Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray will visit the Ford School as the 2022 Josh Rosenthal Memorial Speaker. December, 2022.
0:00:02.1 Celeste Watkins-Hayes: Good afternoon and welcome. I am Celeste Watkins-Hayes, the Interim Dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy here at the University of Michigan. And I'm delighted to welcome all of you here this afternoon for today's policy talk event, the annual Josh Rosenthal Memorial Lecture. We are honored to welcome our special guest, the Honorable Christopher Wray, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Welcome.
0:00:38.6 CW: It is so exciting to see our Ford School community gathered here and welcome to the many of you from across the University of Michigan campus and beyond who I know are tuning in virtually. This annual event is named for Joshua Rosenthal, a 1979 University of Michigan graduate who was passionate about world affairs and who tragically died in the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Josh's mother Marilyn, a long-time Michigan faculty member, joined others to establish the Josh Rosenthal Education Fund, which enables the Ford School to bring leading public policy figures to Ann Arbor to share their insights, foster dialogue, and generate greater understanding around the causes and consequences of events like 9/11. For this year's Rosenthal Memorial Lecture, we welcome Christopher Wray, who became the eighth director of the FBI in 2017.
0:01:38.6 CW: Prior to leading the FBI, Director Wray worked in private law practice and in various roles serving in the US government. Under President George W. Bush, Wray served as a leader in the DOJ's post 9/11 efforts to combat terrorist violence, espionage, and cybercrime. A word on our format. In a moment, I'll invite Director Wray to the podium to give remarks, and then Associate Dean John Ciorciari will facilitate a conversation with Director Wray, joined by Ford School faculty experts Javed Ali, Ann Lin, and Joy Rohde, drawing from questions and topics submitted over the past weeks from our students, faculty, and staff. The FBI is at the center of so many urgent and complicated policy challenges, and I'm so looking forward to reflecting on the topics that matter most to our community. I know that we all are. With that, please join me in welcoming today's special guest, FBI Director Christopher Wray.
0:02:54.5 Christopher Wray: Well, thank you, Dean. I'm really looking forward to getting into the conversation portion of this and the questions from students, because I understand a part of this was not to have me talking at you, but to really have a bit more of a discussion about some of the issues that are going on and some of the things that would benefit the most from people like all of you pursuing paths in public service. You had asked first, though, for me to say just a little bit about 9/11 and my own path to public service. And although my career in government started before 9/11, for me and for a lot of people, I'm not sure those are entirely distinct topics. I sometimes look back on my time as a line prosecutor, I used to say baby prosecutor, on the front lines in Atlanta in the '90s, working with other lawyers, state and local police, FBI special agents, putting away corrupt public officials and dangerous criminals and just about everything in between. And what motivated me then and makes me and made me feel like I had the best job in the whole world was the cases, the purity of advancing justice and of fighting for victims and their families.
0:04:11.4 CW: I think, for example, about a case I had about 25 years ago involving a single mom of a 7-year-old little boy. The guy that we were prosecuting had targeted her for a hit to prevent her from testifying. And as if that weren't enough, his plot included hiding her body and parking her car in long-term parking at the airport so that everybody, including her 7-year-old little boy, would think that motherhood had just been too much for her and she just abandoned him. And I remember the afternoon in that courtroom in Atlanta when we put the guy away for the rest of his life and that woman, the mom, who couldn't have been more than about 100 pounds, was sort of shuttling back and forth between each of us on the team, hugging us and sort of shuddering as she was hugging us. And she kept saying the same thing to each one of us over and over again. She kept saying, thank you. Thank you for saving my life. And in that moment, it kind of hit me. You know, light bulb went on that there's a 7-year-old boy who's going to grow up with his mom instead of being a permanently scarred orphan for the rest of his life.
0:05:31.3 CW: And we, the team, the agents and I, we did that. And now that may have been a result that didn't matter to anybody in the world outside of that courtroom, but it absolutely changed the life of that mom and that little boy in the most really fundamental way possible. And whatever else I do in my career, I will never, ever forget that moment or any number of other moments like that in these kinds of jobs.
0:06:02.3 CW: So then fast forward 2001, summer of 2001, my family and I moved to DC And over the next several years as the dean alluded to, I served in various leadership roles in the Justice Department including overseeing the Justice Department's criminal division which at the time included national security programs, especially counterterrorism. And on the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was a fairly new appointee, still getting the lay of the land when I heard that something was happening up in New York. Now, I'm a born and raised New Yorker, so seeing the first images of smoke pouring out of the World Trade Center was not just shocking but personal to say the very least. My mom, for example, worked just a couple blocks away.
0:06:55.8 CW: And I remember racing across Pennsylvania Avenue from the Justice Department and spending most of the day in a jam packed command center at FBI headquarters with the Attorney General and then FBI Director Mueller. And everybody there was trying to help while at the same time struggling to comprehend the horrific reality of what was unfolding. And we didn't initially know who was attacking us or if more attacks were coming. We all just urgently wanted to do something. I also remember in the months that followed, working to understand how 19 terrorists had been inside the United States plotting a complicated synchronized attack and yet government agencies, we, hadn't discovered their plans or been able to stop them. So in taking this job 16 years later, I sort of vividly remember the urgency that we all felt in that packed FBI command center on 9/11 and the urgency that we all felt for months every time there was a plane that was nonresponsive to air traffic control. The urgency that rippled through all of us every time somebody got an envelope with white powder in it and we'd all be thinking, uh-oh, is this it? Is it happening again?
