DOJ Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
"The Proven Tactics in the Fight against Crime"
Washington, D.C.
September 15, 2003

Good afternoon. Thank you for that introduction, Skip.

It is a pleasure to be here at the National Restaurant Association. I thank all of you for coming to Washington.

The genius of our system of government is that in America, we believe that it is the people who grant the government its powers. We believe that it is the people's values that should be imposed on Washington-not Washington's values on the people.

Your willingness to visit this city is a valuable reminder of the patriotism and entrepreneurship that make this nation great. These are the values that should sustain our hearts and inform our actions in these perilous times.

Of course, Washington is often known as a town filled with debates where people lose sight of the issues most important to the citizens. Your visits and your voices remind this city of the values of the people-the values that are truly important.

Unfortunately, at this moment, Washington is involved in a debate where hysteria threatens to obscure the most important issues.

If you were to listen to some in Washington, you might believe the hysteria behind this claim: "Your local library has been surrounded by the FBI." Agents are working round-the-clock. Like the X-Files, they are dressed in raincoats, dark suits, and sporting sunglasses. They stop patrons and librarians and interrogate everyone like Joe Friday. In a dull monotone they ask every person exiting the library, "Why were you at the library? What were you reading? Did you see anything suspicious?"

According to these breathless reports and baseless hysteria, some have convinced the American Library Association that under the bipartisan Patriot Act, the FBI is not fighting terrorism. Instead, agents are checking how far you have gotten on the latest Tom Clancy novel.

Now you may have thought with all this hysteria and hyperbole, something had to be wrong. Do we at the Justice Department really care what you are reading? No.

The law enforcement community has no interest in your reading habits. Tracking reading habits would betray our high regard for the First Amendment. And even if someone in the government wanted to do so, it would represent an impossible workload and a waste of law enforcement resources.

The fact is that our laws are very particular and very demanding. There are strict legal requirements. A federal judge must first determine that there is an existing investigation of an international terrorist or spy, or a foreign intelligence investigation into a non-U.S. person, and that the business records being sought are relevant to that investigation. Without meeting these legal requirements, obtaining business records, including library records, is not even an option.

With only 11,000 FBI agents in the entire country, it is simply ridiculous to think we could or would track what citizens are reading. I am not in a position to know, but according to the American Library Association there are more than 117,400 libraries in the United States. The American Library Association tells me that Americans visit our nation's libraries more than one billion times a year-1,146,284,000, to be exact. While there, they check out nearly two billion books a year-1,713,967,000, to be precise.

The hysteria is ridiculous. Our job is not.

It is the solemn belief of the United States Department of Justice that the first and primary responsibility of government is: to preserve the lives and protect the liberty of the people.

No one believes in our First Amendment civil liberties more than this administration. It is what we are fighting for in this war against tyranny. On my watch, we seek a war for justice that reflects the noblest ideals and highest standards set by the United States Constitution. I would not support or invite any change that might restructure or endanger our individual liberties and personal freedoms.

It would be a tragedy if the hysteria surrounding certain aspects of our war against terror were to obscure the important evidence that the Department of Justice has protected the lives and liberties of the citizenry, and not just in the very real world of anti-terrorism.

The American people deserve to know that violent crime has plunged to its lowest point in 30 years.

Thanks to this President's leadership and the work of the
justice community, these numbers almost speak for themselves. But for the crime rate to hit a 30-year low, we had to focus on and drive down almost every category of crime.

The results of our new tactics are impressive and undeniable. Over the past two years according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics:

To put all these numbers in perspective, we must remember how lives are changed when law enforcement focuses on catching and prosecuting criminals. In fact, this 30-year low in violent crime means 981,320 fewer violent crimes in 2002 than in 2000. That is nearly one million fewer instances when citizens did not feel scared, victimized, lost and alien in their own communities.

With such drops in violent crime, lives are not the only thing changed. The landscape of America is changed. When crime is fought at every juncture, citizens can walk their neighborhoods with confidence. They can shop freely, attend plays, and visit restaurants. Families can grow closer and communities can become more tightly knit.

People are not just safer on the street because violent crime is at an historic low; they are safer in their homes, too:

Attempted forcible entry is down 24 percent, since 2000; and
Overall crimes against property are down 13 percent, since 2000.

The first and primary responsibility of government is to preserve the lives and protect the liberties of the people. In the view of this department, that does not mean some of the people. It does not mean most of the people. It means all of the people.

