Department of Justice Seal

Transcript of Press Conference with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and European Union Officials on Agreement to Improve Efforts to Fight International Crime

November 7, 2006


ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Good afternoon. I'm joined today by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Minister of Justice of Finland Leena Luhtanen, Minister of the Interior of Finland Kari Rajamaki, Vice President of the European Union Franco Frattini, and Secretary of State of the German Federal Ministry of the Interior August Hanning.

We've had a very productive meeting today to discuss a variety of criminal justice issues of great importance to the people of the United States and the European Union, including terrorism, border security and human trafficking. The United States and the E.U. are strong allies in the fight against international criminals, and we grow stronger because of meetings such as this one.

Today, the U.S. Department of Justice signed an executive agreement with representatives of EUROJUST, the judicial cooperation unit of the E.U. This agreement will improve coordination between prosecutors in the United States and prosecutors and magistrates in E.U. member states and it will enhance our ability to fight international crime.

Recently, I visited the headquarters of EUROJUST in The Hague and I was able to see firsthand how such collaborations are helping us to gain the upper hand against criminals around the globe and make our people safer. I am pleased that we have been able to reaffirm through this agreement the importance of international cooperation and criminal prosecutions.

Under the principles we've set forth today, we will be able to strategize together on cases and enhance the exchange of evidence to combat transnational crime. This agreement is one more example of our efforts to work in concert with our European allies to attack the evil of international terrorism. It is also a strong acknowledgement that we must carefully balance our security needs as nations with the preservation of civil liberties for our citizens.

I thank our international colleagues for joining us here today and I look forward to the full implementation of this agreement.

And now I would like to invite our colleagues from Finland, Leena and Kari, to make a few remarks. They will be followed by Vice President Frattini and then August Hanning, Secretary of State of the German Interior Ministry.

MINISTER LUHTANEN: (As translated.) Dear media representatives and all those present, we have just had a conference and discussed matters of legislative areas and personal data exchange between the E.U. and on the other hand the U.S. In other words, we are -- have discussed with the E.U. and Russia and the E.U. and the U.S.A. the easing of exchange of personal data and the new directions we are taking are now very visible.

We are talking about the starting points and we have agreed to certain technical principles and the -- these different points of view. We have reached a joint agreement and we will put into effect the -- in this morning's discussion we agreed on a high level contact group to investigate the steps we will take in this connection and the technical problems.

We have good cooperation and evidence of this is the fact that we succeeded in reaching an agreement in October about the safety of air travelers and with these security interests in agreement, it is a real challenge to succeed. This new high-level contact group, which is being set up, will carry this matter forward.

I'd like to mention also that there have been concrete measures achieved. My assistant, criminal division assistant -- deputy attorney is Alice Fisher (phonetic). We can say that we have in practice a joint element, a joint basis on which to go forward with the exchange of data. Therefore, I am very happy that we have -- our joint cooperation will improve.

MINISTER RAJAMAKI: (As translated.) My dear colleagues, the international environment has changed and some matters have come forward. The suddenly increased security matters, the fraternization and recruiting of terrorists, the chairman's -- considers important that we can -- we can go forward in preventing human trafficking. And in this case, the U.S. has done a lot. And they have -- there has been prevention of child abuse over the Internet. On the other hand, it is very important that the EUROPOL also be part of this cooperation. And I trust that this will bring additional value to our cooperation and will help us to achieve greater steps forward and strengthen our security internationally.

There was also in the discussions the (inaudible) group about movement within borders and we are now considering that matter in the European Union. There is one important thing that the joint cooperation between officials, immigration and in the matter of terrorism, will increase the security of citizens. We will also make an evaluation of the future cooperation and will be part of our future program together.

We will have new member states in the E.U. and we are making very careful preparation for the arrangements in their case so that we will be able to remove border barriers so that the U.S. can also trust our actions in this regard, in this visa waiver agreement.

These are a couple of matters that we discussed. Consider it very important that we reject and overcome human trafficking. Thank you.

VICE PRESIDENT FRATTINI: Well, I think that we had indeed a very fruitful meeting. I will be very brief because I think it's very -- what is very important to say, that today we all agreed on the importance of strengthening our Euro-Atlantic cooperation on security, justice and on protecting fundamental rights of people. This is the first political message to be launched. That is a message, a positive message of cooperation.

