Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
at the 8th Cross Border Crime Forum
Friday, October 22, 2004
It is a great pleasure to be here again in Ottawa. I am gratified to meet once more with so many friends and colleagues: Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan, Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, Paul Kennedy, and Ken Morreau.
I have always enjoyed these meetings and the productive conversations with friends of justice such as:
On behalf of the United States delegation, let me express our deep appreciation to our Canadian hosts for all their hard work in organizing the 8th annual meeting of the United States-Canada Cross Border Crime Forum.
Our ties have only grown stronger with meetings in the majestic Canadian Rockies and America's Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia.
We are back in Ottawa today. And once again, this meeting represents the culmination of hard work, new bonds of friendship, and new ideas for protecting and serving our citizens.
We have made immense strides on critical issues. From counterterrorism and fraud to alien smuggling and narcotics, the men and women in this room, and our colleagues in the field, have shown that transnational threats to peace, prosperity, and justice will meet with international cooperation by law enforcement.
I commend you all for your service to millions of lives here and in the United States.
Your cooperation has made the United States Department of Justice more effective than ever. We have learned from your best practices, we have benefited from your innovations, and you have made it possible for us to achieve impressive results. For instance:
Most important, with your assistance, the United States has been able to prevent another major terrorist attack on North American soil for more than three years.
There is probably not one area of these successes that did not include at some point the cooperation of Canadian law enforcement or justice officials. I thank you.
This Forum has been working for some time to make such achievements a reality. For instance, when we met here in June 2001, I remember well that the Forum profiled the successful prosecution of Ahmed Ressam by the Seattle U.S. Attorney=s office. As you know, Ressam attempted to enter the United States from Canada to commit acts of terror during the celebration of the new millennium.
We recognize that the Ressam prosecution simply would have been impossible without the assistance we received from Canada-including crucial testimony from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, bank and telephone records, analysis of DNA and fingerprints, and even the analysis of organic matter and burn marks created in Ressam's hotel room and apartment when he was manufacturing explosives.
As you know, months before the tragic events of September 11 shocked the world, the men and women of this Forum were already working together to address the threat of transnational terrorism.
The dialogue and the work of that June 2001 meeting laid the foundation for our joint efforts after September 11 to improve counterterrorism, share intelligence, and improve the reach of lawful nations in the fight against terror.
Our cooperation has grown since June 2001. Over the past year, for instance, we have continued to work together in Vancouver to prosecute those responsible for the August 1986 bombing of an Air India flight that killed 329 people-including 280 Canadians. Before September 11, this was the worst terrorist attack in aviation history. I am grateful that the FBI has been able to provide some assistance in this prosecution.
In the past year, Canadian authorities have also continued to take crucial steps to thwart potential terrorist attacks. I note in particular that Mohammad Momin Khawaja was charged in Canada earlier this year for his alleged link to a bomb plot in the United Kingdom. We understand that this will be a case of first impression under Canada's Anti-Terrorism Act, and we will be following the prosecution closely. As always, the United States Department of Justice stands ready to provide any cooperation that Canada might seek-as Canada has done so many times for the United States.
The fight against the networks of terror is an ongoing struggle-a struggle that can only be won if we act together, seize the initiative, and challenge terrorists wherever we find them.
I am grateful to Maureen Baginski of the FBI, for her comments this morning regarding the challenges of intelligence reform. We always benefit from discussing these difficult issues with our foreign counterparts and we are grateful for the chance to learn from your experiences.
While fighting terrorism is our most important priority, our cross-border law enforcement relationship does not end there. Over the past year, we have also made significant advances together in the effort to find and prosecute those criminals who seek to defraud our citizens.
On October 5 of this year, I was pleased to be joined by Chief Superintendent Peter German to announce the success of Operation Roaming Charge. Thanks to an unprecedented bilateral and international effort directed at telemarketing fraud, the justice community united to arrest more than 135 individuals worldwide. Since January 1 of the year:
Operation Roaming Charge demonstrates that telemarketing fraud schemes have become increasingly international in scope and more sophisticated in their use of technology to evade the law. The results also reaffirm the necessity of fighting telemarketing fraud in a coordinated international and cross-border manner.
Most recently, the Forum's Mass Marketing Fraud subgroup has contributed a valuable threat assessment of identity theft that will help our investigators and prosecutors anticipate and outthink new crimes. I commend them for this leadership.
The Forum has also helped our nations address the crime of alien smuggling and human trafficking. As the Canadian Ministry of Justice demonstrated earlier today, this is an area of critical concern for both our nations.
And once again, the relationships forged here have allowed us to identify threats and to act swiftly. In early September, for example, Jamie Villatoro and Alfredis Guevara were arrested provisionally in Canada for extradition to the United States on alien-smuggling charges in the Western District of New York. Over the span of a year, these two men allegedly took $1,000 to $3,500 from hundreds of illegal aliens who were then shipped across the Niagara River in inflatable rafts at night and in precarious weather conditions. I thank our Canada/U.S. Integrated Border Enforcement Team team for detecting and putting a stop to this smuggling scheme.
Even more horrific than alien smuggling is the crime of human trafficking, which is simply a modern form of slavery. Last week, again as a result of our joint efforts, federal prosecutors in Seattle brought charges against two defendants responsible for smuggling South Koreans into western Washington from Canada.
I thank Minister Cotler for his heartfelt dedication to fighting human trafficking, and I pledge the equal commitment of the United States Department of Justice. In this regard, I am pleased to announce that, in anticipation of next year's Forum, our two nations will undertake a Joint Human Trafficking Assessment.
