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FBI Director Visits Capital Region

The worldwide terror threat ratchets upward with nations falling behind the U.S. to fight the so-called Islamic State. Closer to home, there are concerns about cyber-security and public corruption. The director of the FBI discussed those issues and more during a rare visit to Albany on Tuesday.

"There is a risk 13 years after 9/11 that folks can think terrorism is kind of a yesterday thing. Hard for me to understand that in light of events like the tragedy of the Boston Marathon, but there is a certain fatigue that I think can build in over time. So I think it's my mission to try to explain to folks why this still matters."   FBI Director James Comey visited with local FBI agents and Capital Region law enforcement officials Tuesday at the agency's Albany headquarters. Albany is the 45th FBI field office Comey has visited, on his way to stopping by all 56.

The agency's top concern at the moment is the number of Americans traveling to the Middle East to support terrorism efforts.   He praised relationships between local law enforcement agencies and urged citizens to be vigilant, explaining he believes there are many wannabee terrorists sitting in their pajamas before basement computers planning and plotting as they avail themselves of terrorist training materials. He wants citizens to stay focused, not frightened.    "My very smart people who spend all day long thinking about bad things at the behavioral analysis unit in Quantico, made famous in 'Silence of the Lambs,' they've done an analysis of every incident involving a homegrown violent extremist that we know of, and in nearly every case, somebody saw something. They saw an encounter at a religious institution, they saw some behavior online, family noticed some changes in behaviour and people didn’t say anything. And the reason is easy to understand, when you understand people. All of us as human beings have a tendency to write an innocent narrative over facts that make the hair stand up on the back of our necks. 'Oh I must be misunderstanding. HE must've had a bad day, I didn't hear it right,' so we find a way to write a narrative over that that makes it go away.  My request to people is, please don't do that. If you see something that makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck, say something. If there's nothing to it, there will be nothing to it. We investigate in secret so that we don't smear innocent people. But we'd like to be able to just check it out, because if it turns out to be something that is something, we will all wish that we had."

Comey added "there's no such thing as safe."   A former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Comey was appointed the head of the FBI by President Obama in 2013. He said the founders of this country were deeply skeptical of government power, and feels Americas in the post-NSA/Snowden days should also be.    "You can't trust people in power, so you wanna understand how are they constrained. How is interest set against interest? I love those conversations because the FBI is constrained in all kind of ways that you would want us to be. My life is chock full of federal judges and oversight by congress and inspectors-general. That's the way it should be."

Comey said while any large city or state capital is an area that draws attention that a small community does not, there’s no reason to single out New York’s Capital Region as a high-threat area. Albany County District Attorney David Soares appreciates the FBI presence here.   "Most people think of Albany as this quiet little community. When you think about it, we have a roadway that connects New York City to Canada. We have a roadway that connects Boston to Chicago and all points west. We have a railway, a waterway, and we have a wonderful airport. So you shouldn't downplay the importance of Albany in the overall scheme of things, so its important to have a strong law enforcement presence here, it is VITAL to have a strong FBI presence here."

Comey noted the FBI provides local assistance to help address violent crimes and gangs.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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