of Attorney General John Ashcroft
"The Department of Justice's Efforts to Combat Terrorism"
Senate Judiciary Committee
June 8, 2004
Good morning, Chairman Hatch, Senator Leahy, members of the Judiciary Committee.
This week we mark the passing of a giant.
President Ronald Reagan stood as a leader who rallied the nation to fight for great ideals and to dare great things. We remember his words as we fight once again for freedom against tyranny.
At the height of the Cold War, President Reagan said that, quote, "The ultimate determinate in the struggle now going on for the world will not be bombs and rockets but a test of wills and ideas-a trial of spiritual resolve; the values we hold, the beliefs we cherish and the ideas to which we are dedicated."
Today we meet at a time of war that tests our resolve. We face dire threats.
Around the world we hear reports daily of this war: bombings in Spain, murder sprees in Saudi Arabia, and improvised explosive devices in Iraq-terrorist attacks that kill innocent men, women, and children.
At times, the war on terror might seem distant and September 11 a faint memory. It is not.
Credible intelligence indicates that al Qaeda wants to hit the United States and hit us hard. We are locked in a mortal struggle between two visions for human life in a war that can know only one victor.
Our vision is a vision of freedom, human dignity, and tolerance for every citizen.
Let me give you an example of this nation's dedication to that vision. Nashala Hearn is a brave 12-year-old Muslim girl who goes to school in Muskogee, Oklahoma. Her favorite subject is world cultures. Someday she wants to write children's books. On September 11, 2003, school officials forbad her to wear the hijab, or headscarf, that is an expression of her religious faith.
Nashala's father filed suit. He believed that his daughter's constitutional rights were being violated.
The United States Department of Justice agreed. The Civil Rights Division intervened to protect the constitutional rights of this quiet sixth-grader who likes reading. We won a consent decree to protect her rights of religious expression. She may now wear her hijab at her school. And later this afternoon, Nashala will wear her hijab when she appears in the United States Senate.
The war we are fighting is a war for Nashala and freedom-loving people everywhere. We continue to strive, after two centuries, to build that city upon a hill-a nation that values the religious liberty of a single young girl and the constitutional liberties of all its citizens.
Contrast these ideals with the dark ambition of our enemies. In the nightmare vision of the Taliban and al Qaeda, little girls like Nashala are denied their rights. As a woman, she could not go to school. She could not appear in public without a man from her family to speak for her. She would never be allowed to vote, but she could be whipped. To our enemies, a 12-year-old American girl is just another target for their attacks.
But in the United States of America, under our Constitution, Nashala's life is so precious that her cause commands the attention of the government. Her right to religious freedom is so secure that it gained the full weight of the United States Department of Justice.
Every day, the men and women of the Department of Justice prove their commitment to protect the lives and liberties of the American people.
For more than 32 months, the Justice Department has been using every tool and every tactic in the arsenal of the justice community to stop terrorism-from aggressive enforcement of the criminal code to the deployment of the new and critical tools of the USA Patriot Act.
We have disrupted the al Qaeda network and the terrorist presence using immigration violations, minor criminal infractions, and tougher visa and border controls. We have been criticized for these tough tactics. But we will continue to use every means within the Constitution to deter, disrupt, and destroy terrorist threats.
These are not just words. We are proving in deeds our commitment to win the war against the networks of terror:
But the most tangible measure of success is found in this fact for which we are grateful to God, our citizens and law enforcement: For more than two-and-a-half years, we have not experienced a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
Our clear strategy of prevention combined with aggressive tactics has prevented major terrorist attacks.
America has caught numerous known al Qaeda operatives seeking to strike America, including: Ali Saleh Kahleh al-Marri, Jose Padilla, Iyman Faris, Zacarias Moussaoui, and Richard Reid.
These men are not alone. Al Qaeda has a fanatical desire to wage war on Americans in America. Al Qaeda will send terrorist-soldier after terrorist-soldier to infiltrate our borders and melt into our communities. They do not wear uniforms. They do not respect human rights. They target civilians.
Our successes preventing al Qaeda attacks are the direct result of the information sharing, coordination, and cooperation of the men and women in U.S. law enforcement and intelligence. This teamwork would have been utterly impossible without the passage of the USA Patriot Act, for which I thank and commend the Congress.