0:08:26.1 CW: But more importantly, I remembered how that urgency translated into unity and action, into a fierce determination to work tirelessly to prevent something like that from ever happening again. And I decided that I wanted to come back into service to help the Bureau continue on that path. I was sworn in as FBI director in August of 2017, just before the 16th anniversary of 9/11. And one of the first things I did as director in 2017 was to meet with the 9/11 memorial and museum staff up in New York where I had been asked to give a speech. And so we talked. And they offered to give me a tour. And so I asked my wife and my grown daughter who had just started a new job in New York to come with me on the tour. And if any of you haven't had the opportunity to visit that memorial and museum, I strongly encourage you to find a way to make the trip because it is a deeply moving experience. Outside there are two sunken fountains in the footprint of where the buildings had once stood. Inside the exhibit goes down under the fountains where the original building foundations were.
0:09:50.5 CW: And all along the tour are artifacts from that day, images of the victims and audio recordings from witnesses. You can see things like the structural beams where each plane impacted the buildings. The emergency vehicles crushed when the building collapsed. The sea wall that barely held the East River from flooding the subway system. You can hear the stories of those who barely escaped, those who could not, and those who ran into the buildings to save the lives of those who were trapped. Another aspect the 9-11 memorial museum highlights very well, I think, is all the victims. You know, it's easy sometimes to get lost in the scale of what happened that day. You can go to the memorial and look out at the empty space where those two gigantic buildings used to be. You can stare at the massive list of name after name after name. Almost 3000 people lost their lives that day. A number which, by the way, has actually since been exceeded by those who lost their lives to 9/11 related cancer from all the work they did responding to that scene. That's a number by the way that just keeps rising. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the loss.
0:11:21.9 CW: One of the things I think the museum does importantly especially well is that it has a space carved out with individual tributes to each person lost that day. You can stop and recognize one person, somebody like Josh Rosenthal and you can learn a little bit about each person's impact. So when I went through this tour as the new FBI director, I did something a little bit different which I was watching my daughter really closely. My daughter is about the same age as most of you. She's in graduate school herself. And she had been alive in 2001. But she was probably like 6. So young enough in one sense to remember it but not really to understand and really appreciate what had happened. And it struck me as we were going through the tour watching her experience the museum that day that every time we turned a corner, for example, when we crossed a damaged staircase that had been an evacuation route where people had dodged falling debris, you could see that she was having kind of an aha moment. I could see her expression change. A couple times I could see a little bit of moisture forming in the corner of her eye.
0:12:43.0 CW: Subtle but the sort of telltale signs that only a parent can recognize. I could see her for the first time really experiencing the gravity of that day. Especially for somebody who, as I said, wasn't totally aware of really what had happened back in 2001. I saw it become so much more real for her. And so I took my experience watching her experience back with me to my office at the FBI. And I thought about, you know, we have three generations of FBI employees who were alive on 9/11. We have got those who, like me, remember what they were doing at the FBI on 9/11. We have got those who were so moved by what happened on 9/11 that they joined the FBI. And then we have got those, like my daughter, that age, who were only kids on 9/11, those for whom they really only know of the terrorist attacks as sort of a historical anecdote. That was in 2017. Now, today, in 2022, we have FBI employees who weren't even born on 9/11. And I say all that because I think there's a really important difference between intellectually understanding something and viscerally experiencing it.
0:14:02.9 CW: You know, it's one thing to know about all the ways in which the FBI changed after 9/11, but it's a completely different thing to feel the consequences of our work, what's at stake. Another memory that has stayed with me all these years has to do with an experience I had about two years after 9/11 when I was the assistant attorney general. And I took part in a presentation to families of the victims lost in the attacks. And as the day rolled on, I kind of moved to the back of the room, watching the line prosecutors and case agents update the family members, sharing what we had learned up to that point about each of the four flights in kind of a detailed minute by minute way. And the grief in that room was palpable. You could feel the weight of it. It was almost overwhelming. And I remember, for example, the father of one young woman who had died on one of the planes, and he stood up because we had an opportunity for people to ask questions. He stood up to ask a question. But he only got about four or five words into his question before suddenly, abruptly, his knees kind of buckled and he just kind of collapsed to the floor.
0:15:31.3 CW: Was lying on the floor kind of sobbing. And that's, remember that's two years after the attacks. I remember another man who lost his wife on one of the flights. And as I recall, he was a police officer who was working a night shift. And so he had just gotten home at the time of the attacks and had gone to sleep. And like so many of the victims, his wife, who was a flight attendant on one of the flights, called from the plane as it was going down to say a tearful goodbye. But because he had gone to sleep, he didn't pick up. So she left the message. But she tried again, you know, maybe a minute or so later. And this time, you know, he had kind of emerged from his fog. And so he answered the phone. And so they got to talk. And they had a chance to say their goodbyes as, you know, gut wrenching and heartbreaking as that must have been. And so her husband then spent the next several days staying with other family, attending to her funeral, making other arrangements. And he returned home several days later. And so he goes into his house to check his new messages.
