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Attorney General Barr and FBI Deputy Director Bowdich Hold Press Conference


Attorney General Barr: Good afternoon everyone,
and thank you for joining us. We’re here to discuss the results of the investigation into
the December 6 shooting at Pensacola Naval Air Station. Joining me today are David Bowdich,
who is the Deputy Director of the FBI; Rachel Rojas, who is the special agent in charge
of the Jacksonville Field Office; John Demers, the Assistant Attorney General of the National
Security Division; Larry Keith, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida and Mike
Sherwood who was a national security prosecutor in Miami, but is currently serving in the
office of the Deputy Attorney General. I want to thank the FBI and the other federal state
and local enforcement agencies that were involved in responding to and in investigating this
incident. I want to thank them for their rapid and excellent work. Many people worked long
hours through the holidays and I’m grateful for their diligence and their commitment and
seeing it through. And you’ll be hearing from the deputy director shortly about the details
of the bureau’s investigation which was truly superb. In considering this case, we have
to remember that there are thousands of allied pilots and other military personnel who receive
training on military bases throughout the United States. These military partnerships
are critically important to our country. The Royal Saudi Air Force, which flies American-made
aircraft, is an important military partner and has long had a training relationship with
the United States. On December 6, 2nd Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, a member of the
Royal Saudi Air Force, entered a building on grounds of the Pensacola Naval Air Station
and killed three U.S. sailors and severely wounded eight other Americans. He was killed
during the attack. This was an act of terrorism. The evidence shows that the shooter was motivated
by jihadist ideology. During the course of the investigation we learned that the shooter
posted a message on September 11 of this year stating, “The countdown has begun.” During
the Thanksgiving weekend, he visited the 9/11 memorial in New York City. He also posted
other anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages on social media, including two hours
before his attack. Early reports indicated that the shooter arrived at the site accompanied
by other Saudi cadets who took video during the attack. These reports turned out not to
be accurate. The shooter arrived by himself. The other Saudi cadets happened to be in the
area and after the attack began, they took some videos of the resulting commotion around
the building. They fully cooperated in the investigation as did all other Saudi cadets
who were interviewed by the FBI at the base and at other bases around the country. After
Alshamrani entered the building and cased the facility, he proceeded to walk around
shooting down his unarmed victims in cold blood. During and after this heinous attack,
there were many specific acts of courage, and I want to draw special attention to two
U.S. Marines: Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Maisel and Staff Sgt. Samuel Mullins. They were outside
the building when they heard the gunfire and although unarmed, they ran into the building
to confront the shooter. Their only weapon was a fire extinguisher that they pulled off
the wall as they ran toward the gunfire. Although they were unable to engage the shooter, they
helped save many lives by giving CPR and other urgent medical aid to the victims. I would
also like to mention the heroic acts of Navy Airman Ryan Blackwell. The shooter shot Airman
Blackwell five times, yet he managed to jump on top of a fellow sailor to keep her from
being shot and then assisted other students and helped them escape all while taking fire
from the shooter. Ryan Blackwell’s heroic acts saved countless lives that day. And we’re
grateful for the bravery of the base personnel and the local law enforcement responders who
initially arrived at the scene and engaged the shooter. I would also like to address
the cooperation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia gave complete
and total support to our counterterrorism investigation. They ordered all Saudi trainees
to fully cooperate. This assistance was critical to helping the F.B.I. determine whether anyone
assisted the shooter in these attacks. While there is no evidence of assistance or pre-knowledge
of the attack by other members of the Saudi military or any other foreign nationals who
were training in the United States, we did learn of derogatory material possessed by
21 members of the Saudi military who were training in the United States. 17 had social
media containing some jihadi or anti-American content, however, there was no evidence of
any affiliation or involvement with any terrorist activity or group. 15 individuals including
some of the 17 I just mentioned, so there is overlap, had some kind of contact with
child pornography. While one of these individuals had a significant number of such images, all
the rest had one or two images, in most cases posted in a chat room by some other person
or received over social media. The relevant U.S. Attorneys offices independently reviewed
each of the 21 cases involving derogatory information and determined that none of them
would in the normal course result in federal prosecution. However, the Kingdom of Saudi
Arabia determined that this material demonstrated conduct unbecoming an officer in the Royal
Saudi Air Force and in the Royal Navy and the 21 cadets have been dis-enrolled from
their training curriculum in the U. S. military and will be returning to Saudi Arabia later
today. The Kingdom has assured me that it will review each of these cases under their
code of military justice and their criminal code. The Kingdom has also agreed that we
will have full access to anyone we want to interview in Saudi Arabia, and any documents
relevant to our investigation. Indeed, they have already been providing documents. Further,
the kingdom has assured us that if we later decide to charge any of those being sent back
to Saudi Arabia in connection with this counterterrorism investigation, they will be returned for trial.
