Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan Event
May 14, 2004
Thank you, Mel [Carroway], for that introduction.
Good morning, and welcome to Washington. Unfortunately, you have chosen to come to the nation's capital in the midst of 90-degree temperatures and a seventeen-year plague of cicadas. These are two things in Washington that cannot be blamed on the government, but since apologies are all the rage these days, let me take this opportunity to express my heartfelt regret for the heat and the bugs.
It is always an honor and a pleasure to join with the International Association of Chiefs of Police and other local law enforcement organizations in cooperation and collaboration. Today it is a special honor to be here because today we realize the objectives of the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan and dedicate ourselves to its principal goal: to provide law enforcement at all levels with the information and tools they need to prevent crime and terrorism.
On April 13, I testified before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States - the 9/11 Commission - that the single greatest structural cause for the terrorist attacks of September 11 were impediments to communication and information sharing among the men and women charged with keeping Americans safe. Government erected a wall that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government buttressed this wall. And before September 11, 2001, government was blinded by this wall.
The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan is the first of its kind in the nation. It was developed by the Global Justice Information Sharing Advisory Committee as the direct result of recommendations made at the 2002 Intelligence Sharing Summit hosted by the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
We have heard a lot of talk about our ability to "connect the dots" since September 11. This plan represents law enforcement's commitment to take it upon itself to ensure that the dots are connected, be it in crime or terrorism. The plan is the outcome of an unprecedented effort by law enforcement agencies, with the strong support of the Department of Justice, to strengthen the nation's security through better intelligence analysis and sharing.
At the Justice Department, we have accomplished a transformation of our ability to detect, deter and destroy terrorist threats by adherence to three guiding reforms. Each of these principles is embodied in the National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan.
The first of these reforms is prioritization: For the men and women of Justice, the prevention of terrorist attacks is now job one. The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan also focuses on prevention by coordinating all levels of law enforcement in order to improve our ability to detect threats and protect communities.
Second is mobilization. At the Justice Department, we have mobilized agents and officials with additional tools through the USA Patriot Act and other reforms. The NCISP similarly empowers officials through guidelines and policies on such issues as training in intelligence-led policing and protecting citizens' civil and privacy rights.
Third is coordination. No single government agency - or government - can win the war on terrorism. The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan recommends the establishment of a Criminal Intelligence Coordinating Council to provide long-term oversight for the implementation of its recommendations. The Council will serve as a voice for local law enforcement in its efforts to share criminal intelligence. And it will work closely with the Justice Intelligence Coordinating Council, which I established recently to coordinate all intelligence-related activities conducted by the law enforcement components of the Department of Justice.
The implementation of this Plan also will be coordinated with the Department's Law Enforcement Information Sharing Initiative. Under my direction, the Justice Department has made it a top priority to share timely and accurate information among DOJ agencies -- the FBI, DEA, ATF, Marshals Service, and U.S. Attorneys, and, just as importantly, with other federal, state and local law enforcement. The Law Enforcement Information Sharing Initiative will make sure that our policies, practices and technologies are focused on achieving these objectives.
The National Criminal Intelligence Sharing Plan is a work of tremendous initiative. And its impact will be that much greater because it builds on the critical tools for law enforcement won with the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Today, 32 months after the attacks of September 11, we know that the PATRIOT Act has helped the FBI and state and local police wage a winning war again terrorism. In the past two and a half years, we have dismantled terrorist cells in Oregon, Washington, New York, North Carolina and Virginia. We have arrested terrorist operatives in California, Ohio, Texas, Florida and Idaho. We have frozen more than $138 million of funds from organizations suspected of supporting terror.
More importantly, we have not suffered another major terrorist attack on our shores.
These are not the Department of Justice's accomplishments; they are the successes of the nation's law enforcement community. I like to put it this way: No amount of feet on the desks in Washington can match the power of the feet on the ground in the rest of the country. Armed with the tools provided in the PATRIOT ACT, local law enforcement is making the critical difference in the war on terror.
In Portland, Oregon, for example, evidence surfaced after September 11 of a local man who was planning attacks on Jewish schools and synagogues, and on American troops in Afghanistan. Critical information in the investigation came from a local sheriff in another state who shared information with the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force.
Because of the PATRIOT Act, the FBI and intelligence agencies had the capacity to determine the nature of the threat posed by this man and his cell members. We acted, and now these men are off the streets.
The PATRIOT Act has been key to law enforcement's ability to protect Americans. But many of the PATRIOT Act's most critical anti-terrorism tools will expire next year.
Congress must once again do its part. Congress must keep these tools in place for law enforcement. Congress must make the PATRIOT Act's provisions permanent.
Since September 11, the men and women of law enforcement have shouldered a heavy burden: the protection of the lives and liberties of Americans in a time of terror. I have stood in awe of your tireless effort. It has been the honor of my professional life to work alongside you.
I congratulate, and I thank, the many representatives of agencies spanning the spectrum of the criminal justice system for their hard work in bringing this important initiative to fruition. With it, we will bring together as never before the talents and capabilities of the nation's law enforcement community. With it, we will save American lives. With it, we will defend American liberty.
Thank you for your attention. And thank you for your service to the nation.