Excerpts from the Speech of
JOHN P. O'NEILL
Chief, International Terrorism Operations
Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Presented at the National Strategy Forum on June 11, 1997

JOHN O'NEILL: Well, thank you, Richard. Thank you all. I guess my first comment is it's wonderful to be back in my adopted home of the City of Chicago. I've been in New York now for five months, and it's still not as good as Chicago from my vantage point. It is my adopted home here. I can see several friends out in the audience. One of them I'm going to single is Jack Townsend, my old partner here, First Deputy Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. In all of my times here, we always used to say it's the finest police department in the United States and probably in the world. So you're blessed those of you that are citizens here in Chicago by the department.

And what I thought I would do in the limited time that we have is to just give you a little bit of background sort of and make sure we're all on the same playing field as we talk through this particular problem and then give you some idea about the threat today and how we got to this particular trend and what's the background behind it and a little bit of time for some of the things that we're doing, you know, to try to counter the terrorism. Well, let me just give a couple of quick definitions so that we all are on the same playing. The definition of the terrorism in its simplistic form is the use of violence or the threat of violence in furtherance of a political or a social agenda. So if someone burns down an abortion clinic in the United States because a person's pro-life, pro-choice, that would be a politically or socially motivated type of crime in which violence is employed as opposed to a father who's just had a daughter who had an abortion in the clinic and the father is retaliating for personal reasons in terms of definition.

We have the domestic terrorism side of the house which is our indigenous people and indigenous issues. The best example of that in recent times is the Oklahoma City bombing. We have our international terrorism program which deals with those acts of violence that are politically or socially motivated that deal with foreign individuals or foreign interests, some problem somewhere else in the world that comes to our doors or comes to somewhere in the world in which an American or American interest is attacked because of a political or a social agenda. Now, certainly, we have international acts of terrorism that take place in places like Dhahran in Saudi Arabia with the Khobar Towers bombing as an example or the World Trade Center bombing in New York City. So international acts of terrorism in our program can happen here on our shores or overseas if it involves Americans. I guess technically, you could have an act of domestic terrorism if there was a domestically based issue and there were attacks that started let's say in London. I know of no instance where that has happened, any domestic acts of terrorism have occurred here on our shores. Our government collectively uses what I like to say is five and a half tools to fight terrorism. As we talk through this problem and towards the end, I'd like you to keep in mind these five and a half tools and we'll revisit them in terms of how the world and the acts of terrorism have changed and how we deal with it.

The five and half tools, first of all, there's diplomacy. We use our State Department in our diplomatic world try to get countries to come to agreements, treaties and conventions on how we should deal with these problems. And we also issue (inaudible) against those countries that do not come into compliance with those areas of terrorism we're particularly interested in. We use economic sanctions to try to bring countries into some realm of compliance. The best example would be the economic sanctions right now against Libya for their alleged involvement in the Pan Am 103 disaster. We use covert actions. Since not everybody in the world has security clearance, I'll leave that up to your own devices as to what covert actions are. We have military connections. The best example of that probably in relatively recent times is the discotheque bombing in Berlin that took place several years ago when they implicated that Mohammar Qaddafi's Libya was involved and then President Reagan wanted to strike in Tripoli to retaliate for that act of terrorism against the American servicemen. And we have law enforcement. There's this tool which has become quite more involved in the last few years in particular and we'll talk about that. And that half a tool that I say is on that list is really the marriage of the public and private sector to try and fight the problem collectively together so the government would connect into a private sector which would be the other half. Law enforcement as most of you have seen in the last five years come out and law enforcement officials talked about that street crime cannot be dealt with just as a law enforcement problem. We need community policing. We need neighborhood watches. We need the activism to help us combat street crime. And it's pretty much the same way with acts of terrorism. We need to strengthen those soft targets as we investigate groups and individuals whom they try to attack us or attack our citizens. We also need to take a look at those logical places where terrorists may attack and try to strengthen them. So we take the White House and we shut down Pennsylvania Avenue. We have made the White House a much stronger target against terrorists much like a car thief who goes to a parking lot and finds the Club attached to the steering wheel -- that's not a paid endorsement for the Club -- but they see the club on the car and what do they do. They go to the next car that doesn't have the Club on it. And that's much the same mindset in terms of terrorists picking their targets. So we can marry the public and the private sector together in terms of corporate security concerns. You know those places that are logical places for terrorists to hit, we like to do that marrying there. The other job is pretty simple to see, a little bit more difficult to carry out, and our job is relatively simple. It's to prevent acts of terrorism occurring against Americans in the United States and in those situations where an act has occurred have a massive response to be able to catch those people that are involved in the event and stop the -- that word terror, and the terrorists from sometimes stalling the American way of life.