We appreciate the kingdom’s cooperation in this case. Finally, I want to address an issue
regarding the shooter’s phones. The shooter possessed two Apple iPhones, seen here on
the posters. Within one day of the shooting, the FBI sought and received court authorization
based on probable cause to search both phones in an effort to run down all leads and figure
out with whom the shooter had been communicating. During the gunfight with the first responders,
the shooter disengaged long enough to place one of his phones on the floor and shoot a
single round into the device. It also appears the other phone was damaged. Our experts at
the FBI crime lab were able to fix both damaged phones so that they are operational. However,
both phones are engineered to make it virtually impossible to unlock without the password.
It is very important for us to know with whom and about what the shooter was communicating
before he died. We have asked Apple for their help in unlocking the shooter’s phones.
So far, Apple has not given any substantive assistance. This situation perfectly illustrates
why it is critical that the public be able to get access to digital evidence once it
has obtained a court order based on probable cause. We call on Apple and other technology
companies to help us find a solution so that we can better protect the lives of the American
people and prevent future attacks. With that, I will turn things over to the Deputy Director
of the FBI David Bowdich. Deputy Director Bowdich: Thank you, Sir. Good
afternoon everyone. I’d like to offer a brief overview of our investigation into this particular
attack. As you can imagine this has been a large and incredibly complex investigation
with dozens of investigative entities being involved. Let me start by what we’ve done
so far. Since the beginning of this investigation, the FBI and our partners have been united
in one goal to determine if the shooter acted alone, or if anyone helped him. To explain
the scope of the investigation, so far we’ve interviewed more than 500 people with witnesses,
base personnel, and the shooter’s friends, classmates and associates. Even today, we
continue to run down any new leads in an effort to find as many answers as possible for the
victims and their families. For more than a month now, this has been an around-the-clock
investigation. As the Attorney General mentioned, this occurred on December 6. That is going
into a holiday season where our folks work 24/7 as necessary throughout the holidays.
This investigation involved hundreds of special agents from the FBI, intelligence analysts,
and professional experts from around the country. In addition to our counterparts, which I will
talk to you about in just a minute, we’ve employed dozens of surveillance teams and
executed, served, or obtained numerous search warrants, subpoenas, court orders, and emergency
disclosure requests. We’ve also collected more than 42 terabytes of data, digital media,
and the effort to exploit that data continues to this day. While we’re still searching for
more information, so far we have not identified any co-conspirators, any evidence that the
shooter acted with anyone else or that he was inspired by any one specific group. Social
media attributed to the shooter suggests that he harbored anti-US military and anti-Israel
sentiments and that he thought violence was necessary to defend Muslim countries. In addition,
just prior to the attack, a statement was posted to his social media accounts, which
had many parts of Anwar al-Awlaki, a now deceased senior leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
It had many messages that were very similar to Anwar al-Awlaki. And during the attack,
the shooter fired shots at pictures of the current U.S. President and a former U.S. President.
And, a witness at the scene recounted that he made statements critical of American military
actions overseas. Regarding the attack, I can now share that the shooting lasted approximately
fifteen minutes. Naval security forces engaged the shooter approximately eight minutes after
the shooting began and we’ve determined that he was ultimately killed by law enforcement
officers, who responded very bravely that day. At the crime scene we found a semi-automatic
handgun with an extended magazine, several ammunition magazines, and approximately 180
rounds of ammunition. As announced previously, the ATF identified the shooter’s weapon
as having been lawfully purchased in July 2019 in the state of Florida. It was purchased
under a hunting license exception. This exception allows non-immigrant visa holders, who otherwise
are not permitted to buy firearms or ammunition, to purchase them if they have a valid state-issued
hunting license, permit or other required documentation. Partnerships are crucial in
any case like this. Unfortunately, we have way too many cases like this. But, I do want
to take a moment to thank our other partners in this investigation to include other federal,
state, and local agency partners for their hard work. And they include the Naval Criminal
Investigative Service, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the ATF, the Homeland
Security Investigations, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. I especially want to recognize
the brave Naval Security Forces personnel who responded to the initial call for help,
as well as the Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies who also responded and very bravely ran in
to face down danger. They did their job that day and they did it well. Those heroes saved
lives that day, we do believe that very firmly and three of them paid a price for it. Three
of them were wounded that day. All three recovering but they paid a price for it that day. I’m
also grateful to our FBI Jacksonville Field Office and its personnel, and a host of supporting
FBI headquarters personnel and resources from other field offices. As you can imagine when
you have a significant crisis investigation like this we will surge resources from throughout
the country and this case was no different. Finally, I want to echo the Attorney General’s
point about the challenge that law enforcement faces from default user controlled encryption.
