John Ashcroft Holds Media Availability With
Canadian Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay 10/02/01
ASHCROFT: Good afternoon. Allow me to express my deep appreciation to Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay of Canada and to Canada's government for its both immediate and comprehensive assistance to the United States of America in relation to the tragedy of September 11 this year: the attacks by terrorists on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon and, of course, on the flight which ended so tragically in Pennsylvania. Our relationship with Canada is one of the most satisfying relationships that could be anticipated between two nations. And the commerce which flows so freely between our countries is the basis for a substantial part of our success and our prosperity.
And it's very important that we have the kind of continuing relationship, and the kind of openness between our cultures, and the kind of capacity for commerce and individuals to flow back and forth across our borders that sustains our relationship.
The assistance on September 11 and since then by our Canadian neighbors has been remarkable.
The attack on September 11 was not just an attack on the United States, it happened to have been an attack on every civilization that values freedom. I'm personally saddened by the--deeply saddened by the 23 Canadian victims still unaccounted for in the World Trade Center attack. And I want to express publicly my condolences to the solicitor general of Canada and the citizens of Canada for their loss in this setting.
As President Bush expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Chretien during their meeting on September 24 of this year, let me reemphasize again the urgent need to implement strong and sometimes difficult measures to combat terrorism. The vital assistance that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are providing to the United States investigators builds on a foundation of excellent law enforcement cooperation, something both authorities depend upon in the ordinary course of our relationship. In previous cases, Canada's assistance in our investigation of terrorist activity, especially the matter that was planned to coincide with the millennium's celebrations in the United States, that was facilitated by our relationship and which made easier the work of prosecutors from Seattle and New York in convicting Ahmed Rassam, known to have been affiliated with Osama bin Laden and other individuals--that all took place earlier this year and was a result of our cooperation.
In these extraordinary circumstances, all countries must implement measures aimed at dismantling terrorist organizations and preventing further and future attacks. And I'm just delighted to have this opportunity to express personally the gratitude of the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies regarding and participating in law enforcement in the United States, to express personally to the solicitor general of Canada our profound appreciation for their many acts of cooperation and for their participation in an investigation which has been self-initiated in many respects. Sometimes before we could ask, they were already cooperating to do those things they knew to be necessary in order for us to succeed.
With that in mind, I'm very pleased to introduce to you the solicitor general of Canada, Lawrence MacAulay, and ask him if he cares to make any remarks. Friend, thank you.
MACAULAY: Thank you very much, John. First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Ashcroft for his leadership through these very difficult times. As the prime minister indicated, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you and support you in these difficult times. We discussed the investigation, and I was pleased that Mr. Ashcroft and the FBI couldn't express enough pleasure in how support they have with CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and how important it is for the security of both nations.
We also discussed legislation and what we plan to do in our country. We passed a resolution in our country today that freezes assets connected with terrorists, and that just extends the list and that will be also published.
We also discussed the Canadian border--the Canadian-American border. And I was so pleased that Mr. Ashcroft indicated and is also concerned about the free flow of goods and to make sure that the economies of both countries do not suffer and, in fact, more or less, do what the terrorists intended to do and that was hurt democracy.
Again, I want to thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with you, John. And to have you leading this investigation and making sure that the people who are responsible are brought to justice and democracy, in the way that you and I and all Canadians and Americans and people who live in the free world live and wish to continue to live, and will live that way. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, you said last week that the northern border has become a transit point, quote, ``for several individuals involved in terrorism.'' Has there been any evidence at all linking September 11 to terrorists who might have come across the Canadian border?
ASHCROFT: First of all, let me say that the 4,000 miles or so of border between the United States and Canada are a model for the way neighbors ought to conduct themselves. I mean, it is a very substantial open border between two nations, the friendship of which couldn't be stronger in my judgment. But any time there are borders that are that open and that substantial, there are risks that people crossing the border could be individuals who are involved in very serious activities that could be troublesome. Without commenting on this investigation, let me just refer to you to one where the conviction has already been obtained. The Rassam bombing was a situation where, with the help of Canadian authorities, we apprehended him transporting significant explosives into this country. And those were for purposes of disrupting the millennium celebration. So that cooperation is important, the border is important, but obviously there is an exposure, and a potential for problems there, and that's what working together will help us curtail.
QUESTION: Senator Ashcroft, the United States has shared some evidence with our allies about how the terrorism attacks are connected to Osama bin Laden. What can you tell us about what that evidence is?
ASHCROFT: Well, obviously, our investigation is ongoing. And it's not in my position at this time to detail the evidence that's available. Let me just indicate to you that from very early stages in the investigation, we saw Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda network, which is a network that is a substantial group of individuals as well as organizations, as being a focal point of those responsible for this act of terror.
QUESTION: Senator Ashcroft, do you think one of the solutions to the potential for trouble between Canada and U.S. in terms of crossing the border and the vulnerability there is a security perimeter around North America? Is that something you favor?
ASHCROFT: Well, I believe that we can work together to improve the right kind of access on our border. It's in Canada's interest that they have an awareness of who's crossing the border from the United States to Canada. It's in our interest to have an awareness and a cooperative endeavor for us to know who's both leaving United States, and coming into the United States. These mutual interests will provide, I believe, the basis for a continuing cooperation. And it may be that we'll adjust the way in which that cooperation is achieved as a result of what happened on the 11th of September. But I believe that we'll continue to cooperate, and I think that it will facilitate our capacity to prosper in both settings.
QUESTION: Attorney General, several of our allies have received what they call conclusive proof that Osama bin Laden is connected with the September 11 attacks. This information has gone to other countries. Can you share it with the American people now?
ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to share the evidentiary basis regarding parties responsible for these tragedies at this time.
