ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT SPEAKS ABOUT THE PATRIOT ACT
PREPARED REMARKS OF ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT
AUGUST 25, 2003
ATTORNEY GENERAL ASHCROFT: Good morning. It's great to be here in Idaho.
Thomas Jefferson wrote eloquently that governments are instituted among men to secure the inalienable rights of the people . . . treasured rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
This is the first responsibility of government: to preserve the lives and liberty of the people. This is a responsibility you know well. This is the responsibility to which you have dedicated your lives.
You are the doers. You are the achievers. You are the soldiers… on the ground and in the trenches… who put your lives on the line to defend American's lives and liberties. Your spirit is the heroic spirit we saw on September 11th, when New York's finest and New York's bravest ran up the stairs of the World Trade Center as others were running down.
It is the work of unknown heroes . . . heroes whose stories may never be known, but whose spirit is the measure of hope we take from that terrible day.
The cause to which these men and women gave the last full measure of devotion . . . the protection of the lives and liberty of their fellow Americans . . . has become the cause of our time. It has transformed the mission of the Justice Department.
Where a culture of law enforcement inhibition prevented communication and coordination, we have built a new spirit of justice. We have constructed America's defense . . . the defense of life and liberty . . . upon a foundation of prevention, nurtured by cooperation, built on coordination and rooted in our Constitutional liberties.
Never in our nation's history have we asked more from the men and women of law enforcement.
We have asked you to add to your duties. We have asked you to root out the networks of terror and forge new alliances to defend freedom from a ruthless threat. We have asked you to prevent terrorism, communicate information and evidence, and cooperate to build a stronger justice community. You have heeded the call.
Thanks to you, your colleagues, and your cooperation, America has responded to the terrorist threat with speed and resolve. Thanks to you, we are preserving lives, liberty, and the rule of law. Thanks to you, we are winning the war on terror.
Our terrorist enemies underestimated America. They did not think that we could or that we would respond so decisively and so resolutely. The terrorists believed this nation would retreat when lives were threatened and liberty was attacked.
But we have shown them. We have shown the world: Usama Bin Laden is wrong. Al Qaeda is wrong. All who support and fight for terrorism are wrong.
Their murderous vision of an America in flames has united this nation. September 11th has led to a new seriousness, a new appreciation, a renewed love for the noble vision of liberty and the rule of law that guides this nation.
In this struggle, we must never forget what we face: Our enemies have placed themselves on the side of oppression and domination. They have launched a campaign against innocent men, women, and children. Where they have gained power, they have extinguished political and religious liberty. Where they have ruled, they have enslaved women, strangled education, and sought to kill Americans ... whenever and wherever they can.
They have vowed to spread the disease of hate, but we have vowed to stop them. Together . . . we ARE stopping them.
As President Bush has said, "Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power ... Whatever the duration of this struggle, and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men . . . free people will set the course of history."
It is an honor to serve a President with the courage to face tough challenges and the vision to lead. Under his leadership, America is not sitting back while terrorists wage war against us. We are waging war on them.
In the days after September 11th, we vowed to do everything within the law to prevent additional terrorist attacks. We talked to individuals like you: law enforcement officers, investigators and prosecutors. We asked you what tools you needed to preserve life and liberty.
We then appealed to Congress to give us better tools to protect America, and Congress responded to our call. Democrats and Republicans united and they passed the USA Patriot Act with wide, bipartisan support. And while our job is not finished, we have used the tools provided in the Patriot Act to fulfill our first responsibility to protect the American people.
We have used these tools to prevent terrorists from unleashing more death and destruction on our soil. We have used these tools to save innocent American lives. We have used these tools to provide the security that ensures liberty.
The Patriot Act does three things: First, it closes the gaping holes in our ability to investigate terrorists. Second, the Patriot Act updates our anti-terrorism laws to meet the challenges of new technology, and new threats. Third, the Patriot Act has allowed us to build an extensive team that shares information and fights terrorism together.
First, the Patriot Act provides critical investigative tools to law enforcement.
The Patriot Act gives investigators the ability to fight terror, using many of the court-approved tools that have been used successfully for many years in drug, fraud, and organized crime cases.
For instance, the Patriot Act allows agents to conduct investigations without tipping off terrorists. If criminals are tipped off too early to an investigation, they might flee, destroy evidence, intimidate or kill witnesses, cut off contact with associates, or take other action to evade arrest. Therefore, federal courts in narrow circumstances have long allowed law enforcement to delay for a limited time when the subject is told that a court-approved search warrant has been executed. As many of you know because you have used them, these delayed notification search warrants have been used for decades in drug and organized crime cases, and have been upheld by courts as fully constitutional.
Most Americans expect that law enforcement tools used for decades to fight organized crime and drugs be available to protect lives and liberties from terrorists.
Of course, notice of searches is provided, but the reasonable delay gives law enforcement time to identify the suspect's associates, eliminate immediate threats to our communities, and coordinate the arrests of multiple individuals without tipping them off prematurely.
For example, if the government becomes aware of a terrorist plot to use a pre-positioned, remote controlled explosive device at a major public event in Boise . . . before tipping off the terrorists, who might explode the device due to the tip-off . . . we need to find and disable the bomb. Perhaps we learned that one of the known terrorists was staying in a hotel and we have reason to believe that a search of his hotel room will yield the location of the bomb.
For decades, normal criminal law has allowed us to use a court-authorized search warrant and delay notification of the search in order to obtain the information we need to protect the lives of the innocent.
Those who challenge this long-standing, Constitutional capacity to defend America would force us to tip-off the terrorist that we are on to them, and potentially enable the explosion of the device before it is located and disabled, endangering American lives.
Another tool the Patriot Act provides is court-approved access to business records to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.