The FBI continues to work with our private sector partners to find the right solution
for accessing the digital evidence we need to stop criminals and terrorists alike. We’re
not trying to weaken encryption, to be clear. And after all, data security is a central
part of our mission but even with a court order to date, we cannot access the contents
of the two phones that the Attorney General referenced previously in this investigation
and countless devices and other investigations. We want to work together with the private
sector companies so that we can lawfully access the evidence and information we need to keep
our country and its citizens safe. This is not a problem that only the federal government
has. This is a problem that affects our state and local partners, as well as many of our
international partners and we talk about this on a daily basis. We need to continue to work
together between public and private sector to find a solution to this very challenging
problem. Thank you. Questions
Reporter 1: Why are none of the other students are facing federal charges if you’ve identified
them possessing child pornography or sharing [Inaudible]? Attorney General: You mean of the 21 that
we’re talking about. Well as far as the ideological social media it was not enough to trigger
violation of the federal statute and the other cases were reviewed by the US Attorney’s Office
under the standards they would use for anybody else and they were not sufficient to trigger
a federal prosecution. Reporter 2: You identified a purpose for the
trip to New York or do you believe that he may have been scouting other locations for
another possible attack? Attorney General: Yes go ahead, David. Deputy Director David Bowdich: We have not,
what I will tell you is there were other Saudi students throughout the country. It is not
unusual for them to travel. We did extensive back the places they went and this was not
an unusual activity. Reporter 3: Two questions, one is on topic
and maybe you can answer this but I was wondering if the FBI had ever been called to the base
previously for an investigation into extremism or that there have been reports that any other
sort of terrorists’ behaviors or Saudi behavior previously to the shooting? FBI Special Agent in Charge Rachel Rojas:
No the FBI in Jacksonville has not been called to the navy base for any of those extremist
views or anything like that. Reporter 4: On Friday the FBI director had
told some [Inaudible] changes in the way agents are going to seek price of warrants going
forward. Has the Justice Department proposed any other changes to the way the FBI should
open counter intelligence investigations of political campaigns or anything you’re considering? Attorney General Barr: Well we’re considering
you know a number of additional things. Chris Ray and I have discussed a number of possibilities.
One of the things that we have agreed on is that the opening of a counter intelligence
investigation of a presidential campaign would be something that the director of the FBI
would have to sign off on and the Attorney General would have to sign off on. Reporter 5: After the San Bernardino problems,
getting into the phone of one of the gunmen there, the Justice Department took Apple to
court. Are you considering doing that in this case? Attorney General Barr: I’m not going to comment
on that. Reporter 6: A question for the Deputy Director,
if I may? Were the FBI’s technical experts on cell phones consulted in the letter that
was sent to Apple and did they agree with sending that letter to Apple? Deputy Director David Bowdich: I don’t know
everyone who put eyes on that but yes the General Counsel would have involved them as
a matter of course. Reporter 6: Do they agree? Deputy Director David Bowdich: I don’t know
the answer. Reporter 7: On the issue of the striking in
Iran on the Iran General, the White House told us the Justice Department was consulted
before the decision was made to do this, can you explain to people in Congress including
conservatives who have questions about whether or not this was a constitutional strike given
the fact that the constitution gives Congress the right to declare war and in this case
obviously this is an act of war and they were not consulted so? Attorney General Barr: The Department of Justice
was consulted and frankly I don’t think it was a close. I believe that the president
clearly had the authority to act as he did on numerous different basis. You know we had
a situation where the Iranians had already embarked on a series of escalating violent
action taken against our allies, taken against American people, our troops with the avowed
purpose of driving us out of the Middle East. They had attacked shipping in the Straits
of Hormuz, they had attacked oil fields in Saudi Arabia, they had attacked US bases,
and they had attacked our embassy. They had killed Americans. These ongoing attacks were
being planned and orchestrated by Soleimani. Our ability to deter attacks had obviously
broken down. The Iranians had been given a number of red lines and were crossing those
lines. They obviously felt that they could attack us and continue these escalating attacks
with impunity. The general in charge of these efforts, Soleimani, was clearly a legitimate
military target, and we had a very brief window of time to carry out the attack when he arrived
in Baghdad to plan and orchestrate follow-up attacks on American interests and American
people, personnel. So this was a legitimate active of self-defense because it disrupted
ongoing attacks that were being conducted, a campaign against the Americans, and it re-established
deterrence. It responded to attacks that had been already committed. Our purpose and our
expectation was not to trigger a broader conflict or that events would spin out of control.
