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FBI director says agency has flooded Ferguson area to investigate police shooting

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SALT LAKE CITY — FBI director James Comey publicly addressed the agency's civil rights investigation into the shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Missouri during a visit to Salt Lake City on Tuesday, saying the bureau has sent dozens of agents to Ferguson.

"We have flooded the area," he said.

Comey declined to give details about the investigation but called for witnesses to speak to FBI agents about the shooting that has sparked massive protests and a national conversation about civil rights and police militarization.

He was in Salt Lake City to meet with law enforcement leaders from Utah, Idaho and Montana, part of a tour of the agency's 56 field offices around the country.

In Utah, the FBI continued to assist local prosecutors investigating corruption allegations against former state attorneys general Mark Shurtleff and John Swallow, even after the U.S. Department of Justice closed a federal bribery probe. Shurtleff and Swallow were arrested and charged in July but deny any wrongdoing.

Comey gave few details, but said the agency stays involved in matters where investigators believe the facts warrant it.

PHOTO: FBI Director James Comey speaks on during a news conference at the bureau's Salt Lake City office Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Comey met with state and local law enforcement leaders from Utah, Idaho and Montana during a visit to Utah Tuesday. Comey spoke to the media during his visit, part of a national tour of FBI offices. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
FBI Director James Comey speaks on during a news conference at the bureau's Salt Lake City office Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Comey met with state and local law enforcement leaders from Utah, Idaho and Montana during a visit to Utah Tuesday. Comey spoke to the media during his visit, part of a national tour of FBI offices. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

"We really don't give a rip about politics," he said. The FBI's first priority, he said, is fighting terrorism, especially fighters trained in Iraq or Syria.

"We are determined not to allow a future terror diaspora to be connected to a future 9-11," he said.

FBI agents are carefully watching travel to and from those countries, as well as homegrown terrorists who find information online.

As the agency focuses on terrorism, online theft and other state-level crime could be investigated by multi-agency teams modeled on Operation Wellspring, a Utah cybercrime task force led by state authorities.

The FBI also investigates felony crimes on the country's American Indian reservations, which Comey said are experiencing an epidemic of dysfunction and violence.

"It's a problem that most Americans, especially east of the Mississippi, it doesn't enter their consciousness," he said.

Comey was sworn in last September. FBI directors serve a 10-year term that is designed to isolate them from political pressure.

He served as a federal prosecutor and private attorney before being named the FBI's seventh director. His predecessor, Robert Mueller, visited Utah in 2006.

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Video:
PHOTO: FBI director James Comey publicly addressed the agency's civil rights investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown during a visit to Salt Lake City Tuesday, saying the bureau has sent dozens of agents to Ferguson. (Aug. 19)
FBI director James Comey publicly addressed the agency's civil rights investigation into the shooting of Michael Brown during a visit to Salt Lake City Tuesday, saying the bureau has sent dozens of agents to Ferguson. (Aug. 19)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: FBI Director James Comey looks on during a news conference at the bureau's Salt Lake City office Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Comey met with state and local law enforcement leaders from Utah, Idaho and Montana during a visit to Utah Tuesday. Comey spoke to the media during his visit, part of a national tour of FBI offices. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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