September 11, 2001 : Attack on America
Remarks by Robert S. Mueller III Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation At the Mayors Emergency, Safety, and Security Summit United States Conference of Mayors; October 24, 2001

Remarks by Robert S. Mueller III
Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation

At the Mayors Emergency, Safety, and Security Summit
United States Conference of Mayors
Washington, DC

October 24, 2001

Good morning, and thank you. Thank you for having me here today. As Mayor Morial indicated, I started as FBI director on September 4. And more than one person has come up to me and said, "You had a relatively short honeymoon." And that would be accurate.

I want to thank, before I go further, I want to thank you for your leadership -- Mayor Morial, Mayor Menino, Mayor Garner, and Executive Director Tom Cochran -- for having the foresight and the wisdom to call this important meeting, and for giving me the opportunity to join with you today.

I want to thank all of you for the outstanding leadership that you're providing to your cities and to our country. And at this pivotal -- I think it's fair to say -- at this pivotal moment in history, you have been towers of strength in your communities. And I particularly want to thank you for your extraordinary support, your cooperation and your guidance that you provided to the FBI during these past six weeks.

This morning, I want to let you know how deeply committed the FBI is to working with you to ensure the safety and security of your communities now and in the future. The FBI, as you probably know, is pouring its heart and its soul into the investigation of the September 11 attacks. Every resource that can be deployed is being deployed. Every person who can be utilized is being utilized. We now have well over 7,000 FBI personnel involved, and that's about one in four of our employees. We are examining every scrap of evidence. In fact, we've gathered, sometimes working on hands and knees in the rubble and mud of crash sites, more than 3,700 separate pieces of evidence. This is easily the largest and most comprehensive investigation in our history.

But beyond the investigation itself, our overriding priority right now is prevention, making sure that terrorists do not succeed in striking America and America's cities again. Now, it may well be overly optimistic to think that every single attack can be prevented. But we can certainly give it everything we have got, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Now, we at the FBI are not new to prevention. With your help, over the last few years, we've had successes. An example, perhaps, would be two years ago when we foiled a plot to blow up a gas tank in Sacramento, perhaps saving as many as 12,000 lives. But historically, we have been better at tracking down terrorists after the fact than at stopping them in their tracks before they strike. And we have, in the past, not always aligned our resources, our strategies, and our skills specifically towards prevention, to the degree that they are now so aligned.

A few weeks ago, we established at FBI headquarters a terrorist prevention task force made up of representatives of a dozen different agencies. Its goal is to identify and stop future terrorist acts with proactive investigations and to attempt to predict and to prevent future scenarios. The work of this group, for example, has led us to heightened sensitivities on crop dusters in the latter part of September. We have had in the past, and do today, have 35 joint terrorism task forces located in your cities and other cities across the country. Those task forces are working hard to gather intelligence and pursue any hint of a lead that might help us identify terrorists or their associates. We also have beefed up our resources overseas, where many of the leads have taken us and where we're getting some outstanding cooperation from England, Germany, France, Spain and a number of other countries.

We're also working with you and other colleagues at the federal, state and local level to shore up security at critical public events and to protect critical infrastructures like water and transportation systems. We are assessing threats in real time and providing warnings to your cities and to the nation. I must tell you that the threat level remains very high. More attempts and possible attacks are a distinct possibility. This possibility requires all of us to continue walking the fine line of staying alert on the one hand, without causing undue harm on the other hand.

Clearly, we are deeply concerned about the growing wave of anthrax attacks and related incidents. At this point, it is not clear if the few confirmed anthrax exposures were motivated by organized terrorism, but these attacks were clearly meant to terrorize a country already on the edge. We're responding swiftly to each and every incident. By way of background, we usually are involved in 250 assessments and responses relating to weapons of mass destruction a year. We've had more than 3,300 in just the past three weeks alone, including 2,500 involving suspected anthrax incidents. And even though most turned out to be false alarms or hoaxes, we are taking each report seriously, as I know each of you in your cities are also. And those who are pulling pranks and hoaxes won't find our severe response to those all that funny.

Our work in these investigations, of course, has been supported at every turn by you and your colleagues across the nation, as well as by a host of federal, state, and even international partners. From the first moment that I joined the FBI several weeks ago, one of my highest priorities has been to improve our working relationship with you, with elected leaders and law enforcement partners around the world. And the events of September 11th have only strengthened my resolve in that regard. I have from my experience and am now even more convinced that no one institution is strong enough to tackle the challenge of terrorism alone. No one agency or entity at any level, whether it be federal, state or local, has the length or the breadth of talent and expertise. We must work together. Law enforcement, quite simply, is only as good as its relationships.