0:16:48.5 CW: And the first message is that call from his wife. And he hears her voice. And try to imagine what that must have been like. The sort of skip in your heart as you hear your spouse's voice thinking you would never gonna hear that again. Only to immediately give way to the overpowering pain of loss. So that kind of knee buckling in the case of the one guy, literally knee buckling grief that those two men experienced. And remember, there were thousands of them. That sense of having something that's most precious to you taken away, ripped away from you like that, that doesn't go away. It dissipates with time, but it never goes away. And after you experience not just in here but in here that kind of grief, that heaviness, after you feel it in your bones, even as a prosecutor or investigator, much less as a victim or a victim family member, it changes you forever. And the 9/11 attacks profoundly changed not only our country, but they changed the FBI very specifically. Today's FBI reflects those changes in every FBI program, not just counterterrorism, every investigation, every community we serve. And they continue to impact and share and shape the FBI as we seek to combat new and emerging threats and adversaries.
0:18:29.9 CW: So 20 years later, it's vitally important that our agents and analysts not only remember 9/11 as a historical moment, but also understand and feel the urgency of that moment, one that continues to reverberate in how we carry out our day-to-day jobs. Because those experiences and that urgency should change you. It should give you a deeper understanding of just how much is on the line in this work, how much crime and terrorism wound victims and families and what an awesome responsibility we have. So as director, I started asking myself how can I replicate what I and my peers remember about those days and years following 9/11 and what my daughter experienced walking the halls of the 9/11 Memorial Museum, how can I replicate that for our new FBI agents and analysts? So I had the FBI's training division work with the 9/11 Memorial Museum to set up an onsite class that would be a small part of every new agent or analyst training. And now every class of new special agent and every new class of intelligence analyst tours the Memorial Museum and takes a class with the staff up there. Because I believe there is no better way for them to grasp the importance of the work we do, both how we approach that work and the stakes of that work than visiting that hallowed ground in lower Manhattan.
0:20:10.2 CW: We want new agents and analysts to come away from that visit understanding why we're so focused on integrating intelligence into everything we do, why we emphasize partnerships, why it's so crucial that we tackle every task with rigor and urgency, why we've got to be willing to adapt and innovate to meet constantly emerging new threats. So we have now more than 3000 trainees have now experienced the memorial and I'm proud to say that thousands more will have that opportunity in the years to come. And having our agents and analysts make that visit viscerally reinforces for them why they applied to the FBI in the first place. And we hope they come away from that understanding that they didn't pick some ordinary job. They've chosen to do something extraordinary and millions, literally millions of people that they'll never know are counting on them to do that job well to make sure they do the work right. I have one final thought before we turn to our conversation. You know, talking about public service gives me a chance to mention another way that the FBI recreated itself after 9/11, something that led to completely new public service opportunities within the Bureau.
0:21:33.7 CW: Each of the people who lost their lives on 9/11 had their own stories. And the 9/11 Memorial Museum, as I said, does a powerful job of telling them. All of the victims, families, friends, co-workers, suddenly had gaping holes in their lives. And as agencies were overwhelmed in trying to help, the FBI turned to a woman named Katherine Turman who was a sociologist with the Justice Department who had worked as a victim witness advocate. And Katherine grew and built the FBI's victim services division from a handful of well-intentioned staff into a world renowned core of more than 300 specially trained professionals. We even have two crisis response canines, Wally and Geo. And other than the fact that they leave a lot of hair all over my suit, I can attest that they are both wonderful at what they do. And we now have victim specialists in each of our 56 field offices all over the country to help people harmed by crime. They provide on scene assistance, they triage needs, they refer victims to counseling, employment, housing, immigration, medical or legal services. They go with FBI special agents for things like interviews or death notifications.
0:23:00.5 CW: And they coordinate as liaisons with other government agencies and external partners. And the work they do with children is particularly outstanding. And regardless of what else is going on in our world, these are FBI professionals who are ready to drop everything to help in their communities. Or to quickly fly elsewhere to set up shop. Their work doesn't always get as much attention as our FBI special agents. But for instance, just two weeks ago, at the same time that our agents were arriving in Colorado Springs to investigate the absolutely tragic and intolerable shooting at Club Q, our victim specialists were there too, establishing a family assistance center to provide services and assistance for those affected and the families of those killed. It is heartbreaking, really, to see events like that play out over and over again as they have this year. But I'm proud of the work that everyone involved in that case in Colorado and all of these kinds of cases has been doing. They truly make a positive difference in people's lives. I guess if I had to choose one thing to ask you to take away from today, it's that public service doesn't have to be aimed at affecting dozens or even millions of people to be meaningful.
0:24:33.0 CW: When I think about that mom and her son in Atlanta in the '90s, I recognize how all of us involved in investigating and prosecuting that case changed her life and her son's life for the better. And again, while that trial generated a certain amount of news coverage, I'm not sure anybody outside of that courtroom really grasped what had happened, but it definitely meant something to her and it continues to mean something to me today. Even thinking about 9/11, as the guy overseeing the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, who was sometimes called the 20th hijacker, I remember how important it was to our whole team there to make a point of treating each and every one of the 2977 victims that day as individuals. Individuals who had been murdered and whose families shouldn't be cheated of the grief and loss they were all feeling just because of the sheer number of people killed on that day. So commitment to the pursuit of justice for every American, that for as long as it takes. And that's the kind of work that the FBI's 38,000 men and women are doing really every day in communities all over this country and overseas, all over the world.
