Comey to ADL: ‘We enhance liberty with security’

People should be suspicious of government power.”
FBI Director James Comey: People should be suspicious of government power.” Photo courtesy of ADL

The Federal Bureau of Investigation must do everything in its power to stop terrorism and hate crimes, even if what it does appears to curb free speech, entrap or profile, declared Bureau Director James Comey on Monday to 500 people attending the 2014 ADL national leadership summit.

“It’s not a trade-off. We most deeply care for both,” Comey said about the need to keep Americans safe while obeying all the laws.

“We enhance liberty with security,” he said, noting that increased security gives Americans the “freedom to walk down the street without being harmed.”

What some call entrapment, Comey sees as good police work. If the FBI learns of a person seeking online information on how to build a bomb, “I can’t and shouldn’t walk away from it,” he explained.

In such a case, the FBI would send an undercover agent to investigate, checking to see if the individual is serious in his pursuit, said Comey. “If they didn’t find us to get materials, I don’t know who they would get them from. … Do you want me to walk away, really? We at the FBI must never remain silent.”

Still, he agreed, “People should be suspicious of government power.”

Also discussed during the three-day conference at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington were such wide-ranging topics as Iran, Mideast peace talks, Ukraine, immigration, anti-Semitism and civil rights.

Comey said the FBI takes many threats seriously, from those connected with al-Qaida affiliates to those acting alone. It strives to keep an eye on American citizens who travel overseas, mainly to Saudi Arabia, for terrorism training and then return back to the United States. While they usually are referred to as lone wolves, Comey doesn’t use that terminology.

“I think it gives these people too much dignity. It’s a term I resist. I call them lone rats,” he said to much applause.

The FBI has trained 47,000 law enforcement officers on how to combat hate crimes. All new agents tour the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and also visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial as part of their training, said Comey.

He also credited a partnership between the FBI and ADL to educate people in local communities throughout the country to help bring those perpetrating hate crimes to justice.

“We must continue to work together to stop those who would steal lives,” he said on the conference’s second day.

Keynote speaker Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer called Iran Israel’s “single focus,” arguing that Iran should only be allowed to have a peaceful nuclear program and nothing more. Iran, he said, wants nuclear weapons and is building toward that goal. It also is developing intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, to “carry nuclear payloads,” he charged.

If the P5+1 group of nations, which includes the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, fails to stop Iran or reaches an agreement that allows Iran to continue or keep some of its centrifuges and heavy-water facilities, “it would virtually assure that Iran would have a nuclear weapon tomorrow,” said Dermer.

If Iran does gain nuclear weapons, Dermer predicted that “at least three or four countries in the Middle East and a few other countries” would also strive to obtain nuclear weapons.

Israel can only settle for Iran fully dismantling its program, he stressed. He urged everyone in the audience to think back to Sept. 12, 2001, the day after planes flew into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and realize this is the fear Israelis live with daily.

“Understand something, Israel has been under Sept. 12 for 66 years,” he said.

While peace talks with the Palestinians that would lead to a two-state solution and ending the war in Syria are important, it is the need to stop Iran that is the most compelling issue for Israel, he said.

During a panel discussion, Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer for The Atlantic and Bloomberg News, said that President Barack Obama talked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu out of bombing Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and that “there is a good chance this will be the next president’s problem.”

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that if talks to stop Iran break down, he expects more sanctions to be levied.

However, he predicted that rather than the talks crumbling, the P5+1 and Iran will “reach a deal, and it’s a crummy deal.”

Abrams also spoke out about the recent events in the Ukraine, noting that even though a recent leaflet asking all Jews to register did not come from the government, it was still “very discouraging.”

Being Jewish there “is still an issue,” he said. “The Jews who are there for whatever reason, should not be there. The United States needs to help get them out of there. They have no future there.”

Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent remarks during a closed-door meeting of the Trilateral Commission with European and Asian leaders April 25 in which he said Israel could become an apartheid state should a two-state solution not be reached also were discussed.

Kerry, who has since admitted his words were inappropriate, was denounced by ADL National Director Abraham Foxman as well as the leaders of many other Jewish organizations.

“It is startling and deeply disappointing that a diplomat so knowledgeable and experienced about democratic Israel chose to use such an inaccurate and sensationalist term,” said Foxman, who went on to call Kerry’s language “undiplomatic, unwise and unfair. Such references are not seen as expressions of friendship and support.”

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