U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch Discusses Sandra Bland Tragedy, ISIL and More

Above, watch U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell discuss a range of security issues at the 2015 Aspen Security Forum.

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently sat down for an interview with NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell at the 2015 Aspen Security Forum to discuss topics ranging from Sandra Bland and police-community relations to terror threats, to the Jonathan Pollard release controversy.

Lynch is currently on a police-community relations tour to six cities that have exhibited strained relations between the police and community body. The cities on the tour include:

  • Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Birmingham, Alabama
  • East Haven; Connecticut
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Richmond, California

In response to the recent death of Sandra Bland and the controversy over arrest tactics, Lynch is deeply disheartened that it took such a tragedy to finally bring the topic of officer de-escalation to the forefront.

In many of the communities that I'm visiting on my tour, those officers ironically have spoken exactly about that issue, about how they thought the most successful change in policing that they had done was to switch from the aggressive sort of catch-and-arrest mode to how can I really manage this situation and de-escalate something for everyone's safety. And they talked with great enthusiasm about learning those techniques.

Lynch is fully aware that a perfect relationship between the police and community is not possible, but instead hopes to create a positive working relationship in cities.

In all of the cities in which I have visited so far -- and I anticipate to see the same -- the police departments had been committed to fostering this positive relationship. You also have to have a community that is engaged on these issues that will focus and will be committed for the long term for these discussions, because these discussions are lasting for years.

Lynch also spoke about foreign terrorism, the Jonathan Pollard release controversy, privacy issues, and America's incarceration problem.

Terrorist Groups' Threats to the Homeland

Lynch explained the emergence of different terrorist groups fracturing and morphing from "old-school" Al Qaeda to serious, viable, and dangerous organizations that are more social media-dependent, less hierarchical, and more open to recruits from all areas and backgrounds.

We are seeing a shift certainly in the area of domestic terrors as we've talked about. ISIL in particular is looking for people who are in various countries, including our own, to carry out solo acts or small group acts and then take credit for them...

The real issue that we're facing quite frankly...is the number of young people who are drawn into the rhetoric of ISIS, people who are juveniles in the criminal system, both state and federal.

Homegrown Terrorism

Mass shootings in churches and movie theaters have reminded Americans that domestic threats also exist. When it comes to public safety, should Americans change the way they live? "We have to be cognizant of the risks and cognizant of the threats, but my view is that we cannot let terrorism prevent us from enjoying the free and open society that's so important to us, because that's the real goal, that's the real aim of the terrorist actor," Lynch said.

Jonathan Pollard Release Controversy

Convicted for providing classified information to Israel, former U.S. government employee Jonathan Pollard received a life sentence for his crime. However, U.S. officials recently announced that Pollard would be released. Some theorize the U.S. released Pollard to placate Israel after the recent nuclear deal with Iran, which Lynch denied. "This really is an operation of law that would have operated regardless of what was going on in other foreign policy circles," she said.

Lynch explained how the law at the time of Pollard's sentencing plays a role in why he is being released:

Our criminal laws and our sentencing laws have changed a great deal over the past 15, 20 years... When Mr. Pollard was sentenced some 30 years ago, I believe he received a life sentence, but at the time, the system still provided for parole... and in accordance with the law his sentence has been carried out.

He is essentially one of the few people who is still a prisoner under the older set of sentencing laws... [so] under the law under which he was sentenced, and the laws of our country under which we abide, he's coming up for release.

Privacy Issues

Ever since Edward Snowden leaked classified information from the US National Security Agency, the issue of privacy has become an even greater concern for Americans. Responding to the renewed desire for privacy, Lynch explained:

I don't want to get into what people are doing. I don't want to see what you're saying unless you're talking about blowing up a building or unless you've kidnapped a child or unless you're targeting someone... That's my only interest in going into what people are doing and saying.

America's Incarceration Rates

Following President Barack Obama's recent visit to a federal prison, America's mass incarceration problem is back in the news. During the Forum, Lynch explained the ways the Department of Justice is handling this issue. "We're looking at it from a financial view in terms of the cost of over-incarceration, but also from a public safety view," she said. "We've been able, with the Smart on Crime Initiative, to reduce the imposition of mandatory minimums on low-level nonviolent drug offenders, and crime has continued to go down."

When asked what is her chief goal as head of the Department of Justice, Lynch remarked, "Certainly the priorities that I have, I think, are very, very cutting-edge and they are the issues of the day. So I think that for me, it really boils down to what's the best way in these days, in these times to keep Americans safe."

Katherine Grygo is a contributing writer to the Aspen Idea Blog at the Aspen Institute.