The FBI is the lead agency for terrorism in the United States. We ask you to do at least a little bit of background in terms of what is the playing field or the goal. I've seen that -- have dominated this presentation in two different areas and one is the threat that we see today from the international side, and there are many. But I'm going to devote most of my time directed to a particular significant threat that we see today. At the time of the World Trade Center bombing, the FBI and most of the intelligence community was putting most of its eggs, if you will, in the basket of -- collection, investigations in the states that sponsor terrorism. We still do that. We still look at the states today and also Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Sudan. In fact, that's part of the World Trade Center. The PLO was also one that has remained in the last couple of years. But our efforts were trained towards these particular groups and individuals. The World Trade Center case made us painfully aware that there is this new realm that's out there that's growing at a pretty fast place and that's some of the religious extremism that's going on and there is religious extremism in all the major religions of the world. But one of the ones that we see growing very, very fast is Islamic extremism, and if you look at the World Trade Center bombers, people that had been charged and convicted, they are Egyptian, Pakistani and Kuwaiti and Iraqis and U.S. persons, all coming together. We'll talk a little bit about that.

These individuals are pretty much identified because of their freedom to move across borders. They are bound by a Jihad, a religious belief as opposed to any nation or state. They can quickly assemble and quickly disperse. The other theaters in conflict today include Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, Egypt, Algeria and we've seen that spill over into France with the Algerian Islamic extremists problem, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kashmir, Mindanao, the triwater areas down in South America. And when we go back to the World Trade Center case and we look at how things have changed just in the last few years, how the balance of power has shifted. No one is going to attack, no intelligent state will attack the United States in the foreseeable future because of our military superiority. So the only way that these individuals can attack us and have some effect is through acts of terrorism. The rebel state sponsors continue to be looked at to this very day.

Let's take a look at what has brought out this radical extremism and how we've gotten to where we are. We'll go back just a little bit in time and we'll go back to the time of the Crusades and that continues to be a very significant water shed in the Islamic extremist movement, if you will. We look at rhetoric that's written today in some of their publications and some of their material on the Internet, and they will publish letters from the Crusaders to the Pope in 1099. And the letter will read today, we killed all the Muslims in this town. We killed their women and their children. There will be no more Muslims born in this town ever again. Next to it, there will be an article about today's Pope and his travel schedules. So the rhetoric is trying to incite much like you see some of the incitement in the Christian world in terms of the abortion issue. A lot of incitement, a lot of rhetoric and all this. Moving up quickly in time, another major watershed and that is the Iranian revolution where a movement changed that country's form of government from one of secular nature and separation of church and state to a non-secular form of government was a major water shed event. And most of these issues that we see today in the countries where there is revolt, Islamic revolt, they are Islamic based countries, and they are trying to change the form of government from secular to non-secular form of government.

The Afghanistan conflict or war, if you will, was a major water shed event. If we could take something that we are relatively familiar with, the Viet Nam, and say if that were a Christian or a Catholic country that was being invaded by the North Communists, the North Vietnamese Communists and there was not a call to other countries to come to help but other like minded Christians or Catholics. It was a call to arms. We've got to come together and fight collectively against this scourge of communism. And people from around the world came to Viet Nam, and they were trained in insurgency, and they were trained in how to use explosives, how to assassinate, how to commit acts of terrorism. They did those things and then after the war was over with, they all went back to their homes around the world, trained with that type of technology and having that networking. Like we come together today and we exchange business cards and we know each other when we leave. Well, the same principle is happening in Afghanistan, the Jihad and Islamic players came together to fight the Russians. Branches of our government felt that that was a noble cause and supported that. They were trained in insurgency. They were trained in terrorist activity, and now, they are back in their various countries around the world with that training and having the network capabilities to know other Jihad players around the world who have the same like mind, the same fundamentalist thinking and the same type of training. A major water shed event in this particular problem. Another significant fact about the Afghanistan conflict is they won. They beat one of the largest standing armies in the world at that time which gave them a buoyed sense of success and that they could take on other countries like the U.S. and be likewise successful. The situation, depending upon which side of the isle you may sit on, is the liberation of the City of Jerusalem or the seizure of the City of Jerusalem was another water shed event and this Islamic cause. It became no longer an issue of Jerusalem being a holy shrine, a holy place of all three major religions of the world. It became no longer a conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people. It became a cause between the State of Israel and Islamic people around the world. So Islamics who are in Indonesia or in Mindanao are also angered by the seizure or the liberation of Israel, depending upon which side you're on.

The assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt was another major water shed event. The assassination attempt by a group called ___________________ was the Islamic group. Their cause is to change the form of government in Egypt from a secular form of government as we know with separation of church and state to an Islamic non-secular form of government. That's why Sadat was killed. Re-establishment with diplomatic relations with the Vatican and the State of Israel, another major water shed event. A lot of the individuals in this extreme radical movement cannot understand why the State of Israel and the Vatican would team up together. Why would they get back together again if there were not a movement towards another Crusade and they're ganging up against us because we are Islamic extremists.

So those are some of the major water shed events that have gotten us to this place where we are today. Almost all of the extreme groups that we hear in the newspaper, various organizations have a presence in the United States today. They are heavily involved in recruiting. They are heavily involved in fund raising activity. We have found in some instances, engagement in small arms weapons training, independent tactics training and in one instance, explosives training. They talk across group lines. It's not like the old Mafia type cases or Cosa Nostra cases or organized crime cases where you pigeon hole somebody and you say he's a member of this group, he's a member of this group. You tend to figure out who they may be associated with and all of a sudden, they're talking to all of the different groups at a conference where they are all bound again by the Jihad, by their religious beliefs and extremism. And almost all of the groups today, if they chose to have the ability to strike us here in the United States. They're working toward that infrastructure. Our role is to continue to nick away at their infrastructure, their ability to strike us here in the United States and make it too costly of an effort for them to try to do that. The world is obviously getting smaller. The events that take place in France or in Bosnia or Chechnya or Kashmir or Addis Ababa,that was recently attacked, and now, President Mubarek in Egypt, can affect us directly here because in places like Chicago or places like New York -- and we tend to say that we're blessed because we have all of those ethnic make ups in our community. In a city like Chicago, there are people who will be on one side of the cause or the other in those countries around the world where there is conflict. I think that we cannot be isolationists in terms of law enforcement efforts. Our legal attachés assigned overseas continue to grow in number. We're adding another 150. Congress in '86 and '88 passed extraterritorial statutes which means that if an American or an American interest is attacked overseas, if we have the permission of the host government, we will deploy FBI agents overseas to conduct investigations or try to track individuals with this crimes and bring them back to the United States to stand trial. Last year or over the last 18 months, we've brought back six significant terrorists. Located and captured them overseas and brought them back to stand trial under the rules of law in the United States. So we've been successful in that.

When we look at, before we get to the domestic side, when we look at those five and a half tools that I talked about before and how terrorism has changed, it is very difficult now to try and prove state sponsorship of terrorism. These countries have gotten much better in concealing their involvement through a series of surrogates. So our ability to prove any nation or state is behind their funding or training is especially difficult today. When we look at the problems of terrorism in the incidents that we've looked at recently, it's very difficult for us to only employ diplomacy or military intervention or sanctions when you have the pocket of Islamic extremists in the suburbs of Paris. We're not going to bomb the suburbs of Paris. We're not going to use covert actions against them. We're probably not going to impose economic sanctions against the government of France or other like minded countries just because there is a pocket of terrorists in there. So the role of law enforcement has become much more significant over the last few years. Our abilities because of the laws that we have now had enacted and our abilities to travel overseas and make cases and bring them back to court here in the United States using the new law, law enforcement on the scale is a little bit higher in terms of its importance these last few years just because of the nature of terrorism and how it's changing. Certainly, that we can show state sponsorship of terrorism and all of those other tools have become much, much more significant in the law enforcement end. In the last few years, it's played a critical role.