That's why we decided to establish a high level contact group, not to carry out a bureaucratic exercise but to try to identify how our common values, our common principles can be translated into common proposals. That's the practical cooperation we need. The positive spirit of cooperation is not only possible but absolutely indispensable.

The areas where we need to strengthen our cooperation are of course prevention and fight against the terrorists, which is the first threat against our democracies. Europe and United States should continue to stay very firm on defending values, principles of democracy and fighting terrorism, including prevention of radicalization, including exploring the best way to tackle recruitment of young people, apparently educated and integrated, but ready to become suicide bombers, as it happened recently in Europe.

Cooperation also on practical measures on exchanging data. In this particular field, which is a very sensitive one, we need, on one hand, to explain, first of all, to our public opinion that there is no contradiction between more security and more protection of fundamental rights, including privacy protection. There is no contradiction because, for example, we can find the best way to improve, thanks to technologies, protection of -- from misuse of personal data while increasing protection of lives of our citizens. So no contradiction. We do want more security while protecting in a better way fundamental rights.

Of course, I'm not talking about specific dossiers. I'm talking about a comprehensive approach towards cooperation, operational cooperation and improving mutual trust between law enforcement authorities, between judicial authorities and police authorities, as well. This contact group will have an important role to play, identify -- if I may say -- commonalities, not focus on divisions and different approaches.

The second point, which is also important in my view, is the necessity of encouraging a better public/private cooperation on security. It's absolutely impossible to succeed on fighting for more security without getting involved private sector, industry, private companies and so on.

I've informed our American friends about the launching of a permanent European platform for cooperation between public institutions and private sector on detection of explosives, on protection of critical infrastructures, on risk of misusing biologic and chemical materials and so on. And my view is that building on such experience, which is starting now in Europe, in the near future we could also envisage a permanent transatlantic forum for the cooperation between private and public sector. This is the second message to be launched as a result.

And the third and final point is the importance of addressing together regional issues of common concern. We talked about some key areas, key areas for Europe, key areas for United States as well, for example, how to tackle illegal immigration and trafficking of human beings or trafficking in drugs. In the eastern dimension of Europe, like the region of Balkans, the region of Caucuses, or how to tackle illegal migration and trafficking in human beings from the south that is Euro-African cooperation. I think is very important on this too, regional, extremely important issues to improve our capacity to exchange data and information, for example, about countries of origin of illegal migrants or about the roads of drugs coming from Afghanistan, through central Asia to Europe and finally to the United States as well.

This is just an example on how we intend, thanks to improving cooperation between our institutions and bodies like EUROJUST and EUROPOL and American structures like FBI, for example. Thank you.

MINISTER HANNING: Yes, from my point of view from the next German presidency, I think it was really a very fruitful and successful meeting here. We have discussed a lot of issues of common concern and my impression is that we have reached really considerable results, especially in the question of terrorism.

I think terrorism is one of the most important threats we are all facing. We are facing these threats in Europe, we are facing these threats here in the United States. And we have seen during the summer that we have faced threats against air traffic. We have seen in Germany that we have faced threats against our public transport system.

And to tackle these problems, it's so important to have an exchange of information. I think information is the most important tool for fighting against terrorism. And we have reached here considerable progress. We have to go forward and that will be a very important issue during our presidency.

And one point: Internet. Internet is so very important. Internet is an important platform for recruiting of terrorists, as a communication platform. And therefore, we want to stress the surveillance of Internet as one of the most important points of our presidency.

But on the one side, we have to fight against terrorism with all the means of police, of intelligence services. But the other point and I want to stress it is to win the hearts and minds of the moderate Muslims. And for us in Germany, therefore, we have our Islam dialogue, so called. We do more in Europe and we have discussed it and I've learned that we all have -- we have agreed that we have to do more on behalf of this dialogue in order to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim population worldwide.

And again, it was a very fruitful meeting. And I'm looking forward to our presidency and I'm very optimistic that we achieved -- will achieve further results. Thank you very much.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Okay, we'll take some questions. It would be helpful if you could address your question to the specific minister.

Questions? Yes.

QUESTION: I have one question for the European delegation on the CIA program. With the military commission the U.S. has said it would go ahead with its CIA program. And given that the European Parliament is now investigating whether this was legal, the detention of terror suspects in alleged secret prisons, I'm just wondering what your reaction to that is.

And another question for the American delegation is, on visa waiver program, I'm just wondering did you discuss that today? Because on the European side, there are calls for 10 member states to be added onto the visa waiver program and I'm wondering what progress there is on that point.

