of how America works.
The plans were hatched and financed overseas, beginning as long as five years ago. Each of the hijackers came from abroad: fifteen from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, and one each from Lebanon and Egypt. All 19 entered our country legally, and only three had overstayed the legal limits of their visas on the day of the attacks.
While here, the hijackers did all they could to stay below our radar. They contacted no known terrorist sympathizers. They committed no egregious crimes. They dressed and acted like Americans, shopping and eating at places like Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut, blending into the woodwork all the while. When four got speeding tickets in the days leading up to September 11th, they remained calm and aroused no suspicion. Since none were known terrorists, law enforcement had no reason to question or detain them.
The hijackers also left no paper trail. In our investigation, we have not uncovered a single piece of paper – either here in the U.S. or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and – that mentioned any aspect of the September 11th plot. The hijackers had no computers, no laptops, no storage media of any kind. They used hundreds of different pay phones and cell phones, often with prepaid calling cards that are extremely difficult to trace. And they made sure that all the money sent to them to fund their attacks was wired in small amounts to avoid detection.
In short, the terrorists had managed to exploit loopholes and vulnerabilities in our systems, to stay out of sight, and to not let anyone know what they were up to beyond a very closed circle.
The investigation was enormously helpful in figuring out who and what to look for as we worked to prevent attacks. It allowed us to see where we as a nation needed to close gaps in our security. And it gave us clear and definitive proof that al Qaeda was behind the strikes.
At the same time, we were taking other steps to track down any potential associates who might still be out there. We began to identify individuals whom we needed to question. We went to the flight schools to identify associates of the hijackers. We went to those who run a popular travel website that several of the hijackers used to make their flight reservations. They showed us the patterns the hijackers followed and identified others who fit a similar profile. And we ran down all leads in the hopes that they might turn up associates of the terrorists.
Through this process, and with the help of state and local authorities, we interviewed thousands of persons to develop a full picture of the hijackers and others associated with them. In the United States, a number of suspects were detained on federal, state, or local charges; on immigration violations; or on material witness warrants. Ultimately, these and other actions with our partners around the world have helped prevent more terrorist attacks.
As the days and weeks went by, though, it became clear that the war on terror had only just begun. Our investigation moved from the events of September 11th to the anthrax attacks, to the foiled shoe bombing on the flight from Paris to Miami, to the kidnapping and murder of a Wall Street Journal reporter in Pakistan. Through it all, the FBI had become part and parcel of what is now called “homeland security,” a government-wide campaign to protect America from terrorist attacks. And we have been given a critical role to play, one that is redefining much of what we do.
The homeland security effort is being waged on many fronts. The law enforcement component is building cases against terrorists in the court of law. The military component is deploying our armed forces to attack terrorist strongholds overseas. The intelligence component is using information and analysis to anticipate and prevent attacks, and to better understand the enemy. The diplomatic component is building an international coalition against terror. The financial component is drying up the pool of funds used by terrorists. And the public health component is preparing now to save lives and protect our communities.
Today, the FBI is fully integrated into this campaign. We play a leadership role, of course, in the law enforcement arena. At the same time, we are supporting each of the other components of the campaign and each of its players. In this environment, we realize that what we do to help our colleagues is every bit as important as what we do within our own agency.
We are supporting the military, for example, by sharing information and intelligence that we gather in our investigations and in our interviews of prisoners. In some cases, we have also facilitated the capture and arrest of terrorists overseas.
We are supporting the intelligence effort by working more closely than ever with our partners in the intelligence community here and around the world to gather and share information. We are developing new tools to make this process easier and more effective.
To cut off terrorist funding, we’ve created a financial review group that is working with many other agencies to investigate shady bank accounts and wire transfers and to develop predictive models that can help target suspicious ones in the future. So far, this group has reviewed over 75,000 transactions and helped freeze millions in terrorist funds worldwide.
In the public health area, we continue to investigate any incidents involving biological or chemical agents. Since September 11th, we’ve not only launched a massive investigation into the anthrax attacks, we’ve also responded to the 16,000 hoaxes and threats that have followed in their wake. We have also stepped up efforts to work more closely with state and local officials, and we continue to coordinate issues, provide training, and stage exercises. As I’ll discuss later, the FBI also plays a role in the diplomatic component through our overseas offices, which work closely with American Embassies and foreign governments.