0:25:52.2 CW: So if helping others interests you, I hope you'll consider a career at the FBI, but more than that, I hope you'll consider public service in whatever avenue you find and whatever capacity your life allows. I think I'm proof that a career can navigate both private practice and public service, and I will tell you, having done both during those times of my life when I've been able to devote myself to public service, I've been fortunate, blessed really, to feel the immense fulfillment that comes from the opportunity to serve others and my own community. And I can promise you that you too will find immeasurable value in serving others. So thank you, and I'm looking forward to our conversation.
0:27:07.5 John Ciorciari: Thank you, Director Wray, for joining us and for your remarks in honor of this annual event. I'm John Ciorciari. I'm an associate dean for research and policy engagement here at the Ford School, where I also direct our International Policy Center and Weiser Diplomacy Center. Now in preparation for today's event, we invited our whole community, students, staff, and faculty to engage over the past few weeks and to submit questions that they'd want to hear addressed on the issues that matter most to them.
0:27:35.4 JC: We received dozens of thoughtful questions from many of you who are here in the audience today on a wide variety of topics, and we've crafted today's conversation around the key themes that were raised. I'll ask questions with three of my colleagues here in the front row who are experts in counterterrorism, cybersecurity and national security, immigration policy, science and technology policy, and more. But I'd like to start with a question that I know is on the minds of many members of our community and that you referenced as we mourn the losses of still more innocent lives in mass shootings recently in Colorado, Virginia, and elsewhere. As a federal law enforcement agency, what are the most important ways in which the FBI is working to address gun violence in the United States?
0:28:22.4 CW: Well, certainly, you know, the shooting in Colorado Springs and in Chesapeake, Virginia, are heartbreaking, and I think even more than the toll of the in some ways the people who tragically were murdered in those situations, it's a direct assault on the feeling of safety that people in communities have, which is fundamentally what law enforcement is designed to try to help address. Obviously, I say obviously, I assume most people know that the first line of defense for violent crime and active shooter situations is our state and local law enforcement partners who are fantastic, and they're the first line of defense.
0:29:05.9 CW: But the FBI plays a number of very important and kind of unique roles. You know, one, we have, we investigate any number of different types of violent crime. We have something like 300 task forces all over the country that are FBI led but that have task force officers from state and local departments and those task forces are arresting literally thousands of violent criminals, seizing thousands of guns from those violent criminals, dismantling hundreds of gangs and criminal enterprises. So there's that piece of it. We also have something called NICS, which is the place that does the you've all heard about the background checks when somebody is buying a gun. The FBI owns the service that runs the background checks, and they process, you know, I think it's something like 40 million firearms purchases a year. The goal of those background checks being to identify those people who are prohibited by law from buying a gun. And there's probably I think it's like 150,000 denials a year. So again, these are people who are typically who have felony records or something else like that who are legally barred from buying a gun but tried to do it anyways. And that NICS, that service helps prevent that from happening.
0:30:39.9 CW: So we do that. We study the trends about active shooter situations and put out information about that. We recently put out our active shooter incident report for 2021, and the numbers are pretty, along with your question, are pretty stark. The number of active shooter incidents last year was higher than it's been I think in over 20 years. We do training. We do training both of state and local law enforcement on active shooter situations. But we also do outreach and training to things like schools, you know, houses of worship, community organizations and things like that to help them protect themselves in an instance of an active shooter situation. And then, you know, heaven forbid there is a situation, then we deploy to help with all sorts of things, which, you know, forensics, all sorts of lab services, evidence recovery. We have if the situation calls for it, you know, our SWAT teams or hostage rescue team might get involved. We have crisis negotiators if it's a hostage situation, for example. And we have those victim services professionals that I was talking about before. And every one of these incidents that we're talking about, those folks are deploying to help, you know, whether it's Buffalo with the little grocery store up there where we had that awful shooting, all the way back to early in my tenure as FBI director in the Las Vegas shooting was pretty early in my tenure.
0:32:22.7 CW: And that was a pretty eye opening crime scene to be there for that. But again, all those folks are deploying to do the shooting reconstruction, to help our law enforcement partners in that situation.
0:32:37.8 JC: Thank you for that. And I'll turn to a few of my colleagues to ask some questions.
0:32:42.2 Javed Ali: Director Wray, I'm Javed Ali, associate professor of practice here since 2018. And I left FBI in 2018 to take this another dream job here at the University of Michigan. But thank you again for being here. And thank you for being with us earlier this morning. So I've got a couple questions. The first is on the topic of domestic terrorism. And given the elevated threat in the country over the past few years, it sort of coincides with your time as director and specifically on the racially motivated violent extremists end of the spectrum and anti government extremists end of the spectrum. Students would like to hear your perspectives on how in your time as director has the FBI sort of scaled up to meet this challenge? Where do you think this threat is going in the future? And how can the public help, if at all, in the bureau's mission on this really important topic?
0:33:37.1 CW: Protecting Americans from terrorist attack, both domestic and international, remains the FBI's number one priority. And when it comes to domestic terrorism specifically, I think a lot of people, it's have been on the news a lot more in the last year or so. But we elevated that to what we call a national threat priority all the way back in summer of 2019, specifically racially motivated violent extremism, the vast majority of which is people who are advocating the superiority of the white race. So that started, that's all the way back to summer of 2019. And we actually had a significant growth in domestic terrorism cases throughout my first three years, so 2017 to 2020. It grew quite significantly. Then of course you have January 6th. And obviously the numbers since then are even greater. Where you have since, you mentioned two categories, there's a racially motivated violent extremism and then we have anti government, anti authority violent extremism. That too now is also at a national highest level threat priority on the same footing as something like ISIS. What all these threats have in common, especially if you consider that I was just talking a lot about 9/11, it helps to understand both what the threat is but also how to your question how the public can help.
