FBI Director James Comey in Austin for conference

The head of the FBI was in Austin Thursday at the University of Texas. James Comey was the keynote speaker for a conference on how intelligence agencies can better defend the nation.

On his visit to Austin, FBI Director James Comey avoided political hot topics like wiretaps and emails. 

The focus of his keynote address at this U.T. symposium on “Intelligence in Defense of the Homeland” was his agency's work to identify potential terrorist threats. "We're still dealing with in the area of a thousand cases around the United States where we are investigating to understand where is somebody on the spectrum between consuming the poison and acting on the poison,” said Comey.

Director Comey did not specifically mention Wednesday's attack in London, but he did allude to it.

"Western Europe is the front line of the FBI's and the U.S. government's efforts to stop those killers before they kill in Western Europe or kill here." He went on to warn; as the Islamic State is crushed on the battlefield some fighters may try to return home. That threat certainly isn't being ignored but Comey remains worried about the potential threats from those who never left the U.S.

"Even when we investigate someone, all of you know we investigated the Orlando killer for 10 months and in my view did a quality investigation, I looked at it very, very, hard, and didn't find anything to use to incapacitate that person, in fact didn't find any indicators of radicalization at that point. And I personally believe that killer radicalized much closer to the event”

FOX7 was told there is no direct evidence that a member of ISIS has recently moved to Texas and set up shop. But state and federal officials in Texas do say they are monitoring several home grown threats.

"As the Director said, every field office has them," said Chris Combs who heads up the FBI offices in San Antonio, Austin, Laredo, Waco, Del Rio Brownsville and McAllen.

The dynamics of tracking threats have somewhat changed within the past 2 years.

"Obviously traveling to Syria now is a lot harder than it was in '14, so one of the ISIL messages is if you can’t get here, do it where you are, so we are very concern about that."

DPS Director Steve McCraw, a panelist at the symposium, said as the work to root out the threats, it’s still critical to protect civil liberties.  But he went on to say there has to be a balance because attacks can arise quickly and seemingly out of nowhere.

"I think it’s the new normal, unfortunately the tragic events out of London is a reminder we have to be vigilant around the clock,” said McCraw.

A key factor to exposing terror threats according to Director Comey is ramping up cybersecurity efforts.

"The bad guys have made the world tiny, Belarus and Boston are together on the internet,” said Comey.

Efforts to catch those bad guys have been hampered by the ongoing debate over the encryption of electronic devices.  According to the Director Comey the FBI recently got court orders to examine 2800 devices,  and despite all their hi-tech equipment,  40% of those devices could not be opened. Director Comey said he is not calling on computer companies to provide the FBI with special backdoor access.  He did say the issue should not be decided by those companies.

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