Every cop and prosecutor in this room understands the value business records can play in an investigation. Investigators may need to look at records from chemical plants or hardware stores to discover who bought materials that could be used to construct a bomb. Law enforcement may need bank records to follow the trail of money being sent to terrorist organizers abroad.
And for many years, prosecutors have long been able to obtain the business records in criminal cases by using grand-jury subpoenas. But before the Patriot Act, agents had limited tools to obtain them in national security terrorism investigations. The Patriot Act recognized that the same type of records should be available in national security investigations, while providing special protections for the First Amendment activities of Americans.
All of these critical investigative tools help close the gaping holes in our ability to investigate terrorists.
Second, the Patriot Act brings our laws up to date with modern technology.
In an age when terrorists have cellular, even satellite, phones, we must anticipate, out-think, and adapt to the new tactics and technology of our terrorist foes. Under the Patriot Act, prosecutors may now use a "roving wiretap" to track a terror suspect's communication even when the suspected terrorist switches, changes, or abandons phones to avoid detection.
Since 1986, we have effectively used roving wiretaps to track suspected drug dealers. Thanks to the Patriot Act, we can now use them to track the terrorist threat.
Americans expect that law enforcement tools used for decades to fight organized crime and drugs be available to protect lives and liberties from terror.
This is an example of the way the Patriot Act brought our laws up to date with new technologies and new threats.
Third, the Patriot Act has expanded our capacity to build strong teams - teams that many of you are a part of - teams dedicated to uncovering and stopping terrorists before they strike.
We have stronger teams today because law enforcement and federal prosecutors can now share information and cooperate better with each other. From police officers to FBI agents to prosecutors and intelligence agents, the Patriot Act allows our expanded teams to "connect the dots" and save lives.
We know that information-sharing coupled with decisive action leads to results.
In Portland, Oregon, we have indicted several individuals for allegedly conspiring to travel to Afghanistan after the September 11th attacks in an effort to fight against American forces. In an example of improved information sharing among local, state, and federal authorities, the investigation was aided when a local sheriff in another state shared information with the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force. Recently, one of the defendants from this investigation, Maher Hawash, pled guilty to illegally providing support to the Taliban and agreed to cooperate with the government. He faces a sentence of seven to ten years in prison.
The information-sharing that the Patriot Act allows has enhanced the capabilities of our Joint Terrorism Task Force to protect local communities. And this has allowed federal, state and local law enforcement officers to create a seamless anti-terror team with international law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
We saw the results when law enforcement apprehended Hemant Lakhani, an alleged arms dealer in Great Britain. Lakhani is charged with attempting to sell shoulder-fired missiles to terrorists for use against American targets. I think all Americans understand the devastation such a missile is capable of inflicting on a commercial airliner. After a long undercover investigation in several countries, Lakhani allegedly traveled to Newark, New Jersey, and was arrested, along with two alleged financial facilitators, as he allegedly prepared to finalize the sale of the first missile.
The Lakhani investigation would not have been possible had American, Russian and other foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies not been able to coordinate and communicate the intelligence they had gained from various investigative tools.
The Patriot Act has truly allowed us to build an extensive team that shares information and fights terrorism together.
To address all of the issues surrounding the Patriot Act would require more time than we have here. It is critical, however, for everyone to understand what the Patriot Act means for our success in the war against terrorism. I would encourage Americans to read about the Patriot Act's common-sense reforms and how it is keeping our nation safe by logging on to our new website, www lifeandliberty gov.
The common-sense reforms of the Patriot Act are the reason why the law is supported by the public by a two-to-one majority, and it is why the bill passed 98 to 1 in the United States Senate and by a five to one margin (357 to 66) in the United States House of Representatives. Both Idaho Senators voted in favor.
Around this nation, we can point to quiet, steady progress because of the combined and cooperative efforts of law enforcement and intelligence:
- We have dismantled four alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle and Portland;
- We have brought criminal charges against 255 individuals;
- 132 individuals have been convicted or pled guilty, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, six members of the Buffalo cell, and two members of the Detroit cell;
- We have deported more than 515 individuals with links to the September 11th investigation;
- Our human sources of intelligence have doubled;
- Our counter-terrorism investigations have doubled in one year;
- Over 18,000 subpoenas and search warrants have been issued; and
- We have built our long-term counter-terrorism capacity by adding:
- Over 1,000 new and redirected FBI agents to counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence;
- 250 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys; and
- 66 Joint Terrorism Task Forces.
All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in countries around the world. Many more have met a different fate.
Make no mistake: Our strategy and tactics are working. Our tools are effective. We are winning the war on terror.
Nearly two years have now passed since American ground was hallowed by the blood of innocents.
Two years separate us from the day when our nation's stock of consecrated ground grew tragically larger:
Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
A field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
For the dead, the hallowed spaces of freedom are memorials, testaments to their sacrifice. For the living, they are a warning. They are a reminder that the first responsibility of government is to preserve the lives and liberty of the people.
In 1863, Abraham Lincoln stood on the hallowed ground of freedom at Gettysburg and expressed the sense of resolution familiar to anyone who has looked into the void at Ground Zero, surveyed the wreckage of the Pentagon, or seen the gash in the earth left by Flight 93.
"We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground," Lincoln said. "The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract."
The responsibility of those who remain, said Lincoln, is to honor the dead, not with their words, but with their actions; to be, quote, ". . . dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."
It is now as it was then. Our final tribute to the dead of September 11th must be to fulfill our responsibility to defend the living . . . to finish the work. Our greatest memorial to those who have passed must be to protect the lives and liberties of those yet to come.
Today, let us be clear. Let us be resolved. We will finish the work begun on September 11th. Thank you. God bless you and God bless America.