Remarks from Director Christopher Wray 

Director Wray began his remarks recognizing several milestones we celebrated this year. These milestones include fifty years of female Special Agents in the FBI, fifty years of the Special Agent Bomb Technician Program, and fifty years of the FBI Academy at Quantico. He thanked EADs Knapp and Moore for participating in the conference, as well as former EAD McChesney for sharing her experience as an early female Special Agent of the FBI. Director Wray noted we now have female Special Agents serving as leaders throughout the Bureau. He went on to observe that the FBI Hazardous Devices School, located in Huntsville, has trained more than 20,000 Bomb Technicians and is the only facility in the country that trains and certifies the nation’s public safety bomb technicians. As for the FBI Academy, the Director stated that it is still viewed as the undisputed premiere law enforcement training and research center in the world. He explained that these programs were viewed as innovations fifty years ago but are now part of the foundation of the FBI. And he added that today’s innovations will likewise form the foundation for tomorrow.

Tackling Today’s Threats
Director Wray remarked that the FBI is not just celebrating past accomplishments but remains laser focused on tackling today’s threats including for instance, violent crime, cybercrime, and human trafficking. The Annual Crime Statistics were released the first week of October and showed the threat of violent crime is real and has grown. In 2020, there was a large jump in violent crimes, including murder, and the levels remain alarmingly high last year. Many repeat and dangerous offenders are being released, making it especially difficult for law enforcement. FBI led Violent Crime Task Forces remain the primary tool to combat this spike. The FBI alone leads more than three hundred of these task forces, which over the summer of 2022 arrested an average of fifty violent criminals a day. This past summer, the FBI also spearheaded the annual Operation Cross Country human trafficking sweep, locating more than two hundred victims, mostly children. 

Director Wray observed that there is no country that poses a greater threat to our ideas, innovation and economic security than China. At one point, the FBI was opening a new Chinese-related counterintelligence case every twelve hours, with the current existing open case number at over 2,000 cases. On the cyber front, the FBI is investigating over one hundred different ransomware variants, each with scores of victims, as well as a host of other novel threats. Director Wray noted that there is a constant threat from both nation-state and cyber-criminals alike. Nation-state actors, in particular, have proven that nothing is off limits. Ransomware attackers in 2021 had their sights set on Boston Children’s Hospital; however, the FBI received a timely tip from a partner and was able to identify and disrupt the threat before damage was done.

FBI Employees and Partnerships
Director Wray attributed the FBI’s success to two things – our FBI employees and our partnerships. The individuals within the FBI have raised their hand to be a part of the mission. Over the past seventy years, the Bureau has continued to recruit new Agents in record numbers, even when other agencies are struggling. In 2019 and 2020, the applicant numbers tripled, currently reaching the highest levels in about a decade. The number of New Agents with prior law enforcement or military experience has remained steady between 25% and 30% even with the bigger numbers. Currently, nearly half of all New Agent trainees hold an advanced degree and many are relatives of former or active Agents. Last year alone, there were over 1,000 New Agents hired and an extremely low attrition rate. Director Wray has attended every graduation at the FBI Academy in the last five years, and there have been over one hundred and ten family presenters providing credentials to New Agents. The number of extension requests from Agents who have hit the mandatory retirement age has increased as well. Director Wray noted the FBI brand was strong with the people who matter the most. 

Director Wray commented that this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the original formation of the original JTTF in New York. This has been the blueprint for task forces going forward.

As for the future of the Bureau, Director Wray shared that it is looking very bright, despite the fact that these are challenging times for the FBI and the country. There are rough patches today with media coverage and social media. And the FBI has taken a lot of public criticism as many people question what we are doing without having the facts. Of course, throughout the history of the Bureau, there have been other challenging times and circumstances. We have been here before and thanks in no small part to the foundation the FBI’s retired Agents helped create and maintain, we’re built for this. 