Let me just spend a couple of minutes on the domestic side. And why are we concerned about the domestic side? Well, if I would just remind you all of Kennedy, Sadat, Ghandi and Rabin were all killed by their countrymen. So we need to have a presence. We need to be concerned about those people who would use violence or the threat of violence in furtherance of a domestically based political and social agenda. We have moved from the era of a lot of Ku Klux Klan investigations and Black Panther Party cases and old anti-government movements of years ago into a lot of specific type of hate groups. We have the animal rights groups, the special interest groups that are concerned about protection of the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest. People are blowing up buildings and blowing up forest ranger's facilities and their cars. The grazing rights issues in the western states. Here in Chicago a few years ago, we had nine incendiary devices that went off in the fur departments of some major department stores here in the city, set off by animal rights activists. So we have those kind of special interests groups involved. Abortion clinics, the abortion issue in the United States, just since 1990, there have been over 500 incidents involving arson and terrorist acts and shootings regarding the pro-life and pro-choice movement in the United States. We still have the old right wing radio hate groups like supremacist groups and left wing destruction of government groups, Marxist, Leninist groups. The new challenges to this growing problem are the militia organizations and the anti-government movement in the United States which continues. They are clearly anti-federal government. They believe that the federal income tax is illegal. Now, there may be some of you here today that don't necessarily agree with the federal income tax. However, I don't think that anybody here would go out and blow out a federal office because you don't like it. They are anti-regulation. They are anti-gun control. We see them in the western states where they may not have license tags issued by the state on their car. They will have license tags issued by heaven or driver's licenses that say that they're issued by heaven. And when we try to tell police officers that are on patrol if you stop a car that has license tags issued by heaven, this is probably someone that A, is not going to recognize your authority and B, is not going to be interested in wearing seatbelts or driving the designated speed limit and those kinds of situations.

What has brought this problem about? It probably goes back to around the time of Watergate or earlier when there began to be a distrust of our government by our citizenry. Now, it is brought about by the Brady bill. These individuals believe that this is really the first step to take away all the guns that are in the United States. I would be remiss if I did not say that ------- does not play a role and some of the rhetoric in the anti-government movement, they are against the United Nations and the thought of a one world order. They believe that the UN is really running the country, that there are Soviet troops in the United States based in Kansas, that FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has interment camps designed in places like Oklahoma to take Americans to and hold them. Other than this, we've done some outreach to try to talk to these groups and individuals. We have used the National Sheriff's Association. Most of these individuals see themselves as true constitutionalists. They go back to the founding documents like the Magna Carta. They go back to the old sheriff system, the sheriff system in English common law, and they see that sheriffs are the only duly constituted law enforcement officers in the United States. So they respect their authority. And there's another advantage. If they don't like them, they can vote them out of office in four years. But we have worked with the Sheriff's Association and we go out and we meet with some of these militia groups with the intervention of the sheriffs. We try to drink iced tea on their front porches and we tell them that FBI agents and law enforcement are, we put our pants on and our skirts on the same way as they do in the militia group. And we also try to convince them, that when they see Belgian paratroopers falling out of the sky with blue bonnets on their head that they should call the FBI first and let them take first crack at that problem as opposed to them interceding in our behalf.

Let me just give you an idea, just a quick run down of some of the incidents that we have seen which may be telling for you to some degree just in the last couple of years. At the end of 1994, there was a plane that left Manila. It was en route to Tokyo with an intermediate stop in Cebu in the Philippines. A gentleman got on the plane in Manila, got a ticket all the way through to Tokyo and got off at Cebu. And en route, a bomb went off on the plane. Killed one Japanese national and injured a number of other people in that plane. The pilot was successful in landing the plane in Okinawa. We conducted some investigation of that assisting the Philippine National Police. Shortly thereafter, in January of '95, an apartment caught on fire in Manila. And in that apartment, we found the fingerprints of a fellow by the name of Ramsi Achmed Yosef who was just convicted of his involvement in a scheme to blow up 12 U.S. jumbo jets all at the same time in southeast Asia. So those of you that travel may remember a lot of security warnings that were put into place in southeast Asia back in January, February and March of 1995. Usually, they would get on the flight and all of the components for that bomb were hand carried on and put together in the restroom of that plane. It included a battery that was in a transistor radio. It included a Casio watch on his wrist. Those components were just carried in an eye contact solution, following the other ones in a canister of liquid.

When we searched that apartment with the Philippine National Police, we found a lot of the components. We found the plans to blow up the 12 U.S. air carriers starting with a test run, if you will, to see if this could be put together on a plane and if it would work with a small charge. Much larger charges were going to be used. The plan called for all 12 jumbo jets to be blown up as they flew over major American cities throughout the United States. The case was successfully stopped, the plans were stopped. All the individuals involved have been caught at various places around the world and brought back to New York where they stood trial and one recently was convicted. Ramsi Yosef continues to get ready to stand trial for his alleged involvement in the World Trade Center bombing. Also in that apartment, we found clerical garb, priest robes, Bibles, the crucifix, rosary beads. And as you look out the window of the apartment, you realize that it was on the route for the Pope's visit.

