Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing:
"The Terrorist Threat: Working Together to Protect America"
March 4, 2003
Good morning Chairman Hatch, Senator Leahy, and members of the Judiciary Committee. The United States of America is winning the war on terrorism with unrelenting focus and unprecedented cooperation.
Let me quote Stephen Flatow, the father of a terrorist victim:
"When you know the resources of your government are committed to right the wrong committed against your daughter, that instills you with a sense of awe. As a father, you can't ask for anything more."
Stephen Flatow's daughter, Alisa, was a 20-year-old American student killed allegedly by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad when a terrorist drove a van of explosives into Alisa's bus.
The resources of the United States government are dedicated to righting the wrong against Alisa and the thousands of other American victims of terrorists. Most importantly, we are focused intensely on preventing such wrongs from destroying more innocent American lives.
As I testified eight months ago, America's defense - the defense of life and liberty - requires a new culture of prevention, nurtured by cooperation, built on coordination and rooted in our Constitutional liberties. The excessive constraints imposed in the late 70's - that erected barriers to cooperation between government agencies, segregated law enforcement and intelligence gathering, and prohibited information sharing - must be replaced systematically.
Our survival and success in this long war on terrorism demands that we continuously adapt and improve our capabilities to protect Americans from a fanatical, ruthless enemy. I will continue to seek the assistance of Congress as we build a culture of prevention and ensure the resources of our government can be dedicated to defending Americans.
Let me share three reasons why the United States is winning this war and illustrate those points with some examples.
First, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have set new standards for cooperation and coordination. The FBI's domestic intelligence operations are substantially strengthened by the CIA's information sharing, intelligence analysis and operational coordination.
For example, the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by Pakistani authorities, in coordination with U.S. intelligence operatives, is a severe blow to Al Qaeda that could destabilize their terrorist network worldwide. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the "brain", is the Al Qaeda "mastermind" of the September 11th attacks and Usama Bin Laden's senior terrorist attack planner. Next to Bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist.
Let me be clear here. The Department of Justice's overriding priority is preventing future terrorism, not just prosecuting past crime. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's capture is first and foremost an intelligence opportunity to prevent new terrorist attacks from killing more innocent Americans.
Today, the world's premier intelligence agencies, the CIA and FBI, are moving rapidly to exploit that intelligence opportunity. The FBI and CIA are cooperating thoroughly to share information from "the capture", analyze that intelligence, and coordinate follow-up operations. Under our new standard of FBI/CIA cooperation and coordination, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's capture means the FBI can better prevent terrorism and save American lives.
Second, the new FBI, America's domestic counter-terrorism force, integrates fully intelligence and law enforcement capabilities to protect American lives. Today we have unsealed charges against two Yemeni citizens, Mohammed Ali Hasan Al-Moayad and Mohshen Yahya Zayed, the result of an extensive FBI undercover operation. They are charged with conspiring to provide material support to al Qaeda and Hamas terrorists through Moayad's worldwide fund-raising operation. As the complaint alleges, the FBI undercover operation developed information that Al-Moayad personally handed Usama Bin Laden $20 million from his terrorist fund-raising network.
As set forth in the complaint, in November 2001, the FBI's International Terrorism squad began working with a confidential informant who had known Al-Moayad for over 6 years. According to the complaint, during several meetings with the FBI informant, Al-Moayad boasted "jihad" was his field, and trumpeted his involvement in providing money, recruits and supplies to al Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist groups, and said he received money for jihad from collections at the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. Al Moayad also claimed to be Usama Bin Laden's spiritual advisor.
On January 7, 2003, Al-Moayad and Zayed flew from Yemen to Frankfurt, Germany, to meet with the FBI informant. According to the U.S. government's complaint, Al-Moayad allegedly went to the meetings intending to obtain $2 million from a terrorist sympathizer who wanted to fund al Qaeda and Hamas.