The Patriot Act did four things:
First, it tore down the bureaucratic wall that had been imposed between law enforcement and intelligence, allowing cooperation and information sharing.
Second, the Patriot Act strengthened criminal laws against terrorism.
Third, the Patriot helped speed the investigation of terrorist threats, putting agents on the street to pursue terrorists instead of trapping them in offices to fill out paperwork.
Finally, the Patriot Act updated our anti-terrorism laws to reflect new technologies and give us the same tools used against drug dealers and organized crime.
We know that the terrorists plan to escalate their operations in America. Credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States during the summer or fall. As this committee knows, we are entering a season of events of great symbolism and great consequence for our nation-events that could be attractive targets for terrorism.
It is a sad commentary when the observation of a memorial service for a former president of the United States must be labeled a National Security Special Event. Such is the fact of modern life in Washington. Such is the nature of this war.
We know from Spain's bitter experience that Usama Bin Laden and al Qaeda believe they advanced their extremist cause with the Madrid train bombings that brought the death of nearly 200 people and the injury of many more.
We have alerted the public and state and local law enforcement to these threats because we believe the face of al Qaeda is changing and their tactics are evolving.
Al Qaeda continues to attract fanatical extremists from many nationalities and ethnicities-including North Africans and South Asians, in particular. Al Qaeda and other extremist groups have also shown an interest in recruiting young converts inside target countries as well as operatives who can portray themselves as traditionally European.
Al Qaeda's ideal operatives may be older than those we have seen before-men in their late 20s to early 30s. In addition, they may be traveling with families to lower their profile.
In the face of this new threat-a threat that may have a new face-we have shown the terrorists that this is not the America of September 11, 2001. We have learned the lessons of that day, and we are continuing to learn.
Credible intelligence tells us that the coming months are months of vulnerability. The justice community has taken the following steps to help ensure our safety:
First, the FBI has established the 2004 Threat Task Force that is focusing on this developing threat. The Task Force is coordinating our intelligence, analysis, and field operations. All field offices and legats have been tasked to review all counter-terrorism case files and threat reporting for intelligence relevant to the intelligence requirements. Our 84 Joint Terrorism Task Forces are collecting specific information, developing additional intelligence sources, and reporting new information as well as reviewing old files to ensure the 2004 Threat Task Force has all available intelligence.
Second, we have informed state and local law enforcement and sought their help in uncovering specific, actionable intelligence.
The FBI has developed a series of critical intelligence priorities to guide state and local law enforcement, so they can investigate and collect information that fills gaps in our nation's intelligence needs.
We have directed all 93 U.S. Attorneys to convene their Anti-Terrorism Advisory Councils to enlist full state and local cooperation in every district of this nation and that this information and intelligence tasks are a priority for every agent, officer, and sheriff's deputy.
Specific intelligence is the foundation for effective counter-terrorism strategies such as hardening targets, disrupting cells, and elevating threat levels to engage our prepared counter-terrorism measures.
Third, we have alerted the public. It is the essence of freedom and the core strength of free societies to trust the citizenry to participate in the defense of American lives and liberties. We have asked the public to join in the hunt for seven suspected al Qaeda operatives and to be alert to any suspicious activity.
These suspects are Amer El-Maati, Aafia Siddiqui, Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, Abderaoud Jdey, and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. They all are sought in connection with possible terrorist threats in the United States. They all pose a clear and present danger to America. They all should be considered armed and dangerous.
The public has responded, providing 2,000 tips in the first 24 hours alone.
As this nation learned on the morning of September 11, 2001, blue skies and quiet mornings should not be mistaken for peace-however earnestly we desire that peace. Our terrorist enemies have declared war on America, and they have brought their war onto our soil.
Over the last two years, we have made progress. But this war is far from over. The networks of terror continue their search for any opportunity to turn quiet and calm mornings into scenes of carnage and death.
In this war-in this time of heightened threat-we must remember the ideals we fight for. We must remember the precious liberties of 12-year-olds such as Nashala Hearn.
When we remember these blessings of freedom-when we reflect on the vision we defend-our path, even amidst the challenges of war, is clear.