Department of Justice Seal

Attorney General John Ashcroft
Press Conference

October 22, 2002
U.S. Embassy Auditorium
Tokyo, Japan

 

10:45 a.m. local time

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. I want to thank United States Ambassador Howard Baker for his leadership and his service to the United States, as he represents the United States of America in this great nation of Japan. I can give you, virtually, about 30% of my Japanese skills by saying ohayo gozaimasu, and after that I may be able to say "thank you" at the end. But I thank you very much for coming.

I want to express my deep appreciation to a very important group of Japanese officials who have spent time meeting with me to discuss important issues over the past two days. Of course, the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yasuo Fukuda, who spent substantial time discussing important issues with us, is the recipient of my gratitude, as well as Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi, who provided time to discuss issues of great importance to both of our nations. It was a pleasure also to spend time and to make discussions that are of value to the United States with the Minister of Justice, Mayumi Moriyama. And Public Safety Commission Chairman, Mr. Tanigaki, and I had a time to spend together.

Since September 11, 2001, we in the United States have recognized the urgency and the importance of international cooperation and law enforcement. The very structure of the terrorist attack and the structure of terrorism have been revealed in a new way as being both international and fragmented. I say international because the training is conducted in one area, planning in perhaps another area, financing comes from another area, fine tuning of the plans perhaps on another side of the world… task specific, skill refinement… Well, we know in flight schools across the United States of America and then, of course, we had an assault on the Northeast. And it's very clear that if one is to follow the evidentiary trail established in this terrorist operation, one has to bridge not only jurisdictions, but continents, and literally follow the trail of evidence around the world.

Similarly, as our emphasis becomes an emphasis on prevention, and not just prosecution, we need to be able to both detect and interpret information from around the world. This is important, not just for the United States of America, but it's important for freedom-loving individuals in every nation. And especially, I was sorrowed by the loss of life in Bali recently. But we are sorrowed by the loss of life every time terrorists strike. I extend my condolences to the people of Japan for the losses suffered by this great nation in that setting. But it signals to us all the fact this is an international problem, which requires a close working relationship. The best friend of prevention is information, and the best friend of information is cooperation and coordination and collaboration. And so, we work together.

Certainly, one of my primary objectives was to come and thank the people of Japan and the officials of the Japanese government for their assistance to the United States of America in our efforts following September 11. I appreciate the fact that Japan has signed the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, and has been a participant in the outrage of the world against terrorism and in the effort of the world to deny terrorists access to financial networks in an effort to restrain the flow of resources toward terrorism. I'm grateful for that effort on the part of this great nation. The United States continues to urge countries around the world to join us in every way possible under the laws to combat terrorism and to deprive terrorists of the financing necessary for their continued operation.

During my meetings, I have learned that the United States and Japan agree that the most important, precise response to terrorism and other types of international criminal activity is a strong, effective, mutually cooperative relationship. And as the world becomes a more integrated community, either by goods and services—as well as in our response to international crime—we need to work together. I would single out one area, which I think is an important area in which we are making progress, and that's in negotiating in what's called a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty, referred to as an "MLAT." I think each of our nations can benefit from having a set of protocols that are well understood and in place that provide for assistance to each country in the event that there are criminal matters, including terrorism, that beckon us to cooperation. I believe that this mechanism, which we have in place with a number of nations, is a mechanism which can serve the United States and Japan well in the future and would look forward to our ability to enter into such an agreement—a set of operational guidelines—in the future.

I'd be pleased to answer questions you might have.

MODERATOR: I think we're ready for the first question. Ms. MacKinnon, CNN.

QUESTION: Mr. Ashcroft, I have a question about the ongoing sniper investigation, if you don't mind. Now there have been calls, especially since the latest shooting in Virginia for the FBI to take over the investigation which has been quite far flung and crossing over several jurisdictions. Do you think that might be a good idea? Could the FBI help to streamline this investigation and prevent problems with communications that may have been going on, or what might be the advantages to keeping the investigation under the current jurisdictions?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Thank you very much. The matter of the sniper and the very serious problem presented there in the killings is a matter of very deep concern to this administration, to the Bush Administration. From the outset, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal authorities have provided virtually all the resources that would be necessary and appropriate and could be used effectively. Hundreds of agents of the FBI, and I underscore the plurality of that, along with technological assistance, including the right kind of data management technology and all, is at the disposal of and is being utilized by these officials who are, in my judgment, working very hard to solve this very difficult matter. I believe that we are operating appropriately and effectively in the current setting. We know of no additional value that can be brought to the investigation that we are not providing, but we are always willing to consider how we might better move this investigation toward a successful conclusion. The sniper, the killing, is unacceptable, and all of our resources are available to disrupt this activity and to apprehend and bring to justice the perpetrator of this vicious crime.

