FBI Director Mueller on Terrorism, Intelligence Gathering

Mueller's remarks from James Fox Memorial Lecture discuss U.S. fight against another 9/11


In 2004, working with our partners overseas, we learned of extensive surveillance by suspected terrorists to target buildings here in New York, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Those buildings included the Citicorp Tower just a few blocks from here, the Stock Exchange downtown, the Prudential Building in Newark, New Jersey, and the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

The level of detail collected by the terrorists demonstrated a high degree of training in surveillance. Like the September 11 plot or the East Africa bombings, these plans appeared to call for attacks that would require logistical support and funding from terrorist bases overseas.

Before September 11, a recruit would go through months of training in a camp in Afghanistan before being given an assignment. Now what we see is a new threat: decentralized and more diffuse. Now, we see individuals "self-recruiting," being "self-radicalized" through the Internet. We see them recruiting their friends and forming cells that answer not to a particular leader, but to an ideology.

We have seen home-grown terrorist cells raise small amounts of money through street crimes. The cell responsible for the Madrid bombings sold drugs and counterfeit CDs. They also stole cars to raise the money to launch their attack.

As you heard from Sir Ian Blair of Scotland Yard when he spoke here last week, the London bombings appear to also be the work of two unrelated home-grown cells.

Recently, the New York and Atlanta JTTFs arrested two men in connection with an alleged terrorist plot. The plot included discussions about blowing up oil refineries and disabling navigational aids on airplanes. In Los Angeles, a cell directed by former gang members robbed gas stations to raise money to buy weapons.

The Los Angeles case is a good example of the intersection of local crime and the terrorist threat. It began when police in Torrance, California, arrested two men for a gas station robbery. When they searched the apartment the two men shared, they found documents listing the addresses of U.S. military recruiting stations, the Israeli Consulate, and synagogues in the Los Angeles area. The Torrance PD called in the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

For a month, the Los Angeles JTTF focused on everyone who had had contact with the two suspects. Eventually, the picture emerged of a home-grown terrorist cell that had been spawned by a small radical group operating in Folsom Prison. They viewed themselves as "al Qaeda of California."

The L.A. Joint Terrorism Task Force identified three members who were operating outside the prison and attempting to recruit others. Their plan was to attack the military recruiting stations on September 11, 2005, and then attack the synagogues on Yom Kippur.

That plot was disrupted. They were arrested. Many lives may well have been saved, and yet, most people have never even heard about that plot.

The simple truth is, the attack prevented makes far fewer headlines than the attack which succeeds.

Today, the terrorist's target is less likely to be a government building with layers of security. It is much more likely to be a soft target.

Terrorists may launch the most devastating attack they can afford, be it against a subway or a bus; a house of worship; or a shopping mall.

Again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of local law enforcement's participation in these efforts. From Los Angeles to New York, it remains a key factor to our success.

The NYPD has over 1,000 persons dedicated to the counter-terrorism effort. They have assigned 130 of their detectives full-time to the JTTF, making them the largest contributor to any JTTF in the country. During the Los Angeles case, the LAPD temporarily assigned 200 additional persons to the JTTF out there in an effort to address that case.