Attorney General Barr FBI Director Wray Hold News Conference CSPAN May 18, 2020 8:01pm-8:39pm EDT
>> attorney general william barr and fbi director christopher wray give an update on the investigation into last year's fatal shooting at a naval air station in pensacola, florida. one of the developments included new evidence from the gunman stone that showed a link to al qaeda. from the justice department, this is 40 minutes. >> good morning, everybody, and thank you for joining us at our second virtual press conference. i am joined by fbi director chris wray and we are here to discuss developments in the fbi investigation of the shooting at the pensacola naval air station that killed three u.s. sailors
and wounded eight other americans. four months ago i announced this shooting was an act of terrorism. i also publicly asked apple to help us access the locked contents of the two iphones belonging to the terrorist who was killed. it was clear at the time that the phones were likely to contain very important information. indeed he attempted to destroy both phones going so far as to disengage from the gunfight long enough to fire a bullet into one of the phones. within one day of the shooting the fbi saw it and obtained court orders supported by probable cause authorizing the bureau to search the contents of both phones as part of the investigation.
the problem was the phones were locked and the fbi did not have the passwords so they needed help to get in. we asked apple for assistance in the president asked apple for assistance. unfortunately, apple would not help us unlock the phones. apple had deliberately designed them so that only the user, in this case the terrorist, could gain access to the contents. today i am pleased to announce that thanks to the relentless efforts and ingenuity of fbi technicians the fbi finally succeeded in unlocking alshamrani's phone. they contained information previously unknown to us that definitively establishes his ties to the arabian peninsula. we have a clearer understanding of his associations and
activities in the years, months, and days leading up to the attack. the information from the phones has already proved invaluable in protecting the american people. a counterterrorism operation targeting an operative, one of the overseas associates, was recently conducted in yemen. we will not hesitate to act against those who harm americans. i would like to turn the podium over to director wray who will provide further information and an update on the fbi's investigation. >> thank you. i deeply appreciate your
leadership for the fbi both in our relentless fight against terrorism and our drive to obtain vital evidence we need to protect the american people. we are here today because of a tragic reminder on how grave, how imminent, the terrorism threat still is. al qaeda's murder of three people and wounding of eight others in america, as the attorney general described, through skill and determination the men and women of the fbi have succeeded in accessing the two phones both of which he tried to destroy. our investigation into december's terrorist attack into pensacola continues. there are limits on what i can say today but this is an important moment in an important case. it is important because of what
accessing the evidence of this killer's phone allows us to do to protect the american people. in just a short time we finally accessed the evidence we and our partners have already put to good use. among other steps we have taken you heard the attorney general describe the recent counterterrorism operation. we are targeting one of the overseas operatives that alshamrani associated with while here in the united states. it is also important because it underlines how serious our fight against terrorism is and how vital it is for the fbi to maintain its unflagging vigilance against the threat. the evidence we have been able to develop from the killer's devices show the pensacola attack was actually the brutal culmination of years of planning and preparation by a long time a
qap associate. it shows alshamrani radicalized not after training here, but as far back as 2015 and he had been connecting and dissociating with a number of dangerous operatives ever since. it shows that allison ronnie -- that alshamrani described a desire --alshamrani described a desire to learn how to fly to carry out what he called a special operation. he pressed plans forward joining the air force and bringing it here to america. thanks to a lot of hard work by our people. we know that he continued to associate with operatives even while living in texas and florida. in the months before the attack, while he was among us, he talked with aqap about his plans and
tactics taking advantage of the information he acquired here to assess how many people he could try to kill. he was meticulous in his planning. he made pocket cam videos as a case to the building. he wrote a final will to explain himself and saved in his phone. the exact same will that a qap released when they claimed responsibility. he was not just cordon it in coordinating with them he was helping the organization make the most it could out of his murders. he continued to confer with his associates right up until the end, the very night before he started shooting. we are still exploiting the evidence and are continuing to run our investigation now with
the benefit of a lot more insight into the murderer's mind and intentions, his relations with aqap, and his tactics. we have more to learn but we know enough now to see alshamrani for what he was. a determined terrorist who spent years preparing to attack us. we now have a picture of him we did not have before we obtained this evidence, before we could confirm his connection to aqap was real. before we could track his long and methodical path of violence. a picture we would never have obtained without accessing his devices. this case is a potent reminder for anyone who needed one of the stakes of our work. we protect the american people from a staggering range of threats, but make no mistakes, securing the homeland against terrorism remains our top
priority. the men and women of the fbi are deployed around-the-clock all over the country and around the world identifying and disrupting threats and pursuing those who would do us harm. at the fbi we remain laser focused on the terrorism threat not just because of how much damage and cause our country, but because we know that even as we speak, there are evolving and sophisticated groups around the world intent on striking us. whether core al qaeda or offshoots like aqap or isis or the many others, we are working with partners to find and disrupt them wherever they are, whether they are plotting attacks here at home or abroad. our people are attacking every aspect of the threat. international like we are talking about today and domestic
with dedication and expertise, innovation to more than match the evolving threat, and a commitment to getting the job done right. on the topic of innovation i want to thank and congratulate the men and women of the fbi who devoted months of hard work to accessing these devices. they successfully tackled a problem that required tenacity, creativity, and technical expertise. those qualities are valuable in any organization so i know how fortunate we are, and the american people are, that we have so many people with those qualities at the fbi. that is why we work to recruit the kinds of people we do. the magnitude of the challenge they faced is hard to overstate. we receive, effectively, no help from apple. we canvassed every partner and company that might have had a solution to access these phones.
