ANCHORAGE — In his quest to visit all of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 56 field offices nationwide, FBI Director James Comey made a stop here Monday to meet with FBI employees and members of law enforcement agencies from around Alaska.
The Alaska field office was the 46th Comey has been to since taking over the federal criminal investigative agency about a year ago. Now entering the second year of his 10-year term, Comey said it was important for him to spend time in all of the bureau’s locations, even the most far-flung.
“I’m here because that’s where the FBI is,” Comey said. “To be effective as director, I’ve got to visit my folks, and talk to them, and ask them how it’s going.”
Counter-terrorism remains the FBI’s top priority, Comey said. The bureau is involved in operations related to combating the Islamic State, he said, adding that he could not discuss specifics of the bureau’s involvement in that effort. Counter-intelligence is also still a priority, he said.
Other responsibilities include investigating fraud, crimes against children, environmental crimes and public corruption. Comey pointed to cyber attacks as a particular focus for the FBI.
“Cyber affects everything the FBI’s responsible for,” Comey said. “Cyber is not a thing, it’s a way. It’s a way that people come at us today, because that’s where our lives are.”
Not only is the Internet a place where people interact and play, it’s also how Americans bank, a crucial part of how critical infrastructure operates, and “it’s where our government secrets are,” Comey said.
“It’s where people who would hurt us on all those dimensions come. It is the single greatest change, I believe, in human relations, ever,” said Comey, who has five children. “That’s the challenge we face today. People who want to hurt our children, steal our money, steal our secrets and attack our infrastructure can be anywhere in the world moving at 186,000 miles per second. The speed of light.”
Comey said he was working to train and equip bureau employees to deal with that threat. In Alaska, Comey said the top priorities for the FBI are counter-terrorism — including “homegrown, violent extremists” and travelers to zones of conflict, particularly Syria — white-collar crime of all sorts and violent crime.
Asked what he thought was the legacy of the public corruption investigations in Alaska, Comey said he thought it was important work that the FBI has done well and will continue to do. When asked specifically about the FBI’s investigation of the late Sen. Ted Stevens — which resulted in a criminal conviction that was later overturned when the Department of Justice threw out his indictment due to prosecutorial misconduct that involved the FBI — Comey said the bureau learned some important lessons.
“All human organizations make mistakes. We try to learn from them,” Comey said. “Especially with respect to the discovery issues in that case, we pushed out training to our entire workforce in connection with it, to make sure that we learned.”
“I wish we didn’t make any mistakes, but any time you make mistakes, there’s rich learning, and you want to make sure you learn from it,” he said.
Staff writer Casey Grove is the News-Miner’s Anchorage reporter. Contact him at 770‑0722 or follow on Twitter: @kcgrove.