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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

The FBI Around the World

Mr. George Piro, Assistant Director of International Operations Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Washington, DC
July 11, 2018




Date: 07/11/2018 Location: Washington DC Description: Foreign Press Center briefing for international media with official from the Federal Bureau of Investigations - State Dept ImageMODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for waiting. We are very, very pleased today to have this briefing by FBI Assistant Director for International Operations Mr. George Piro about the FBI’s international cooperation overseas.

Just to quickly review the ground rules, we are off camera in its entirety so no stills or video, please, but recording is fine including for broadcast. And I’d also ask you, please, to observe an embargo until the end of the briefing.

Assistant Director Piro’s been with the bureau since 1999. His full bio was attached to our announcement and he’ll give you an introduction to the FBI’s overseas operations which assist international law enforcement partners in conducting joint investigations and sharing information around persistent global threats.

For other questions that may arise that might be outside of that lane, you can certainly contact me or one of my colleagues, and this is a veteran crowd, so I obviously don’t need to remind any of you that U.S. law enforcement agencies don’t discuss ongoing or potential investigations under any circumstances.

And with that, let me please turn it over to Assistant Director Piro.

MR PIRO: Good morning and Benjamin, thank you for that introduction and for this wonderful opportunity to speak with all of you. This is very exciting for us and what I’m hoping to accomplish today is to give you kind of an overview regarding our international operations mission and the FBI’s efforts in our international program and then take all of your questions after that.

I just want to kind of share with you the history of our international mission and then our efforts today and then some of the successes that we have had. As Benjamin mentioned, I represent the International Operations Division, which is the cornerstone of the FBI’s international mission. It is comprised of FBI agents that are – and professional staff that are stationed overseas, that focus on building partnerships with our foreign law enforcement, security, and intelligence partners to combat crime and mitigate threats both nationally and internationally.

As some of you may know, our program is focused or is based on what we call the FBI legal attache program. That is our folks that are assigned overseas and they serve as our primary liaison representatives with our foreign partners. They work very closely with our – with the host countries in conducting joint investigations and sharing information and intelligence on global threats like counterterrorism and cyber crime.

Our LEGATs have an esteemed past. The program was actually created in 1940 in the early days of World War II, just before the United States entered the World War II in 1941. At the time, President Franklin Roosevelt issued an order for agencies to assist in the intelligence collection war efforts based on the threat that was posed by the axis powers. So the FBI responded to that request and began to station undercover agents around Latin and Central America and developed or created the Special Intelligence Service. Our first post was in 1941 in Bogota, Colombia, and that really launched our international program. At that time, of course, we were sharing information with countries that we were cooperating with in regards to the Nazi threat that the United States was facing. As you can imagine, our international operations looks very different today than World War II, but the program continues to advance.

Years ago, the law enforcement focus was really on crimes that were affected or that were occurring within each country’s borders. That mindset is no longer conceivable. As journalists, you all know firsthand that globalization combined with the incredible advances in technology, travel, commerce, and most importantly, communication has broken down those barriers and, really, borders. As a result, threats have become much more global and the need for better cooperation, information sharing, and engagement is critical for agencies and countries, really, to better address these global threats.

Never before has it been so easy for terrorists, human traffickers, malicious cyber actors, and other criminals and adversaries to take advantage of technology and a more global community to do harm. For example, gangs like MS-13 doesn’t operate in just one city or region anymore. They have become a global presence. Illicits – illicit drugs like fentanyl no longer require an in-person purchase since they are readily available on the darknet. So things like that – human trafficking, especially as it pertains to children – has become a global threat and requires a global response or an approach.

So the FBI puts a significant effort and resources towards its international presence to better work with law enforcement around the world to try to address those global threats. The FBI has 63 legal attache offices and 27 sub-offices in key cities around the world. Combined, those offices provide coverage for over 200 countries, territories, and islands.

In addition to that, we have actually built on that capability and assigned or developed specialties within those offices to include, for example, cyber assistant legal attaches that promote the FBI’s cyber efforts with our foreign partners around the world, counterterrorism ALATs, counter – or criminal investigative, and weapons of mass destruction ALATs that are posted around the world to really try to advance and cooperate with our foreign partners to address those specific threats or issues that are – all of our countries are facing.

