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Kristin Murphy/Deseret News

FBI director addresses Ferguson shooting during Utah speech

By Dennis Romboy, | Posted - Aug 19th, 2014 @ 10:54pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — FBI Director James Comey wouldn't say much Tuesday about the civil rights investigation his agency and the Department of Justice are conducting in Ferguson, Missouri.

"I have put a lot of people on it to make sure that we gather the facts in an impartial, careful and expeditious way. But because that work is ongoing, I don't want say more about it just yet," he told reporters.

Comey, who is 11 months into a 10-year term as head of the FBI, was in Salt Lake City as part of his effort to visit the agency's 56 field offices in the United States and 64 foreign offices. The Salt Lake office covers Utah, Idaho and Montana. He spent the day meeting with agents and local law enforcement officials.

In a news conference, Comey talked mostly about the FBI's counterterrorism efforts and took reporters' questions on other topics, including the investigation into former Utah Attorneys General Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow.

Comey said dozens of agents are on the ground in Ferguson, where police shot and killed an unarmed black teenager Aug. 9. The killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown has ignited violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

"We have flooded the area because it's a circumstance in which there might be lots of folks who saw something," he said.

Regarding Shurtleff and Swallow, Comey said he couldn't comment on why the DOJ dropped its investigation, while the FBI continued on. Local FBI agents worked with the Utah Department of Public Safety and county investigators to build a case against the two that resulted in criminal charges last month.

Comey, who served as deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration, said he didn't want to talk in detail about a pending prosecution. Generally, he said, the FBI stays involved when the facts warrant it.

Before taking questions, Comey said counterterrorism is the FBI's top priority.

"We're about that every single day, all day," he said.

Of particular concern, Comey said, are thousands of foreign terrorists in Syria from the U.S., Canada and Western Europe.

"There will come a terrorist diaspora out of Syria and Iraq, and we simply must be ready for it. Those people will come back having learned the worst possible skills, made the worst possible connections and flowed back to Western Europe and North America," he said.

"We are determined not to allow a future terrorist diaspora to be connected to a future 9/11."

Comey also said he also worries about homegrown violent extremists who affiliate with al-Qaida without ever meeting any of its members.

"There is so much of al-Qaida's poisonous propaganda and training material on the Internet that they don't need to get out of their basements, they don't need to get out of their pajamas before they can convince themselves that they got to go on jihad and they got to kill innocent people in the United States," he said.

XMission founder Pete Ashdown is skeptical of terrorism going cyber in a significant way.

"A bunch of guys running around with rocket launchers in the desert may have a difficult time executing," he said. "I don't think the best way to do that is through traditional hacking. It's planting a bomb at a network center, or something that that, that would cause real havoc."

Contributing: Andrew Adams

Dennis Romboy

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