INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s new director called for expanded partnerships between federal, state and local law enforcement during a visit to Indianapolis Wednesday. James Comey told dozens of law enforcement leaders that the Bureau needs their help cracking down on both violent crime and threats of terrorism.
Comey, who was appointed director by President Barack Obama and confirmed by Congress last summer, promised to visit all 56 FBI Field Offices by the end of his first year. He’s already been to nearly half of them in his first eight months on the job.
“The reason I’m here is because the FBI is here,” Comey said. “And, as the brand new director at the start of a 10 year term, I’m trying to get out and see my folks.”
With a “who’s who” of law enforcement leaders from across Indiana standing by his side, America’s 7th FBI Director began his address by calling Indianapolis a bad place to be a bad guy.
“The FBI has a very broad spectrum of responsibilities. All of them are engaged here in Indianapolis. This is a place with unusually good partnerships, and one of the questions I’ve asked all day is–why is it working so well here? I want to be able to take that and spread it to other places,” Comey said.
Special agents assigned to the Indianapolis Field Office investigate everything from kidnapping to public corruption and check fraud. But, Comey acknowledged the Bureau’s biggest day to day crime challenges remain on the streets.
“I believe it’s essential to be aggressive to separate the felon and drug dealer from the firearm,” he said. “Because, so often the violence we see in America’s cities are what I call happenstance homicides. Someone is disrespected, or there’s a disagreement. And, because a felon has a gun in the waistband, what would be a fistfight otherwise becomes a shootout.”
Comey wants to expand the Justice Department’s “Safe Streets” partnerships with local police, and said Indianapolis should serve as a national model on how that cooperation can take illegal guns off the street. The Safe Streets Task Force also allows the FBI to focus more of its manpower on the larger picture by targeting violent gangs, drug dealers and organized crime, he added.
The Indianapolis Field Office is also heavily focused on national security and counterterrorism investigations. That includes a partnership with the Joint Terrorism Task Force, which has already yielded promising results, Comey said.
It hasn’t come without some criticism over methods, particularly over allegations of email hacking and phone tapping in connection with the National Security Agency.
Comey said he understands the concerns, but trusts layers of security built in to ensure agents aren’t overstepping lawful boundaries.
“When we’re gathering information from someone’s emails or the content of someone’s telephone conversations, we do it with a court order, having made a showing of probable cause to a federal judge,” he said. “We are tightly overseen. Those details matter. People should ask for them, and they should listen to them. [But] I need to–with lawful authority–be able to, for example, find bad guys on the internet. You do not want to live in a world where if someone kidnaps a child I can’t find that kid because with lawful authority from the court, I’m unable to break encryption or pierce anonymity on the internet. I don’t want to live in that world.”
Comey said his biggest concern is complacency.
“I wake up every morning worrying about counterterrorism and go to bed every night worrying about it, because the threat has changed. Although we have made great progress against al Qaeda in the Afghanistan and Pakistan region, al Qaeda affiliates are flourishing in very bad ways in lightly governed spaces throughout the Middle East and North Africa,” he said.
Indianapolis FBI special agents moved into a new building in Castleton in 2011. Advancements in technology installed there have thrust the field office into a critical role on the front lines of the war on terror.
“This is actually one of the FBI’s great centers of excellence on cyber, particularly on cyber intrusions from outside the United States,” Comey said. “We do a lot of that work here.”
Cyber-terrorism is America’s fastest growing new threat. Comey said Indianapolis’ concentration of large corporations, conventions and events puts the region firmly in the crosshairs for a potential strike.
Indianapolis Public Safety Director Troy Riggs, who testified before the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response and Communications on Tuesday said he remains concerned that many local police departments are not prepared for a cyber-attack.
“This is the real threat in the future: a traditional terrorist attack with a simultaneous cyber-attack. We are trying to take steps now to prepare Indianapolis. We’re way ahead of other cities. But, let me be clear: we are way inadequate at this time. We are building to make sure we have a robust response if that becomes the case. The FBI has ensured us they will assist us in that endeavor, and it’s going to take that assistance to be successful,” Riggs said.
“That mix of challenges is going to be present in any sophisticated city like this,” Comey added. “It’s the reason we have a lot of FBI resources here. And, it’s the reason we have the people and technology and partnerships we need to respond to it.”
That response is about to grow.
The FBI plans to hire at least 1,000 new employees, 300 of whom will be new special agents–by October 1. Many will be focused on cyber-terrorism.
Director Comey wouldn’t commit Wednesday to where the new agents will be stationed, but said some could end up in Indianapolis investigating threats from both home and abroad.