0:35:10.9 CW: You know, the 9/11 attack, you're talking about like a sleeper cell in effect, 19 people plus some others who plotted some spectacular attack that was incredibly complicated over years. What we have now is more and more people who are lone actors or maybe at most working with one or two other people and they're not doing some spectacular attack, they're using an easily accessible weapon like a gun, a knife, a car, a crude IED you could find out how to build on the Internet. And they're attacking not the World Trade Center with a commercial airliner, they're attacking what the intelligence community calls soft targets which is basically just jargon for everyday people living their everyday lives. And these are people who are radicalizing not in some cave in Afghanistan, they're radicalizing online. And the reason I say all that is because they go from radicalization to mobilization not over years but in weeks. And so you've all heard that expression about connecting the dots, the importance of connecting the dots. Well, the kind of terrorist threat we're dealing with now, especially here in the US, there are not a lot of dots. There's not a lot of people involved, not a lot of planning involved.
0:36:35.2 CW: So every dot in that situation becomes that much more important. And so it could be that the FBI only has one dot and some member of the public has the other dot. They saw something about a friend, a coworker, a neighbor, something that they knew was off. Or it could be a business. Some guy comes in and wants to buy a whole lot of fertilizer and ball bearings and doesn't seem to know anything about farming. We want the guy at the hardware store to say that seems odd and calling law enforcement. Or some guy who seems to be a tourist but the only thing he wants to take pictures of are the undergirding of a bridge. That's weird, right? So you all heard that expression, if you see something, say something. We need people not just to see something like a bag that's left unattended in the bus terminal. If you see something about somebody, either in the kind of examples I just gave or because so much of this is happening online, if you see something about somebody online, to call law enforcement, that's how we make sure we've got the eyes and ears to make sure that we connect the dots. Because there's a lot fewer dots and there's a lot less time in which to connect them.
0:37:53.2 JA: Thank you for those answers, Director Wray. So next question is on cyber security. And you've also been a fairly prominent thought leader on that topic since your time as director. So given the threat from countries like Russia and China and other adversaries of the United States, where do you see that cyber threat going? And once again, how has the FBI in your time as director scaled up to meet the cyber challenge?
0:38:20.5 CW: So a lot to say on this, I guess. Let me think about a few key points. You mentioned Russia. There's a few specific things we're very concerned about Russia. One is the same kind of, their intelligence services have been spying on the US for years through cyber means, among other things. So the same kind of cyber access that enables them to spy on a network, if they were to decide, if Putin were to decide that his goals are different, could use that same access to engage in a destructive attack, which could be much more significant. We're also concerned about what we call spillover. The Russians have the same kind of recklessness towards civilian life that they've shown on the battlefield in the Ukraine.
0:39:09.6 CW: They're showing in cyberspace. They did an attack, a cyber attack called Matpetia against, ironically, the Ukraine in 2017. But it was designed to do one thing, which is basically to destroy any system it came into contact with, and it quickly spiraled out of control, costing the world something like $10 billion in damages and largely shut down all kinds of global logistics chains and everything else. So the spillover effect is significant. We're concerned about the Russians' propensity to work with cyber criminals. They provide, at the very least, safe haven, if not actual partnership with cyber criminals. And so those people are an issue. So you got that. You mentioned China. China has a bigger hacking program than that of every other major nation combined. And Chinese government, the Chinese government has stolen more of America's personal and corporate data than that of every nation, big or small, combined. So that is a significant challenge. There's also countries like Iran, North Korea, who can't be underestimated in this arena. What we're seeing more and more is what we call a blended threat, which is the line between what's a nation state engaging in malicious cyber activity and cyber criminal activity kind of merged together because you'll have, for example, governments like Russia, China, Iran hiring cyber hackers, basically mercenaries, to do their work, cyber criminals to do their work for them.
0:40:57.0 CW: You'll also see on the other side intelligence officers, cyber intelligence officers for some of these countries moonlighting to make money on the side, so engaging in cyber criminal activity. And then you see these governments using cyber criminal tools to do their work because they think it will obfuscate or hide whose fingerprints are on it. So there's a blending of the threat that gets more troubling. What are we doing about it? We are increasingly focused on speed and trying to get out to victims as quickly as possible. We're very proud of the fact that pretty much anywhere in the country we can have a technically trained agent on that company or school's doorstep within about an hour or so to help, while at the same time pursuing what we call attribution, which is essentially whodunit. And that's important because if you don't attribute who's behind the cyber attack, then you can't impose consequences. And if you can't impose consequences, you're never going to deter it. So that's a change. We're also doing more and more what we call joint sequenced operations, so working with the rest of the intelligence community, the military, foreign partners, and the private sector to do operations where we're all bringing our tools to maximize impact.