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: On the visa waiver, this is obviously an issue that we know concerns European countries which are currently seeking to be admitted to the program. As you probably know, the requirements are set forth in law by an act of Congress. We have a roadmap for countries that are seeking admission to the program. We are currently working with a number of those countries to see what we can do to help them meet the milestones that are necessary to be admitted to the program.

I certainly want to commend the European countries that are currently part of the program for the way in which they acted expeditiously to meet the October 26 requirement of an E-passport with a biometric. So I'm optimistic we can continue to make progress and to help the countries that want to join the program do what they need to do to become eligible.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: I'm not part of the European Union but let me just say the United States engages in activities that are absolutely necessary to protect our security, consistent with our domestic and international legal obligations. We are no different than any other country in the world. Every country, every government takes positions to ensure the security of its people consistent with its domestic and international legal obligations.

We will continue to work with our European friends and allies and explain to them exactly what we're doing and try to reassure them about our commitment to the rule of law. But again, there's no disagreement amongst any -- between the United States and the European Union that we are united together against a common enemy who is determined to inflict great harm upon our citizens. And we all understand that we have the right, under our laws, to protect our citizens. And we take that obligation very seriously. We also take equally serious our obligation to do so in a way that is consistent with both our domestic and international legal obligations.

In this particular case, the Military Commissions Act, our Congress has spoken. Our Congress sets policy for the United States of America, for the people of the United States, in terms of what it is that we can do and should be doing to protect America from another attack.

QUESTION: What type of information exchanges are going to be set up? What kind of law enforcement data or intelligence information are the two sides willing to share? And is that spelled out in the treaty?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Well, one of the things we're working through is trying to get as much information as we can that's absolutely necessary to help us identify potential threats. We're not interested in personal information that is of no value at all to governments in conducting investigations and identifying threats. We're not interested in keeping information any longer than we absolutely have to. But what we're trying to do is establish mechanisms, a framework, that we can share information.

And let me just say that we've done so pretty much on a case by case. I don't want to say "ad hoc," but generally looking at specific issues and problems that arise and working out solutions oftentimes on a bilateral basis. And what we all agree today to do is to look at this more strategically. The sharing of information is something that is going to simply continue to grow.

And so to the extent that there are issues because of different traditions and different legal systems that make it more difficult to share information, because of privacy concerns -- which, of course, we all very much respect and want to protect, the privacy rights of individuals -- these are things that we need to work together on and look at this thing strategically and collectively. Again, with the goal, as Vice President Frattini said, with the common objective of the protection of privacy rights but also the security of our respective countries.

QUESTION: Will the United States provide FBI files or certain details from case files if they're requested? Is there a specific --

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: There is already a lot of information -- I mean, the unsung story in the War on Terrorism is the level of cooperation that exists at the law enforcement level between the United States and European countries. We share a lot of information across the Atlantic, back and forth. That's going to continue.

Again, if we are permitted to do so under our laws and if the Europeans need the information, we're going to share it. And the same is true coming the other way. If in fact we need the information and it can be shared legally under their -- under their laws, they try to find a way to share it. So that cooperation is going to continue. It needs to continue if we hope to continue to protect our respective countries from another attack.

QUESTION: Minister Frattini, I wanted to ask you whether or not the passage of the Military Commissions Act resolves any concerns that Europe has over the treatment of prisoners accused or captured related to terrorist incidents.


QUESTION: The new American legislation regarding the treatment --

VICE PRESIDENT FRATTINI: Yes, well, of course, we don't want to interfere into the domestic American legislation. We are to be sure about the proper level of cooperation at international level between authorities of European member states and American authorities. We cannot make a judgment about an American law, of course.

But exactly because we don't want to make compromises at expenses of security, or at expenses of fundamental rights, we decided today to start working together, United States and European Union, to identify commonalities, points in common, despite differences in legislation. Differences in legislations are normal. But if you agree, if you share values and principles, we have to -- we have to find the best way to translate our common values into common actions.

That's exactly our aim of today's meeting, not to fall into details on commanding one initiative or another initiative. You know very well about the CIA case. CIA case is under inquiry in European Parliament. We are waiting for the final report to be published, I think, beginning of 2007, beginning spring 2007 by European Parliament. Then we will see.