So these relationships are critical for our success. We recognize that information sharing, intelligence sharing, and joint efforts or operations are the key to our success. And those – having our folks overseas increases our ability to collaborate and allow for a robust information sharing not only with our foreign partners, but really with the private industry or the private sector which is sometimes key for our success. By increasing our international footprint we’ve been able to develop long-lasting relationships with our foreign partners and our – and has really paid dividends for all of us combined.

An area that we invest significantly in is training and exchanges. We in the FBI recognize how important it is for information sharing but also for sharing of best practices, trainings, lessons learned – not only from our perspective but gaining that from our foreign partners. So as a result, through the Department of Justice as well as the State Department, the FBI hosts or participates in a significant number of international training around the world. We invite foreign officers to attend the FBI’s National Academy, a 10-week program at Quantico that’s really designed to improve the administrative – administration of justice and police departments not only here in the United States, but really globally. And it allows those law enforcement officers to share information, build a better network, as well as identify best practices.

We also, of course, participate in the International Law Enforcement Academy, a multi-nation and national effort organized by the U.S. Government and play a key role in promoting and providing valuable training to our foreign partners, everything from public corruption, crime scene investigation, to cybercrime.

That training and that exchange really is the main effort that leads to the successes that we have. Just for example, last year the FBI hosted over 1,000 exchanges here in the United States with our foreign partners. But some of the successes that has resulted from those exchanges, from the training and the partnerships, for example, the FBI works very closely with law enforcement agencies in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras through the Transnational Anti-Gang Task Force to combat the violent gang problem in the Northern Triangle caused by MS-13 and the 18th Street gangs. Through that task force the FBI has assisted our partners in various operations to arrest violent gang members, the most recent which was this last April and led to the arrest of 629 MS-13 and 18th Street gang members.

Two weeks ago, our office in Mexico City, in coordination with our FBI office in El Paso and Mexican authorities, successfully captured Eduardo Ravelo in Mexico. Ravelo was the leader of the Barrio Azteca crime enterprise and was involved in numerous murders, assaults, and kidnappings, as well as extortion, money laundering, and drug trafficking. He was key for us because he was responsible for the 2010 murder of a U.S. consulate employee in Juarez who was four months pregnant at the time of her murder. She also had her nine-month-old daughter with her at the time.

Through our investigative efforts, our office in Mexico City was able to identify possible locations where Ravelo could be located. We shared that intelligence with our Mexican counterparts and they were able to locate and arrest Ravelo and two of his associates.

Another success story I’d like to share with you is the most recent one regarding a large-scale international law enforcement effort primarily between the United States and Nigeria to dismantle a fraudulent business email compromise transactions, otherwise known as BEC, and pursue the criminals behind it. It ran from January of 2018 to early June 2018 and resulted in 74 international arrests and the disruption and recovery of approximately $14 million that was fraudulently taken from innocent victims.

And that – those are just a sample of the small successes that we have internationally working with our partners and recognizing the importance and the value of the partnerships and engagement around the world.

So these joint operations really send a clear message that law enforcement around the world will work together to stop criminal activity and ensure justice is served no matter where the victims are or where the perpetrators are. And we know that, in the FBI, for us to carry out our mission it requires us to work with our international partners. It’s not the best option; it really is our only option. As we look at the FBI, our mission is very clear: it is to protect the American people and to uphold the U.S. Constitution. So everything we do, whether it’s here domestically or internationally, is focused and driven based on that mission. So as a result we recognize we need strong relationships with our foreign partners, and we invest a significant amount of our resources and effort in building those partnerships.

As I mentioned, from everything from counterterrorism, cybercrime, human trafficking, transnational organized crime, our effort continues to move forward today and will continue in the future.

So that’s just kind of a quick overview of the FBI’s international footprint and mission, and I look forward to taking your questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for laying out that very broad landscape. Just to remind very quickly about our rules of procedure, please wait for the microphone and when you get it, please give your name and outlet. For our colleagues in New York, if you’d like to ask a question, please step up to the lectern and we’ll identify you from there.

