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Public Statements

Hearing of the House Judiciary Committee - Oversight Hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Interview

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. LAMAR SMITH (R-TX): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And, Mr. Chairman, like you I welcome the director of the FBI to today's hearing.

For the last seven years the FBI has faced the task of balancing its expanding national security and counterterrorism responsibilities with its traditional law enforcement duties. And although this task has presented challenges to the FBI, the success of the dedicated men and women of the bureau is evident from one simple fact: the United States has not suffered another terrorist attack.

It's easy to assume that the terrorist threat has lessened or even disappeared because we have not had an attack since September 11, 2001. It's easy to become complacent about the need for vigilant intelligence gathering because we rarely read in the paper, or hear on the news, about the number of terrorist plots that have been thwarted by the FBI and other law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

But the threat remains, and it is important that Congress ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence agencies are given the tools and the resources they need to protect us all. It is also important that Congress ensure that these are used properly.

One powerful tool is our ability to gather intelligence to learn what our enemies are planning before it is too late. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, provides the framework for gathering foreign intelligence. But as we learned a year ago, it is outdated.

Last August Congress passed the Protect America Act to modernize FISA. In February that law expired and in August so too will the surveillance authorized under the act. Congress has no greater or more urgent responsibility than to enact long-term common-sense legislation to modernize FISA and ensure that our nation is safe from future attacks.

Our national security relies on other information-gathering tools as well, including national security letters. National security letters allow the FBI to request the production of records held by third parties and they're generally used to obtain telephone billing records, credit reports or financial information.

Last year the Department of Justice inspector general issued a report citing significant problems with FBI's use of national security letter authority from 2003 to 2005. Recently the inspector general has released a follow-up to its March 2007 report.

According to this report, the FBI has made significant progress implementing the inspector general's recommendations and in adopting other corrective actions to its national security letters authority. The recent report is encouraging and shows that the FBI has taken strong action to ensure that its investigative efforts do not infringe on the privacy of individual Americans.

Despite the FBI's demanding counterterrorism efforts, we cannot lose sight of its traditional crime-fighting responsibilities. After a dramatic rise in violent crime that peaked in the early and mid- 1990s, the most recent data reveals that the nation's crime rates are decreasing.

Though violent crime is slightly down nationwide, trends in crime are changing. In the 1990s gang violence was traditionally found in urban communities of major cities like Los Angeles and New York City, but now we're seeing a rise of gang violence in suburban communities.

The methods for committing a crime also are changing. The Internet has transformed traditional brick-and-mortar crimes into virtual crimes committed by faceless criminals with no borders or boundaries.

Identity theft, child pornography, organized retail crimes, theft of intellectual property, and even drug trafficking can now be committed with a few computer strokes.

Last year I joined Chairman Conyers in introducing H.R. 4175, the Privacy and Cybercrime Enforcement Act of 2007. Our nation has become increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks as the U.S. economy and critical infrastructures grow more and more reliant on interdependent computer networks and the Internet. Large-scale computer attacks on our critical infrastructure and economy could have devastating results.

Personal data security breaches are being reported with increasing regularity. During 2006 alone, personal records for approximately 73 million people were lost or stolen.

I look forward to hearing from Director Mueller today about improvements in bureau operations, the continuing need to pursue counterterrorism and traditional law enforcement, and the FBI's efforts to investigate the growing threat of cybercrime.

I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I'll yield back.

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REP. SMITH: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

First of all Director Mueller, I'd like to congratulate you and other law enforcement agencies and other intelligence-gathering agencies as well for what you have done to prevent another terrorist attack since September 11, 2001. It looks like to me that you all are batting 1000, having prevented any other terrorist attack and I hope that that can continue as well.

My first question goes to a recent report by FOX News. I'd like to read you the beginning of the report and ask you to comment to the extent that you can.

"The FBI has narrowed its focus to about four suspects in the six-and-a-half-year investigation of the deadly anthrax attacks of 2001. And at least three of those suspects are linked to the Army's bioweapons research facility at Fort Dietrich in Maryland."