In the area of narcotics, again we have continued to work together. I thank Karen Tandy, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, and Raf Soucar of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for their excellent presentation today about the new bilateral drug threat assessment our two countries have prepared.
The value of these joint assessments is clear and undeniable: Four years ago, after a 2001 joint drug threat assessment was announced, Health Canada-under the leadership of Minister McLellan-took the lead on obtaining legislative changes mandating the disclosure of sales of precursor chemicals. The result was a dramatic reduction in the smuggling of precursor chemicals into the United States -which allowed for a number of successful joint law enforcement operations, including Operation Northern Star in April 2003 and Operation Candy Box in March 2004.
Operation Candy Box alone resulted in the arrest of approximately 125 defendants by U.S. law enforcement-individuals associated with a Canadian-based group trafficking in MDMA and marijuana. In addition, Canadian authorities arrested another 36 individuals. Simultaneous with the arrests, approximately 35 search warrants were executed on various locations, which led to subsequent arrests and seizures. Two masterminds of the organization-Wong Ze Wai, a Chinese national and Mai Phuong Le, a Vietnamese national-were arrested in Canada on charges in both the U.S. and Canada. Law enforcement authorities relied upon 27 U.S. and 65 Canadian wire intercepts to gather critical insight to the Wong organization members and their respective roles. This is truly a model for joint cooperation.
By working together, we have removed the ability of narcotics traffickers to use the border as a shield. I anticipate that we will be able to forge similar cooperation with regard to marijuana smuggling into the United States, which our authorities link to outlaw motorcycle gangs. The important point is this: even where, as sovereigns, our two countries may differ in some respects on our narcotics laws, we have shown repeatedly that we can cooperate together against cross-border narcotics activities.
Organized crime is another scourge that knows no boundaries. I applaud the work of the Cross-Border Crime Forum in bringing together the FBI and the RCMP to identify top organized crime figures.
I particularly want to thank our Canadian justice and law enforcement partners for their assistance in the pursuit of Vito Rizzuto, an alleged member of the long-standing La Costa Nostra family. Rizzuto is currently awaiting extradition from Montreal to the Eastern District of New York. He was arrested on January 20, 2004 as part of a 28-defendant indictment in a coordinated takedown of members of the Bonanno family.
Rizzuto was committed for extradition in April and we await the resolution of his challenge to that committal order. He is charged with running an ongoing criminal conspiracy in the United States from Canada. His alleged criminal acts span decades-including his alleged role in multiple murders 20 years ago.
IBETS AND OTHER BORDER ISSUES
In almost every area of justice, the Forum has made a difference in millions of lives.
We share a common border of 5,525 miles of land and water-the largest peaceful border in the world. More than 300,000 people cross that border each day. We share the largest trading relationship in the world, with more than $1.3 billion (U.S.) in commerce. We must ensure this border remains open to law-abiding citizens and free enterprise, but closed to those who attempt to exploit for illegal purposes.
To this end, last week we formally opened another Integrated Border Enforcement Team -the fifteenth such IBET. The men and women of these Integrated Border Enforcement teams are our "first responders" to interdict the smuggling of contraband and provide border security on the 39th parallel. Five intelligence centers have now been opened to provide the analytic expertise to support the IBETs-and make IBETs more effective.
Thanks to the Forum, we continue to study how we can further improve our cross-border operations. I am very pleased that earlier this month, our nations signed a "letter of interoperability" to allow radio frequencies in Canada-frequencies designated for Canadian law enforcement-to be used by U.S. law enforcement authorities at the border.
I commend our Border Enforcement subgroup for this work.
Great strides have also been made in allowing the carrying of weapons along the border. Almost 300 U.S. law enforcement authorities, at the state, local and federal level, have obtained permits under Canadian law to carry firearms back and forth on the Canadian border-where geographical inhibitors preclude our law enforcement from getting to their duty stations without crossing into Canada. U.S. law can designate Canadian officers with similar authority to carry firearms. We have more work to do, and more obstacles to overcome, but I commend the Forum and Project North Star for their continuing focus on such challenges.
Similarly, our firearms consultative working group-under leadership of the ATF and the RCMP-endeavor to limit and prosecute the unlawful smuggling of firearms at the border.
In this area, too, we can point to concrete results: In our Memoranda of Understanding, we have committed to:
As further evidence of the forward-looking nature of the Crime Forum, a new subgroup has been created to meet the challenge of ensuring that our future law enforcement information systems are truly operational. I understand that our Law Enforcement Information Exchange system was demonstrated yesterday. As U.S. Attorney for Seattle John McKay noted after the demonstration, the Law Enforcement Information Exchange is not emerging technology, it "is an example of an emerging partnership" using technology.
Our emphasis must always be on the human relationships and the partnership forged by our shared ideals. For our prosecutors, the challenge is also interoperability, in another sense-how we operate together, respect each other's laws, and protect the high ideals of due process, individual freedom, and trial by jury espoused in the Canadian Charter and the United States Constitution.
Our prosecutors' subgroup has been wrestling with how we can improve formal legal cooperation, guided by the rule of law. On both sides of the borders, extraditions and mutual legal assistance can face long delays: I commend our prosecutors for focusing on what legal changes might help overcome these delays, while ensuring we respect the rights of the accused. When probable cause exists, law enforcement authorities must have more expeditious access to financial and electronic information in order to protect the law-abiding.
Our nations are an example to the world: two sovereign nations separated by a border, but united by a love for peace, justice, and the rule of law.
Here, within the Forum, we have spent the past four years working together to defend our liberties and to extend the protection of the law to the most vulnerable.
I thank you all for your dedication to this noble endeavor. It has been my honor to join you in these efforts-and I look forward to all that our nations will accomplish together in the years to come.