Director Wray shared quotes from Directors Hoover, Webster, and Freeh regarding issues they confronted to reinforce that, while the current climate makes our jobs harder, it’s certainly not unprecedented. For example, in 1995, addressing the alarming beliefs that motivated Timothy McVeigh and the small portion of the public that sympathized with him, Director Freeh said, “To my amazement, there are voices that claim repression by government – and fear of government. These claims have been aired by some and given wide coverage. Federal law enforcement officers, in particular, have been described as thugs by some advocacy groups. Sadly, I am astounded at these developments, as I think most Americans are.” Director Wray shared his first time working with the FBI was when he reported to the U.S. Department of Justice and was assigned to assist through some challenging situations. The FBI was being publicly criticized for not turning over thousands of documents in discovery in a major case and losing more than two hundred laptops and numerous weapons. Additionally, the Hanssen Spy case had just broken in the news with devastating impact on the FBI and the entire intelligence community. But we, of course, got through it. He committed that the FBI will always be independent and will continue to abide by the law and its core values and do the right things in the right way, no matter what’s going on around us. And, if we do all that, he said, then the results will take care of themselves. 

In order to address many of the questions posed by both Society members and the general public, Director Wray discussed several current events in as much detail as possible. 

Beginning with the search at Mar-a-Lago, Director Wray advised that a search warrant was not anyone’s first choice, and as reflected in court filings, there were a number of less intrusive tools that the government pursued first, including multiple attempts to obtain records voluntarily and seeking return through a grand jury subpoena. After further investigation revealed there were records that had still not been produced and that records had likely been removed, Agents finally resorted to obtaining a search warrant issued by a federal magistrate based on a showing of probably cause. Director Wray explained that the Agents who executed the search did so by the book with the utmost professionalism and adherence to the highest standards. This was not a “raid” or a SWAT operation. The case team followed the process, documenting and cataloging everything according to procedure. Director Wray recommended that everyone review the court filings, which are a far more reliable source of what actually happened. He also noted that investigating the mishandling of classified materials is a core responsibility of the FBI and that Agents routinely obtain and execute search warrants in mishandling and unauthorized retention investigations, especially when confronted with a lack of cooperation. There were also questions about the reported investigations involving Hunter Biden, Director Wray observed that the Attorney General has acknowledged the investigation publicly. The Director explained that the investigation is being handled by Delaware United States Attorney’s Office by a U.S. Attorney appointed by the last administration, who is being supported by the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office. On both of these investigations, Director Wray was careful not to say anything that might compromise the process but shared that the FBI will continue to follow the facts wherever they lead. 

Director Wray stated that his top priority is ensuring that the men and women of the FBI can go about their jobs safely. Unfortunately, in today’s charged climate, we’ve seen heated rhetoric turn into despicable threats against FBI employees and their families. And, in some instances, like in Cincinnati, we’ve seen individuals act on those threats and attempt actual violence. The FBI is doing everything in their power to track down the individuals who have made threats and to assess and improve physical security at FBI facilities. Director Wray concluded his remarks by touching on a broader phenomenon within the country: too often people’s standard for judging whether an investigation, the verdict in a high-profile trial, the outcome of a Supreme Court case, or even if an election was fair comes down to whether their side won or lost. The problem is that, for some, any time something does not go their way, they’re not just disappointed but all of a sudden start attacking the process itself as unfair or illegitimate … and when that talk turns to violence, we’ve really got a problem. In our country, it doesn’t matter what you’re angry about or who you’re angry with, there’s a right way under our Constitution and laws to express those sentiments … and violence is not it. Director Wray thanked the members of the Society for reinforcing that important principle and pushing back against the idea that violence or threats of violence are ever the answer.

To conclude the morning’s events, North Central Regional Vice President Philip Doty shared an exciting presentation on the planned 2023 Conference in Lexington, KY. Nancy Savage closed out the breakfast with announcements and thanks to all attendees. 

Remarks from Deputy Director Paul Abbate

Deputy Director (DD) Paul Abbate began by stating that the relationship between the Society and the FBI continues to be at an all-time high and that he stays in touch with both President Lormel and Executive Director Savage regularly. He advised that he planned to take all questions from the conference attendees, but he first wanted to discuss a couple of topics that had been addressed previously with the Society but were still very much on his mind.

