Remarks by FBI Assistant Director Michael Steinbach

  • May 5, 2015

Michael Steinbach was presented with the ADL William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute Service Award by National Director Abraham Foxman in recognition of his career on the front lines in the fight against terrorism and extremism.

Thank you, Mr.Foxman. And thank you members of ADL's National Commission.

I’m very honored to have been selected to receive the 2015 ADL William and Naomi Gorowitz Institute Service Award.

Browsing through the very distinguished list of past recipients was humbling. In thinking about what I would say today, I figured you may want to hear about what concerns me. But first let me briefly discuss what receiving this award means to me.

In a world where at times it’s easier to point out what is going wrong rather than identifying our successes, where on a daily basis we see examples of hate and discrimination around the world, I applaud the ADL and its efforts for more than 100 years to build a better world with a focus on and promotion of the positive impact individuals and groups can have in the fight against hate, bigotry, and terrorism - that is what this award embodies. It’s been 20 years since I first joined the FBI. In that time, I have gone from chasing fugitives through the streets of Chicago to working with foreign government partners in Tel Aviv to leading the FBI's efforts to detect and disrupt terrorist activity in the United States. While my roles have changed, one thing remains the same; the importance of partnerships. Without the help of local, state, and federal law enforcement, our international partners, private industry, and organizations such as the ADL, we would not be where we are today. In our country we have zero tolerance when it comes to terrorism. Yet the scope of the threat is so expansive today that the FBI as a single organization can’t see everything – every nefarious actor, every suspicious activity, every vulnerability. But with the help of our partners, we can. We go from an organization of 36,000 to a watchful world of millions. The ADL has been one such important partner - a critical partner - in this fight and an invaluable resource for the Bureau. For those of you that may not know, the FBI-ADL relationship runs deep, for example:

  • ADL provides training to all new agents of the FBI; training that sets the foundation in the minds of special agents on the importance of rule of law and the duty to protect individual rights.
  • ADL has also been a leader in providing useful and practical training to local, state, and federal law enforcement to include the FBI on international and domestic extremism through its Advanced Training School; a program I have been honored to present to in past years.
  • As the FBI representative to Israel, on several occasions I had the opportunity to interact with law enforcement leaders from around the U.S. who came to the region to partake in ADL's National Counterterrorism Seminar where they saw firsthand examples of the Israeli experience with terrorism.

As you can garner from the few examples I just provided, it's important that partnerships be formed, developed, and nurtured. It’s not useful to just get a group of executives in a room to shake hands and put a face with the name. We need collaboration at all levels. If collaboration and teamwork are encouraged early in an individual’s career, what once may have been forced will become reflexive, become automatic. It’s this automatic sharing which is key and is what this award embodies for me.

I don’t see our reliance on partnerships changing. What concerns me today necessitates we work together more closely than ever before. Today's threat runs from the latest incarnation of hate disguised as religion and promulgated through a false narrative by the Islamic State of Iraq and Al Sham, to a more enduring threat posed by core Al Qaeda and affiliates throughout Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, to fringe individuals here in the homeland with no direct association to a group but inspired to attack through the internet and social media to domestic groups who see skin color or religion as an excuse to hate and promote violence.

While the internet facilitated terrorists’ widespread reach across the globe over the last decade, the latest evolution of the threat from terrorism transcends barriers like never before and again challenges us. What I refer to is the use of social media where a message or a video can go viral and spread horizontally across the world in minutes; where any of more than 200 social media platforms can push propaganda out in a public manner and then communications continued in private encrypted messages. Social media and terrorists’ effective exploitation of social media concern me today. Like never before, social media allows for overseas terrorists to reach into our local communities - to radicalize and recruit as well as target our citizens - all in a simple to use way. But as simple and straightforward as it is, the worldwide abundance of smartphones as social media’s access point and the high volume of social media use are daunting obstacles.

The challenge we face is to remain agile.  As technology evolves, the bad guys adapt. We, too, need to be willing – and able – to adapt to the ever-changing threat environment. We also need to educate lawmakers, private industry, and our citizens of the dangers of building communication platforms that are encrypted to the point law enforcement - through lawful process - cannot collect evidence of a crime. While our Bill of Rights, specifically the 4th Amendment, is our guarantee against unreasonable search it also allows for judicially sanctioned searches when such search is based on probable cause.  While I’m sure our Founding Fathers never imagined a cyber space that could be effectively locked, I am sure they would not have advocated for a safe haven from which gangsters, pedophiles, or terrorists could operate freely without fear the long arm of the law could ever reach them.

We also need to work in partnership to dispel myths and misperceptions and provide a factual accounting of how tools like the Patriot Act are relevant, necessary, and appropriately used. It is our responsibility to provide transparency of process and adopt checks and balances to prevent abuse. But make no mistake; we need a robust set of tools with today’s threat and against cunning and agile terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life.

Although we identify the need to change, it is, however, not that simple. A new and improved set of tools won’t fix the problem. Ultimately, it requires a change in the way we think. This challenge must be confronted and we are working to do just that. We must fight the culture of status quo. If you look at where the FBI started decades ago and where the organization is today, the change is evident. But the mission and challenge remains the same – to protect and defend the United States and US interests while preserving civil liberties. I want to thank ADL for maintaining true to its mission to build that better world and for continuing its unflappable support of the FBI in the challenges today and in the future.

I gratefully accept this award and thank you on behalf of the dedicated men and women of the FBI working each and every day to keep our families and communities safe.

"I applaud the ADL and its efforts for more than 100 years to build a better world with a focus on and promotion of the positive impact individuals and groups can have in the fight against hate, bigotry, and terrorism - that is what this award embodies." Share via Twitter Share via Facebook

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