Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller Transcript
Media Availability with State and Local Law Enforcement Officials DOJ Conference Room October 4, 2001
MR. MUELLER: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. As you can imagine, the FBI continues to work on many fronts to respond to the acts of September 11th. To date, we have an unprecedented 260,000 potential leads and tips which have come to us in the course of this investigation. The American people continue to support our efforts in a truly impressive way. Nearly half of those leads have come through our telephone hotline and our Internet site. Just last week we had 24,000 tips come in through those two resources.
Our laboratory and forensics experts have gathered and continue to examine roughly 3,000 pieces of evidence from the crash sites and from other searches. Many of these important pieces of evidence have been uncovered, and one such piece I think you received last week, and that was the several letters that were found at a number of the sites.
We're also working with financial institutions and federal and international authorities to dry up the reservoir of funds that terrorist organizations draw upon to support their operations. The effort to seize such assets and to freeze those accounts is critical to sapping the strength of terrorism worldwide. We know from previous investigations that some terrorist attacks could have been much worse had they been better bankrolled. To date, $6 million in assets both at home and abroad have been frozen by the federal government.
We, of course, are proud of the work of the men and women of the FBI in this investigation. But I am also particularly grateful for the support and partnerships of our colleagues in law enforcement. Today we are joined by a number of state and local law enforcement authorities, and through these representatives I want to thank our state and local partners for their tireless efforts in this new war on terrorism. Their work continues to be outstanding.
As we all realize, no one institution has enough resources or expertise to defeat terrorism. It must be a joint effort across agencies, across jurisdictions, and even across borders.
I can tell you that the spirit of teamwork and cooperation in this investigation has been truly remarkable. State and local law enforcement are playing a critical role collecting information, running down leads, and providing the kind of expertise critical to an effort of this magnitude and of this importance. Information sharing between us all is as important now as it ever has been, and anything and everything that helps facilitate that is really welcome.
One area in which state and local enforcement has historically played a leading role is in the area of civil rights. And during these times of anxiety and frustration, that role has taken on increasing importance. Vigilante attacks against Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Americans continue to escalate. Yesterday alone, the FBI initiated 15 new investigations, possibly linked to the September 11th attacks, which brings to the total, 120 investigations we've opened under the hate crimes statute.
Again, I want to finish by thanking our colleagues in state and local law enforcement for their guidance, their support, and their expertise in protecting the American people and enforcing the nation's civil rights laws.
Thank you. And now let me turn it over to the attorney general.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you very much, Director Mueller. And it is an honor to be here with these representatives of law enforcement. I don't know of any American that hasn't been inspired with the understanding of the willingness of law enforcement to do whatever is necessary to secure the safety and the well-being of American citizens. And it has never been more dramatically evident than it has been in these weeks that have followed the tragic assault on American liberty and upon civilization -- and it has been an assault on civilization, 78, I believe, different countries, all the way from Argentina to Zimbabwe lost lives. And I could be wrong on the exact number of nations.
But our local law enforcement -- our partners in law enforcement, state and local, federal law enforcement agencies pursued with a kind of vigor and intensity the effort to secure and make safe as many of those people as possible, without regard to their own safety. And I'm honored to stand with you. I just want to thank you.
These weeks have underscored for all Americans the degree to which we look to law enforcement for our safety and security. And these weeks also underscore the extent to which they return our trust by enduring risks, by in some cases paying the ultimate price so that we and our fellow citizens live in freedom.
So it is really a pleasure, and again I state my -- the honor which I feel, and express my profound gratitude to these individuals who represent these law enforcement agencies whose work has been so noble and has come at very substantial cost.
With me today are representatives of the Hispanic-American Police Command Officers Association; the National Sheriffs' Association; the International Brotherhood of Police Officers; the Fraternal Order of Police; the National Association of Police Organizations; the International Association of Police Officers; the International Association of Chiefs of Police; the National
Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers -- Executives, pardon me; the Police Executives' Research Forum; and the International Union of Police Associations.
I want to thank all of these groups for helping our officials in Washington -- the lawmakers, the members of the Congress -- understand the needs of law enforcement in order to respond effectively to the terrorist threat. These groups here today have worked hard to communicate their concerns to Congress, which are in substantial measure included in the legislative package recommended by the administration.
As attorney general, I want to thank all of you, both for what you've done in the past in those times of national emergency, and what you are doing in terms of helping understand the nature of our opportunities and the need for tools.
And I want to thank you for what you will do in the months ahead to ensure our safety and safeguard our freedom.
I'm pleased and heartened to hear that progress is being made in the House and Senate toward finalization of legislation that responds to the needs of law enforcement for the right tools to fight terrorism. The process took a very important step forward last night when both the House and Senate agreed upon legislation that will now move the process in both houses of Congress.
I want to thank my former colleagues in the Senate and the members of the House who have worked so hard and have exhibited such extraordinary commitment to the cause of our nation's security. I'm gratified for the progress that has been made, and I believe that there are a number of areas in which we can continue to work cooperatively together to strengthen this legislation and bring it to final passage.
First, the legislation passed by the House Judiciary Committee sunsets important law enforcement intelligence-gathering tools on December the 31st, 2003. No one can guarantee that terrorism will sunset in two years. Our president has wisely counseled us as Americans that this is a long struggle. He has cautioned us to understand that we must be perseverant and that we must, in fact, be expecting to stay after this objective until we complete our responsibility and task. Our laws need to reflect the new war, a kind of responsibility and effort that we must wage. It must provide us with tools on a continuing basis to do so.