0:42:22.1 CW: So take something like ransomware. We're going after not just the actors and the actors around them, but we're going after the bad guys' infrastructure. So there are ways where we can degrade or disrupt or dismantle their servers. We're hitting them in their tools. And third, we're going after their money, their cryptocurrency. Increasingly we're getting better at being able to claw back or seize their money. So now you're hitting them where it hurts. So we're doing more things like that. Ultimately we need, which is why I'm glad to be at a premier university, we need more and more cyber talent in the mission. And I'll put in a plug to anybody who's from that world. We may not be able to compete on pay, but we're getting better on that. But we can definitely compete on mission. And more importantly, if you want to go up against the worst or the most sophisticated adversaries and do stuff to them that you can't do in the private sector because it's probably criminal if you did it in the private sector. If you do it with us, you can do it. So we think we have something pretty good to offer to people.
0:43:36.6 JA: I will say I do teach a class on cybersecurity here and I have constantly reminded people about thinking about the FBI as a place to go to kind of leverage those skills and insights on cyber issues. So with that, let me pass the mic over to my colleague, Joy Rohde.
0:43:54.1 Joy Rohde: Thank you. Thanks, Javed. I'm Joy Rohde. I'm an associate professor of public policy and the director of Michigan's science, technology and society program here. I'm a historian and my work focuses on the relationship between the sciences and national security. But I wanted to ask you a question following this line. A number of students have questions about TikTok. You recently shared with lawmakers your concern that the app is a serious threat to US national security. Legal and technology experts seem to have mixed views on the nature and especially the imminence of the threat. What do you see as the main threats posed by TikTok and how do you think those are best addressed at a policy level?
0:44:37.9 CW: Well, as I think I testified recently to Congress, we do, we the FBI, do have national security concerns about the app. Its parent company is controlled by the Chinese government. And it gives them the potential to leverage the app in ways that I think should concern us. So what do I mean by that? One, it gives them the ability to control the recommendation algorithm.
0:45:12.9 CW: Which allows them to manipulate content and if they want to, to use it for influence operations which are a lot more worrisome in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party than whether or not you're steering somebody as an influencer to one product or another. They also have the ability to collect data through it on users which can be used for traditional espionage operations, for example. They also have the ability on it to get access, they have essentially access to the software to devices. So you're talking about millions of devices and that gives them the ability to engage in different kinds of malicious cyber activity through that. And so all of these things are in the hands of a government that doesn't share our values and that has a mission that's very much at odds with what's in the best interest of the United States that that should concern us.
0:46:23.6 CW: As I mentioned before, the Chinese government has shown a willingness to steal American's data on a scale that dwarfs any other. You look at the Equifax hack alone, they stole the equivalent of half the population of the United States, you know, personal data. So the idea of entrusting that much data, that much ability to shape content and engage in influence operations, that much access to people's devices in effect to that government is something that concerns us. How do we address it? There's an interagency process, there's something called the CFIUS process, which stands for the committee for foreign investment in the United States. That's involved. There may be agreements that may be relevant to this, requirements and things like that. Whether or not there's something that could adequately address those concerns is, you know, a product of very much discussion, you know, within the interagency. But I think it starts with awareness about the risks.
0:47:29.5 JR: Thank you. I'll turn it over to Ann.
0:47:35.1 Ann Lin: Thank you very much. Director Wray, my name is Ann Lin. I'm the Lieberthal-Rogel, professor of Chinese studies here at the University of Michigan and an associate professor of public policy here at the Ford School. My question is about the FBI's role in investigations of Chinese American faculty, university faculty scientists. Several cases against Chinese scientists have gone to federal court in the last two years only to have juries find those defendants not guilty or federal judges dismiss many of the charges. Other ongoing cases have been dropped by prosecutors before going to trial. So advocates for these faculty would say that the failure to convict here is because the evidence was never very strong against them to begin with. And they accused the FBI of presuming that routine academic engagement with scientific colleagues in China is evidence of a crime or of mistaking university sponsored collaborations and grants for money that is illicitly going into scientists' pockets. Now, presumably you would disagree. So what do advocates misunderstand about these cases? Or do you think that the evidence against these faculty has been stronger than juries and federal judges have found?
0:48:57.6 CW: Well, thank you for the question. I welcome the opportunity to talk about the topic. Because I think there are to your point, I think there are a lot of misconceptions out there. Let me start with we base our cases on the facts and the law. And sometimes our cases are successful and sometimes they aren't. We do not and this is very important. We do not base our cases on race, ethnicity, or national origin. And we haven't. Now, let me add to that. It is the case that the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in what it considers an international talent war to try to leverage and steal intellectual property and sensitive research and data from countries all over the world, not just the United States.
0:50:01.7 CW: And we have seen that time and time again. And so it is part of our responsibility to work with, underline with universities to try to help protect that information. That's our responsibility. But one of the things that I think people often don't understand about our work in this area is that actually very little of it results in criminal prosecutions. So an awful lot of what our folks are doing in this particular space on the China government threat in the academic setting is in partnership with universities on things like how do they improve their own safeguards to protect research, how do they ensure transparency about research and funding relationships a professor or visiting academic might have with a university back in China that may be affiliated with the Chinese government's military.
0:51:02.3 CW: So a lot of what we do is working with them in that setting. Sometimes there are, we also work with grant making entities because an awful lot of this research is funded by the US taxpayer. And I think it's appropriate for universities and the US government to make sure that there's transparency with the university and the relevant grant making agencies to understand what kind of relationships exist between the scholar and the Chinese government which has as I said in response to a different question a very different objective in the way it views the world including suppression of human rights, including theft of intellectual property, including military dominance.
