1:40 P.M. EST
ATTORNEY GENERAL MUKASEY: Good afternoon. Joining me on stage today are Michele Alliot-Marie, Minister of Interior for France; Tomas Bocek, the Deputy Justice Minister for the Czech Republic; Jacques Barrot, European Union Commissioner for Justice, Freedom and Security; Stewart Baker, who is the Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Peter Ratzel, the Director of Europol, who are all here with us this afternoon.
I'm very pleased to be here today, not only to host this important meeting of the Justice and Home Affairs ministers, but also to speak briefly about the value of our law enforcement relationship with the European Union and with its member states.
The range of topics that we discuss today illustrates both the extent and the depth of that relationship. These topics include the sharing of information and evidence to help each other in our own domestic prosecutions, our joint counterterrorism efforts around the globe, and additional ways in which we can cooperate to protect the children of the world from online exploitation and child pornography.
Crime is increasingly, and, criminals are increasingly, a global problem, and our solutions therefore have to be global as well. And the kind of international cooperation that we've been talking about today, which has been happening daily, is vital to our success. We're going to have to build upon that success, look for opportunities and coordinate our efforts further.
One such example of this kind of coordination is an operation that we call Joint Hammer, which is the American component of a global coordinated enforcement effort known as Operation Koala led by the EU law enforcement agencies Europol and Eurojust, which targeted a vast network of child sexual exploitation.
This joint EU-U.S. coordinated effort began actually in Australia with the discovery of a videotape that was sent to Europe. It depicted a father sexually abusing his young daughters and producing images of that abuse. That one case led to one of the largest ever transnational enforcement efforts against the web of Internet-based child pornography trading rings.
From that initial horrible discovery, the investigation grew to reveal connections in nearly 30 countries around the world. In the United States alone, we have so far arrested 61 people, and as we continue to pursue additional leads, I'm hopeful and expectant there will be more arrests.
Even more important, the work of U.S. law enforcement has resulted in the identification of 11 children in the United States who were victims of these terrible crimes, children who have now been given the chance to start their lives over in an environment that's free from that kind of abuse.
Our international counterparts have identified many more and have taken the same kind of action in their own countries.
The members of this network of predators shared photos, stories of abuse of innocent children, and exchanged tips on how to evade detection. They tried to hide in what they hoped was the anonymity of the Internet.
What allowed this operation to move from an isolated local case to a global investigation was the cooperation and coordination of law enforcement professionals in many countries. Partners in each country shared their intelligence and their discoveries and cracked the secrecy upon which these perpetrators depended.
This investigation was the first of its kind involving members of all major American agencies charged with the enforcement of child exploitation laws, along with our partners at Europol, Eurojust and the European Union. I want to thank all of the agents, investigators, attorneys and other staff whose hard work led to the detection of these predators in the United States, including the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section of the Department's Criminal Division, and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices that were immediately involved in the arrests.
It should come as news to no one that crimes against children have been an area of special focus for the Department of Justice and an area of great success. Through initiatives such as Project Safe Childhood, we've increased prosecutions of those who abuse and exploit children by over 30 percent in the last two years. Through a series of national media campaigns, we've made great strides in making parents and young people aware of the dangers. And most important, through cooperation with other law enforcement agencies, such as our partners in the European Union, we've identified, and, in many cases saved hundreds of children depicted in images and videos of sexual abuse.
Obviously, it would be my fondest hope that we would never have to start such investigations or bring such prosecutions, that criminals such as these didn't exist. But so long as they do, it's imperative that our nations work together to rescue children from their abusers and to bring to justice those who commit these acts.
Now I'm going to turn the podium over to some of our guests today for their comments, and then we'll be happy to answer some of your questions. First, I'd like to invite Assistant Secretary Baker to add his remarks from the perspective of the Department of Homeland Security. Secretary Baker.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BAKER: Thank you, Attorney General Mukasey. Also thank you, Minister Alliot-Marie, Vice President Barrot and Deputy Justice Minister Bocek. We've had a very successful meeting today. We discussed a number of topics, including passenger name records, the Visa Waiver Program, and setting common principles on data privacy for law enforcement.