Now, these past six weeks have given me a good opportunity to see how well our FBI supports you and your cities, and I've seen encouraging signs. I know that many of our Special Agents in Charge -- our SACs, as we call them -- are reaching out and keeping you involved and informed. But at the same time, I heard that there are some areas where lines of communication aren't as open as they should be, where we're keeping you at arm's length, and where we're not affording you the level of support you deserve.

As soon as I heard of these issues, I reached out to key law enforcement leaders and asked them to educate me on their issues and their concerns. I asked them to give it to me straight, and they did.

Building on these initial conversations, I held a series of meetings last week with representatives of the major city chiefs, the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the National Sheriffs' Association, and along with the Attorney General, have met with a number of other similar law enforcement associations. The meetings were helpful, open, candid and I think productive.

What we heard will likely be familiar to many of you. We heard that the FBI is not always calling on your local police professionals to track down leads; that we're sometimes not following up quickly enough on leads that come to us that involve your cities; that you need information digitally, if at all possible; and that the FBI isn't giving you specific enough information on threats; and that we're even withholding information.

Let me start and clarify the last point, the point about specific information on threats and withholding information. The FBI is not withholding significant information due to security concerns. The fact is much of the information we have can be released to law enforcement. But the fact is also that often, on most occasions, our information is simply not as specific or developed as we would all like it to be.

One issue that has come up and that is our ability to distribute to your law enforcement agencies what we call the watch list. The issue was raised as to why it could not be put into NCIC and distributed to you digitally. We now have done that. We've added that watch list to the National Crime Information Center list, or NCIC. But, by the same token, we often do not have much more than names or aliases. As we get confirmed photos or other information, we will add them to the system.

There's another point I do have to emphasize, and that is, when it comes to the electronic arena, the FBI is often far behind you and your colleagues. Overhauling our electronic infrastructure is a major priority for us, one that we are addressing now.

Beyond these few clarifications, I must say that many of the concerns that I've heard were valid, and we are stepping forward to address them. I've asked the Special Agents in Charge in cities where we don't already have a joint terrorism task force to get one up and running quickly. While these task forces aren't a panacea, they do break down stereotypes and communications barriers, more effectively coordinate leads and help get the right resources in the right places. In short, they are an excellent tool for melding us together in ways that make information sharing a non-issue. I've also asked the SACs to coordinate leads with local law enforcement wherever and whenever possible. I've invited law enforcement leaders to identify individuals, two or more, who can work with us in our Strategic Command Center at the FBI headquarters on the national investigation. And I've asked that representatives be added to our prevention task force.

I'm also exploring with the leaders of law enforcement the possibility of establishing a working group composed of officials from the FBI and local law enforcement that could identify other specific issues and find workable solutions.

Now, in my mind these are some initial first steps, and more will follow. Some issues may need to be addressed through legislation. And as we move through this process, I only ask that you please bring any problems or issues to our attention. I want to know what you're experiencing, how the FBI is treating you, and you can be assured that we will, and I will, respond.

In the coming months, we'll continue our work to strength and modernize the FBI. We had some changing to do before September 11, and that need has only intensified since the tragedy of that date. We at the FBI, as well as state and local law enforcement, clearly have got to become more proactive and more prevention oriented. We need to be able to look down the road five or 10 years and gauge what's coming and start adapting now. We've got to look closely at our skill sets to see if they are tracking where we need to be to cope with the 21st century and crime in the 21st century. We've got to rebuild our electronic infrastructure and digitize our information systems. And of course we've got to continue building a stronger, more seamless and more supportive relationship with you and with law enforcement and with emergency responders nationwide.

These are my priorities for the coming months, and I welcome any advise and insight you might have. And I welcome and appreciate your continuing support. As difficult and as trying as these times are, I have a great deal of confidence and optimism about the future. We will get through this challenge as we've gotten through every other. And we will get through it by leaning on each other, by falling back on our bedrock values and by tapping into the deep reservoir of determination, strength, and courage that exists throughout America. And together, I'm confident that we can keep our cities safe and strong and continue to make our country a shining example of freedom for the world. I want to thank you and bless you and the cities for which you are responsible.

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