Now, I think in my view, it would be very counterproductive to abandon the strategic vision and to fall all in details about specific initiatives. We will have to renegotiate PNR agreement, of course, because the transitional agreement will expire by July 2007. All these issues will be part of our strategic vision for the future, not only for short-term measures, but for mid-, long-term measures.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Let me just follow up, one final point. One of the concerns that I sometimes heard from across the Atlantic is there was no clear standard. And people wanted to know what standard are you bound by, what laws are you applying. And the legislation provides guidance, provides some standards.

So, to that extent, I would hope and I believe that members of the European Community are more reassured as a result of the Congress speaking on behalf of the American people as to certain level of treatment that we would provide as a matter of law to people detained by the United States of America.

QUESTION: General Gonzales and Secretary Chertoff, and also members of the European delegation, I would like you to comment if possible on the success of the technology and information sharing devoted to counter-terrorism, specifically in the context of statistics released today based on the Executive Office of U.S. attorney that's compiled by the TRACK (phonetic) organization at Syracuse University indicating a low and declining number of prosecutions and a high rate of rejection of investigations by the assistant U.S. attorneys for prosecution.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Let me say first of all, I haven't read the report so I don't want to comment too much on it. But the fact that an FBI investigator refers a case over to the Department and the Department does not do a prosecution, let me just say, for example, let's say what the FBI is referring is a hoax. Well, you know, a good prosecutor is going to make an intelligent decision not to move forward with an investigation in that kind of case.

And so I would take the numbers with a grain of salt. And again, the -- we have been fully committed as a department to prosecuting terrorist cases where we absolutely can. We have fought very hard to give the President of the United States all the tools that he needs to bring to justice terrorists, whether through military commissions, sometimes through our military courts. If there is a legitimate case that is out there that can be brought that we can prosecute, we're going to pursue that.

QUESTION: Would you acknowledge it's been helpful there?

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: The sharing of technology? Whether or not -- have we had good cooperation?

QUESTION: Not only with the Europeans but among U.S. agencies in helping you bring, you know, cases, investigation regarding terrorism threats and --

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: Absolutely. I think the level of cooperation has been very good, quite frankly. Are here still areas of improvement? No question about it, and we're continuing to work on that every single day.

QUESTION: If I could ask you and Secretary Chertoff a question about the threat levels? Two years ago, from August to right after the election, a certain sector was up on orange alert. Now, this election cycle, we're up on orange from August until whenever.

I'm kind of wondering if you all can talk about why we're still up on the orange alert level for the airline sector and when this might come down, if any time soon?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: The premise of the question that suggests that there's a linkage between the fact that there's an election and there's an alert change is a false premise. I mean, you know, I think it's now been pretty clearly explained in the previous time there was an elevation it was based on some specific information.

I'm surprised if I need to remind everybody what caused us to elevate to orange in the aviation area in August, because there was a plot that was disrupted. And until we are satisfied that the -- all the threads of the plot have been fully accounted for and everybody who was involved has been fully neutralized. And until we are confident that we have taken steps to institutionalize some of the changes that we've made as a consequence of that plot, we will continue to operate at the current level.

One thing, which I should explain, is much of what orange means is not visible to the traveler. The traveler looks at the measures that are taking place with respect to, for example, liquids or things that occur at screening and doesn't see that a great deal of what orange means is elevated examination of workers who are operating in the sterile area or screening of things that occur behind the scenes at the airport. And so remaining at orange allows us to continue that enhanced set of security procedures for the so-called back office of the airport as well as for the -- for the area that's visible to the public.

The one thing I would point out is we have just very recently had the European Union and the United Kingdom make an adjustment in their rules governing the ability to bring liquids in small quantities on board. The good news is -- this is a great example of cooperation -- we have essentially synchronized our approaches and have -- with the exception of the difference between units of measurement -- we have essentially comparable standards for security in terms of what can be brought on airplanes.

And I think that's indicative of the way in which we continue to work together not only to make sure that we have seamless and well integrated security in Europe and the U.S. and around the world, but to also make it easier for travelers, so that people who adhere to the three-ounce rule will also satisfy the 100 milliliter rule, and vice versa. And that's a positive step forward in terms of cooperation.

QUESTION: So is it safe to assume we won't be coming down from orange alert any time soon?

SECRETARY CHERTOFF: We have to evaluate where we are with the existing intelligence, with what's going on in the world every single day. And I can no more tell you what's going to happen in a week than I can tell you what's going to happen in a month. It's going to depend on what the circumstances are, what the facts are and what the intelligence is.

ATTORNEY GENERAL GONZALES: All right. Thank you, everybody.