The leadership approach and philosophy throughout the Director’s tenure has been, and continues to be, doing the work and carrying out the mission by the book, in full accordance with law and policy, with absolute objectivity, rigor, and urgency, all while adhering to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism. These guiding principles are applied in action and decision making each and every day across all programs, investigations, and operations. These core tenets are further instilled throughout the organization by regular messaging and guidance from the Director and the senior leadership team, recurring training, oversight, and accountability at every level. The essential goal is to build and maintain trust and credibility by ensuring the work is done in strict accordance with the law and policy, with extreme operational and investigative competence, and with fairness and objectivity.

An important aspect toward achieving these objectives is acknowledging mistakes of the past and applying lessons learned derived from the various inquiries and reviews that have been conducted, particularly with respect to the most egregious and high-profile cases, to ensure that history is not repeated. In terms of accountability, those small number of individuals most responsible and formerly at senior levels in the organization, who were found to have committed misconduct, serious errors of judgment, failure of performance, or other contributing acts or omissions, are no longer with the organization and have not been for a period of years now.

DD Abbate advised that during his tenure he has not seen any instances or attempts to inappropriately influence the work of the organization. Although this has not occurred, DD Abbate provided the strongest assurance that if any attempt was ever made, even in the slightest degree, the Director, he, and the team would fight uncompromisingly to ensure this did not affect the work and would bring to bear every ounce of toughness, determination, and relentlessness to protect the independence of the Bureau. The entire team approaches the work and the running of the Bureau with this mindset every minute of every day.

With respect to the current senior leadership team, Director Wray has taken great care to select and assemble a team of career Agents, each of whom has a strong record of investigative accomplishment, diverse and extensive field experience, and an intense focus on supporting and empowering the field in leading and managing the investigative and intelligence work of the Bureau in a neutral and objective way.

DD Abbate then followed up on comments made by the Director regarding factual misrepresentations reported through the media in the context of certain arrest and enforcement actions. One example was a recent arrest that took place in Pennsylvania. Contrary to public reporting, the arrest did not involve SWAT operators nor was there any use of force. It was conducted by Agents from the case squad, was carried out in a highly professional and respectful manner, and done safely and in full compliance with policy and procedure.

Following the arrest, to correct factual inaccuracies and misrepresentations, the Special Agent-in-Charge of the Philadelphia Field Office issued the following statement publicly:

‘There are inaccurate claims being made regarding the arrest of (the defendant). No SWAT Team or SWAT operators were involved. FBI Agents knocked on (the defendant’s) front door, identified themselves as FBI Agents, and asked him to exit the residence. He did so and was taken into custody without incident pursuant to an indictment. Extensive planning takes place prior to the service of any federal warrant. The FBI then employs the personnel and tactics deemed necessary to effect a safe arrest or search. While it’s the FBI’s standard practice not to discuss such operational specifics, we can say that the number of personnel and vehicles widely reported as being on scene Friday is an overstatement, and the tactics used by FBI personnel were professional, in line with standard practices, and intended to ensure the safety of everyone present in and outside the residence.”

Using this instance as an example, given misreporting in the above case and others, DD Abbate strongly urged everyone to remain objective and reserve judgment until all pertinent facts are known.

DD Abbate further noted as a general matter that Agents engaging in any arrest, search, or enforcement action are required by policy, and, most importantly, for their protection and safety, to wear body armor. It is also standard procedure and common practice for Agents to be equipped with the appropriate weapons, including rifles, while engaging in this type of activity. This is nothing new, and anyone with the slightest experience in the FBI or the law enforcement profession would understand these most basic safety requirements and equipment needs, especially given ongoing threats and violence against law enforcement personnel. There have been far too many tragic instances, in both recent times and historically, where the lives of law enforcement officers, including FBI Agents, have sadly been lost as a result of adversaries with greater firepower. The safety of our Agents and our law enforcement partners is first and foremost and of the absolute highest priority and will not be compromised under any circumstances.