With that, we can open for questions. Ma’am.

QUESTION: Hi, morning. Estelita Carazzai from Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo. I have two questions regarding Latin America basically. First, what role does corruption investigations play in your division? Is this a concern? It’s a critical issue in Latin America currently, and I would like to know how involved is FBI with those investigations, if they’re – you’re supporting law enforcement agencies in these countries.

And second, about terrorism in Latin America, how concerned is FBI with terrorism activities in Latin America? I know you can’t comment on ongoing investigations, but if you could just let us know if – especially in the border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina, there is a lot of talk about this. If you could just tell what is – what are – are you actually looking at there?

MR PIRO: Okay. I’ll take the second part first.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR PIRO: Terrorism is the FBI’s number-one priority, not only here domestically but internationally, and we work very, very closely with all of our international partners in sharing information, intelligence, to try to identify threats as early as possible and then coming up with joint efforts to try to disrupt or prevent terrorist attacks or incidents around the world. We recognize that our ability to protect, as I mentioned, our mission, the American people, we have to be, in a sense, as engaged and as forward-leaning as possible to try to identify threats as early as possible, again, giving us the most opportunity to try to prevent those.

We are concerned regarding the terrorism threat, really, in every region in the world. The terrorism threat affects all of us and it is an issue that is really impacting every region, whether we’re talking about the Middle East as a result of what is occurring there. We, of course, have seen what has occurred in Europe the last few years, and unfortunately, in Latin and Central America. So we are proactive in that regard. We share our intelligence and information. We work very closely with our partners. As you mentioned, I can’t talk about specific investigations or ongoing operations. But it is our number-one priority; it is something that we are focused on. We work very, very closely with our partners there. We do joint exercises, training, those kinds of things to really build up not only our capacity but our partners’ capacity, and we have done several of those in Latin and Central America. Again, because anything that affects that region is going to eventually affect the United States, and we recognize that and invest a lot of effort into that.

In regards to your first – the first part of the question, public corruption or corruption in general, it is a top priority within the FBI, both here domestically and internationally. Of course, domestically we look at it – or our role is somewhat different. Internationally, our effort, it is to provide – whether it’s training, expertise, assistance to further ongoing corruption investigations, as well as independently whenever we have a matter that we have identified and falls into what we call our Foreign Corruption Practices Act that we are able then to lead those investigative efforts.

We have a significant effort and initiatives going in Latin and Central America. Again, I can’t go into specific cases, but we are working very, very closely in that regard. We recognize that nothing erodes public confidence and public trust in government institutions like corruption, so it is imperative that we promote – not only here domestically but internationally – the importance of a objective, independent investigative effort that deals with corruption. Again, going back to it being objective, independent, for it to be successful and for it to be embraced by people.

QUESTION: Thank you. Dmitry Kirsanov with TASS. Sir, I was hoping you could speak a little to your cooperations – cooperation with the Russians. Does it even exist at this point because of the current political climate? And specifically, I mean, I don’t want to – I’m not asking you to get into the specifics, but could you say whether or not you interact regarding the FIFA World Cup that is taking place right now in Russia? And finally, how did that happen that it was you who interrogated Saddam? Could you talk about that a bit? (Laughter.)

MR PIRO: Okay. Actually in this one, your first question is easier than your second question. In regards to our cooperation with our Russian counterparts, we actually do have an office in Moscow. We have personnel assigned there. And I am pleased to tell you we have been cooperating and collaborating with our Russian counterparts, specifically as it relates to the World Cup. As you’re probably aware, one of the largest attendees or purchasers of tickets to the World Cup were Americans. And as I mentioned, our missions is to protect the American people. That doesn’t – that’s not limited to just here in the United States. That’s – in a sense, that’s globally. So we have been working very closely sharing intelligence and information. We’ve had folks in Moscow working with our counterparts leading up and during the FIFA World Cup prepared to support and provide any assistance or information that is developed real-time to our counterparts so that they are able to address any potential threats to the events, to the venues, things like that.