MODERATOR: Next question by Mr. Ichinose, NHK TV.

QUESTION: Hi.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Hi.

QUESTION: Welcome to Japan.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Thank you.

QUESTION: I'd just like to get some more detailed information about MLAT, you mentioned—the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty. In terms of hunting down terrorist activity, what kind of special mechanism does it have? Could you explain a little bit more about it?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Frankly, the MLAT device, which we have used in a number of countries or parties to such agreements with the United States, is a more generalized criminal law enforcement tool and prosecutorial tool than a terrorist tool. It provides guidelines and regular procedures, which facilitate the provision of evidence, the exchange of information so that prosecutions can operate effectively. Very frequently, this is the same information which we might have on an informal basis or on an ad hoc basis, but put into the context of a regularized procedure is a way of expediting the prosecution, so that's what an MLAT stands for. We're very pleased with the cooperation between our two nations. We seek to serve Japan in every opportunity we have in terms of the enforcement of its criminal laws, and we commend the Japanese authorities. With that in mind, we believe that the regularization through a set of working operation definitions and guidelines—an MLAT—would be appropriate.

MODERATOR: Mr. Sugita from Kyodo News Agency.

QUESTION: Good morning, Mr. Ashcroft.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Good morning.

QUESTION: I have two questions on the terrorist act in Bali in Indonesia. How do you characterize the relationship of the people who did that bombing in Bali and Al Qaeda? And secondly, what kind of measures or policies is the U.S. government thinking of to help the counter-terrorism policies or counter-terrorism efforts of Indonesia or other countries in the region? Thank you.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Well, those who seek to impose their worldview or their agenda on the world by terrorism are those who lack the confidence that their worldview or their agenda could ever be embraced by free people. The act of terrorism is really a part of an extortion attempt and I think it's pretty safe to say that extortion attempts do, when they occur in this respect, do show that people think similarly. I'm not in a position to comment on direct links, but I think it's fair to say that those who, whether in Bali or in New York, who seek to achieve their agenda by extorting an outcome through terrorist attacks, rather than allowing the world to arrive at their position on the basis of freedom, reject freedom, and they are dangerous to all cultures.

Now the second part of your question, I want to address that, and that is that we need to elevate our capacity to not only gather information, but to make it available in a timely fashion, and to be able to draw relationships between pieces of information which become available in different settings around the world. As I said earlier, prior to the 9/11 attacks, there were obviously pieces of information from . . . in a variety of settings. There was information regarding training in Afghanistan. There was information regarding planning in Europe. There was information regarding flight schools in the United States. There was information regarding financing. There was information regarding fine-tuning plans, and those kinds of things. Our ability to, shall we say, connect the dots and bring those things together is one of the things we have to work on in the international community, as well as in the United States. I might indicate that we have made substantial reformation to the FBI, or are beginning it, under the direction of Robert Mueller, in the United States, to increase our capacity to not only get the right information, but once it's in the organization, or in the community of nations, even, to connect and relate information that, when put together, would form a basis for our ability to first predict and then to prevent those kinds of activities. And that's really what we can do together. We can work to provide an exchange of information, a cooperation, and analysis of that information so that we can help avoid terrorist attacks.