Second, the House bill also would exclude relevant evidence from being offered in terrorist trials. I look forward to working with both the House and Senate to ensure that our law enforcement tools are as effective as they can be. It would be a tragedy indeed to retreat from a capacity of law enforcement to use evidence in the process of seeking to strengthen the arm of law enforcement in the effort against terrorism.
From the beginning, our talks with Congress have been guided by two principles. First, our laws governing terrorism should reflect the priority that the American people give to the fight against terrorism.
And the American people expect us to give this fight the highest priority.
Second, we will propose no change in the law that damages constitutional rights and protections that Americans hold dear. Just as we have provided law enforcement with the tools they need to fight drug trafficking and organized crime without violating the rights and the freedoms of Americans, we are committed to meeting the challenge of terrorism with the same careful respect for the Constitution of the United States and the protections that that Constitution accords to America's citizens.
We are gratified with the progress in the House and Senate, the progress that they are making toward providing law enforcement with necessary additional tools to fight -- to fight terrorism. And we will continue to work with them as they consider this legislation finally.
I'm pleased now to respond to questions.
Q About 150 people have been arrested as terrorists, we're told. Can you tell us whether any of those people have been arrested and are directly related to the September 11 attacks? And have they been charged?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: There are about three categories of the ways in which people have been detained. People have been detained who have violated state or local law enforcement provisions, the laws. Many of those groups represented here today have been a part of that.
People have been arrested because they are in possession of information which we feel is valuable in this inquiry, and the courts have provided for their arrest and detention on what are known as material witness warrants.
And then other individuals basically have been arrested either in conjunction with activities here or as a result of their association with individuals involved here and their having violated their immigration status.
And I believe those define the categories of individuals that have been arrested. And at this time, that's the nature of the comment that we would make on them.
Q With respect to one of those categories, actually it was President Bush today who said 150 terrorists associated with the al Qaeda organization specifically are in custody, and it sounded like many of those may well be overseas.
Do either of you have any accounting, either domestically or overseas, in terms of people who may have this particular connection?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared at the moment to say a specific number for domestic detentions versus detentions overseas.
Q Attorney General, the British government says at least three of the 19 hijackers have been positively identified as associates of al Qaeda, and that one has been identified as playing key roles in the East African Embassy attacks and the U.S. Cole attack. Are both of those facts true, sir?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm not in a position to verify or deny attacks -- I mean allegations like that.
Q General, with respect to the anti-terrorism proposals, one of the sticking points with the Senate had to do with the sharing of intelligence of grand jury information. And everything nearly came unglued because the administration decided it could not live with the idea of post-judicial scrutiny. Why is it that the FBI and the CIA object so much to having a judge just be notified in the aftermath of turning over grand jury information in an emergency situation?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We believe that those issues have been resolved, and that the climate for exchanging information that will be created by the bill, which will take down some of the walls, will provide a basis for facilitating that exchange of information. That's what we were pursuing.
We need to have a circumstance where if there aren't questions -- if someone in a grand jury describes a situation that could threaten the safety and security of our citizens, there aren't questions about whether or not that can quickly be shifted from the grand jury setting either to the Department of Defense, or to other law enforcement agencies, or to the intelligence arena, so that we can coordinate that information with other information. That's our objective. We believe that the bill now will provide a basis for that kind of facilitation of information sharing.
Q Why not judicial notification afterwards, though?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I believe that we've arrived at a place that will provide the basis for getting this done well, and without recrimination. I don't really understand the threat here.
The threat is that law enforcement officials and others involved with the security of Americans would have information that helped them do their job. To provide a base -- layer of bureaucracy on that unnecessarily simply doesn't provide a benefit, and it provides an encumbrance.
Q General Ashcroft, could you tell us what is known at this point about the Russian plane explosion? There were earlier reports it was accidental. Do you have any concerns or fears that it might have been terrorist-related?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, obviously, I don't have -- maybe it's not obvious. But I don't have information that would provide a basis for making any comment about that. Obviously, any time a plane -- a flight is destroyed in flight or otherwise, the victim of that kind of situation, it's a matter of great concern to us. But I don't have any facts which would lead me to draw conclusions about it.
Q Just to go back to that question about numbers who have been arrested overseas, do you share the White House's characterization that those 150 are, indeed, terrorists?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I am grateful for the cooperation of our partners and individual -- other nations. And a number of them have obviously been involved with us here at the Justice Department for the extent to which they have been willing to receive from us information and cooperate with us in detaining individuals who could be relevant not only to these particular events of September the 11th, but to our overall objective of the disruption of the network of terrorism. I'm not in a position to inventory either specific cases or numeric totals, but I am grateful for the cooperation which has been substantial and improving.
Q For you or Director Mueller, have you found in this investigation any evidence that points to Iraq as a part or a full sponsor of this September 11th attack?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm not going to be discussing evidence and trying to describe it as related to situations like that.
STAFF: One more question, please.
Q Director Mueller, could you comment on a request that FBI received at headquarters here for a national security search warrant of a computer of an individual who was detained in connection with this investigation?
MR. MUELLER: Subsequent to an arrest and detention in Minnesota on charges, there was a request made for the possibility of doing some form of warrant. The request came back, was looked at by lawyers at the FBI, and the determination was made that there was insufficient probable cause at that time.
Discussions were then held about how one could improve the basis -- the probable cause, so that we had sufficient probably cause to go for -- to a court and to obtain the particular court order we needed to conduct that search.
Q In hindsight, do you think that request should have been granted, knowing what we do now?
MR. MUELLER: As I said, when it was looked at, there was insufficient probable cause -- clear insufficient probable cause, and our efforts at that time were to go and find enough facts that would support the initial request so that we could go back to the court.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thanks very much.