On that topic, we made great and very gratifying progress in setting a framework for data sharing and for data protection, and our success in that endeavor, which will continue, will protect privacy at the same time that it reassures private companies and third countries that they can share information about terrorism with the United States and with the European Union without risking becoming enmeshed in some conflicting policies or principles.
We're also very proud of the role that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a DHS component, played in the investigation of child abuse crimes that were being committed all across the globe, as the Attorney General described. We're proud of them and we're proud of the international cooperation that we received in that investigation. That kind of cooperation is the key to identifying and apprehending those who commit these heinous acts.
Today's discussion is focused on ways we can work together to more effectively share that information, and best practices to make further progress in fighting child exploitation. Thank you.
MINISTER ALLIOT-MARIE: (Through translator.) First of all, I would like to thank you for the welcome from the Attorney General and also to thank Secretary Baker for the environment in which we were able to work today. The exchanges today correspond to the meetings which happen every six weeks between the United States and the European Union dealing with problems on lower levels that are raised to the ministerial level.
Our populations are exposed to the same threats and risks. This has given us the opportunity to deal with issues that involve protecting our citizens.
I will touch upon one subject briefly, the primary threat facing the United States as well as the European Union is terrorism. It is an area that we know very well. No country can protect itself from terrorism by itself. In addition to cooperation, we need to strengthen our agencies that respond to terrorism.
Over the course of the past few months, we have made tremendous progress in particular with the establishment of several of our organizations dealing with radicalization and recruitment of terrorists. We have established a guide, or a manual in a manner of speaking, that deals with preventing terrorism. We have discussed ways of protecting ourselves from threats posed by dirty bombs, by radiological threats, biological as well as chemical, because there is a risk which we know very well that terrorists will use this type of bomb.
We have also worked on the level of controlling explosives by identifying components that can be used to manufacture explosives, as well as the ways of trafficking in these explosives and other elements used to manufacture them.
We have discussed the establishment of a PNR, a Passenger Name Record, in Europe. This would allow us to be more aware of flights coming into our countries while also remaining alert to protecting individual liberties.
We are also working to try to anticipate threats as much as possible. The best way we can protect our own citizens is to avoid attacks being conceived. Society evolves, technology evolves, and crime also evolves while using our technology.
From this point of view, this morning, as the Attorney General said, we have worked a great deal on protecting children. We have talked about Internet child pornography. During the presidency of the European Union, we agreed on creating a European platform to unify analysis and surveillance of child pornography Web sites.
I thank the Attorney General and the European community for assisting in financing and supporting this effort. Because this involves not only our own borders but Europe's borders, I suggest that the European and American forums be allowed to continue to work together on this subject.
We have also worked on managing borders. I welcome six new European states in the American Visa Waiver Program. There are still some countries that do not have access, but I hope that they will soon be able to.
Also this morning, we dealt with the problem of our experience exchange in the area of terrorist threats, which I referred to earlier, as well as the area of transnational organized crime, such as drug trafficking. We are working to adjust our resources to deal with these threats as well, because protecting ourselves against terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking is not the only goal, this helps us protect ourselves as well.
So that is what I wanted to bring up for you with regard to the working meeting this morning as well as our lunch. All of this took place in a very positive atmosphere, and this indicates the level of trust between our organizations and governments concerning a subject which is at the heart of our responsibilities to our countries. Our responsibility is to protect our citizens.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MUKASEY: Now, Jacques Barrot, European Union Commissioner for Justice. Thank you.
MR. BARROT: (Through translator.) Thank you very much, Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Baker, and thank you for the kind welcome from the United States of America.
I should say that the Commission has worked under the leadership of Michelle Alliot-Marie in excellent cooperation with the French Presidency. I am happy to say that we look forward to continuing to work in such a positive spirit.
We are continuing to develop our cooperation in the law enforcement area across the Atlantic in a manner that reflects increased confidence and cooperation. We brought up the subject of the ratification of the mutual legal assistance treaty and extradition treaty. We are encouraging the final ratification by the few member states who have not done so yet, so that it will become operational.
We support the exchange of information while at the same time being concerned about protecting the security of personal data. We would like to reach an international agreement about this problem concerning information exchange and protection of personal privacy. As Minister Alliot-Marie said, "We evaluated terrorism. We have discussed radicalization. And with regard to radicalization we have accomplished a great deal with Mr. Kirkov, responsible for counter-terrorism."