February, '95 in Brailing, Michigan, a group of militia individuals were attempting to blow up a barracks at a National Guard Armory where they believed Soviet troops were housed. They believed that there were Soviet tanks, assuming there were, and they were captured during the Gulf War and they were being moved around the country on flat bed railroad cars for training purposes for our military. The barracks that they planned on blowing up housed U.S. military personnel. It was a completely successful intervention of a potential terrorist attack. March 8, 1995, two U.S. Consulate employees killed in a hail of machine gun fire in Pakistan. FBI agents were deployed there. March 20, 1995, a water shed event in terms of weapons of mass destruction following those (inaudible) attack in Tokyo. Two Americans were in that subway system and survived their injuries. FBI agents were deployed to Tokyo and as we said, places like Chicago and New York have the luxury -- in New York City, there was a branch of the (inaudible) regional sect that we had to (inaudible) a pretty significant intelligence collection effort against it within 24 hours after the attack.

Okay. April 19, 1995, I think most of us remember where we were. I certainly know where I was for the next 35 days after the bombing of the Edward T. Murragh Federal Building in Oklahoma City. In May, a (inaudible) bombing attack in (inaudible) territories. An American was killed. The FBI was deployed. In June, the coverage of a person who was able to order through the mail catalog a strain involving plague and have it delivered to his home. He was apprehended. The plague sample was found in the glove compartment of his car, and he was affiliated with the Aryan Nation. In July, a bunch of hostages were taken in Kashmir. The FBI was deployed and remain since July of 1995 in Kashmir working on that case. August, another bombing attack on the Left Bank. An American killed. The FBI was deployed. In September, a grenade attack at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. FBI agents deployed. That was interesting working with the Russians. If you (inaudible) and there was not one video camera that took pictures in front of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. (Inaudible) of the (inaudible) on October 1st of 1995, and his father was about to blow up a number of significant facilities in New York City. October 9th, a train derailed in Hayden, Arizona where one railroad employee was killed. November of '95, the bombing of U.S. run Saudi National Guard training center in Riyadh. Six Americans killed. In June of '96, truck bombing of the Khobar Towers facility in Dhahran. July the 17th, we continue to work on the TWA crash, 800 investigation. July 27th, the bombing in Centennial Park, Olympic facilities down in Atlanta. New bombings, additional bombings in Atlanta, an abortion clinic, a nightclub. January of '97, pipe bombs placed in a synagogue in Jacksonville, Florida. Had letter bomb come to Washington, D.C. and to New York and a lot of other smaller incidents. So that just gives you kind of a quick recap on where we have been and bringing you a sense of what's the threat as we see it.

We are concerned primarily in a couple of different areas. One is the lethality of the attacks that we see. If we compare the number of terrorist attacks in mid-1980's, mid-1980's, 1985 to the mid-1990's, they're down by about 500 in total worldwide fewer attacks, but a lot of those attacks were pipe bombs, small incendiary devices. What we see now is a very large series of either sustained attacks or very, very large attacks that try to bring a large number of casualties. But opinion for that is that if you are going to engage in terrorist attacks for political or social agendas, you want to make it on the news. How many people here will remember that our embassy in Moscow was attacked by a rocket or a grenade or our embassy in Athens this past year was attacked by a rocket. Very, very few (inaudible), very, very little notoriety anymore in those common, every day attacks.

The only thing that knocked O.J. Simpson off of television, his trial, was the Oklahoma City bombing case. The larger the attack, the more newsworthy they can make it or the series of sustained attacks as you saw the bus bombings that occurred in Israel in the occupied territories or the sustained attacks that the Provisional Irish Republic Army has been committing over the last year and a half. We are concerned about the lethality of the attacks. We're very, very concerned that we seem to have a rash of both problems in the international side and the domestic side at the same time. And we are also concerned now that we have had obviously a lot of conventional types of attacks, but now, we're starting to see unconventional types of attacks like the (inaudible) attack that took place in Tokyo with an unconventional type of weapon.

So those are the areas that we're most concerned about. I think that your organization will be challenged. I think interesting times lie ahead. Certainly, we as citizens will be challenged. I know the FBI will continue to be challenged in the years to come. Unfortunately, I cannot predict that no Americans will be injured or killed as a result of a terrorist attack. And in fact, it will happen as long as violence is seen as the way to move along political or social agendas. We will have terrorism as a problem to contend with. Hopefully, working together, we will continue to reduce the amount of terrorism to its possible lowest amount. I congratulate you on the important work that you do as an organization. I think these types of forums to get the message out is healthy. The work that you're doing in this area is very, very high quality, and I salute you. Thank you for having me today.

National Strategy Forum, Chicago, IL June 11, 1997