Testimony of Attorney General John Ashcroft
House Select Committee on Homeland Security
July 11, 2002
(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)
Good morning. Chairman Armey, Congresswoman Pelosi, members of the committee. Thank you for convening this hearing on President Bush's plan to make America safer through the enhancement of our homeland security. On behalf of the Department of Justice, I welcome this opportunity to express our unqualified support for the President's vision of homeland security rooted in cooperation, nurtured by coordination, and focused on the prevention of terrorist attacks.
A number of Department of Justice entities will be a part of this new department, most notably the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but also the Office for Domestic Preparedness, the analysis and training functions of the FBI's National Infrastructure Protection Center and the National Domestic Preparedness Office. The Department of Justice supports the prompt and effective implementation of these transfers, which are critical to the Department of Homeland Security's success. I commend Congress for its commitment to act on these measures prior to the first anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
Ten months ago to this day, our nation came under attack by an enemy that continues to threaten the United States, our citizens, and the values for which we stand. Today, the United States is at war with a terrorist network operating within our borders. Al Qaeda maintains a hidden but active presence in the United States, waiting to strike again.
Terrorists, posing as tourists, businessmen or students, seek also to penetrate our borders. Every year, the United States welcomes 35 million visitors to our country. More than 700,000 of these visitors come from countries in which al Qaeda has been active. As a result, we have tightened controls at our borders, issuing new regulations to strengthen enforcement of to our immigration laws.
In June, we announced the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, the precursor to a comprehensive entry-exist system that Congress has mandated be in place by 2005. This system reflects a fundamental fact of the war on terrorism: information is the best friend and most valuable resource of law enforcement. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System will track up to 200,000 visitors in its first year, stopping suspected terrorists prior to entry and verifying visitors' activities and whereabouts while in the country.
For ten months, we have conducted a campaign to identify, disrupt and dismantle the terrorist threat. The Justice Department of Robert F. Kennedy, it was said, would arrest a mobster for spitting on the sidewalk if it would help in the fight against organized crime. In the war on terror, it has been the policy of this Department of Justice to be equally aggressive. We have conducted the largest criminal investigation in history. 129 individuals have been charged. 86 have been found guilty. 417 individuals have been deported for violations of our laws. Hundreds more who are in violation of the law are in the process of being deported in connection with this investigation.
For ten months, we have protected the United States from another massive terrorist attack using every appropriate legal weapon in our arsenal. But we are under no illusions. There remain sleeper terrorists and their supporters in the United States who have not yet been identified in a way that will allow us to take preemptive action against them. And as we limit the access of foreign terrorists to our country, we recognize that the terrorists' response will be to recruit United States citizens and permanent residents to carry out their attacks - individuals like Abdullah al Muhajir, born Jose Padilla, who is now being detained by the Department of Defense as an enemy combatant. Al Muhajir, a U.S. citizen with ties to the al Qaeda network, was apprehended in May of this year after we learned that he was exploring a plan to explode a "dirty bomb" on U.S. soil.
But as terrorists have learned to adapt to the changing tactics of law enforcement, so too have we learned to adapt to the changing needs of America's domestic security. And among the chief lessons we have learned in the past ten months is that our ability to protect the homeland today has been undermined by the restrictions of decades past.
In the late 1970s, reforms were enacted in our judicial system reflecting a cultural myth that we could draw an artificial line at the border to differentiate between the threats we faced. In accordance with this myth, officials charged with detecting and deterring those seeking to harm Americans were divided into separate and isolated camps. Government created a culture of compartmentalization that artificially segregated intelligence-gathering from law enforcement, barring coordination in the nation's security.
- Barriers to information sharing were erected between and within government agencies, and cooperation faltered.
- FBI agents were forced to blind themselves to information readily available to the general public, including those who seek to harm us.
- Information restrictions hindered our intelligence gathering capabilities and terrorists gained a competitive technological advantage over law enforcement.
September 11 made clear in the most painful terms the costs of these myths and the culture they produced. We know now that al Qaeda fragmented its operations to prevent the United States from grasping the magnitude of the threat. The terrorists trained in Afghanistan, planned their operation in Europe, financed their activities from the Middle East, and executed their attacks in the United States. Al Qaeda planned carefully and deliberately to exploit the seams in our homeland security. In the months and years preceding September 11, our weaknesses were among the terrorists' greatest strengths.
It is now our obligation - and our necessity - to correct the deficiencies of the past. America's law enforcement and justice institutions - as well as the culture that supports them - must change. In the wake of September 11th, America's security requires a new approach, one nurtured by cooperation, built on coordination, and focused on a single, overarching goal: the prevention of terrorist attacks.
The first crucial steps toward building this new culture of cooperation and prevention have already been taken.
Congress's passage of the USA-PATRIOT Act made significant strides toward both fostering information sharing and updating our badly outmoded information-gathering tools. Intelligence agents now have greater flexibility to coordinate their anti-terrorism efforts with our law enforcement agencies. And the PATRIOT Act made clear that surveillance authorities created in an era of rotary phones apply to cell phones and the internet as well.
In addition, the recently announced reorganization of the Federal Bureau of Investigation has refocused the FBI on prevention, taking a proactive approach. Instead of being bound by outmoded organizational charts, the FBI workforce, management and operational culture will be flexible enough to launch new terrorism investigations to counter threats as they emerge. 500 agents will be shifted permanently to counter-terrorism. Agents in the field have been given new flexibility to use expanded investigative techniques. Special Agents in Charge of FBI field offices are empowered to make more decisions based on their specific knowledge of the terrorist threat.
Finally, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security will be the culmination of the process of restoring cooperation and coordination to our nation's security. Part of our reorganization is the enhancement of the FBI's analytical capability and the coordination of its activities more closely with the Central Intelligence Agency. The results of this enhanced analysis and cooperation will be shared fully with the Department of Homeland Security. For the first time, America will have under one roof the capacity for government to work together to identify and assess threats to our homeland, match these threats to our vulnerabilities, and act to insure our safety and security. In accordance with the President's vision, the creation of the Department of Homeland Security will begin a new era of cooperation and coordination in the nation's homeland defense.
Mr. Chairman, history has called us to a new challenge: to protect America's homeland. But history has also provided us with lessons we would do well to heed. We must build a new culture of justice in which necessary information is readily available to law enforcement. We must foster a new ethic of cooperation and coordination in government. We must make our institutions accountable, not just to their new anti-terrorism mission, but to the American people they serve.
Thank you for your leadership and thank you for this opportunity to testify.