none did despite what some claimed in the media. so, we did it ourselves. unfortunately, the technique we developed is not a fix for the broader apple problem. it is a pretty limited application, but has made a huge difference in this investigation. while we are thinking the fbi's computer scientist, engineers, and other workers we should also be thinking about the cost of that work. public servants already swamped with important things to do to protect the american people, toiling through a pandemic and the risk and hardship that entails, had to spend all that time just to access evidence we had court authorized search warrant's four months ago. our engineers and computer scientists working to access these phones were also needed on other pressing national security and criminal investigations.
the delay from getting into these devices did not just divert personnel from other important work it also hampered this investigation. finally getting our hands on the evidence alshamrani tried to keep from us is great, but we really needed it months ago back in december when the court issued its warrants. in the aftermath of the attack we and our joint task force partners worked urgently to collect and analyze evidence. in the weeks immediately following december 6 we conducted over 500 interviews of witnesses, personnel, and the shooter's friends, classmates, and associates among lots of other efforts. because the crucial evidence on the killer's phones was kept from us we did all that investigating not knowing what we know now. valuable intelligence about what
to ask, what to look for. if we had our all hands on deck effort, this would have been more productive. months after the attack anyone he spoke to hear or abroad has -- here or abroad has had months to concot stories and destroy evidence. there is a lot we could not do at this point we could have done months ago. you will hear more from the attorney general in a moment on how vital lawful access is to every part of our law enforcement and national security missions. cybercrime, opioid trafficking, child sex exploitation, you name it. lack of lawful access affects every fight we are in and americans need to understand this is not just an issue for law-enforcement. lack of lawful access certainly
affects our ability to do our jobs, but we know where the harm really falls when evidence is kept unavailable. it falls on innocent people. the people we are sworn to protect. in this case we and our partners are not the only ones who needed that information months ago. the victims, those who were wounded, and those who lost loved ones, deserved to know then what happened and not wait to hear it from aqap months after the fact when one of the killer's own associates, the operative we both mentioned earlier, issued aqap's claim of responsibility. with the fbi never forget that three brave members of our armed forces were killed in this attack. they were airmen mohammed from florida, joshua watson of alabama, and cameron walters
from georgia. they were serving our country and died as heroes. we have them front of mind every day as we continue the battle against the same threat they did. i want to end by extending my and the fbi's thanks to all of our partners. they are essential to everything we do and this case, in many ways, has been a perfect example of that. our joint task force in jackson and pensacola have let this investigation and partnership with colleagues in the attorney's office for the northern district of florida. with essential help from ncis, atf, homeland security investigations, and the florida department of law enforcement.