In February 2009 we will host a seminar and we invite American participation. And, as I understand, Mr. Baker said he would participate. We also dealt with the topic of explosives with a seminar which took place last week in Brussels, which also allowed for very fruitful discussions. We have a European action plan dealing with explosives, and we have established a European network to eliminate explosive devices.
Continuing with this effort to anticipate and to prevent terrorism, we have dealt with the PNR. We would like to arrive at the establishment of a European PNR. We hope that all of this will elicit excellent cooperation between the United States and Europe. We also brought up the topic of electronic registration hoping that it would not involve these procedures, but simply facilitate traveling.
The good news has been the exemption from visas for six new member states, and we are happy to have Malta join us as one of the new member states. There are five remaining, and we have confidence that this visa waiver program will involve all European citizens. We fully expect that all of the states will observe the rules put in place in cooperation with the United States. We are happy to have had a successful discussion and to have been able to discuss the problem of exploiting children as well as sharing our concern about dealing with new menaces.
I should say I am very happy to participate in these exchanges this morning and I thank our American friends.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MUKASEY: Finally, we will hear Thomas Bocek, Deputy Justice Minister of the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic will be the next president of this organization.
MR. BOCEK: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
As the forthcoming presidency, I had the pleasure to confirm to our American friends that we will build our next cooporation on the basis of the work and progress which have been achieved by the French presidency so far. I informed our colleagues of some of the key topics in the strategic area of justice and home affairs with the Czech Republic intends to address during its EU presidency in the first half of 2009.
The general priorities of the Czech presidency in the justice and home affairs area include particularly the use of modern technologies for security purposes, including a discussion on the use of the existing communication networks and channels. The next important subject would be the discussion on the burning issue of drug abuse. In this area, we will strive for deepening the existing broad cooperation between the European Union and the United States.
Other activities of the forthcoming Czech presidency address the longstanding EU priorities in the security area which is the fight against terrorism, organized crime and trafficking in human beings. In the area of judicial cooperation, we would like to deepen the mutual relations in the framework of the Hague conference of international private law.
The United States will remain in most of the areas the most important strategic partner of the European Union, because we face the same challenges and the threats, share the same values and long-term goals. I had the pleasure to inform my American friends and to invite them to the next informal, high-level meeting in Prague on 5th and 6th February, and then the next Ministerial Troika which will take place in Prague as well, and which is planned for 28 and 29 February.
Thank you for your attention.
MODERATOR: We have time for some questions, and so we'll start with the United States press.
QUESTION: A question for the Attorney General regarding the charges against the Illinois governor. How concerned are you about the seriousness of having someone sitting in office with those charges against them, and do you expect other people to be charged?
ATTORNEY GENERAL MUKASEY: I can't comment on that investigation beyond the comments that were made by Pat Fitzgerald last Tuesday. Sorry.
QUESTION: A question first of all for Attorney General on the data protection principles, the common principles. They've been discussed for several years, I believe. Have you any idea of when they will be agreed?
And the question for Madame Alliot-Marie. Have you discussed the issue of Guantanamo and what to do with the detainees; and, if not, do you think Europe and France should help the U.S. to transfer the detainees in Guantanamo and they may in some cases have helped?
ATTORNEY GENERAL MUKASEY: We reached agreement on 12 applicable principles and a way to move forward such that we can further our law enforcement interests while protecting personal data and have everybody agree and work toward a treaty that allows us to recognize that everybody's system provides adequate protection. But we've at least laid a baseline.
MINISTER ALLIOT-MARIE: (Through translator.) The question about Guantanamo was not brought up in order to answer your question, but concerning Guantanamo it is up to the United States to determine when and how to close Guantanamo. I would simply like to say there are no French detainees in Guantanamo. The subject of receiving individuals in France should be debated at the European level.
QUESTION: I have a question for the European Colleagues. There is a union summit that is taking place this weekend when counter-terrorism officials in Brussels arrested a suspected Al Qaeda cell. And I was wondering if you briefed American colleagues on that, how imminent a potential attack was there, why officials acted now, and if it was believed that a plot was under way or these individuals were recruiting to send individuals or terrorists overseas.
