Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Seventh Annual U.S.-Canada Cross-Border Crime Forum
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Thank you, Chief Postal Inspector Heath. As we have seen in the video and heard you explain, the Postal Inspection Service is playing a vital role in combating cross-border crime. For example, through its efforts against child exploitation and mass-marketing fraud targeted at senior citizens, the Postal Inspection Service is protecting the most defenseless of our society.
The Postal Inspection Service is further helping to increase cross-border cooperation by organizing joint operations in the field, and by sponsoring meetings like this one. I thank the Service for its generosity in bringing us together, and I applaud the dedication and accomplishments of Chief Postal Inspector Heath and his team.
It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the Seventh Annual Cross-Border Crime Forum. I am delighted to host Solicitor General Easter and this impressive number of representatives from both Canada and the United States.
The reason we convene this Forum each year is to improve our ability to protect against cross-border threats to our citizens' security and livelihood.
Our nations are bound by more than the 7,065 miles of shared border. We are countries built on the bedrock of freedom and a respect for the Rule of Law.
The values we share were attacked on September 11th. Terrorists, and those who engage in racketeering, fraud, and trafficking, do not respect national borders. Their evil intentions know no boundaries. We cannot fight these threats separately and expect to win. We must defend our values together.
This is why the work of the Cross-Border Crime Forum is so important. To be sure, even before the Forum began in 1997, law enforcement in the United States and Canada had a very close working relationship. In fact, it is sometimes pointed out that we share the longest, undefended border in the world.
However, our shared border is defended. It is defended well; by the men and women of American and Canadian law enforcement.
The central mission of this Forum is to ensure that these defenders collaborate effectively, share evidence and information on criminal targets, adapt to changing threats, and assist each other in prosecuting cross-border crimes.
On April 15, 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police announced the arrests of over 65 individuals in the U.S. and Canada - in ten North American cities. The arrests arose from an 18-month international investigation known as "Operation Northern Star."
The investigation targeted the illegal importation into the United States of pseudo-ephedrine, an essential chemical used in methamphetamine production. Brokers in the U.S. arranged for bulk shipment of this chemical from Canada, most of it smuggled beneath legitimate products in tractor-trailer trucks.
Approximately 14,000 pounds - 108 million tablets - of pseudo-ephedrine, originating from a Canadian pharmaceutical firm was seized in this investigation. This pseudo-ephedrine would have yielded about 9,000 pounds of methamphetamine, with a street value of between $36 million and $144 million.
Numerous American federal, state, and local departments assisted the DEA and the RCMP, and I understand that there was widespread support on the Canadian side of the border, and I salute everyone involved in this case.
Operation Northern Star is evidence that U.S. and Canadian law enforcement - on every level - are building a strong and secure zone in North America; a "smart border;" a border open to commerce, but closed to criminals who would do us harm.
This kind of cooperation is even more important following the horrific events of September 11th. Since that day, there have been other terrorist attacks in other parts of the world, but no major attacks in North America.
Through cooperation and coordination, we have increased security, disrupted terrorist operations, and hunted down those who support the terrorists' work.
Since September 11th, more than one third of al-Qaeda's top leadership has been killed or captured. More than 3,000 al-Qaeda operatives and associates have been detained in more than 100 countries. More than $120 million in terrorist-related financial assets has been frozen by 166 countries, largely as a result of cooperation among law enforcement agencies.
The attacks last week in Riyadh and Morocco, however, remind us that the terrorist threat, while diminished, has not been destroyed. If we are to break terrorism's shadowy network of death, we must continue to work together. We must constantly adapt to this shared threat with speed, efficiency and purpose.
For this reason, I welcome the Forum's creation of a subgroup focused on promoting Counter-Terrorism cooperation. Its overarching aim should be to increase our ability to stop terrorist attacks before they occur, through coordination and mutual assistance. The subgroup's efforts have my full support.
The Forum has undergone a valuable reorganization of its working groups, in order to focus the participants' talents in finding practical solutions to specific cross-border law enforcement problems.
Nowhere is such problem-solving more important than along the Border itself, where quick coordination between American and Canadian law enforcement is vital to our mutual security. Obstacles to such cooperation must be removed, because the price of failing to do so may be catastrophic.
This is why I applaud the excellent work of the Border Enforcement Subgroup, which is working to address, among other issues, a legal obstacle: the inability of officers from both our countries to carry their own firearms across the Border when necessary.
At the moment, the Border Enforcement Subgroup is seeking to advance new legislation and regulations in both countries to solve this problem.
We must do all we can to ensure that the brave men and women who put themselves in harm's way along our border have adequate protection. A solution must be found that offers flexibility, while respecting both countries' sovereignty.
Problem solving is also needed along the virtual borders of cyberspace. By harnessing the power of information technology, we can remove safe havens for criminals in North America. All members of law enforcement will know their identities and crimes, and there will be no place to hide.
But just as information networks permit us to expose the identities of wanted criminals, they can allow criminals to steal the identities of innocent citizens.
In this Internet age there are no impermeable borders. Our citizens remain targets for fraud and exploitation perpetrated over the fiber optic lines invisibly linking our two nations.
Here, again, I am pleased to report that real progress is being made through the hard work of the Subgroup on Mass Marketing Fraud. It just completed an exhaustive overview and threat assessment on cross-border frauds, focusing on telemarketing crimes, Internet fraud, and identity theft.
With this analytical tool, U.S. and Canadian law enforcement officials and policy makers will be able to identify the best ways to tackle this insidious problem. I look forward to supporting the members of this subgroup as they put their knowledge and ideas into action.
Mass-Marketing fraud is just one of the activities of Organized Crime; there are sophisticated cross-border criminal enterprises engaged in drug-trafficking, alien-smuggling, extortion and violence. Like terrorists, the members of organized crime do not respect national boundaries. Their greed is transnational.
In the Forum's Organized Crime Subgroup, our FBI and RCMP are collaborating on the first bilateral assessment, which will enable them to identify criminal organizations that pose the greatest threat to our two countries.
In addition to preventing criminals from using the Border to protect themselves from law enforcement investigations and field operations, we must ensure that the Border does not prevent effective prosecution of these individuals once they are caught. This is the role of the Forum's Prosecutions Subgroup and its importance to our overall success in fighting cross-border crime cannot be emphasized enough.
The successful Operation Northern Star should live up to its namesake and guide the work of this Forum. Northern Star shows what incredible achievements are possible when we combine our efforts, share information, and recognize our common interest to fight cross-border crime.
One of Canada's Fathers of Confederation, Thomas D'Arcy McGee, said: "I see in the not remote distance, one great nationality, bound, like the shield of Achilles, by the blue rim of ocean. I see within the round of that shield, the peaks of the Western mountains and the crests of the Eastern waves. I see a generation of industrious, contented, moral men, free in name and in fact, men capable of maintaining, in peace and in war, a constitution worthy of such a country."
McGee was discussing Canada, but could just as well have been describing the United States. We are lands that love freedom and respect the Rule of Law.
Canada and the United States must continue to work as partners and great friends. We must remain vigilant. We must keep our borders secure, keep our people safe, maintain our way of life, and build a bright future for generations to come.
This Forum provides the means for such cooperation, and I thank you all for your dedication to its important mission. It is my pleasure to join you in these joint efforts.
It is also my distinct pleasure to introduce the Solicitor General of Canada, Wayne Easter. Since his appointment as Solicitor General last October, I have had the chance to meet with him on several occasions, both in North America and abroad. He is a formidable partner in our fight against transnational crime, as a leader in our multi-lateral law enforcement activities, and I welcome him to the Forum.