Again, the complaint details that at meetings with FBI informants in Frankfurt, last month, Al-Moayad confirmed that the $2 million contribution would be used to support the mujahideen fighters of Al Qaeda and Hamas. Zayed even "swore to Allah" that Zayed would get the money to Al Qaeda and Hamas if anything happened to Al-Moayad.
This extensive FBI counter-terrorism operation blended:
- Human intelligence sources;
- Advanced electronic surveillance;
- Deep undercover operations;
- Terrorist financing savvy; and
- Criminal subpoenas and search warrants
. . . with seamless law enforce- ment and intelligence cooperation.
The breadth and talent of the team fielded in this case literally spanned the globe - from the New York City police to prosecutors in Frankfurt, Germany. This is the new FBI - focused on preventing terrorism, integrating intelligence and law enforcement, and delivering results. Director Mueller and FBI agents around the world have transformed their intelligence and counter-terrorism operations to achieve this prevention mission. Their results make Americans safer and bring justice to the full network of terror, often in many ways the public does not see and we cannot disclose.
Third, the Justice Department is prosecuting the war on terrorism by integrating our law enforcement and intelligence capabilities as authorized under the Patriot Act. The Department recently indicted Sami Al-Arian and seven co-conspirators, several of whom were leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The indictment details that Al-Arian served as the secretary of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad's governing council called the "Shura Council." He was also identified as the senior North American representative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
As the allegations in the indictment detail, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is responsible for the murder of over 100 innocent people, including 20-year-old American student, Alisa Flatow, whose Father I quoted at the beginning of my testimony.
Seized items described in the indictment include:
- A fax to Al-Arian and several associates on April 9, 1995 - the day Alisa Flatow was killed - announcing the death of Khalid Al Khatib, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad killer who carried out the suicide bombing that killed Alisa;
- The wills of suicide bombers in the computer files of Al-Arian's purported charitable organization; and
- A fax containing the names of Palestinian Islamic Jihad suicide bombers killed and the names and account numbers of those who were to receive money on their behalf from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Yet, prior to the passage of the Patriot Act, the prosecutors in this case did not have the ability to participate fully in this investigation that ultimately led to RICO and material support charges against Al-Arian and his associates.
Today, Americans are safer because we have transformed the rules of engagement for investigating and prosecuting suspected terrorists within our borders.
- First, the passage of the Patriot Act in October 2001 allowed for information sharing between law enforcement and intelligence and allowed us to implement our new FISA guidelines;
- Second, on November 18, 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review reversed the district level FISA court and upheld our new FISA guidelines for information sharing;
- Third, we have tasked the U.S. Attorney's offices to review all intelligence material that may provide the basis for criminal charges against terrorists and terrorist financiers.
As the FISA Court of Review noted: "Effective counterintelligence … requires the wholehearted cooperation of all the government's personnel who can be brought to the task. A standard which punishes such cooperation could well be thought dangerous to national security."
This dangerous standard existed until we reformed the law, rewrote our FISA procedures and directed prosecutors to change their practices. I want to thank you personally, Senator Hatch, for your strong support and leadership in eliminating this dangerous standard.
I also would like to thank the American people for their continued role in protecting the country from terrorism. We have not suffered another major terrorist attack in this country. It is to the credit of an alert, vigilant, and supportive public as well as thousands of unsung and dedicated public servants, many of whom I am privileged to work with on a daily basis.
Now I would like to turn to a brief overview of additional results of our integrated prevention strategy.
