Department of Justice Seal

Attorney General Transcript
News Conference - Neighborhood Watch
Wednesday, March 6, 2002
DOJ Conference Center

MR. MCMAHON: Wait a minute. See, normally when I walk on stage I get applause. (Laughter,applause.) What is this?

     All right, good morning, everybody. We're very delighted to be here in Washington. And I have my wife Pam with me, my daughter Claudia and my new little granddaughter, Jiao-Jiao (sp), all the way from Chunking, China. And she now is part of our family. Her name is Jiao-Jiao (sp) McMahon. There she is. And you'll see her in the commercial later on. But I have the opportunity now to introduce the attorney general of the United States.

     Now, normally, the attorney general gets, you know, a lot of trumpets and bugles and things likethat, and flags come in. It's a big deal. You know, the attorney general. But the way I'm going to introduce him, he'll never be introduced like this ever again in this life.

     And now, ladies and gentlemen, here-re-re-re-re-re-re's Johnny! (Laughter, applause.)

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: (Laughs.) Come on over, folks. You don't have to forsake the podium just because --

     Gee, it doesn't feel like 10:30 at night. I just -- (laughter). Thank you, Ed, for that introduction.(Laughs.) That's probably as close as I'll ever come to a late night TV career. Although I understand Letterman's been promoting my singing lately. So I -- (laughter) -- I don't know. Or maybe we've hit on a way to solve this Koppel-Letterman controversy: bring Ed and Johnny back. Maybe that would work. (Laughs.)

     I'm pleased to have John Bridgeland with me, the assistant to the president and director of the USA Freedom Corps. John's doing a great job of spearheading the president's initiative to get more Americans involved in service. Assistant Attorney General Deborah Daniels is here from the Office of Justice Programs. Deborah's been doing a great job, and has a great background in working to fight crime at local levels. And it is her office that is working closely with the USA Freedom Corps operation.

     We have here today as well Sheriff John Cary Bittick, president of the National Sheriff's Association, and Jack Calhoun, who is president and CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council. These two groups have worked to prevent crime at the local level for decades, and they've both been indispensable in developing today's materials and in getting local sheriffs all across the nation involved.

     I also need to thank the ad council for their work to make the public service announcements that you'll see, to make those announcements possible. And, of course, for those of you who watch the Johnny Carson Show, and for those of us that are imprinted with the Johnny Carson Show, there's no way ever to think of anything else late night. There's a sense about what a wonderful touch of humor that was for the United States for so many years.

     For those of you who have seen Star Search, I mean, we have the legendary Ed McMahon here. What a good deal. Ed has graciously volunteered his time and his talents to assist in this effort. And I thank all of you for being here today and for all the hard work that you've put in on this important program.

     For more than two centuries Americans have responded to adversity by rolling up their sleeves,working together. The greatness of our nation has been built upon the generosity of our citizens. Our written history is inscribed in the sweat and sacrifice of the people who have volunteered in this country. The values which for centuries have brought Americans together -- of family, community, compassion -- these values have always been stronger than the forces that would seek to pull us apart. And today, at a time when we are called on as never before to defend our values from the enemies of our values, we must continue this great tradition. Like the many courageous generations of Americans before us, we must act. And we can begin to act today by joining with our neighbors to protect our communities.

     In his State of the Union message this year President Bush challenged all Americans to commit at least two years, 4,000 hours over the rest of their lifetimes, to service to our nation and to our communities and friends. One way to volunteer is through the Citizen Corps, a component of the USA Freedom Corps. The Citizen Corps includes a program which many of you have great familiarity with. It's the Neighborhood Watch program.

     According the National Sheriffs Association, the program's originator, those who developed the Neighborhood Watch program, there are currently 7,500 communities with active Neighborhood Watch programs. Americans involved in these program work alongside local, state and federal law enforcement to reclaim their neighborhoods and make their streets more safe. Neighborhood Watch volunteers also serve as a warning to criminals that the community is on guard and stands ready to report any suspicious activity or unlawful conduct to authorities.

