FBI Director speaks on privacy, national security at Newseum

To mark the opening of the new exhibit “Inside Today’s FBI,” FBI Director James B. Comey sat down with Newseum CEO Jeffrey Herbst on Dec. 9, 2015, for a lively one-hour discussion on the challenges of balancing national security with First Amendment rights.

Comey told the audience of VIP guests, including Newseum Friends of the First Amendment Society members, that he keeps a letter from former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy about Hoover’s wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr. as “a reminder of the need for constraint and oversight” in matters of investigation.

Asked about the leak of classified National Security Agency documents by former contractor Edward Snowden, Comey remarked that Snowden’s actions were “extraordinarily damaging” to U.S. national security in ways that he said were hard to discuss in a public forum. “I have a hard time thinking it was worth it,” he said.

Much of the conversation was devoted to the FBI’s efforts to track and defeat terrorism perpetrated by the Islamic State, or ISIL, and how the Internet and social media have changed the game for terrorists. “It’s difficult to overstate how ISIL has broken the paradigm of terrorism,” Comey said. “They use media in ways [Osama] bin Laden couldn’t contemplate.” However, Comey firmly stated that the American public should not give in to “disabling fear,” which is what the terrorists want. “Channel your fear into something healthy instead,” he said.

“Inside Today’s FBI,” the revamp of the Newseum’s long-running popular FBI exhibit, is now open in the ABC News Changing Gallery. Goldman Sachs is the presenting sponsor of “National Security and the First Amendment.”

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