There's been a major shift in the United States and that is that for the entirety of our life as a nation we have expected the process of prosecution to deter people from acting improperly. But when the terrorist is willing to extinguish himself in the commission of a heinous crime that kills thousands of individuals, the prospect of prosecution is not the right approach to prevention. We have to do more to disrupt, to intercept, to learn in advance, and to take steps that can save the lives that are otherwise lost. This imposes on us, then, a new responsibility for security and safety of citizens in freedom-loving countries around the world. And that is to develop the right information and to be able to connect the dots, if you will, to be able to interpret the information sufficiently to assist us in wherever possible preventing the kind of carnage that happened in Bali, the kind of carnage that happened in New York and Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., and that's happened in settings around the world. Now, we are a little bit newer to this effort than some other countries that have dealt with terrorism in the past. Japan has dealt with terrorism in the past. Maybe a different approach and a different scale, but we all know about Aum Shinrikyo and the gas attack in the subway here.

But all of these things are matters that we can work together on, with a particular understanding that the internationalization of terrorism requires us to work together to collaborate, cooperate, and assemble and interpret the information with a view toward prevention.

MODERATOR: Mr. Gaballa.

QUESTION: My name is Kamal Gaballa. I am a journalist from Egypt, a correspondent for Al-Ahram newspaper.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Yes sir.

QUESTION: Sir, as a minister of justice, if you are here in Japan now for thanking Japan and asking for help, for information. Sir, we all, perhaps, know that 99% of terrorism is coming—the main source—is coming from the Middle East, and if you, sir, just go and visit the Middle East, you will find the main source of the terrorism. And I think President Mubarak says 50% of this conflict can be solved if you solve… The main problem in the world now is the Middle East—the conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Please, sir, just as your excellency comes here to say thank you and ask for help, this is a suggestion: If you please, go to the Middle East and you can find support for the United States; just solve this main problem of the Middle East. Thank you very much.

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: I thank you for that comment, and would just indicate that the Bush Administration is working very diligently to try and facilitate the resolution of a variety of problems around the world, including those in the Middle East. Thank you and I appreciate your advice. Thank you.

MODERATOR: Mr. Kelly from Bloomberg.

QUESTION: Tim Kelly, Bloomberg News. I'd just like to change tack a bit here. One issue for Japan and Japanese companies is the new Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which includes overseas companies, including around thirty Japanese companies listed in New York or on the NASDAQ. Provisions in the bill, for example, the certification of earning statements, and any falsification is now a criminal act under this. Now, Japanese and European countries, they're asking for exemption, saying it's not fair that they should be subject to domestic U.S. accounting laws. The SEC is now interpreting these laws and whether how far this is going to be extended to overseas companies, including some of Japan's biggest firms. Do you think that, obviously, these firms should be subject to the same degree as U.S. companies to these new laws? And would you recommend giving exemptions to Japanese companies and European countries?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Well, I thank you. That's a very Bloomberg question. Let me just say this, that the SEC obviously is currently evaluating that position. May I respond to your question simply by underscoring what I think is a fundamental value that must be respected in free markets. Just as in a free society, voters have to have good information upon which to make good decisions. If you don't have good information, you make bad decisions. If you don't have information of integrity in the commercial marketplace, you misallocate resources. The Justice Department of the United States, its responsibility is to enforce the law. And whatever the interpretation finally is, I believe it will be a responsibility and opportunity of the Justice Department to promote integrity in the marketplace, so that information upon which people make decisions about allocating resources will be information of integrity. Modern life has so many phrases that come out of the computer industry, and one of the computer industry phrases is "garbage in, garbage out." I think if you don't have good inputs, you don't get good outputs. Very frankly, we are committed at the Justice Department to making sure that we provide a basis of integrity so that we have good inputs for sound decision-making, because we think free markets are very important, because they help people attain the maximum of their potentials. But they cannot be corrupted, contaminated, or otherwise undermined by a system which does not demand integrity in the information provided for decision-making.

MODERATOR: We have time for just one last question. Ma'am.

QUESTION: Peggy Hernandez from The Boston Globe. I have a question regarding these abducted Japanese. One of them is married to a U.S. Army official who allegedly defected to North Korea, who claims that he didn't come back with his wife on this visit because he was afraid to enter Japan and be arrested by the U.S. What kind of process would await him if his wife came back to Japan with their children? What potentially would happen to him if he decided to accompany his family back here?

ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Well, the Justice Department has a clear policy of not commenting on anything that either is, or might become . . . a case. So I hate to give as an answer to the last question a non-answer, but I'm going to confess that's it. I'm simply not in a position to answer that kind of hypothetical question.

I thank you very much. Domo arigatoo.

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