Opening Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Justice Department Terrorism Roundtable
June 4, 2003
(Note: The Attorney General often deviates from prepared remarks.)
Thank you for joining me here in Washington to discuss our steady progress and continuing successes in the war on terror. I deeply appreciate the time we just spent in my conference room talking about the prosecution of this war.
Yesterday, we gained three more convictions in the war on terror. This time in the Detroit Cell case: two on terrorist conspiracy charges and the third on visa and document fraud charges.
Victories such as these must be built on a solid foundation: Victory requires vision. Victory requires resolve. But even vision and resolve are useless without men and women of faith and action to carry vision forward.
We have just those kinds of men and women here today.
From across our nation from your hometowns and from our big cities we have gathered together outstanding leaders from our U.S. Attorney's offices who come to share their ideas and their experiences.
If we are to win the war against terrorism, we must learn from the ideas and experiences that have brought us victory and adapt them to defeat our adversaries.
The gateway to victory is built on ideas. We must constantly learn, adapt, outthink, and anticipate the actions of our enemies. We must always be ready to seize the initiative in order to secure victory.
This terrorism roundtable represents the new spirit of cooperation and coordination at the Department of Justice. It gives us the opportunity to discuss proven tactics, to improve teamwork, and to recognize which legal tools work best.
Since September 11th, 2001, every agency and every public servant at the Department of Justice has worked to replace a reactive culture of compartmentalization with an assertive and courageous culture of action and results.
By listening and conversing, we have an opportunity to examine the results of our struggle and build on our successes. Over the past 20 months, the Justice Department has met and overcome many challenges. We have seen President Bush lead a campaign against terrorism that has captured or killed over half of al Qaeda's senior operatives. In the last 20 months, more than 3,000 foot soldiers of terror have been incapacitated.
We gather today recognizing the hard work of the past and also in a spirit of humility. We understand that our work is not yet done and that the future holds yet more challenges to be met and uncertainties to be overcome.
The U.S. Attorneys offices across America have proven themselves over and over to be worthy guardians of freedom. Many of you have dedicated your lives to being career prosecutors for the government. You have executed the Department of Justice's anti-terrorism mission. You have led joint anti-terrorism task forces in the fight to prevent terrorists from striking again.
As President Bush noted, "There is no such thing as perfect security against a hidden network of cold-blooded killers. We're not going to wait until the worst dangers are upon us."
You, your staff, and your colleagues in law enforcement have united with America's intelligence community to share information, to anticipate threats, and to face down the dangers before they are upon us.
Over the past 20 months you and your Justice colleagues have worked with state and local law enforcement, using every legal means to detect, disrupt, and dismantle terrorist networks here and abroad before they strike.
You have respected our Constitutional liberties. You have reflected the moral charge of justice. You have upheld the very rule of law that is so precious to the defense of freedom.
If our war against terrorism is to remain successful, we must constantly adapt and improve our capabilities to protect Americans from a ruthless enemy. Our improved cooperation, coordination and communication on the federal, state and local level must continue.
Our experience thus far indicates that our coordinated approach is succeeding:
We are gathering and cultivating detailed intelligence on terrorism in the United States:
- Hundreds and hundreds of suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout our nation;
- Our human sources of intelligence have doubled;
- Our counter-terrorism investigations have doubled in one year;
- 18,000 subpoenas and search warrants have been issued; and
- Over 1,000 applications in 2002 were made to the FISA court targeting international terrorists, spies and foreign powers who threaten our security, including 170 emergency FISAs. This is more than 3 times the total number of emergency FISAs obtained in the 23 years prior to September 11th.
We are arresting and detaining potential terrorist threats:
- 4 alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle and Portland have been broken up;
- 240 individuals have been charged with crimes uncovered in the course of terrorist investigations;
- 129-More than half have already been convicted or pled guilty, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, and the six members of the Buffalo cell, who are cooperating; and
- 515 deportations of illegal aliens linked to the September 11 investigation.
We are dismantling the terrorist financial network:
- 36 designated terrorist organizations;
- Over $125 million in assets frozen and over 600 accounts frozen around the world; and
- 70 investigations into terrorist financing with 23 convictions or guilty pleas to date.
We are disrupting potential terrorist travel:
- More than 100 airport sweeps in Operation Tarmac with approximately 1,200 arrests for ID and document fraud and other crimes;
- Nine major alien smuggling networks have been disrupted;
- Hundreds of terrorists and criminals have been stopped using the National Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERs) including:
11 suspected terrorists, with at least one known member of al Qaeda;
551 aliens stopped at the border who were wanted criminals, had committed past felonies, or had violated other laws; and
46 felons identified through domestic enrollment, in this country illegally.
We are building a long-term counter-terrorism capacity:
- A near three-fold increase in counter-terrorism funds;
- Over 1,000 new and redirected FBI agents dedicated to counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence;
- We have created positions for 250 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys and established 66 Joint Terrorism Task Forces;
- There has been a 337% increase in Joint Terrorism Task Force staffing; and
- Fly Away Expert Teams have been organized for worldwide rapid deployment.
These successes send a clear message to terrorists here and abroad: We will find you. We will track you down. We will track down all those who support you. We will not rest until justice is brought to all who would plot against America and strike against the freedom we hold so dear.
I commend each of you for your role in upholding our freedoms and in defending the liberty of generations to come. It is an honor to serve with you.
Now, I would like to turn the discussion over to one of the outstanding leaders in our Justice cause: Alice Fisher, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division.
Alice supervises counter-terrorism and is one of the hardest workers at the Department. Every day, I have the honor of meeting with her to get critical briefings on our nation's progress in the criminal prosecution of the war on terror.