Good afternoon; I always look forward to these gatherings with my U.S. Attorneys. The President nominated you because of your courage, your leadership and your commitment to the rule of law and securing our neighborhoods. I am proud of you…I am proud of the work you and those in your office do for the American people.
Today’s gathering is particularly important because I must speak bluntly and urgently, about the single most important part of our jobs: preventing terrorist attacks on American soil.
Our success or failure in this endeavor will define in the eyes of some President Bush and his legacy. Right or wrong, this is a task that will also define my government career and, indeed, to some degree my professional life. It will be the legacy of every one of us who is serving in this Administration. Terrorists chose to attack us. But it is we who must now choose – today, tomorrow, the day after that and the day after that, until the end of our government service – to do everything in our powers to stop them from striking again.
Near the end of that terrible day that changed everything – September 11th, 2001 – as most of you know, I was at the White House, waiting for the return of Marine One. I stood outside the Oval Office with former Counselor to the President Karen Hughes, ready to meet the President as he arrived from Florida to begin the work of defending America.
I remember it so clearly – the President was purposeful when he arrived. His face was serious as he approached me and Karen. As he met us and then entered the White House he didn’t say a word – he just nodded his head slightly as we greeted him. We followed him into the Oval Office – which was being set up for his address to the nation later that evening – and then into his private dining room.
There, the three of us sat down with Condi Rice, Andy Card and Ari Fleischer, rolled up our sleeves and we started to work.
At home, later – and for days to come – I would have to reassure my young sons that terrorists were not trying to kill me. They were traumatized by the events, as were children and adults alike, all over this brave nation.
Because I worked at the White House on 9/11, I carry the memories and the pain of that day in a wound that is particularly deep—one that is very personal. Some of you were not in government on 9/11, and some are from parts of the country where people do not think much today about terrorism. I appreciate that some may not share the same sense of sadness and anger. But I must ask you to take on the perspective that President Bush and I had on September 11th and the days following— the brutal unprovoked murders of mothers and fathers—sons and daughters…the phone calls of desperate good byes…symbols of American wealth and power in flames and ruins.
Five years have passed. I concede it may be difficult for some to stay committed to this mission—maintaining the necessary intensity and commitment—without that perspective. I brought you here to remind you to stay focused on the task of protecting the people we serve. We have asked for two days of your valuable time because it is that important.
You have received briefings about the threat – you’ve been told, and more importantly you know that our enemy is still there.
Ironically, because we have taken away their home base in Afghanistan, reorganized our government to better collect and share information, received new tools through legislation like the Patriot Act, because of our very successes the nature of the enemy has evolved. In some ways the new form – the threat of homegrown radicals, for example – is more challenging. Our enemy is smart, they change tactics in response to what we do. It is not enough for us to simply change in response, we must anticipate how our enemy is going to adapt.
In spite of the ever-evolving nature of the threat, we are staying one step ahead so far. We are doing what is necessary to make America safer.
But in doing so we must bear in mind that history will also record how well we protect civil liberties as we pursue justice for would-be terrorists.
As U.S. Attorneys, upholding civil liberties is utterly central to your work. As leaders in your communities, talking about how we as a government achieve the balance between individual rights and national security is a matter of civic responsibility.
You also have a duty to show your colleagues and your districts that we are not engaged in a struggle against a faith or religion. On the contrary, we very much need the partnership of the Muslim community. Discouraging radicalism is vital, and that cannot be done effectively without Muslim community leadership. So seek it out in your districts. We believe in religious freedom for everyone. The Department of Justice is committed to protect these rights, and in doing so, I think we promote trust and provide an alternative way to that of radicalization.
I want to emphasize, today, one area in particular that U.S. Attorneys are doing very well in, but that requires real perseverance, ongoing dedication and an element of creativity – and that’s the work you are doing to combat those crimes that can fuel terrorism.
We don’t tend to get much credit for our work in this area of prevention, and some may not want to acknowledge the link between terrorism and the other crimes we investigate and prosecute, but our vigilance makes our country safer.
