By Rick Pfeiffer firstname.lastname@example.org
BUFFALO — The nation’s top law enforcement officer dropped by the Queen City on Monday to talk terrorism and other topics.
FBI Director James Comey spent his morning in the agency’s Buffalo field office meeting with current and former agents, before sitting down with representatives of a host of local law enforcement agencies.
“If you’re going to be effective, you’ve got to get out and talk to the folks (in the field offices) and meet with our state and local law enforcement partners,” Comey said. “At the FBI, we don’t do anything alone.”
It’s Comey’s second visit to Buffalo since he became FBI director in September 2013. As with his last visit, the topic at the top of his list of things discuss, in a meeting with a small group of reporters, was terrorism.
Comey said the Islamic State, which he called ISIL, was the focus of counterterrorism efforts by his agency.
“ISIL continues to push out a slick message to English-speaking audiences,” he said. “The good news is, it appears this message to travel (to Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East for jihad) is finding less resonance in the United States.”
While the FBI continues to open terrorism investigations in all of its 57 field offices, Comey said the number of Americans seeking to provide support to ISIL or to travel abroad to join in fighting has dropped dramatically from an average of six to 10 persons a month in early 2015 to about one a month now.
“I hope people have realized how screwed up ISIL is,” Comey said. “Counterterrorism remains at the top of the FBI’s priority list.”
The director also said that the return of so-called foreign fighters from Middle East battlefields to Europe and the U.S. “is a threat we spend a lot of time focusing on.”
Comey said the bureau was also focusing on the issue of data encryption. He acknowledged that even though the FBI was able to unlock an iPhone that belonged to one of the San Bernadino terrorism shooting suspects, without help from Apple, there is an need for the nation to decide how to balance privacy rights with national security concerns.
“I hope it’s not going to be a battle, but we have to talk about this,” Comey said. “We have a big problem with encryption crashing into public safety. We have to figure out how to deal with this.”
Comey declined to comment on the FBI’s ongoing investigation into former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Though he admitted he is staying “close to this one to make sure we have the resources to do it competently.”
He said there was no pressure to wrap-up the probe before the political conventions this summer.
“The urgency is to do it well and promptly,” Comey said. “And ‘well’ comes first.”