On the contrary, we believed that the strike would restore deterrence and help avoid a
continuing upward spiral of the violence. Reporter 8: Two questions: one on-topic and
one off. Did the investigation identify any Vetting issues that could have led to the
prevention of the attack, anything that could have been noticed pass along to authorities
that would have indicated the attack was coming? Attorney General Barr: Well I think we’ve
identified that the vetting should be improved of these candidates. I wouldn’t suggest or
speculate that improved vetting would necessarily have prevented this particular event, but
I do think it’s clear, and I think the Department of Defense agrees, that we have to improve
our vetting procedures and they are in the process of doing that. Reporter 8: The students are here, the pilots
are here, and then if I could just do a quick follow-up
here, in terms of the vetting. Attorney General Barr: I think we’re talking
about doing it before they come to the United States. Reporter 8: Follow-up question: did you, in
terms of the evidence regarding General Soleimani, see any evidence of a specific imminent threat
or was it more generic into the what had been done and what was generally thought that was
being planned? Attorney General Barr: I’m not going to get
into the specific intelligence. I believe there was intelligence of imminent attack
but I do believe that this concept of imminence is something of a red herring. I think when
you’re dealing with a situation where you already have attacks under way, you know there
is a campaign that involves repeated attacks on American targets, I don’t think there’s
a requirement frankly for, you know, knowing the exact time and place of the next attack
and that certainly was the position of the Obama administration when it droned leaders
of terrorist organizations. Yes. Reporter 9: Two questions about Apple. Quick
question: what is Apple willing to do here? You said nothing substantive. What are they
going to do here if the company’s going to do anything at all?
Attorney General Barr: I don’t know what they’re willing to do. Reporter 9: Second question: how big of a
problem is this on a larger scale? For people at home to understand, you know, the battle
looking between technology companies and law enforcement and what you’re dealing with,
is this something you’ve seen a lot or something your associates have been dealing with for
a long time? Attorney General Barr: We’re seeing an increasing
number of these cases and it involves not only data at rest, that is data stored in
devices as is the case here, but also data in motion, that is intercepted communications
that we’re unable to decrypt, even though we know those communications involve the planning
of deadly attacks or, you know, cartel activity or the exploitation of children and it’s becoming
a grave problem. Reporter 9: Right now even with the court
order? Attorney General Barr: Yes. Off-camera: I think we have time for one more
question. Yes. Reporter 10: Attorney General Barr, when did
the consultations begin in the administration over the strike and with General Soleimani’s
death, has the threat from his [inaudible] targets inside the United States been diminished? Attorney General Barr: I’m not going to discuss,
you know, the details of or the timeline of consultations, and on the second part of your
question had to do with what? Reporter 10: General Soleimani’s death,
has the threat from his [inaudible] targets inside the United States been diminished? Attorney General Barr: I’m not going to
speculate about that. Reporter 11: Two quick questions on the Soleimani
attack. Did you give any special consideration to the fact that he was a senior official
of another government, that he was the general of Iran? Attorney General Barr: And a terrorist organization. Reporter 11: Is there any special consideration
given that he was also a senior official? Attorney General Barr: Well, military targets
are appropriate, legitimate targets. Reporter 11: In the vetting of other people
inside the U. S., training with the US military, are there broader concerns that it wasn’t
just limited to what happened in Pensacola? That there might be a more systemic issue? Attorney General Barr: I don’t think there’s
any indication of that, but I’m sure that when the Department of Defense considers its
vetting process that’ll probably have implications beyond the Kingdom. Reporter 12: The FBI has exhausted all of
its efforts, everything available, including private companies, to try to get into the
phone? They’ve done everything they can, and are now just dependent upon Apple? Is that
what you guys are saying? Attorney General Barr: Yes. But I would also
hasten to add that we don’t want to get into a world where, you know, we have to spend
months and even years exhausting efforts when lives are in the balance. We should be able
to get in once we have a warrant that establishes the criminal activity is probably underway.
Thank you very much. Off camera: Thank you.

Robin Kshlerin

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