The increasing flow of pure heroin into Tampa and other American communities will only get worse if the U.S. pulls all its troops out of Afghanistan at the end of the year, FBI Director James B. Comey said Monday afternoon at FBI headquarters in Tampa.
Speaking to a small group of reporters after meeting with local law enforcement leaders, Comey also expressed a deep concern about another problem in that part of the world — the increasing number of foreign fighters flowing into Syria who could one day pose a threat here in the United States.
“A huge part of the world’s heroin supply is coming from Afghanistan,” said Comey, who became the bureau’s seventh director in September. “The proceeds from that are directly fueling criminal enterprises, terrorist enterprises in Afghanistan and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, so you can actually draw a line between a glassine bag of heroin sold in the United States or Europe back to the Taliban and terrorist groups.”
President Barack Obama has stated that he will end combat operations in Afghanistan in December and would like to keep an as-yet-to-be-determined number of troops beyond that to help train Afghan forces and run counter terror operations. But with Afghan president Hamid Karzai refusing to sign a long-term security agreement and two men vying for his seat still waiting for a runoff election, the potential exists that the White House may decide to pull all troops out of Afghanistan in December.
That, said Comey, “is very concerning.”
“Think of it now like a roaring forest fire that’s been marginally contained by fire breaks around it,” said Comey. “Remove the fire breaks and you have a fire totally out of control. That is very concerning.”
Comey came to Tampa as part of his ongoing effort to visit each of the FBI’s 56 field offices. Tampa was stop 27 on that tour, he said.
Combatting terrorism remains the FBI’s top priority, Comey said.
“I am worried about two particular dimensions of the threat, Syria especially,” he said. “We now have thousands of foreign fighters in Syria, making the worst possible kinds of connections and learning the tradecraft of terrorism and we are determined not to repeat the experience of the 1980s, when there was a diaspora of terrorism out of Afghanistan that we can trace directly to 9/11. All of us in law enforcement and the intelligence community are working to make sure that we don’t have a diaspora out of Syria that leads to a future 9/11.”
The bureau is also focusing on homegrown violent extremists, said Comey, “the people that some call lone wolves, a term that I don’t like. It remains a major focus of the FBI because it has become so easy for troubled souls to get access to al-Qaida propaganda and specific training and how-to books for explosives.”
Core al-Qaida may have taking a beating, but the threat has spread, Comey said.
“We face the risk that people won’t be directed by al-Qaida, but be inspired and that we won’t spot them until they leave their house after having gotten themselves jacked up to go on some kind of jihad and we have a very short time between inspiration and action to prevent them from achieving their Jihadi goals.”
Comey said that the bureau’s close cooperation with the military’s Joint Special Operations Command, which blossomed in Iraq and Afghanistan, will continue.
“I wish I could say we are at a day where JSOC isn’t needed around the world, but it is, so we are needed with them around the world,” said Comey, who declined to offer specifics.
“I don’t want to talk about particular countries, but obviously we want to make sure we have robust partnerships with all the nations touching Syria, or through whom travelers move to Syria,” said Comey. “And obviously we want to stay close with our partners in Europe, We have many of their citizens and residents who have gone to Syria to fight,”
Aside from threats posed by the Middle East, “cyber remains a huge priority of the FBI,” said Comey, “because it touches all of our priorities. It has transformed the entire world and obviously because of that it has transformed all of the FBI’s work.”
Comey declined to comment on whether there are any ongoing FBI investigations into either former CIA Director David Petraeus or his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Their affair became public after Broadwell sent Tampa resident Jill Kelley threatening emails. The investigation led to Petraeus resigning. Broadwell, a major in the Army Reserve, was placed under an Army investigation with her security clearance suspended. And John Allen, at the time a Marine general in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, opted to retire after it was learned he exchanged numerous emails with Kelley. Kelley and her husband Scott are suing the FBI and the Departments of State and Defense. The Kelleys are claiming they became the subject of salacious rumors after her name was leaked.
The director also declined comment on the status of Tampa FBI Agent Fred Humphries, the subject of an FBI misconduct investigation after he was approached by Congress and told them his concerns that the Petraeus investigation was getting sidelined for political reasons.
Humphries declined comment.