Our role in homeland security builds upon what we have been doing for many years. We’re still the lead law enforcement agency for counterterrorism. We’re still assessing threats and issuing warnings and advisories to our law enforcement partners and to the American people. We’re still leading the multi-agency National Infrastructure Protection Center, a key force in protecting our nation’s critical physical and electronic infrastructures. And most of all, our top priority is still prevention.
The difference is largely a matter of degree. Terrorists have shown they are willing to go to great lengths to destroy America. We must be willing to go to even greater lengths to stop them. Our worldwide network must be more powerful. Our financial commitment must be stronger. Our techniques and training must be more sophisticated. And our sense of urgency and intensity must be greater.
This reality is driven home to me in a very real way each day. Since the attacks, I have briefed President Bush in the Oval Office each morning. Together with George Tenet, the Director of the CIA, we go over what we call the “threat matrix,” a list of every threat directed at the US in the past 24 hours.
During these briefings, the President is not so much interested in who has been arrested or who has been prosecuted. What the President cares about most is what we in the FBI are doing – in concert with our partners – to run down each of these threats. He wants to be absolutely sure that we are aggressively pursuing every angle and every lead, so that America never wakes up to another morning like September 11th.
George Tenet calls those meetings “galvanizing.” He recognizes, as I do, that you simply cannot walk into that briefing without feeling completely confident that your people are on top of every issue. More importantly, you cannot come back day after day without being sure that your agency is taking every step to make prevention both a priority and a reality.
In the Bureau, we have taken a long, hard look in the mirror to see how we measure up to this mandate. We see some strong counterterrorism capabilities, expertise that has been refined over time and sharpened by experience. But we also see areas where we could do more. And we are moving forward to address them as quickly as possible.
First, we are putting more resources into the fight. As we speak, we are overhauling our counterterrorism operations so that we have twice as many Agents focused on prevention. As we hire nearly one thousand new Agents this year, we are also recruiting the right mix of skills — primarily computer, scientific, and language — that we need to fight terror.
More resources also means a much stronger presence at major special events. We were out in force, for example, at this week’s Boston Marathon. At the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, we stationed nearly 1,400 personnel — about five percent of our workforce — to support the many professionals devoted to ensuring the safety of the games.
We are also expanding and improving our analytic capability. The September 11th terrorists spent a great deal of time and effort figuring out how America works. They knew the ins and outs of our systems. We need to have a complete grasp on how terrorists operate as well. Our analysts do some great work, but we need more of them and we need to do more of the kind of strategic thinking that helps us stay one step ahead of those who would do us harm.
Second, we are overhauling our technology. Here in the heart of Silicon Valley, you understand how quickly technology changes and how fast you can be left behind. The fact is, for all the state-of-the-art systems in our lab, for all the high-tech services we provide to law enforcement, the Bureau has simply not kept pace when it comes to the equipment on our desktops. We have computers discarded by other agencies that we took as upgrades. We have systems that cannot talk with other Bureau systems, much less with other federal agencies. We have 34 different investigative applications, none of which are easy to use and all of which must ultimately be integrated.
In the wake of September 11th, we have accelerated our plans to fix these problems. We will put in place new hardware this year and we will overhaul our key applications by the end of next year. Our goal is a near paperless environment, a development that will put us light years ahead of where we are today.
Technology will also help us share information more quickly and effectively outside the Bureau. We don’t have the right systems in place now to make information flow as freely and as seamlessly as we’d like. We’re working to create a database ” thate that sits on top of all the others ” that we can use to share information and intelligence with the outside world. We hope to test it later next year.
We’re also looking for a way to get information out more quickly and universally. Today, there is no one system – no digital pipeline – that we can use to send advisories and information to all of law enforcement. We have to do it piecemeal and patchwork. We’re working hard to find a solution.
Third, effective prevention requires strengthening the defensive infrastructure of the country. This means immigration and customs programs that keep terrorists out, airports that are secure, and seaports that are on alert. We are supporting these efforts wherever we can. It also means a national program where the FBI joins with state and local law enforcement to form a national anti-terror network. There are just over 11,000 Special Agents. There are 650,000 state and local law enforcement officers. An integrated national program that combines our resources and expertise substantially increases the safety of all Americans.