MINISTER ALLIOT-MARIE: (Through translator.) Sorry. I didn't hear very well your question. Can you repeat?
QUESTION: Can you just comment about the arrest that took place in Brussels yesterday and the potential threat to the EU summit there?
MINISTER ALLIOT-MARIE: (Through translator.) I didn't understand that it was about what happened yesterday. It's obvious that our organizations work very closely and exchange a certain type of information. I knew that there was an alert in Brussels from before yesterday evening, so it's obvious that every time there is an alert of this type, all information that we might have, we transfer to the country involved, and we also assist to the country that was threatened.
QUESTION: Was it a possible attack in Europe, or was it something that was destined for a possible attack in Pakistan or Afghanistan? There's been conflicting reports on the cell.
MINISTER ALLIOT-MARIE: (Through translator.) Between Europe and Europe as I said before there is total solidarity, because it's the same threat. Today, the threat exists in each of our countries. That's why it's obvious that we need to help the country that is targeted at the European level. What we tried to do is to establish systems that allow us to identify if an attack will take place and to respond with European solidarity. In an exercise in Southern France, we simulated an attack. It was radiological or bacteriological. I don't remember. It involved European countries that participated in the reaction, and it was an example of the solidarity which we have put into place.
The PNR system allows us to use data, which benefits all of the countries involved. And we are working on having a PNR which would be in effect throughout all of Europe which would also allow for exchanges with the American PNR. Those are actions that we are undertaking. Did that answer your question?
QUESTION: Can you just confirm, is Malta going to be added at the end of the year and then the other five countries when will they be added?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BAKER: We are in talks now with Malta. Those talks are moving forward very well. Malta is very close. We are hoping that they will meet all the conditions and will be able to admit them, perhaps this year, so there is very little left of the year, so we're hoping that it's just a matter of weeks with respect to Malta. With respect to the other countries that might join the Visa Waiver Program, there are a number of statutory requirements that need to be met under U.S. law.
None of the countries of Europe that are still outside of the Visa Waiver Program with the exception of Malta and Greece were eligible this year and at the same time we have begun talks with a number of the European countries that are still outside of the Visa Waiver Program to meet as many of the statutory requirements as we can.
We're negotiating information sharing agreements with them and the like, hoping to set up the possibility of admission in the next year or so. But there are a number of statutory requirements that will be difficult to meet, and so we can't predict with any certainty when they'll be admitted.
QUESTION: Could Greece get in before then, because it already meets the statutory requirements?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BAKER: Greece is eligible with respect to one of the critical elements, which is the visa rejection rate. They're below three percent, which means that they've met one of the more difficult tests. However, we have to negotiate information sharing agreements with respect to terrorism, with respect to criminal data sharing and a variety of other topics. We have begun those talks, but I can't predict when they will reach fruition.
MODERATOR: We have time for two more questions. The last question from U.S. press.
QUESTION: For Secretary Baker or General Mukasey, what role has the Obama transition team played in the talks that you've had?
The issues that you're talking about right now are going to become obviously matters that the Obama administration is going to have to deal with.
Also, the matter of the prosecution of the governor of Illinois is a matter that the Obama team is going to have to deal with. I wonder if you could give us an update on the transition and the extent of their involvement in both policy matters and prosecutorial matters.
ATTORNEY GENERAL MUKASEY: Well, I think it's sufficient to say just from 30,000 feet they are made aware of the issues that we discussed today. Obviously, they are not participants in the talks because they are the transition team. They are not yet members of the government, but they are aware of all of the issues that we've discussed today, and are being made aware of any necessary other issues that they have to be made aware of.
The transition, certainly in the Justice Department is going smoothly, and I suspect it is going smoothly elsewhere as well.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BAKER: I will just add to that that I've been present in government at every change of party transition since the Carter administration, and this is the most civil and professional that I have seen on both sides. The incoming team has recognized that there is only one president at a time. They have recognized that it's important to speak with one voice in international relations, and they have respect that while seeking to be well-informed about all of the moves that will have to be carried on by their team after January 20.
MODERATOR : Last question? The press have none.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
END 2:15 P.M.