Remarks* of Deputy Attorney General
Larry D. Thompson
May 21, 2003
I am pleased to meet with such a large group of this community's leaders. We are all fortunate to have a great example of true leadership right in our midst in United States Attorney Donald Washington. When I was a U.S. Attorney in the 1980s, I worked with an organization in my home town of Atlanta called Leadership Atlanta, so I know the great work that you are doing here and want to encourage you in every way that I can.
Despite the popular refrains about loneliness at the top, true leadership is not a solitary occupation. It is not about being the first among equals or even about being first, at all. Rather, in my experience, the list of qualities that identify a true leader is dominated by inspiration, cooperation and perspiration.
- Inspiration, because you have to have a clear idea of where you want to go in order to take the decisive actions necessary to lead others. Great leaders are great dreamers they have a strong purpose and an innate sense of right and wrong. They resist the stampede to follow the crowd mentality.
- Cooperation, because unless you can get others to work with you, you will never reach your goals. Great leaders lead by example. They have confidence in themselves and share power with their colleagues seeking the right result, not the accolades of fame. As President Reagan recognized: "There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit." In fact, being a leader more often involves accepting blame, than taking credit.
And last, but undeniably important:
- Perspiration, because leadership requires dedicated effort. As President Lincoln once noted, "Good things may come to those who wait, but only things left by those who hustle." But dogged tunnel-vision is not enough. Leaders are always looking for new ways to excel and draw on resources from every field, rather than a narrow area of expertise.
Much has been said about each of these qualities in the abstract, or in reference to the great leaders of the past. We rightly study the examples of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King and many other great Americans. But we do these leaders a great disservice if we forget that they were flesh and blood -- real people who lived, as we do, in challenging times. Each of them had the opportunity many times over to turn away, to let others take the reins. To their credit and the everlasting advantage of our nation, they rejected that temptation, and led us forward.
The leadership of President Bush in the Battle of Iraq and in the War on Terrorism as a whole demonstrates these virtues. The President has a clear vision of how to defend the nation against terrorism. He worked together with many others of all stripes, at home and abroad to foster support for the effort to overthrow the Ba'athist regime in Iraq and forge a Coalition of the Willing of friendly countries around the world. Through these combined efforts, we have won a battle. We have defeated a tyrant and brought freedom to an oppressed land.
And the Department of Justice has to take a leadership role in our fight to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks. We have had to change the way we do business no longer react and investigate after-the-fact.
Since September 11, I believe the Department and other government agencies moved decisively against those who would do us harm. Let me recount briefly the results of leadership:
- To date, we have captured more than 3000 terrorists worldwide;
- Forty percent of al Qaeda's leadership has been capture or killed;
- We have identified and tracked hundreds of suspected terrorists throughout the United States;
- We have broken up four alleged terrorist cells in Buffalo, Portland, Detroit and Seattle;
- We have brought 237 criminal charges in our courts; and
- We have obtained convictions or guilty pleas from 119 individuals, including shoe-bomber Richard Reid; "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh; and the members of a Buffalo, New York terror cell.
- We have cut off terrorist funding, including:
Designating 36 groups and individuals as terrorist organizations; Freezing $124 million in assets and more than 600 accounts around the world; as well as Conducting 70 investigations into terrorist financing, with 23 convictions to date
We at the Department are proud of each of these achievements and of our leading role in the defense against terrorism. But, we take even greater satisfaction from the success of our efforts to disrupt and prevent terrorist attacks before they have occurred. Every calm and seemingly boring day during which Americans go profitably about their business is a victory for the Department and the nation.
Let's talk about one of these prevention efforts. It is appropriate to do so now. During the battle of Iraq, the Department's Iraq-related terrorism prevention efforts led by FBI (Rick McHenry) were at their peak. History taught us from Operation Desert Storm that Iraq had a plan to use intelligence officers to infiltrate the U.S. in 1991 to carry out terror. We knew that the Iraqi Intelligence Service had played a role in the attempted assassination of President George H. W. Bush. These Iraqi intelligence officials endangered both our nation and the Iraqis who had fled Iraq to start a new life here in the United States.
Our Iraqi Task Force strategy had three parts:
gather intelligence from Iraqi people,
eliminate the Iraqi Intelligence Service's presence in the United States, and
disrupt potential attacks by other terrorists.