That's an ongoing investigation so I know you can't go into any detail, but can you tell us for example when that investigation might be concluded, whether it might be this year or not? Or anything else you can tell us about it --

MR. MUELLER: What I can say and all I can say about it, it's an ongoing investigation. We have a number of agents and postal inspectors assigned to it, as we have since the incidents occurred back in 2001, 2002. And we continue to push the investigation hard. I cannot give you a time frame, however.

REP. SMITH: Okay. I understand.

Let me go to the subject of violent crime, which, as you know, has decreased slightly in 2007. I think violent crime is down 1.8 percent. You mentioned in your testimony a few minutes ago that one of those reasons are the task force that have been created. Usually in a slow economy violent crime increases. To what do you attribute the slight decrease in violent crime that we see across the country?

MR. MUELLER: I think what we have seen over the last year is some spikes in some cities, some decrease in other cities. I do believe one of the most effective tools in addressing violent crime is having federal, state and local task forces and support of Congress of those task forces and of the participation of state and local law enforcement on those task forces.

We currently have a total of 182 violent gang crime task forces around the country. And I think to a one, they are perceived to be effective not only by the bureau and our other federal partners but also by state and local law enforcement.

And to the extent that fundings come through the -- from the federal side of the house, I am tremendously supportive of those funds going to state and local law enforcement on condition that they be utilized in the task force arena, because I do believe that we are most effective when we sit shoulder to shoulder and address these areas together, whether it be on joint terrorism task forces or on violent crime task forces.

I might also add there are a number of factors that go into the rise or fall of violent crime in a particular region or a particular city. The extent of incarceration is one of those factors, the drug abuse or usage, the prevalence of gangs. There are a number of various factors that may result in a rise of violent crime in one community, whereas a community several miles down the road does not see the same type of spike.

REP. SMITH: Okay. Thank you, Director.

One type of crime that unfortunately is on the rise is Internet child pornography. And we have passed a number of laws to address that and I wonder if you have any suggestions for us as to any other legislation that might be helpful to you in order to prosecute the Internet child pornography?

MR. MUELLER: We have a couple things about our capabilities in that regard. We currently have approximately 270 agents who are working what we call "innocent images." We have a task force operating out of Maryland which is an international task force in which we've had agents from some 21 countries who have participated on this task force.

We recently had a take-down several months ago of almost 60 individuals who, over a period of 15 years, had over 400,000 images, pornographic images, child pornography that they'd encrypted and thought they were safe from the authorities.

REP. SMITH: Right.

MR. MUELLER: I think close to 60 persons were arrested in the United Kingdom and Australia, in Germany and the United States as we busted that up.

One thing to -- I know the question that you asked at the end is what do you need or what will we need to be --

REP. SMITH: Are current laws adequate or do we need to do more -- correct.

MR. MUELLER: And that is -- in each of these cases it's important that we have access to the records. And records retentions by ISPs would be tremendously helpful in giving us the historical basis to make a case in a number of these child predators who utilize the Internet to either push their pornography or to lure persons in order to meet them.

REP. SMITH: Okay. Thank you, Director, that's helpful. I think a number of us may well follow up on that suggestion. The ability to retain those records sounds to me like it's crucial. Thank you.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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REP. SMITH: Mr. Chairman, no official closing comments.

I do want to thank the director for appearing. I think we've had a good hearing today, and I think he's been very responsive to all the questions that have been directed to him.

As I understand, Director Mueller, your appointment, you became director of the FBI one week after 9/11?

MR. MUELLER: One before -- one week before 9/11.

REP. SMITH: I mean one week before. That may give rise to a new definition of on-the-job training. I've never -- I'd forgotten that it was that close.

So I appreciate all that you've been through and appreciate your good record. And as I said earlier, you and other law enforcement agencies and intelligence-gathering agencies as well have obviously done an outstanding job, since we haven't had another attack.

Should we endure another attack, that's not necessarily a reflection on you because I think -- frankly, I think most Americans have been surprised there hasn't been another attack. If you had asked anybody a few weeks after 9/11 if we were going to be attacked again, I suspect a high percentage of the American people would have thought that by now that would have occurred.

I am grateful that it is not, and I think that it is largely due to the good service that you've performed, as well as other agencies have performed. So I thank you for that.

I don't have any other comments, Mr. Chairman.

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