University of Pittsburgh

Chancellor's Remarks at the Department of Justice Press Conference

Remarks of Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg
Department of Justice Press Conference – August 15, 2012

The most important message that I can deliver today is one of heartfelt appreciation. Everyone in the University of Pittsburgh community is deeply grateful for the many forms of help that were extended to us while our campus was under siege and for all of the hard work that was done to get us to this point.

Let me begin by expressing thanks to federal law enforcement, to the members of the joint terrorism task force and to the municipal police forces here in our home region that reached out to help us.  I could not even begin to count the number of group meetings, individual meetings and telephone conversations that I had with representatives of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI last spring.  In every one of those interactions, those federal law enforcement professionals demonstrated levels of competence and commitment that were both inspiring and reassuring.              

Let me say something specific about [U.S. Attorney] Dave Hickton.  I have known and respected Dave for more than 30 years, since he was enrolled as a student in an advanced civil procedure course taught by me at the Pitt Law School.  We have maintained a close and mutually respectful relationship throughout the course of his distinguished career.  I was genuinely excited when he was named the United States Attorney because I knew that he would bring a very special set of values and leadership qualities to that important office.  I never imagined that I would have the chance to observe his leadership from the unusually close vantage point that I occupied this past spring, but I saw him regularly display levels of determination and professional discipline that set the tone for the overall effort and that were critical to achieving success in a very challenging investigation.

I also want to thank the City of Pittsburgh for the help that it provided during our time of special need – the period of weeks when bomb threats were so frequently targeting our Oakland campus.  Both Mayor Ravenstahl and Chief Harper basically said that we were in this together, that we were going to get through it together, and that whatever help Pitt needed from the City would be provided.  We benefitted from extraordinary levels of “neighborliness” shown by others as well. To give just one concrete example, there is a canine officer from McKeesport who regularly made the trip to campus, on his own time and often in the middle of the night, to assist in the bomb-sweeps of various buildings that had been threatened.

I also feel an almost boundless sense of pride in the members of the Pitt community for the strength, resiliency, selflessness and commitment-to-community that they regularly displayed as we moved through this time of crisis.  By our count, we received 52 total threats, targeting 160 buildings and leading to 136 evacuations.  Obviously, this was disruptive to student life, produced understandable levels of anxiety among parents and interfered with the work of faculty and staff.  But it even went beyond that.  On two occasions, for example, recently-released hospital patients had to be evacuated – sometimes in wheel chairs and still hooked up to their oxygen equipment – from the Family House facility located in our University Club.

What could have become a divisive experience instead produced new bonds.  Students were adaptable and worked to support each other.  Faculty and staff assumed extra responsibilities –  from conducting classes on campus lawns, to developing exam options, to monitoring doors during the examination period. Everyone really pitched in, but certain units were subject to particularly daunting demands.  They included the Pitt police, our student affairs professionals and our information technology specialists.  And I do want to also extend special credit to the members of our senior management team, some of whom are here today, and to our Board Chair, who was a regular source of good counsel.

In addition to being Pitt’s Chancellor, one of the other roles that I am privileged to play is service as Great Britain’s Honorary Consul for this region. In the midst of last spring’s bomb threats, I had the opportunity to host some distinguished individuals from the British Embassy in Washington, from the British Consulate in New York, and from England’s Serious Organised Crime Agency, essentially their equivalent of the FBI, in London.  Included in that group was a cyber-security expert, who said that he knew the federal law enforcement officers here in Pittsburgh who were working on our investigation and that I should feel very good because there was no one in the world more skilled or more determined than this team.

I did feel good that evening, and I feel even better today.  To reach this point in this investigation is not only important for Pitt and for Pittsburgh.  It is important for our broader society, which faces the continuing challenge of making certain that modern and still-emerging cyber tools cannot be employed for destructive purposes.  Again, I am deeply appreciative to everyone whose talent and determination, deployed in support of this worthy cause, has brought us to this point.  And, as I have underscored from the start, I am especially grateful to the federal law enforcement officers and agencies who led the effort so effectively.