So we have actually been working very closely with our counterparts.

QUESTION: Did you have to expand your LEGAT’s office in Moscow to do that, or it stayed the same?

MR PIRO: We actually expanded our office for the period during the World Cup, just so that we are in a better position to support and assist our counterparts so that we are able to provide the type of assistance that our counterparts would want or seek from us.

QUESTION: And the last question?

MR PIRO: The last question, I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t realize I was even being considered for that assignment. I just got a call that said, “You have just been selected to interrogate Saddam Hussein.” So you can imagine my shock and surprise at that.

Several key factors that led the FBI in its selection. Of course, Saddam Hussein only spoke Arabic, so the interrogator had to be able to speak Arabic for the interrogator to have any chance of success. At that time I happened to be one of 12, so you could see how my chances dramatically increased at that point. And other factors. I had already been to Iraq; I was part of the FBI’s first team to deploy into Iraq during the war, so I had an understanding of the regime, the history of the Ba’ath party, Saddam Hussein, things like that, and probably a few other key factors. But as I mentioned, I didn’t realize – I just got the call and went off.

MODERATOR: Take one question for now, ma’am. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Welcome, sir, to FPC. It’s great to have you here. I am Kanwal (inaudible). I represent Pakistani print media Daily Ausaf. Okay, I have one question – several, but they said just one. So FBI has zero tolerance on child pornography within America. But – and FBI takes very strict actions on child predators. In Pakistan there is a city near Lahore – Kasur. It's full of this menace and dirt. Recently a seven-year-old girl was gangraped, and lot of UN cry was raised all over Pakistan under justice for Zainab. So would you like your international team to respond to such things?

And secondly, FBI has – is doing a lot of amazing work on community outreach within America. So would you like to have some cross-country program with Pakistani schools, like appointing junior special agents? And I’m willing to volunteer if you need any kind of service for it. (Laughter.) Thank you.

MR PIRO: Okay. In regards to the incident that you had – that you brought up, the FBI is aware, the International Operations Division is aware of that and we are actually sending folks to assist and provide best practices. We are sending experts in our Crimes Against Children program, and we’re confident that that exchange will assist and – not only the investigation but prevent future incidents from occurring. And that is a horrific – as you mentioned, here in the United States we consider that a horrific crime, and you’re right, we have a zero tolerance for that here in the United States.

So we are prepared to support and share our best practices, investigative efforts, techniques, things like that to our foreign partners. In these types of incidents where the FBI or the United States may not necessarily have jurisdiction, we are prepared to support our foreign partners if they ask for our assistance and support. And that is – that’s what kind of triggers or initiates the mechanism for the FBI to provide – whether it’s a technical support expertise, subject matter expertise, or things like that, it would require the foreign partner to ask for our assistance, and we will provide that.

The second part of your question – we do invest quite a bit into our community efforts. It is – it’s a key part of the FBI’s mission, because again, we recognize it is imperative that the communities that we serve has the trust and confidence in the FBI which is critical for us to carry out our mission. So the efforts that we do in schools, other programs like our Citizens Academy and things like that, are a cornerstone of our community outreach, and it is designed to really give the community an opportunity to see what the FBI represents, who makes up the FBI, which is really part of the same community, and the commitment of the fine men and women of the FBI.

Now, we have shared some of those best practices or some of those events with our foreign partners, but you have to also remember cultures are different. What necessarily works in the United States may not work in other regions. While we’re prepared to, again, share our best practices and things that we do, it is critical for the – for our foreign partners to recognize what would be valuable in their country and kind of look to see what would be – what would resonate with communities there and things like that, again, because cultures are different.

MODERATOR: Back and then come back up front. Sir.

QUESTION: Hi, my name is Ragip Soylu, I’m working for Turkish newspaper Sabah. As you know, recently there has been a lot of tensions between Turkey and the United States, especially concerning a court case in New York, and Turkish official directly targeted FBI in their remarks. What do you think – do you still have a working relationship with Turkish officials about – from counterterrorism, the other issues? How would you describe the state of the relations? Was there any impact on those kind of tensions to your relationship? Thank you.