the assistance of state and local partners in pensacola has been invaluable as has been that of the intelligence community partners. i especially want to recognize the brave naval security forces personnel and deputies from the sheriff's office who responded to the initial call for help. the defense department has also been an essential partner in addition to dod's work the navy officials in pensacola and dod personnel at all levels in washington and around the world. they have been vital to the effort to investigate this heinous attack and prevent others in the future. finally, to the victims and their families know that our work continues. we and our partners are exploiting the evidence of this investigation pursuing the killer's potential associates
and new evidence these devices can lead us to. we and our colleagues come in every day dedicated to preventing terrorism from anyplace by any actor. that work will never rest. thank you. >> thank you, director ray. wray. let me think all colleagues at the fbi that they have done in this case and it serves as a reminder of the relentless efforts of the professionals at the fbi who, every day, stand on the ramparts protecting the safety of the american people. while their hard work has led to this breakthrough and it should be celebrated on must also
express great disappointment it took over four months and large sums of taxpayer dollars to obtain evidence that should have been easily and quickly accessible when we obtained court orders. apple has made a business and marketing decision to design its phones in a way only the user can unlock the contents no matter what the circumstances. in cases like this where the user is a terrorist, or in other cases where the user is a violent criminal, human trafficker, child predator, apple's decision has dangerous consequences for public safety and the national security. it is, in my judgment, unacceptable. apple's desire to provide privacy for customers is understandable, but not at all costs. under our nation's long-established constitutional
principles were a court to authorize a search for evidence of a crime an individual's privacy interests must yield to the broader public interest. there is no reason why companies like apple cannot design their consumer-products and apps to allow for court authorized access by law enforcement while maintaining very high standards of data security. striking this balance should not be left to corporate board rooms. it is a decision that must be made by the american people through their representatives. public safety and privacy are not usually exclusive. we are confident technology companies are capable of building secure products that protect user information and at the same time allow for law-enforcement access when
permitted by a judge. as apple had done willingly for many years and others are still doing today. many of the technology companies that advocate most loudly for warrant proof encryption in the name of privacy rights are at the same time willing to accommodate authoritarian regimes when it serves their business interests. for example, it has been widely reported apple has worked with the communist party of china and the russian regime to relocate data centers to enable both surveillance by those governments. apple also has reportedly disabled features and applications on iphones used by pro-democracy advocates thereby facilitating censorship and oppression. if technology companies like apple are willing to oblige the demands of authoritarian
regimes, they certainly have no excuse for failing to cooperate with rule of law nations that respect civil liberties and privacy rights and have judicial safeguards. the developments in this case demonstrate the need for a legislative solution. the truth is that we needed some luck in addition to the ingenuity to get the phones this time. there is no guarantee that we can be successful in the future or that we can avoid massive delays, in this case more than four months. these will have significant consequences for the american people. in addition to the cost of time and money to develop alternative methods to access encrypted information -- they can be enormous. this is not a scalable solution. there are many phones at the
federal and state level we still cannot unlock despite having court orders. as commercial encryption becomes more sophisticated our odds of success diminish with each passing year. we cannot do our jobs when companies put the ability to defeat court authorized searches in the hands of terrorists and predatory criminals. when combating threats to our homeland we need american tech leaders to work with us, not against us. over the past year i have repeatedly asked tech companies to work with us to provide better solutions. unfortunately, no progress has been made. for the safety and security of our citizens, we cannot afford to wait any longer. thank you. that is the end of our prepared remarks and we will open it up
for questions. >> we will begin the question and answer section. to ask a question you may press star and then one. if you are using a speakerphone, pick up your handset before starting. when you pose your question please state who the question is for. we will pause momentarily to assemble our roster. our first question comes from pete williams with nbc news. mr. attorney general, you said alshamrani was associated with al qaeda. would you describe this as inspired or directed? secondly, president trump said he wants to see the justice department prosecute figures of the administration for what he
calls crimes. is that something doj will do? >> let me ask the director to respond and then i will answer the second. >> with respect to alshamrani's connections with aqap i think we are describing today what we are able to share at this point. some of it is still ongoing as we exploit different leads coming out of his two devices. it is certainly more than just inspired. for example, we know he was sharing plans and tactics with them. we know he was coordinating with them and providing an opportunity for them to take credit for the attack. i think we will have to come up for the moment, stick with the verbs we have used already and more to come on that as we
continue to build out what we now know from his phones. >> pete, i am not going to comment on what the president or vice president biden say in connection with their campaigns, but i will address the role of the department of justice. as you know i have commented since i have been attorney general, and even during my confirmation hearings, that over the past few decades there have been increasing attempts to use the criminal justice system as a political weapon. the legal tactic has been to gin up allegations of criminality by one's political opponent based on the flimsiest of legal theories.