DD Abbate addressed the following questions from members in attendance:

BICS Special Investigator Compensation
An attendee asked about compensation levels and cost of living adjustments for BICS special investigators given increasing inflation and taking into consideration differences in geographic location. DD Abbate, having followed up with the Human Resources Branch and the Security Division, was advised that special investigators are not governed by OPM and locality pay does not apply. The positions are contracted directly by the FBI through a yearly Basic Ordering Agreement in accordance with Federal Acquisitions Regulation, Part 16.703. Security Division relies on this authority to hire and employ BICS investigators. The compensation rate is set by Security Division based on market research and agency financial/budget considerations on a yearly basis. The current compensation rate for special investigators for 2022 is $44 per hour. Reflecting year-to-year increases for comparison, the rate was $41 per hour in 2019 and $43 per hour in 2021. In setting the rate, Security Division also considers compensation rates at other similarly situated federal law enforcement components. 

Crossfire Hurricane
An attendee asked about lessons learned from the Crossfire Hurricane investigation and inquired what is the position of FBI leadership on cases being run out of FBI Headquarters. In response, DD Abbate stated unequivocally that investigations should be led, run, and managed in the field and by the field. The headquarters role is to provide appropriate program management, oversight, and support to the field. As a result of lessons learned following various inquiries, the FBI implemented new policies, mandated recurring training for all employees starting with SES employees, and reviewed all cases to ensure compliance, among other corrective actions. The Director, DD, and senior leadership team take the findings and recommendations with the utmost seriousness and apply those lessons every day in every applicable context. The entire team is committed to empowering the field and ensuring that investigations are managed and led in the field on the front line so that the mistakes made in Crossfire Hurricane are never repeated.

An attendee asked about the general treatment of whistleblowers in the FBI. DD Abbate responded that the Bureau strongly supports those who come forward with protected disclosures, including allegations of gross mismanagement, waste of funds, abuse of authority, a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety, or any violation of any law, rule, or regulation. Any form of retaliation against employees who make protected disclosures is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated. The Director, DD, and the leadership team value those who bring forward issues of concern, including in the categories listed above, and have worked hard to create a culture and environment where employees are encouraged to share concerns and be protected. These core principles and expectations are communicated regularly, reinforced, and supported through action across the organization by the Director and team.

Special Agent/Intelligence Integration
An attendee asked about the current state of the working relationship between the Special Agent and Intelligence Analyst positions in the Bureau. DD Abbate responded that the relationship between the positions is exceptionally strong, well-integrated, and has continued to grow and develop over time in highly positive ways. This has been driven, accomplished, and maintained in part through an integrated training program starting at the FBI Academy, where agents and analysts learn and train together, side-by-side, during a major portion of the training curriculum. Additionally, as a further measure of progress, there are many more career opportunities across the FBI and at higher levels for Intelligence Analysts than ever before. As examples, the Director recently appointed the first-ever career FBI intelligence analyst as the Assistant Director of the Directorate of Intelligence and, also for the first time, an intelligence analyst was named to a senior executive service position over the Intelligence Branch at the Washington Field Office. These are momentous advancements and first of their kind accomplishments for intelligence professionals in the FBI.

Navarro arrest
An attendee asked about media reporting relating to the June 2022 arrest of Peter Navarro. In response, DD Abbate referred to publicly available court filings and related documents that detail the facts of the arrest. In a court filing dated 06/09/2022, which has as an attachment in the FD-302 documenting the arrest, details are provided showing that Mr. Navarro was offered and provided food and water, given the opportunity to contact an attorney or be provided appointed counsel, and was treated in a highly professional and respectful manner throughout. It is noted in the filing that Mr. Navarro made numerous false statements in the press about his arrest. In a separate court filing dated 08/15/2022, the circumstances leading to the method of arrest are set forth and it is made clear that FBI personnel did not utilize “leg irons.” These details again reinforce the need to remain objective and reserve judgment, unless and until the entirety of the facts are available and known.