MR PIRO: We absolutely value our partnership and cooperation with our Turkish counterparts. We actually have an office in Turkey and work very, very closely with, again, our counterparts there. Turkey is a strategic partner for the United States, and more importantly for the FBI as we deal with issues, as you mentioned, counterterrorism. At the working level, that is the one nice thing about the field that we’re in, the – the mission kind of drives the relationship and the value of the relationship. So at the working level we work very, very well, tremendous cooperation, mutual respect and commitment. And for us, we continue to put a lot of value and commitment to that partnership.

MODERATOR: Sir in the gray jacket.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Sir, this is Jahanzaib Ali, I’m correspondent for Pakistani news channel ARY News TV here. Sir, as of – today’s topic is FBI around the world, so I just wanted to ask: What are the ongoing operations right now in Afghanistan and Pakistan (inaudible), because we – we are well aware that in past, FBI is involved in different investigations. So there is the biggest challenge there in the terrorism in Pakistan, Afghanistan area, so what it is going on there, where – I mean, are you involved in some ongoing investigations?

Secondly, sir, about the domestic issues, FBI prevented lot of incidents of terrorism by the sting operation, we know. So are you engaged the different communities here also like the immigrants community, like the Muslims, Jews or – and other communities here who can prevent such (inaudible)? Thank you.

MR PIRO: So in regards to your first question, as you can imagine, I cannot detail ongoing investigative or operational activity by the FBI in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I will tell you that we do have FBI personnel stationed around the world, including Afghanistan and Pakistan. We work very, very closely with our Pakistani counterparts, recognizing Pakistan as a key partner when it comes to our counterterrorism mission and effort in that part of the world. The majority of our effort is devoted toward counterterrorism – again, not only protecting U.S. persons, U.S. interests, our homeland here, but also providing assistance, support, engagement to our foreign partners so that they are able to also protect their homeland, their communities, their citizens, their interests. So it’s a collaborative effort and we’ve been engaged in that partnership for years, and it’s been consistent and determined. So I will tell you it will remain that way, and the FBI is committed to its mission and to its partners.

In regards to here domestically, we do – as I mentioned earlier, we recognize that for us to be successful, we have to have the trust and confidence of the communities that we serve, the entire communities that we serve. We don’t serve a particular community; we serve every community. We are openly engaged with our communities. We want the communities to know who we are. One of the things that we – one of our most successful community outreach program is our Citizen’s Academy, where we invite members of the community to come and spend about eight weeks with the FBI, getting an overview of all of our investigative efforts, capabilities and things like that, and more importantly have the opportunity to meet and see the incredible men and women that make up the FBI and how committed, determined they are in regards to their – to the organization, to the mission and to the core values of the FBI.

We have outreach in the various communities, school programs, things like that, and it’s driven by every field office. We have 56 field offices around the country, so every field office has that responsibility or that mission, and they have various community efforts, community activities, events, things like that, again, because we want folks to – the folks that really matter, which is the communities that we serve, we want them to see who we are, see how committed we are and understand our core values, which have been the same for – this year is our 110th anniversary as an organization, and our core values have remained the same. They are fidelity, bravery and integrity, and every employee projects those core values and our belief – that is when folks interact with us, they see those and they gain that trust and confidence in us.

MODERATOR: Far back corner, please.

QUESTION: Thanks. Jennifer Chen with Shenzhen Media Group, China. I was wondering for a long time, what is a difference between the missions, domestic and overseas, between FBI and the CIA? And – yeah, sometimes – or the two organizations have some program just – collaborate or coordinate together. And also, would you like to share some light on the projects the FBI work with Chinese government recently since Trump administration? Thanks.

MR PIRO: The difference between the FBI and the CIA mission overseas is very clear. So domestically, the FBI is the U.S. domestic intelligence agency. By statute is we are the U.S. domestic intelligence agency authorized to conduct intelligence efforts or – operations here domestically. Overseas, our primary function is to fulfill our both national security and our law enforcement responsibilities, and it is to foster those partnerships and relationships. The FBI works openly. Our agents are fully declared under diplomatic mission and are engaged with our – with our law enforcement, security, and intelligence partners.