     Over the last 30 years the Neighborhood Watch program has proven itself to be highly successful in preventing crime, securing our communities and the safety of our families all across America. But we can do more.

     Today I am announcing an ambitious and unprecedented expansion of the Neighborhood Watchprogram.

     First, we have set a goal of doubling the number of communities with active Neighborhood Watch programs over the next two years, bringing the total to 15,000 communities, 15,000 groups of neighborhood volunteers.

     Second, we are expanding the mission of Neighborhood Watch to include terrorism detection and prevention. In the great tradition of American volunteerism, through the Neighborhood Watch program we will weave a seamless web of prevention of terrorism that brings together citizens and law enforcement.

     Third, the Justice Department and the National Crime Prevention Council have produced a Citizens Preparedness Guide. This is a "how to" guide to protect your community from terrorism. The Citizens Preparedness Guide contains information to help citizens recognize the signals of potential terrorist activity and to know how to report that activity. It also includes suggestions for preparedness in our homes, schools, work places, places of worship, our neighborhoods and other public areas. Now, through a grant to the National Sheriffs' Association by the Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, we are making the guide and other information available online to empower every citizen to either start a local Neighborhood Watch or to join a Neighborhood Watch. The Citizens Preparedness Guide is available at -- www.citizencorps -- that's C-O-R-P-S -- .gov.

     Fourth, today we are launching a public service campaign to provide Americans with the information they will need to start their own Neighborhood Watch. The National Crime Prevention Council, working in close partnership with the Ad Council, has produced a series of public service announcements, which we will show to you in a moment.

     I want again to recognize Ed McMahon for volunteering his time to assist America with these ads. As you'll see, Ed brings just the right light touch to this serious issue. And I thank him for lending his talents and his time in service to America. I also want to thank those who volunteered their time to create these ads and the guide. Your input and your sacrifice are much appreciated.

     As part of the Citizen Corps, there are many ways for Americans to get involved in the fight against terrorism. We're all busy people, but every time we give our time and service to our families and our communities, we send a clear, we send an unmistakable message that America and the American spirit stands strong and unwavering.

     While the brave men and women in our military work to defeat terrorism overseas, we have the opportunity to join with law enforcement officials at home to guard against potential enemies, to guard against everyday criminals here at home. I challenge every American to join or to start a local neighborhood watch program. To find out if your neighborhood has a neighborhood watch program and how you can participate, contact your local sheriff's department or visit the Department of Justice website at

     Tonight I'll be joining the residents of Loudoun County, Virginia, to kick off their expanded neighborhood watch program. I invite all of you to join me at this event. I encourage all Americans to join with their neighbors in their own communities in standing united to make America strong and our communities safer. Your country has never needed you more. This is a doable task in which we can all participate, and your contribution will make a difference.

     Now I'd like to ask John Bridgeland to say a few words. And I want to commend him for his excellent service to the president of the United States and to America generally in his effort under the new responsibility of enlisting Americans in investing in the future of this great country. John?

     MR. BRIDGELAND: Thank you, General. (Applause.) Thank you very much, General Ashcroft. You may never be the same after that last introduction!

     I just want to mention General Ashcroft is such a model of what service means in this country -- a model to young people all over the country about what it means to care so deeply about your country and to take responsible and important steps to protect its security.

     I also want to mention Ed McMahon. He's here in the capacity of helping support this important and vital neighborhood watch effort, but learning the story of how he entered the life of this little girl in the second row represents the kind of compassion that Americans can truly spread throughout the globe.

     We are extremely excited about this neighborhood watch initiative. Since that terrible day in September, Americans have been asking again and again what they can do to serve their communities and their country. President Bush announced his USA Freedom Corps initiative to foster a culture of service, citizenship, and responsibility; to build on what he calls "the gathering momentum of millions of acts of kindness and goodness and decency."

     Out of tragedy has come a renewed purpose: to serve the land we love and to serve on another greatly.

