Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference
Minneapolis, MN
October 7, 2002

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates From Prepared Remarks)

Good morning. It is truly an honor to be here with you today. You know, I meet with the President every morning, and it is common for the President to remark about how critical the cooperation among local, state and federal law enforcement officials is in the War on Terrorism. When he learned that I was coming here today to speak to you, he asked me to bring you his thanks and appreciation – and I’d like to read to you a personal message from the President.

I agree with the President. You, the police men and women of America, dedicate your lives to keeping our communities and our nation safe. I thank you for your sacrifice, and commend you for your service.

We gather today at a unique moment in America’s history. Your work – the work of protecting America and American citizens – has never been more important. One year and twenty-six days ago, enemies of liberty struck this nation, leaving us with two choices:

America has chosen to fight. Our cause – the American cause – is the defense of liberty itself.

Today, America confronts a war against liberty like no other that we have ever seen – it is a conflict that endangers not just our soldiers abroad but also imperils our citizens at home; a war against an enemy that lives among us, attempting to turn our freedoms into the means of freedom's destruction. In response to this new war, America has once again arisen in the defense of liberty.

Thanks to improved cooperation and coordination among local, state and federal law enforcement, we have already had much success. We are conducting the largest investigation in history; disrupting and punishing possible terrorist-related activity throughout the United States. Our hard work is showing results. Let me note just a few examples:

This cooperation extends beyond our counterterrorism efforts, as well. For example, a recent DEA takedown – Operation Webslinger – resulted in the apprehension of two individuals from Festus, MO, who used the Internet to market unprecedented quantities of date rape drugs, like GHB, to 43 states. This operation was successful due mainly to the high levels of interagency and even international cooperation.

You have been working – and working well.

The actions we have taken to protect America are rooted firmly in the Constitution, secure in historical and judicial precedent, and consistent with the laws passed by the Congress. Nevertheless, our actions have been met in some quarters with disdain and ridicule. The critics call for a reversal of the gains we have made over the past year. They would have us return to a reticent law enforcement culture of inhibition which existed prior to September 11, 2001 – a culture that gave terrorists a technological advantage over law enforcement. A culture that stifled cooperation between the intelligence and law enforcement communities. A culture that so sharply focused on investigations of past crimes that it limited the prevention of future terrorism.

Our critics want to roll back the enhancements we deployed during the last year. They suggest that business-as-usual – doing what was done before – will keep America safe from terrorists. But history instructs us that reticence and complacency are not defenses of freedom; they are a capitulation before freedom's enemies.

Under the leadership of President Bush, we at the Department of Justice, together with you, have not been complacent – nor have we been content to maintain the legislative and administrative restrictions that crippled our ability to prevent September 11.

Out of the ashes of that day, we have rededicated ourselves to thinking anew and acting anew in defense of the American people. We have fought for and won law enforcement tools for you to use. We have restructured the Federal Bureau of Investigation. We have provided new guidance to investigators, and new mechanisms of cooperation.

Where a culture of inhibition once reigned, we have built a new ethic of justice, one rooted in cooperation, nurtured by coordination, and focused on a single, overarching goal: the prevention of terrorist attacks. We always have done so within the framework and guarantor of American freedom: the Constitution of these United States.

It now falls to you, our leaders in state and local law enforcement, to seize this moment in history. You are the first line of defense against terrorism. And connecting you more closely with federal law enforcement agencies has been an essential part of our anti-terrorism strategy. We have:

These actions are forging new lines of communication and new modes of cooperation. At all times and in all ways our efforts are animated by the belief that information allied with cooperation is the best friend of law enforcement. So we have not rested on our accomplishments. We continue to press forward. We are:

Also, on September 11 of this year, the INS implemented a new border security program that provides a vital line of defense in the war on terrorism. It is the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System. Citizens of countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism, along with other foreign visitors who present a potential national security concern, are fingerprinted at the border, photographed, registered, and required to re-register if they remain in the US for 30 days or more. Their fingerprints are instantly checked against a digital database of thousands of wanted felons and known terrorists.

With this, we now have the capacity to verify what these individuals are doing while in the United States and to ensure that they are complying with our laws. In the coming months, we anticipate that enforcement efforts using this new system to help locate violators will begin. And that is where the assistance of our state and local law enforcement partners will be critical.

In addition to actively searching for these high-risk violators, the INS will list them in the NCIC. State and local police may come across these individuals in the course of routine encounters and be able to apprehend them. This assistance is entirely voluntary – if state and local officials do not wish to assist us in arresting violators of federal immigration laws, they are free to choose not to. However, we hope that you, our law enforcement partners, will join us in this important national security mission.

Our responsibility – and our privilege – is unique. In combating terrorism, we occupy a difficult intersection between national security and law enforcement. We must do our jobs with the utmost attention to the quality of the investigations we conduct and the cases we prepare. We must use all lawful means to prevent terrorism. And we must act with excellence. There are no second chances in the campaign to prevent another September 11.

This excellence is what is expected of every Department of Justice employee. It is what you, our local law enforcement partners, should come to expect. It is what the American people deserve. For if we fail in our responsibility to secure justice, we invite more than the risk of additional criminality – we risk the security of our nation and the survival of freedom.

Today, all of the men and women of law enforcement – be it federal, state, or local – are called upon to defend our nation, our citizens, and our values. The challenge before us is great, but it is not insurmountable. This call echoes that of another time in American history, when a great president appealed to a great nation to rise up to the daunting task that lay before it.

"Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history," Abraham Lincoln told America in the midst of the Civil War. "We . . . will be remembered in spite of ourselves. The fiery trial though which we pass will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We – even we here – hold the power and bear the responsibility."

We, too, cannot escape the light of history and the challenge that history has put before us. Each and every one of us holds the power and bears the responsibility of America's defense. The security of our nation, and the safety of our citizens, is in our hands. May we bear this responsibility faithfully and well. May the fiery trial through which we now pass be of short duration, and may our passage light us down in honor for generations of Americans to see.

Thank you for your leadership, your sacrifice, and your service. God bless you and God bless the United States of America.