0:51:47.9 CW: Sometimes there are civil or administrative remedies that come out of it. Sometimes universities take action themselves because they conclude that it's a relationship that they don't think is consistent with their terms and their values. But then sometimes there are criminal cases. You mentioned some that we lost, some that we dropped. There of course have been quite a few that we won as well. And I respect the decisions of juries and judges that have found against us just as I trust others to respect the juries and judges that have found for us in those cases where it's gone the other way.
0:52:37.7 CW: And I would just make a point here which is the fact that we sometimes lose cases actually speaks volumes about the integrity and independence of our justice system. I actually think it's a mark in our favor as a country that the government loses cases. I would be willing to bet you that our counterparts over in China don't lose very many cases. And it ain't because they're better than we are. So there is a stark illustration of the differences between the two systems. And that brings me to another point since I'm speaking in a university setting. An awful lot of what the Chinese government is also engaged in in the academic arena threatens the very kind of academic freedom that I think you're rightly focused on in a different way. The same kind of repression that we see from the Chinese government back at home in mainland China is essentially an export into the United States. There was an example I could give you, although there are countless of them, from another university, another major university also in the Midwest where you had a student who was posting stuff about, in favor of a tribute to the Tiananmen Square protesters who were killed.
0:54:08.5 CW: This is a Chinese American student in an American university. Couldn't have been sitting in a room just like this. Within 24 hours of him posting this stuff, the Chinese intelligence services back in China paid a visit to his parents threatening them. Of course they called their son and like, dude, what are you doing? And then there was a protest that was going to be held to call attention to some of the repression that was occurring back in China. And they had an online rehearsal, not unlike I'm sure some of the protests that some of you or your classmates may have been involved in. And within like hours, the Chinese intelligence services back in China knew what this Chinese American student had been doing. And they again paid a visit to his parents. So this is repression of academic freedom and speech here in the United States and the victims of it are Chinese Americans or Chinese visitors. And that's a point that I've been trying to make everywhere I talk about this threat. I want to be crystal clear about this. This is a threat that's about the Chinese government and the Chinese Communist Party. It is not about the Chinese people and it sure as heck is not about Chinese Americans.
0:55:27.8 CW: Many cases are at the top of the list as victims of the same kind of activity. We have countless cases now where you have the Chinese government essentially sending people over here to threaten, harass, stalk, blackmail, surveil Chinese dissidents who have been calling out the behavior of the Chinese government. And so we want to make sure as the FBI that we're helping those people protect themselves from that threat. We feel like that's part of our responsibility as well. And it happens not just in the academic arena but in other spaces as well.
0:56:13.5 AL: Thank you very much for that answer. And I very much appreciate what you said. But I'd like you to reflect a little more broadly on the threat that the government of the People's Republic of China might pose to the United States and what we do in response to that threat. So I'll use your words from just a couple of minutes before. You asked us to connect the dots when we find them. And the question or the problem is that sometimes people will see things as dots that really aren't there. You've stated in multiple venues that the Chinese government is engaged in a whole of society effort to steal from the United States. And you've asked that the United States engage in a similar whole of society effort to combat China. At the same time, you also stated as you have just done that this effort isn't about the Chinese people or Chinese Americans. But of course, Chinese Americans are part of the US society that you believe needs to be mobilized against China. So what advice do you have for Chinese Americans like myself who hope to be able to bridge the differences between our two countries but instead find themselves caught in the middle subject to accusations of disloyalty, of being a dot, or to incidents even of anti-Asian hate?
0:57:31.0 CW: Well, I guess a couple things. First, I think I've only used the whole of society reference to describe the Chinese threat once early in my tenure. I have used the whole of society language quite a bit in referring to what we as Americans need to do to counter it. So just to be clear on that. And I have made a point in almost every significant speech I've given on this topic, often to audiences that may not necessarily embrace the message that as I just said a few minutes ago, and I appreciate your acknowledging it, that this is not about the Chinese people and it's not about Chinese Americans who in many cases are victims first and foremost of the same government that we're trying to counter.
0:58:20.8 CW: Now, it is true that and I've said this repeatedly and I stand by it, there is no country, no government that represents a more serious, more persistent threat to our innovation, our ideas, and our economic security than the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese government. That is an assessment that I make soberly and thoughtfully based on the facts, based on the intelligence, and is a view that I find is shared by agencies across the government, by foreign partners all over the world increasingly, by the business community increasingly, and by, frankly, universities I'm finding increasingly.
0:59:06.1 CW: Again, not based on race, ethnicity, or national origin, but based on intelligence and based on the threat posed by a government, not by visitors here. So to us at the FBI, we don't view it as a middle. We view Chinese Americans here as being with us. And that's why I highlight these cases, in particular the transnational repression cases, because to me they in a very poignant way illustrate the degree to which Chinese Americans here are not in the middle, but in the cross hairs of the Chinese government. And we need to work with them, not as dots as a threat, but dots in a different sense. They are as victims, they are people who have information that can help us protect them and protect the country. And so that would be my message to them and to you.
1:00:09.0 JC: Thank you, Director Wray. We've got time for I think two more questions. I'll ask one and turn to Joy for the final question. Mine changes gears a little bit. Some of the FBI's most visible work is in high profile investigations, and recent probes, of course, have taken place against a backdrop of partisan polarization and incendiary rhetoric in the United States.
