Department of Justice Seal

Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft

(Note: The Attorney General Often Deviates from Prepared Remarks)
National Association of Counties
Monday, March 4, 2002

    It is fitting and proper that as we gather this afternoon to consider our homeland security we pay tribute to those men and women who devote their labor and risk their lives to protect it.

    September 11 was a day of unspeakable violence and outrage, but also a day of heroism and sacrifice. As terrified men and women struggled to make their way out of burning, collapsing buildings, police officers, firefighters and emergency rescue personnel struggled to make their way in.

    Today we honor the men and women who never escaped those burning buildings, and those who risked life and limb so that others could escape. We pause to commemorate their sacrifice and to learn from their example.

    When Abraham Lincoln spoke on the battlefield at Gettysburg, he sought to inspire his listeners by citing the deeds of those who had gone before. Lincoln put it this way, he said: "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

    Lincoln understood the crucial distinction between that which is said and that which is done. Words may move us momentarily, but deeds change us permanently. And heroic deeds change us for the better.

    Nowhere was this more apparent than on December 22, 2001, thousands of feet above the Atlantic. Press reports recounted in vivid detail the heroism of the passengers and crew of American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami. First-hand accounts described how a man named Richard Colvin Reid was confronted in mid-flight attempting to ignite a wire protruding from his shoe. Reid is alleged to have attacked the flight attendant who tried to stop him, and her cries for help sent passengers rushing to her aid.

    The press reported that one French man reached over the seat to restrain Reid’s arms as he struggled, while other passengers restrained his legs. Other passengers donated their belts and whatever else was available to tie Reid down. One man on board, a doctor, sedated Reid. Another passenger held a fire extinguisher as a weapon, guarding Reid for the remainder of the flight.

    On Flight 63, for a few minutes at least, every passenger was vigilant, every passenger was an air marshal, every passenger a hero. One of those who helped restrain Reid told reporters later that it was the heroism of September 11 that inspired him; that had it not been for the sacrifices he witnessed that day, he may not have had the awareness and the courage to act.

    But because the passengers and crew on Flight 63 did act -- because they dared to sacrifice -- 197 passengers and crew made it to the ground safely that day.

    The group of heroes that stood up to Richard Reid – like the heroes of September 11 who inspired them – were of all races, ethnicities and nationalities. The spirit that rose from the rubble in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania knows no prejudice, and defies division by race or religion.

    It is this same spirit that animates our first responders. And it is the same spirit which must inspire us in working together to ensure our domestic preparedness.

    Heroes teach us. But the ways of terrorists hold lessons as well. We have learned, for example, that the September 11 terrorists geographically separated the different stages of their plan in order to minimize the possibility that they would be detected. The hijackers trained in camps in Central Asia. They planned most of the attacks in Europe. And they executed their plot here in the United States.

    This geographical distribution has had a great influence on how we go about identifying and dismantling terrorist networks. And it has an important lesson for emergency responders as well. We have all heard the saying: "Necessity is the mother of invention." While no doubt true, I believe a modified version of that saying, directly relevant to the current war on terror, would read something like this: "Necessity is the mother of cooperation." No agency, department, state, county or local government can do this job alone. If we are to win this war on terror – if we are to prevent further attacks or respond effectively in the unfortunate event attacks occur – we must work together.

    Our number one priority is the prevention of terrorist attacks. But we understand that our best efforts at prevention will not always be successful. In the aftermath of September 11th, we at the Justice Department, working with state, county and local first responders, have continued to promote coordinated programs and cooperative systems to make our response efforts as efficient as possible.

    We have increased the program budget of the Justice Department’s Office of Domestic Preparedness from $5 million in 1997 to over $600 million in 2002. The Office has implemented a three-year nationwide program to develop domestic preparedness strategies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the five U.S. Territories.

    We understand that the key to coordination is respecting the wide variety of local differences. In order to provide the most effective cooperation between federal officials and local leaders, the Office tailors its training, exercises, equipment grants and technical systems to the unique needs of each of these 56 jurisdictions.

    The Office of Domestic Preparedness has made more than $607 million available for the procurement of equipment for responding to attacks using weapons of mass destruction.

    Over the last five years, the Office has trained over 96,600 state and local emergency responders from more than 1,548 different jurisdictions. Working with local first responders, we offer 33 training programs ranging from basic awareness to advanced courses covering fire, hazardous materials, law enforcement, emergency medical services, public health, emergency management, and public works.

    The Office has conducted a total of 93 exercises and plans an additional 220 exercises in fiscal year 2002. In May 2000, for example, the ODP Exercise Program conducted the Top Officials exercise – the largest federal, state, and local full-scale simulation of chemical, biological, and radiological attacks ever conducted. A second such exercise is planned for the spring of 2003. These exercises and others bring to bear the full resources of the federal government to help state and local emergency teams prepare effective response strategies for use in the event of a terrorist attack.

    The security preparations undertaken for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City are an example of how federal-state cooperation can produce a safe and successful winter games. The Department provided significant support and conducted multiple exercises focused on preparedness, response, and recovery from a potential terrorist incident during the games. In addition to these exercises, we provided extensive training to public safety personnel charged with responding to potential terrorist attacks.

    The work we have done thus far marks significant progress in developing a more coordinated approach to domestic preparedness. We must, however, do more. This administration has proposed significant changes in how the federal government is organized and prepared for domestic terrorism and we at the Department of Justice support the Administration’s plans. I am confident we will strengthen the working relationship between the federal agencies charged with domestic preparedness and the local first responders serving on the front lines of this noble and critical effort.

    The war on terrorism has asked all Americans to be vigilant. Since September 11, the necessity of saving lives has been the mother of unprecedented cooperation among Americans with little in common other than a new sense of responsibility for themselves, their families and their neighbors. Whether it was the heroes of Flight 93, who sacrificed themselves in a field in Pennsylvania so terrorists would not succeed in striking Washington a second time on September 11, or the heroes of Flight 63, who confronted and subdued Richard Reid, Americans have found a new unity and purpose in the face of terror.

    Thank you for being here today and for showing the same vigilance and purpose. Only together will we face down this threat, vanquish this evil, and live on to enjoy the blessings of liberty.

    Thank you very much.