this is not a good development. this is not good for our political life and it is not good for the criminal justice system. as long as i am attorney general the system will not be used for partisan political ends. this is especially true for the upcoming elections in november. we live in a very divided country right now and i think it is critical that we have an election where the american people are allowed to make a decision, a choice, between president trump and vice president biden based on a robust debate of policy issues. we cannot allow this process to be hijacked by efforts to drum up criminal investigations of either candidate. i am committed that this election will be conducted
without this kind of interference. any effort to pursue an investigation of either candidate has to be approved by me. what happened to the president, and i have said this many times, in the 2016 election in the first two years of head is -- of his administration were unprecedented and abhorrent. the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus of this country were involved in advancing a false and utterly baseless russian collusion narrative against the president. the proper investigative and prosecuted standards of the department of justice were abused, in my view, in order to reach a particular result.
we saw two different standards of justice emerge. one the applied to president trump and his associates and the other the applied to everybody else. we cannot allow this ever to happen again. the durham investigation is trying to get to the bottom of what happened and it will determine whether there were any federal laws broken and if there were, those who broke the laws will be held to account. this cannot be, and it will not be, a tit for tat exercise. we are not going to lower the standards just to get a result. the only way to break away from a dual system of justice is to make sure we scrupulously apply a single and proper standards of justice for everybody. under the long-standing standards of the department
criminal charges are appropriate only when we have enough evidence to prove each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. that is the standard we are applying. now, i have a general idea of how mr. durham's investigation is going. as i have indicated some aspects of the matter are being examined as potential crimes. but we have to bear in mind with the supreme court recently reminded in the bridgegate case there is a difference between an abuse of power and a federal crime. abuse of power, no matter how outrageous is necessarily a federal crime. to president obama and vice president biden, whatever their involvement, based on the information i had today, i don't
expect mr. durham's work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man. our focus on criminality is focused on others. thank you for your question. next question. >> the next question comes from pj thomas -- p or thomas. thomas.e can you say about the relative strength of what this case shows and what it says to vethe saudi ability people into the united states? can you make it clear what group
of people you're focused on in terms of possible wrongdoing? are we talking about fbi officials? >> with the work underway, i cannot comment specifically on who is being looked at. i think we are all familiar with the set of circumstances that is generally being reviewed. let me say something briefly about the vetting process. before this incident, it was not sufficient. the saudi's have been fully cooperative throughout this investigation. we are working closely with them. they have been working to buttress the screening process and the vetting process to make
sure this kind of thing does not happen again. as to the relative strength of al qaeda, let me ask the director to comment on that. >> i think what this investigation reveals is something we have been saying for some time. al qaeda's offshoots, including aqap, remain intent on attacking us wherever they can. including here in the u.s. if they can find a way to do it. i think it also illustrates how dangerous one operative can be. the number of ways in which we can be had. that is why counterterrorism remains our number one priority. and why our partners are so focused on this issue. the threat israel. it is still here. we are determined to thwart it. >> this counterterrorism
>> i am afraid we cannot get into further details. we were talking about the relative strength of al qaeda. the al-maliki group has been seriously degraded. i am pretty -- pleased with the results of the counterterrorism operation. it has further degraded the capabilities of al qaeda on the arabian peninsula. >> at this stage, in terms of our exploitation of the information on his phones, we have not identified any current threat here in the u.s. or current operative here in the u.s. based on that information. this is an ongoing investigation. there are questions based on the information we now have that we
would like to have been able to ask all of the people he was associating with while he was here. more to come on that. >> we will take one more question. >> you mentions president trump specifically got in touch with tim cook at apple. that did not seem to do anything. do you feel like apple is moving the needle at all or, obviously i want you -- you want this to be a good conclusion or it will be a standstill for years to come. >> i see no sign that apple has moved the needle or is willing to move the needle. this is not a unique situation. businesses frequently that if allowed out in the market could
create dangers to public safety. normally what we do in that circumstance is we do not leave the decision up to the business. if we feel that it will cause harm to the public. that decision is not left to participants. it is a social decision that is made by our society and made by the public. in the public interest. we see that with restrictions or limitations or features that are imposed on manufacturers to make sure the public is not put in danger. this is nothing new. this is what we normally do. for some reason, there are tech companies who feel they are above that. and that they can make decisions
based on their business interests regardless of the dangers posed to the public. that concludes the conference today. i appreciate all of you. [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit ncicap.org] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2019] >> here is a look at our live coverage on tuesday. 10:00 a.m. eastern on c-span, the federal reserve chair, jerome powell and treasury secretary steven mnuchin testified before the senate banking committee about the distribution of financial aid under the cares act. a $2 trillion bill that congress passed in march in response to the coronavirus pandemic. on c-span two the senate is back to consider executive