Here's what the Task Force accomplished:
First, the Iraqi Task Force conducted nearly 10,000 voluntary interviews with U.S.-based Iraqis to obtain counter-terrorism information and intelligence data. The cooperation of Iraqi-Americans was essential to our efforts and much appreciated.
Second, the Justice Department moved aggressively to expel or arrest all known Iraqi Intelligence officials within the U.S. We expelled 5 Iraqi officials with diplomatic status and arrested and charged 1 person with acting as an agent of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
Third, the Justice Department aggressively countered potential terrorism threats during the Iraqi conflict. We obtained charges against 21 individuals immediately before and during the conflict with Iraq. Some of these include:
6 people charged in Colorado with making false statements in order to obtain a visa permitting suspected terrorists to immigrate to the United States. The evidence presented included admissions that the terrorists had attended an Al-Qaeda training camp on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in August 2001 and fought for the Taliban and Al Qaeda against coalition forces.
2 people charged with operating an unlicensed money transmitting business by transmitting millions of dollars to Iraq, Kuwait and Jordan.
1 person detained in connection with charges that he operated an unlicensed money transmitting business to collected money from Iraqis in the U.S. for transmittal to the Middle East.
4 individuals were indicted for engaging in illegal financial transfers to persons in Iraq through an organization called "Help the Needy." According to the indictment, from approximately 1994 through the present, the defendants transmitted over $2.7 million to Iraq.
A University of Idaho graduate student was indicted on charges of fraudulently obtaining student visas and making false statements on visa applications. The indictment alleges that he routed money to an islamic radical group and provided computer services to their websites that advocated terrorism.
Also the Department took guilty pleas from four individuals who are providing cooperation to the United States as part of their plea agreements.
The lesson to take away from this record is that leadership achieves results. That's true in the War against Terrorism played out on a global scale. It's just as true in Lafayette, Louisiana where leaders like yourselves can make a real difference in the life of this community.
One way to make a difference stems from another subject that has occupied much of my concern as Deputy Attorney General. Let's consider the spate of corporate scandals that has shaken our financial markets. These scandals are characterized by a really despicable amount of greed and arrogance by some of the country's top business executives.
These scandals represent more than a criminal problem. They demonstrate a leadership problem as well. They are the product of business leaders who have lost their moral compass. They have allowed deception and greed to displace the honest pursuit of profit and growth. That bad leadership is a disservice to their own shareholders the true owners of the enterprises and to the country.
We will deal with the executives, appropriately so, in the criminal justice system. The criminal law has the unique ability to concentrate the mind of the corrupt businesspeople and to deter those teetering on the brink of letting greed supplant responsibility. The enforcement of the criminal statutes that punish fraud send the message that deviant behavior will be dealt with in a way that the offenders find particularly unpleasant going to jail, and going to jail for a long time.
But we will be successful only if that message carries through not only to the mightiest corporations on Wall Street, but to the business leaders on Main Street. And you can help. If you take one thing from this evening's program, I hope it is that principled leadership in our everyday work and professional lives can make a profound difference for our communities and our country. We are in challenging and trying times. These are times in which your leadership will be tested right here in Lafayette, Louisiana. And, I'd like to close by offering for your consideration the following life story.This person:
Age 22 - Failed in business;
Age 23 - Defeated for State Legislature:
Age 24 - Again failed in business;
Age 25 - Elected to state legislature;
Age 26 - His sweetheart died;
Age 27 - Suffered nervous breakdown;
Age 29 - Defeated for speaker;
Age 31 - Defeated for elector;
Age 34 - Defeated for Congress;
Age 37 - Elected to Congress;
Age 39 - Defeated for Congress;
Age 46 - Defeated for Senate;
Age 47 - Defeated for Vice-President;
Age 49 - Defeated for Senate;
Age 51 - Abraham Lincoln elected President of the United States.
Your work at Leadership Lafayette is an inspiration to all of us to lead. But don't be complacent. We at the Department of Justice will press ahead in our important work and look forward to your continued cooperation and support. I believe we are on the right track in Washington, but we will not be complacent. As Will Rogers once said, "even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." And we will not just sit there.
Thank you, and God bless.
*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.