     As part of his USA Freedom Corps initiative, the president has created the Citizen Corps to help define what the role of the citizen is in protecting the homeland and to give Americans meaningful and appropriate opportunities to do so.

     Today's announcement is part of that effort to help Americans do sensible and important things to strengthen their neighborhoods and communities. In response to their question, "What can I do to serve?" one good answer is to join neighborhood watch in your community. And if you do not have one, encourage -- we encourage you to work with local law enforcement to establish one.

     As General Ashcroft has mentioned, one goal of the USA Freedom Corps is to double the number of neighborhood watch programs over the next two years and to make terrorism prevention a part of its mission in this important program. And in the process, we will be strengthening crime prevention and strengthening our communities. And citizens all across America can play an important role in serving their communities and their country.

     I now have the great pleasure of introducing someone every American knows and would actually love to have appear at their doorstep. (Scattered laughter.) He is doing great service to his country in so many ways by supporting this neighborhood watch initiative. Ladies and gentlemen, Ed McMahon.

     MR. MCMAHON: Thank you very much. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I am very happy to be here and involved in this, and it's a wonderful way for me to be involved.

     In mid-September, right after that September day of infamy, I woke up, and I said to my wife, Pam, I said, "Well, this is my third war. I'm going to find a way to fight this one differently." And I spent 23 years in the Marine Corps, World War II and Korea. And I figured, "What am I going to do?"

     Well, I've been in the talent business for a long time, so I said, "I'm going to get back in the talent business." So I started a new show called "Next Big Star," and we are finding new talents like I found on "Star Search" -- the Rosie O'Donnells and the Britney Spears and the Drew Careys of the world. We're finding them again.

     And now I'm going to further expand that, and this summer I'm going to go out on a tour of military bases -- some of the bases where I trained as a Marine fighter pilot. And I'm going to go back to these bases and go back to Pensacola, for example, and pin the wings on a young second lieutenant and send him off to that carrier, like I went off to a carrier in a Corsair in World War II. And I'm going to do that and keep that military spirit alive.

     But I spent 23 years in the Marine Corps; now I'm in the Citizen Corps, and I'm so happy that I have a way, with this program, to really make a difference, because -- to get people involved in their community, to get back to the old days, when we used to have neighborhoods.

     There used to be neighborhoods. Everybody knew their neighbor. You waved to your neighbor, you said hello. That's kind of been lost, and I think we can bring it back again and be a united family. And that's what this program is going to start, kick off and develop. It will be wonderful, and it will get everybody more involved in their neighborhood, and thus involved in their country.

     So I'm going to ask my little co-star to come up, if she will, for a minute, because this is a remarkable story. This little girl -- Jiao-Jiao -- I'm going to move over here. I don't need a microphone; I started out as a Bingo announcer, so I don't need a microphone. (Laughter.) I found this little Jiao-Jiao. My daughter adopted here. She was in an orphanage in August in the hottest city in China -- they call it the Chinese oven -- Chung King. There are 18 million people there, and she was one of them. And she was kind of left there by her family in the railroad station and went to an orphanage. And my daughter, Claudia, went over and got her and brought her back.

     And now she is part of the Citizen Crops of America, all the way from Chung King. She's only been in the country six months. She's already made her first, you know, public service announcement. (Laughter.) So Jennifer Aniston better watch her step, I'll tell you, because this baby is coming along. And the first thing she ever saw -- I'm "yea-yea" by the way. Granddaddy is "yea-yea." The first thing she ever saw when she came to America -- my daughter, Claudia, said, "We're going to watch granddaddy on the telethon." So of course I'm all over the screen on the teleprompter for 21 and a half

     So imitate granddaddy, "yea-yea," on the telethon. What does "yea-yea" do?

     JIAO-JIAO (Ed McMahon's adopted granddaughter): Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. (Laughter.)

     MR. MCMAHON: That's my Jiao-Jiao! If you have any questions later, we can answer them.(Applause.)