Early in 2006, you all reported implementation of at least one anti-terrorism initiative that focuses on one or more of these key areas: combating identification and immigration fraud; protecting critical infrastructure; and policing financial systems. I appreciate your implementation of these programs because they are important to our prevention efforts by disrupting the ability of terrorists to live, travel and work freely among us.
As I know has been discussed, each U.S. Attorney’s Office proposed, on average, four initiatives. Twenty of you proposed six or more. And when there initiatives are implemented, America will be safer.
I hope that each of you still has Paul McNulty’s memo from last February tacked on your office wall – the memo that outlined these areas of crime that enable would-be terrorists.
And this year I hope that you reference that memo every week to see if you can be doing even more. We know that terrorists are anxious to exploit weaknesses in identification, immigration and financial systems to facilitate potential attacks. Indeed, many individuals with clear ties to terrorism have been prosecuted for crimes in these categories. Our most compelling example, of course, is that seven of the 9/11 hijackers possessed fraudulent Virginia identification cards.
Each time you undertake a different initiative and strengthen the systems in your districts, you make it harder for the next terrorist to succeed. These are areas where U.S. Attorneys can be pro-active in preventing attacks, truly making the difference between life and death.
We are also taking steps toward strengthening our ability to identify, collect, analyze, and disseminate foreign intelligence to the widest possible extent – which is why Paul directed additional foreign intelligence training for USAOs; Main Justice litigating divisions; and federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
For us, in the law-enforcement community, every day must be September 12th.
We cannot reasonably expect, however, every day to feel like September 12th for the general population. And in many ways, their feeling of safety and comfort is a testament to our hard work.
Ironically, it can also contribute to criticism of our work.
Those who don’t read a daily threat assessment, for example, may feel that the Department moved too quickly to arrest Shahawar Matin Siraj – who was sentenced this week to 30 years in prison for his role in conspiring to plant explosive devices at the 34th Street subway station in Manhattan in August 2004.
Those who have been lulled – which naturally happens – into a feeling of security over the past five years may wonder whether the Department’s daily perseverance is too close to the lines that protect civil liberties – the very freedoms that our nation is rightly based upon, the freedoms you and I in fact protect every day as part of our jobs and part of the oath of office we take.
Some don’t always understand our commitment to prevention. They don’t approach every day like it’s September 12th. But do not be discouraged. Continue doing your job, exercise your best judgment and bring the cases that should be brought.
If your case is just, you will be supported by me, by the President, and most importantly by the American people, in forging ahead.
Investigators and prosecutors at all levels of government have never worked so closely together to remove a threat from America’s neighborhoods, initially through JTTFs and U.S. Attorney-led ATACs. Now we have the added benefit of having our day-to-day efforts coordinated by the newly-created National Security Division. I appreciate how quickly U.S. Attorneys’ offices have embraced and supported the NSD.
During a time when resources are extremely tight in your offices, your willingness to contribute to this critical effort has never been a question. I know that you are doing more with less, and we appreciate your dedication more than you could know. There is much work to be done. As our President has said, “There's no bigger task than protecting the homeland of our country.”
It is a mammoth task. I know that it can feel all-encompassing – especially when you and your colleagues must also continue to fight the scourge of drugs, gangs and crimes against children in your districts.
Be re-fueled by your family, your loved ones, and the daily gift of freedom that we enjoy in this country. And come to work every morning with a pledge to stop the killers before they strike.
Stop them before they assemble the bomb. Stop them before they release deadly bio-toxins into our air or water. Stop them before they bring down another airplane filled with American citizens.
Dig deeply for the energy and the creativity that we need to continue this successful record of prevention – which is the goal of all goals when it comes to terrorism because we simply cannot and will not wait for the next terrorist act to occur before taking action. Continue to arm yourselves with the American ideals of hope and freedom – because they are so much stronger than terrorist ideals of fear and intolerance. Remind yourselves and your colleagues back in your offices – that for the sake of our children, we will prevail because we must. I’d like to close with one of my favorite quotes – words from President Theodore Roosevelt that I think each of you embodies:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly … who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly … ”
Ladies and gentlemen, valued public servants, warriors in this battle– you are in the arena, and you have my deepest respect. I know you will continue to “dare greatly” in 2007.
May God bless you, your families and your work – and may he continue to bless the Unites States of America.