Finally, prevention also means something America has not really focused on before September 11th. It means an aggressive — but rigorously lawful — program of disruption abroad and at home. The September 11th terrorists had the luxury of time and tranquility to put the pieces of their plan in place. From the training camps of Afghanistan to the universities of Germany to the flight schools of America, they were able to assemble the components of their plan and pick their moment to execute it. We cannot afford them this operational luxury again. For America, prevention must include an international offensive capability in which the intelligence and law enforcement resources of the global community are integrated into a program to disrupt and attack terrorist operations in their infancy.
It is this international component, as much as any other ingredient, which heralds a new day for the FBI. In a post 9-11 world, partnerships abroad equal security at home.
We are working to build these partnerships through our 44 overseas offices, what we call Legal Attaches. Today more than ever, they are an important first line of defense against terror. They enable us to build the kind of face-to-face, personal relationships we need to track down terrorists around the globe and root them out of their hiding places.
Last month, working through our Legal Attache in Manila, a group of 28 senior level government officials from the Republic of the Philippines came to our National Academy in Virginia for a two-week seminar. They wanted to learn how to knock the financial legs out from under terrorists. One of the participants in the class was Jose Calida, the Undersecretary for the Department of Justice in the Philippines. He decided to give the class a name. He came up with the word “Balikatan,” which in his native tongue means “shoulder-to-shoulder.” Because when he looked out at the class, that’s what he saw: 28 leaders sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with each other and with us, united in a common purpose of defeating terror.
Al-Qaeda and other international terrorist groups have developed networks around the world. We need the same kind of networks to defeat them. Even in this age of sophisticated technologies and techniques, it is critically important that we be able to sit down with a colleague and develop a rapport that will ultimately help us build a national and international coalition against terror. That is why our overseas offices are so important and why we need even more of them in the days ahead.
As we in the Bureau move through a period of intense change, as we adjust to our new role in homeland security, we must be flexible and open-minded. We can never afford to cling to the status quo. Where our capabilities are strong, they must be stronger. Where problems exist, we must acknowledge them, fix them, and move on.
The reality is, change is never smooth or easy. That is especially true for an agency like the FBI, one that is always on the cutting edge, pioneering new tools and techniques to help us catch an increasingly savvy band of criminals.
In the past, though, the FBI has sometimes made problems worse by ignoring or denying them. That can’t be the way we do business going forward. We’ve got to welcome and even embrace constructive criticism. We have to acknowledge problems and be ahead of the curve in fixing them. That has been our approach in recent months, and it will remain our approach.
Standing behind all the capabilities that we have now and that we are working to build is a cadre of FBI professionals, men and women who exemplify courage, integrity, respect for the law, and respect for others. We are extremely proud of how they have performed over the past seven months. They have worked long days and nights, sacrificing time with their families to get the job done. They have shown grace under fire in difficult and often dangerous situations.
There is one Special Agent, though, who made the ultimate sacrifice for the FBI and for the country he cared about so deeply. His name is Lenny Hatton, and he is one of the many law enforcement professionals lost on September 11th.
Lenny was an exceptional Agent and a remarkable man. He was on his way to work on September 11th when he saw the World Trade Center on fire. Instinctively, he went straight to the scene and started working with police and firefighters to evacuate the buildings. He was last seen helping a victim out of one of the buildings, and rushing back in to save more.
Several days later at Lenny’s funeral Mass, an individual by the name of Chris O’Connell paid tribute to the fallen Agent. Chris talked about how Lenny devoted his life to serving — as a Marine, as a volunteer firefighter, as an FBI Special Agent, as a husband and father — and how Lenny had served until his last breath, trying to save lives.
In tears, Chris O’Connell closed his eulogy by saying: “On September 11th, we saw a horrific event in this country and our city. Special Agent Lenny Hatton stood shoulder to shoulder with the finest and the bravest. Until we meet again, my partner, my friend.”
Chris O’Connell was Lenny’s partner, and Chris O’Connell was and is a detective with the New York Police Department. Lenny and Chris cared for each other like brothers. It didn’t matter to them that one worked for the FBI and one worked for the NYPD. They just wanted to get the job done. They were a team.
Lenny Hatton exemplifies what the FBI is really all about: defending freedom through courage, compassion, and cooperation. Just as this tragedy brought out Lenny’s best, it is already bringing about a fundamentally better FBI.
Thanks for having me, and God bless.