     All right. I'd like to introduce the gentleman that is very responsible for the very successful, "Take a Bite Out of Crime" campaign, and has really -- it's the genesis of what we're now doing. It's a further expansion to make it more involved now for the country -- Jack Calhoun. Jack, come on up.

     MR. CALHOUN: Ed, you're an inspiration. I think it was George Washington, after leaving the presidency, said I'm going back to a real gift, which is to be a citizen. So you really embody that. It's wonderful. And thanks for your granddaughter and your family's commitment. That is so beautiful.

     The attacks of September 11, which resulted in unspeakable tragedy, showed us mankind's ugliest face, but at the same time, we saw mankind's most beautiful face. Incredible acts of generosity. People giving time, money, blood, even their lives.

     Crime, in this case terrorism, would seek to isolate us, driving us to huddle alone in fear. But citizens of this wonderful country showed us the opposite. They inspired us to use the events of September 11th to re-gather with family and neighbors. From our perspective, we immediately re-shifted our budget priorities, and with the blessings of Deborah Daniels, we moved very, very quickly. And as you well know, Mr. Attorney General, you have some American heroes in this room.

     Three weeks after the attack, with your department, we had an ad out on hate crime and then immediately began to work with some incredible people on this public service announcement that you will see in a minute.

     The booklet to which you referred, Mr. Attorney General, has many, many authors -- FEMA, FAA, the White House, Office of Justice Programs. And it's a response to the ad but it's also a stand-alone. The ads, more specifically Neighborhood Watch, starring Ed McMahon, were crafted and filmed.

     The team was extraordinary. The Ad Council, the president, Peg Conlon, rather than reeling under the attacks, pulled together the best ad minds in the country. Some of her staff, Heidi Arthur, Deborah and Chris, who are here, did an absolutely beautiful job, working day and night. Some of the best creative minds in the country were on this, Dennis and Kerry (sp), Dennis, who even called us from Geneva, and in the very last days of his wife's pregnancy. And Ed, my staff came back from the film shoot with nothing but glowing remarks for you, on probably the coldest day of the year in Patterson, New Jersey.

     And so we all celebrate not only the debut of the ad, but it's another red letter day; it's Ed McMahon's birthday. (Applause.) Jennifer and Suzanne (sp) of the broadcasters helped us get the word out. We couldn't have done it alone. All 3,000 TV stations, including cable, have the ads today. They should be played tonight.

     We did something else. We also worked on a packet for every elementary school in the country, which is being mailed this week, how to protect kids, how kids can be safe and nurtured and how they, themselves, can give. June Million of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, our partner, is here today.

     The heart of prevention is watch out and help out, self- protection and reporting and creating neighborhoods, to which you referred, Ed, neighborhoods in which citizens are active and contributing and caring for each other.

     This is the core thrust of the ads.

     Mr. Attorney General, the assembly here, we are so grateful for your support, consistent backing. I'm proud to present to you and the country these ads. You will see three 30-second spots and one 60-second spot.

     So is it time to roll?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Let's get where we can see --

     MR. BRIDGELAND: Yeah. Sure.

     (Technical adjustments, cross talk.)

     (Public service announcements are shown.)


     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: (Laughing.) I don't know that there's anything else to say, but if you have questions, I'd be happy to respond to them. Yes?

     Q Mr. Attorney General, I hate to change the subject, but there's a story today that says that al Qaeda may be trying to regroup in remote corners of Pakistan by using the Internet and websites and by e-mails. Can you talk about that a little bit, please?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I really am not able to enlighten you any. We are careful to do everything we can to assemble information about tracking and learning about the whereabouts and thwarting those things that would provide a basis for al Qaeda activity. Our troops overseas are working nobly, and there is no stone that we will leave unturned in seeking them out and disrupting their activities.

     Q Can you talk about how hard it is to track some of this e- mail activity?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I can just say that we use every tool and weapon in our arsenal to
disrupt and to learn about and prevent terrorist attacks and the activities of our enemies. For me to go beyond that would be inappropriate.