And we are succeeding. This 30-year low in crime and the results of the last two years indicate that the violent crime victimization rate has fallen for all racial and ethnic groups across all income levels in every part of the country. In our view, equality under the law means equal protection, safety, and justice for every citizen-regardless of race, ethnicity, or income.

These new numbers show that our crime-fighting strategies are working on every level.

Another major reason for the historic 30-year lows in violent crime stem from the cooperation of the American people. We have seen a renewed sense of civic responsibility strengthen the cause of justice:

We have applied these proven tactics from the past 10 years-tough laws, tough penalties, and cooperation at every level-to the fight against gun crime.

From Day One, this administration established a new and assertive strategy of gun-crime prevention. We sought to direct new thinking and new tactics toward one end: protecting citizens by prosecuting violent offenders and locking them up.

The President believes that if you use a gun in a crime, you should do hard time. This strategy works:

These numbers are no accident. They are not some freak luck of the draw. They are not a twist of fate. Thanks in no small part to the federal judiciary, we have been able to give maximum sentences to criminals-resulting in the maximum public good for the citizen.

New York Governor George Pataki once joked he had discovered the "root cause" of crime. When asked, he answered simply, "Criminals."

The lawless. The predatory. The habitual, repeat offenders. These are the real sources of crime. And we must target and remove the source of violence, intimidation, and criminal behavior.

Simply put, violent crime is at its lowest level in 30 years and continues to fall because our nation has chosen to fight crime at every opportunity. Violent crime is at record lows because we are locking up the violent, the lawless, and the predatory.

Our simple, well-focused rules work.

Preventing crime by punishing criminals gets results. By enhancing cooperation, passing tougher laws, and enacting tough penalties, we have driven down crime. These same tactics have been deployed in the war on terror and they are the reason we prevented any terrorist attack over the past two years.

In every corner of the nation and at every level of government, the justice community has worked together, shared information, and struck at terrorist cells who would do us harm. Law enforcement has embraced the tools and spirit of the Patriot Act by communicating information, coordinating their efforts, and cooperating toward our integrated strategy of preventing terrorism. This has meant smarter, better-focused law enforcement - law enforcement that targets terrorists and secures our borders, letting hard-working immigrants and free trade prosper in a nation blessed by freedom.

In fact, the results of our anti-terrorism efforts are just as impressive and just as undeniable as our success in driving crime to a 30-year low.

All told, two-thirds of Al Qaeda's senior leadership have been captured or killed. And more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in countries around the world. Many more have met a different fate.


This nation has never asked more of the men and women of law enforcement. And law enforcement has never achieved more than these past few years.

At every level of law enforcement, in every area of fighting crime, we have committed ourselves to a new strategy-a strategy of prevention. It is rooted in our Constitutional liberties, built on communication and cooperation and driven by the courage and integrity of the men and women of law enforcement. From the FBI in Washington to the local cop with his feet on the street, we owe our thanks for their hard work and respect for freedom and the law.

By attacking crime and terrorist operations at every point of vulnerability, we have communicated to the lawful and the lawless that in America we will fight to preserve lives and protect liberty.

For almost two decades, some in Washington have preached defeatism and surrender in the battle against the drug smugglers, the criminal, and the lawless. At one time, elite opinion held that law enforcement and citizens could not do anything. They believed we were doomed to live with rising crime. They argued that criminals were driven by circumstance and root causes beyond our control. They said that locking up the violent would not lead to lower crime or saved lives.

The ideological critics were proven wrong. You do not have to move to live in a safer neighborhood. We have proven that a free people and free society have the will and the resolve to overcome great challenges and create equal protection under the law. We have proven that the right ideas-tough laws, tough sentences, and constant cooperation-are stronger than the criminal or the terrorist cell.

Yet, despite these successes, some people in Washington and so-called experts urge us to return to a time when we did not treat every crime seriously and when parks and public spaces were hunting grounds for predators, instead of monuments to safety and peace.

That is why those who value the rule of law and liberty must respond with reason + with facts + and with the evidence that our proven tactics work.

We point to a simple equation: hardened criminals + prison + tough sentences = fewer criminals = less crime.

We have seen what works. At this moment in history, our challenge is to speak clearly and act boldly, so we can build an America where every life is held precious, every liberty is preserved, and every citizen is protected by justice.

Thank you.