QUESTION: Mr. Ashcroft, as you know there was a good deal of discussion since Sunday about your comments on a couple of television shows--whether you meant to say that another terrorist attack in this country is likely, as opposed to merely possible. Could you clarify or amplify on that for us today, sir? And if I may also ask Mr. MacAuley if there are any steps that the Canadian government is planning to take to tighten up on immigration into your country, sir?
ASHCROFT: Well, let me just indicate that I believe that additional terrorists acts are possible. And I believe the kind of attack which we endured shows that the risks of such possibilities are substantial, and that we should be very much aware of those risks. I don't think the United States should retreat or should withdraw. There shouldn't be a cultural paralysis, which otherwise curtails our activities.
The president's clearly stated that he thinks we should have a heightened awareness. And we've called upon Americans for their assistance in this heightened awareness. And I think the right balance and understanding that is what's important for us. We're not going to cease to be the free, open society that offers opportunity to Americans that we've been. But we're going to be careful, and I've asked the Congress very clearly for additional tools to reduce the risk of further incidents. And I believe it is time for us to understand that tools can reduce the risk of terrorism; talk won't. And we need to make sure that we curtail the risks of terrorist activities. Let me just finally say that terrorism won't happen based on what we decide the risk factors are. On September the 10th, we didn't have an understanding of how high the risk factors were. We need to be prepared and we need to understand that there is a possibility of additional activity, and act accordingly, but not surrender the freedom that we have. And I know you addressed a question to my counterpart.
MACAULAY: Yes, in Canada in the Senate of Canada we have an immigration bill, C. 11, that will tighten up our immigration rules. For an example, anybody coming into the country, there will be advance information on who they are and what they're about, and there is the possibility that they need an identification card. And John is absolutely right: Interception with our intelligence agencies--we made a commitment that we're going to beef up that area; more funds for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and to make sure also that our seamless cooperation with Mr. Ashcroft's responsibilities with the FBI and other agencies in this country continue, so that we provide as safe a society as possible.
QUESTION: Has Attorney General Ashcroft shared this evidence with you or with other ministers of the Canadian government? And based on what you may have seen and heard, are you convinced beyond any doubt that bin Laden and Al Qaeda are behind these attacks?
MACAULAY: Are you asking me to indicate to you what information the attorney general of the United States has given to me about one of the largest investigations ever?
QUESTION: No, sir.
MACAULAY: I have a rapport here.
QUESTION: Based on the evidence you've seen, whether you are convinced that bin Laden and Al Qaeda are behind these attacks?
MACAULAY: Well, it is certainly my strong belief that that is what the situation is.
QUESTION: When you were talking about how you didn't really even have a good enough grasp on September 10 of how high the risk factor was, can you say if you now believe it's possible that the government dropped the ball with regard to Mr. Moussaoui, the man being held in Minneapolis, when...
ASHCROFT: I'll think we'll have plenty of time to review things in the future. We're intent on developing a capacity to prevent further injury to the United States of America through terrorist attacks, and that's what we're focused on now. That's why I've been so intent on two things: developing an understanding of exactly what happened, and trying to move legislation so that additional tools that are available in much of the area of criminal law would be available also in terrorism.
QUESTION: Is there any discussion between the two of you about requiring additional identification for persons crossing the border in either direction?
ASHCROFT: We haven't discussed particulars today about ways in which we would enhance security mutually. I think it's fair to say that we--at least I have expressed to my counterpart, with whom I enjoy working and for whom I have the greatest respect, that we can work together and that by working together I think we can enhance the environment and the security of both the United States and Canada.
QUESTION: It's been three weeks now since the bombing. Can you at least confirm for us that this plan was hatched overseas?
ASHCROFT: Well, we believe and we believe there is evidence that makes it clear that the roots of this activity were in Afghanistan. And we believe that the branches of the activity not only found their way to the United States of America, but were present in substantial ways in Europe, and that the activities of the conspirators carried them to destinations virtually around the globe, and the Al Qaeda organization and terrorist organizations that are cooperative and collaborate with Al Qaeda are involved in activities around the globe. That's a statement we feel confident in making and that I personally believe reflects the truth.
QUESTION: Did the money lead you back to Afghanistan?
ASHCROFT: We believe that the roots of this act of terrorism, this act of war are to be found in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Mr. Ashcroft, you said in your testimony before Congress last week that there were several instances where Canada was used as the transfer point by terrorists into the United States. We know about Ahmed Rassam. Who are the others?
ASHCROFT: It may be that I could go back into the materials and identify. I think I would stand with my statement that there were several. I don't have the names memorized for which. You know, the point is that there may have been some who came through Canada. There are many who were here in the United States of America. And the fact that they got here and were able to do the things that they did here points out our need for additional tools to fight terrorism and our ability to surveil those terrorists and agents of foreign powers that need surveillance in order for us to protect properly the people of this country.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) specifically to the events of the investigation around September 11 were you when you said several?
ASHCROFT: I'll have to check my remarks on that. I have to go back to that.
QUESTION: There've been more than 500 arrests here in the United States--arrests of detentions since the attacks and several more overseas. Do you believe that any of those arrests or detentions have led the government to specifically thwart any attacks or have you developed any information from those arrests that lead you to believe that there was specifically another threat down the road?
ASHCROFT: We believe that it is important to disrupt the activities of terrorists, and groups of people associated with terrorism, those individuals who are planning terrorist attacks or examining or exploring the potential of those attacks. To be able to say how many attacks might have been thwarted is an impossibility.
But we think part of a prevention strategy is to identify individuals who are law violators, who are associated with the terrorist organizations and to ask them to be responsible for their conduct where they violated the law, charge them and convict them, and if they violated the law, regarding immigration, that we should deport them.
Thank you very much. Thank you.