     Q You're quoted in the newspaper that the next -- the terror alert, I believe, ends Monday, after the Olympics. And you're saying today it's going to go on for a while. We know the homeland security director is preparing a system of trying to categorize these alerts. Are we indefinitely going to stay on some type of alert? And with this new system, are Americans going to better be able to -- better understand alert and what kind of alert we're in?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, to the extent that we are able to develop a system that's a new one and a better one, we hoped it'll be a system which will better communicate between law enforcement authorities, so that we have an integrated effort and so that we don't have any slips between the federal effort and the state effort and the local effort.

     And I might add that frequently we stop the law enforcement chain when we get to the federal, state, and local. I think what we have been talking about today is the fact that the law enforcement chain goes down from federal/state to local to citizen, and that citizens are a vital part. And this administration has understood that from the beginning by asking citizens to participate in a habit that is related to security and being alert and vigilant. And of course the most dramatic of the heroic acts have been those of citizens, both on Flight 93 originally, where they crashed the plane in Pennsylvania rather than let that plane come to Washington, D.C., or those on Flight 63 out of Paris.

     So when -- as we refine our capacity to operate in the environment which includes the threat of terrorist activity, we're going to improve our communications skills so that we integrate our effort from the citizen to the (capitol/capital ?) in making sure that terrorism -- the threat of terrorism is minimized.

     Q Just if I can follow up for one second, the latest alert, as I understand it, ends Monday. Do you see us not lifting that and staying on this indefinitely?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, I'm not in a position to make any announcement about any change in the status of the alert system at this time. Thank you.


     Q With Judge Pickering's vote set for tomorrow in the judicial committee, do you have any comment on the pace of judicial confirmations?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, certainly the Supreme -- chief justice of the Supreme Court has indicated that there are real problems with the absence of confirmed judges to fill vacancies in our federal court system, and I urge the Senate to move the nominations of this president. The president has been extraordinarily industrious in providing very well-qualified nominees, and their qualifications have been validated, authenticated, reinforced, and endorsed by the American Bar Association. And the president has done his part to make sure that America does not suffer from the absence of individuals serving in the judiciary. And so I would call upon the Senate to act quickly and to send nominees to the floor for a vote -- very frankly, give the process a chance to operate; give the Senate a chance to do its job.

     STAFF: Last question.

     Q General, you asked today for citizens to join the fight against terrorists in their own neighborhoods. What does that really mean? What -- what does a terrorist look like?

     ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, I don't think we say that terrorists look like something. We're not asking for people who look one way or another to be the subject of someone's suspicion. And when we talk about things that people can do, it won't be to try and identify people by their looks. That's something that this department does not do, and that we don't believe is an appropriate and constructive way to undertake law enforcement or terrorism prevention. But there are activities, individuals who are doing suspicious things, people who are involved with the wrongs kinds of materials. We discover people with pipe bombs, with -- people who are casing or otherwise filming critical locations of infrastructure, whether they be petrochemical plants and installations, or power plants, or vital resources of the country. Activities can be those things that we ought to suspicion. And it's with that in mind that we want to enlist individuals. Some individuals, alert, thought that a person lighting a wire protruding from his shoe on an airline was a person who would merit additional
observation and inspection. And as a result of that, observing that conduct, about 197 lives, in my judgment, were saved.

     So we're asking people to do what a number of people already have participated in doing on their own, and we're asking people to organize that effort and to work with each other to make sure that we make the best use of that willingness. It's with that in mind that this program of Neighborhood Watch will build stronger neighborhoods, reinforce the idea of citizenship, and it'll promote freedom and liberty because a safe community is a community in which the liberties and freedom, indeed, are realized at their highest level by our citizens.

     I want to again extend my appreciation to Jiao-Jiao (sp), and to Ed McMahon, and to John Bittick of the National Sheriffs Association, and Jack Calhoun, the National Crime (Prevention Council), and Deborah Daniels, of course. This is a great opportunity, and it wouldn't be possible without this integrated level of cooperation, which is something in which we all rejoice.

     Thank you very much. (Applause.)