1:00:29.3 JC: To what extent and in what ways can this political climate affect the course of an investigation? And what strategies do you use to try to maintain both the substance and the appearance of evenhandedness as you conduct these probes?
1:00:45.3 CW: Well, it's certainly true that we are in an environment, and all the work we're doing is in an environment, just like everything else in today's world, that is hyper-politicized and polarized, and 24/7 cable and social media play their own part in kind of pouring gasoline on that fire. I think there's a difference between people who are unhappy about or angry about the result of something we do versus the way in which we get there. And that's a very important distinction. Our job, our mission, my message to our people is that we are going to follow the facts wherever they lead, no matter who likes it. And I add that last part because what I find increasingly in today's world is that people at first, they say, oh, independence, objectivity, go for it, go FBI, until they don't like the result of something we do. And then suddenly it's like, whoa, wait a minute. And that's not how independence and objectivity work.
1:01:49.3 CW: Sometimes you're going to like the result. Sometimes you're not going to like the result. Sometimes we're not going to like the result. We can't guarantee outcomes. All I can guarantee is that I'm going to do my darnedest and try to make sure our people do their darnedest to do the work with rigor, with professionalism, with objectivity to get there. And as I said, sometimes results are going to make people happy, sometimes they're not. But if we start worrying too much about who's going to be angry about something we do, then that pretty quickly becomes finger to the wind. And that pretty quickly becomes the ends justify the means. And if there's one thing an organization with as much power as the FBI has can never be, it's an organization where the ends justify the means. So the reason I always say, people have said for years, follow the facts wherever they lead. I've been adding almost since the day I started, no matter who likes it, because if there's one thing I've learned almost immediately in this job is that there's always somebody who doesn't like it. And so we just need to make sure that we stay focused on that.
1:02:56.6 CW: And that's why the importance is of doing the work in the right way. Ultimately, that's what keeps us grounded in the middle of sometimes pretty heated and sometimes even pretty unpleasant political climate.
1:03:13.8 JC: Thank you. Joy.
1:03:17.0 JR: Thanks. All right. I have a two part question. It's an academic setting. So I have to ask. [laughter] Someone has to ask a two part question. So Director Wray, historians have documented the FBI's troubled historical relationship with civil rights activists and minority communities, for example, surveillance campaigns against black activists like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X in the 1960s, and Arab American communities post 9/11. And students were asking, does this history still affect the FBI's relationship to minority communities in the present? And what is the agency done to address that legacy of distrust? That's part one. Part two is, are there ways in which that history has informed the FBI's efforts to balance in the contemporary moment the deterrence, for example, of cybercrime on critical infrastructure to balance that against potential harms to public trust that can come from large scale data surveillance? And if so, you know, what mechanisms are at place in order to try to balance that relationship?
1:04:27.7 CW: Well, let me take your questions in reverse order, if I can. So on the cyber part of your question, I appreciate the opportunity to make something pretty clear. We are not and we don't engage in large scale monitoring on companies, networks and infrastructure or university. That's not what we do. There are people who think and I hear from them sometimes and a lot of thoughtful people who think we should be able to do that, but we don't and we can't. So we may not actually know in the cyber context that somebody has been victimized unless they come forward. And so the reason why it's important for me to be able to answer that part of your question is we need people to come forward because otherwise we may not actually know about the cyber attack that occurs. There is now legislation that's passed that's going to improve the reporting of cyber activity, which will help. There are times when we're following a bad guy, like a Russian hacker, for example, and then we find them on some university or company's network and they didn't know about it and then we're coming to tell them, hey, guess what?
1:05:36.7 CW: Guess who's in your system? But we're not. The notion that we're engaged in sort of large scale data surveillance, you know, mass gobbling up of data in the cyber arena is largely overblown. So I really appreciate the opportunity to address that. Not just because of the accuracy of the concern, but more importantly because if people think we've got all that information anyways, we can just sit back and let the FBI tell us when we've been hit, then we've got a real problem. To the other part of your question involving Dr. King and some of the other mistakes that we've made over the years, you know, the FBI is a gigantic organization, it's been around for 114 years, and like any giant organization that's been around for that long, we've made mistakes and we've made some doozies of mistakes. That's a technical term. But what I think what distinguishes the most high performing organizations in the world is not whether they've made mistakes or not, because I would argue any organization that big that's been around for that long has made mistakes. It's what we learn from those mistakes. And I'm actually very proud of things that the FBI has learned from some of its mistakes over the years.
1:06:50.3 CW: So let's take the Dr. King example in particular. We now have, I mentioned earlier how I'm having all agents and analysts, you know, in their training go to the 9/11 memorial. What I didn't mention is there are two other visits that they make as well, each for different purpose. They visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC and they get to see what happens when law enforcement essentially fails to protect its people. And they visit the Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial, the monument. And there's a whole class that's taught around the Dr. King Memorial that talks about specifically what the FBI did wrong under then Director Hoover and Assistant Attorney General Bobby Kennedy at the time where they signed off on a wiretap with almost nothing. If you compare that to what we do now, you know, where the scores of eyes, the pages and pages of detail and rigor that get built into it, it's like night and day by comparison. But the whole class is an opportunity not just to focus on the importance of rigor and objectivity and not letting our biases affect our work, but it's also an opportunity to have very healthy discussions about things like race, about bias, about avoiding even the appearance of bias and things like that.