First, we are gathering and cultivating detailed intelligence on terrorism in the U.S.:
- Hundreds and hundreds of suspected terrorists have been identified and tracked throughout the United States;
- Our human sources of intelligence have doubled;
- Our counter-terrorism investigations have doubled in one year;
- 18,000 subpoenas and search warrants have been issued;
- Over 1,000 applications in 2002 were made to the FISA court targeting terrorists, spies and foreign powers who threaten our security:
o Including 170 emergency FISAs
Second, we are arresting and detaining potential terrorist threats:
- 4 alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Detroit, Seattle and Portland broken up;
- 211 criminal charges brought to date;
- 108 convictions or guilty pleas to date, including those of shoe-bomber Richard Reid, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh; and one member of the Buffalo cell;
- 478 deportations linked to the September 11 investigation; and
Third, we are dismantling the terrorist financial network:
- 36 designated terrorist organizations;
- $124 million in assets frozen and over 600 accounts frozen around the world;
- 70 investigations into terrorist financing with 23 convictions or guilty pleas to date;
Fourth, we are disrupting potential terrorist travel:
- More than 50 major airport sweeps in Operation Tarmac with more than 1,200 arrests for ID and document fraud and other crimes;
- 9 major alien smuggling networks disrupted;
- Hundreds of terrorists and criminals stopped through the National Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERs) including:
- 8 suspected terrorists, with at least one known member of al Qaeda;
- 551 aliens stopped at the border who were wanted criminals, had committed past felonies, or violated other laws; and
- 46 felons identified through domestic enrollment (special registration), who were in the country illegally, including cocaine traffickers, child molesters, and individuals convicted of assault with a deadly weapon.
Fifth, we are building our long-term counter-terrorism capacity:
- 270% increase in Counterterrorism funds;
- Over 1,000 new and redirected FBI agents dedicated to counter-terrorism and counter-intelligence;
- 250 new Assistant U.S. Attorneys;
- 56 Joint Terrorism Task Forces;
- 337% increase in JTTF staffing; and
- Fly Away Expert Teams for rapid deployment to hot spots worldwide.
As I said, these are just some of our actions to date. Today, Director Mueller will be providing you with details regarding the fundamental reforms at the FBI that make terrorism prevention the Bureau's number one priority.
Finally, I would like to point out that throughout this process, the Department of Justice has acted thoughtfully, carefully and within the framework of American freedom - the Constitution of the United States. Time and again, the actions in the war on terrorism have been subjected to thorough judicial review. And time and again, the Department has successfully defended legal challenges including:
- Detaining enemy combatants -- SUSTAINED
- Detaining the enemy at Guantanamo Bay -- SUSTAINED
- Sharing FISA information -- SUSTAINED
- Withholding names of sensitive immigration detainees -- SUSTAINED
- Freezing assets of purported charities that fund terrorists -- SUSTAINED
The President's powers to protect the American people are rooted in the Constitution and sustained in Court. The actions we take against the terrorist threat will always be rooted in the Constitution while accounting for the adapting and changing methods of our terrorist enemies.
As the President stated in a recent visit to the FBI, "There is no such thing as perfect security against a hidden network of cold-blooded killers. Yet, abroad and at home, we're not going to wait until the worst dangers are upon us".
Our strategy and tactics are working. Listen to the recorded conversation between charged terrorist cell member, Jeffrey Battle, and an FBI informant on May 8, 2002. Battle is part of the alleged Portland, Oregon cell.
In his conversation unsealed in court, Battle explained why his enterprise was not as organized as he thought it should have been (quote):
". . . because we don't have support. Everybody's scared to give up any money to help us. You know what I'm saying? Because that law that Bush wrote about, you know, supporting terrorism, whatever, the whole thing … Everybody's scared . . . He made a law that says for instance I left out of the country and I fought, right, but I wasn't able to afford a ticket but you bought my plane ticket, you gave me the money to do it . . . By me going and me fighting and doing that they can, by this new law, they can come and take you and put you in jail."
They are getting the message: we are gathering and cultivating detailed intelligence on terrorism in the U.S.; we are arresting and detaining potential terrorist threats; we are dismantling the terrorist financial network; we are disrupting potential terrorist travel; and we are building our long-term counter-terrorism capacity. We are winning the war on terrorism.
Thank you and I will be happy to take your questions.
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