The CIA’s mission is different. We work very closely – we collaborate with our partners over at the CIA, recognizing that we are part of the same component designed to really promote the United States mission and protect our citizens abroad and interests, but our roles and responsibilities are very different. I will leave the question to what the CIA does overseas to the CIA. I’ll let you ask them that so they can give you a better answer. Ours is to advance our law enforcement and national security missions and then work openly with our foreign partners to accomplish that.

In regards to your second question, again, the FBI is a national security organization, law enforcement organization. We work with our counterparts all over the world, including China, again recognizing that counterterrorism is our number one priority and then transnational organized crime, things like that. So we do have a formal relationship with our counterparts in China and we work in that regard. In regards to anything specific, I wouldn’t be able to openly discuss those with you. Again, the FBI does not operate based on anything except the mission, which is protecting the American people and upholding the U.S. Constitution.

MODERATOR: We had two questions – we’re coming down to the wire, so two people who have been waiting. We’ll go one, two, and then if we have time, we’ll take one more.

MR PIRO: Okay.

QUESTION: Mika Jentunen from Finnish Broadcasting Company. What sort of – you talked about the cyber threats. Are there specific new threats that you’re seeing around the world – out in – cyber world?

MR PIRO: The cyber threats that we’re seeing globally are – fall in line in what we would call the various fraud schemes, as – for example, as I just recently mentioned, the business email compromise. That was – that’s been a significant threat that is affecting victims, millions of victims around the world. One of the things that we’re seeing is the – these fraud schemes are becoming more and more sophisticated as – again, as technology, communication is becoming more and more advanced and these cyber criminal actors are becoming more and more sophisticated, taking advantage of the dark net and things like that.

Again, the goal of the majority of these criminal cyber acts are – is financial in nature, so their goal is to defraud or steal from – whether it’s a company or an individual, the techniques will occasionally vary. As we identify that and we try to counter that, we share those – that information with our foreign partners. Then, unfortunately, as we are able to dismantle one group, another group then comes in and then comes up with a new scheme, and as a result that requires us to continue to be aggressive and forward-leaning as we try to counter that. They’re all associated with the various types of fraud schemes to try to defraud or steal money from victims.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Rahim Rashidi from Kurdistan TV. My question is: Do you have any office in KRG, Kurdistan Regional Government, and how you describe your relationship with Peshmerga? Because we know the Peshmerga capture many member of the ISIS, including U.S. citizens.

MR PIRO: So we have personnel throughout that region. We have personnel strategically located. Some of those positions or some of those locations are acknowledged; others are not. So I will tell you we have folks in – throughout that region. Because of ongoing matters, I don’t really want to discuss where we have everyone. We recognize – again, as I mentioned earlier, every partnership is key for us. Every relationship is important because of the value – as you mentioned, the information sharing, the intelligence, the cooperation that we gain. The FBI is committed to those partnerships and those relationships and to our mission.

As you mentioned, ISIS is a significant threat really to the entire world, not just the United States or to that region or that part of the world. It is starting to affect everywhere – again, as I mentioned earlier, what has transpired in Europe and things like that. So our effort to work with everyone and anyone that can jointly support the FBI’s effort, the FBI will pursue that relationship or that partnership.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one more. Please, sir.

QUESTION: Hi. Philippe Gelie with Le Figaro, France. Two quick and easy questions --

MR PIRO: Okay.

QUESTION: -- to finish. Was your personnel affected when Russia expelled the diplomats and intelligence people last year? And secondly, how many people do you have worldwide? Thank you.

MR PIRO: So the first one, easy: No. (Laughter.) The second one – I’ll give you a rough number. Again, there – we have roughly 600 personnel permanently stationed overseas, and on any given day, we could have another 600 on assignment overseas.

MODERATOR: With that, I’ll thank Assistant Director Piro very, very much for taking the time to come and brief us. I know there were questions we did not get to. If you email them to me or one of my colleagues, we will pass them on to our colleagues at FBI press and work to get you an answer. Thank you all very, very much for coming today.

MR PIRO: Thank you very much.

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