Attorney General John Ashcroft Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary September 25, 2001
Chairman Leahy, Senator Hatch, Senators: thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Administration's proposed changes in the law to give law enforcement the tools we need to fight terrorism.
In his address to Congress and the nation last Thursday, President Bush declared war on terrorism. As Attorney General, it is my duty to respond to this call to action by ensuring the capacity of United States law enforcement to perform two related critical tasks: First, prevent more terrorism, and second, to bring terrorists to justice.
The American people do not have the luxury of unlimited time in erecting the necessary defenses to future terrorist acts. The danger that darkened the United States of America and the civilized world on September 11 did not pass with the atrocities committed that day. Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today.
Intelligence information available to the FBI indicates a potential for additional terrorist incidents. I testified before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday regarding the possibility of attacks using crop dusting aircraft.
Today I can report to you that our investigation has uncovered several individuals, including individuals who may have links to the hijackers, who fraudulently have obtained, or attempted to obtain, hazardous material transportation licenses.
Given the current threat environment, the FBI has advised all law enforcement agencies to remain alert to this threat.
And, I urge Americans to notify immediately the FBI of any suspicious circumstances that may come to your attention regarding hazardous materials, crop dusting aircraft or any other possible terrorist threat. The FBI website is www.ifccfbi.gov. That's www.ifccfbi.gov. Our toll-free telephone number is 866-483-5137. Again, the toll-free number is 866-483-5137.
This new terrorist threat to Americans on our soil is a turning point in America's history. It is a new challenge for law enforcement. Our fight against terrorism is not merely or primarily a criminal justice endeavor -- it is defense of our nation and its citizens. We cannot wait for terrorists to strike to begin investigations and make arrests. The death tolls are too high, the consequences too great. We must prevent first, prosecute second.
I can assure the Committee and the American people we are conducting this effort with a total commitment to protect the rights and privacy of all Americans and the Constitutional protections we hold dear.
In the past, when American law enforcement confronted challenges to our safety and security from espionage, drug trafficking and organized crime, we met those challenges in ways that preserved our fundamental freedoms and civil liberties.
Today we seek to meet the challenge of terrorism with the same careful regard for the Constitutional rights of Americans and respect for all human beings. Just as American rights and freedoms have been preserved throughout previous law enforcement campaigns, they must be preserved throughout this war on terrorism.
This Justice Department will never waiver in our defense of the Constitution nor relent our defense of civil rights.
As the members of this Committee understand, the deficiencies of our current laws on terrorism reflect two facts:
First, our laws fail to make defeating terrorism a national priority. Indeed, we have tougher laws against organized crime and drug trafficking than terrorism.
Second, technology has dramatically outpaced our statutes. Law enforcement tools created decades ago were crafted for rotary telephones - not email, the internet, mobile communications and voice mail.
Every day that passes with outdated statutes and the old rules of engagement is a day that terrorists have a competitive advantage. Until Congress makes these changes, we are fighting an unnecessarily uphill battle. Members of the Committee, I regret to inform you that we are today sending our troops into the modem field of battle with antique weapons.
The anti-terrorism proposals that have been submitted by the Administration represent careful, balanced, and long overdue improvements to our capacity to combat terrorism, it is not a wish list: It is a modest set of essentials, focusing on five broad objectives, which I will briefly summarize.
First, law enforcement needs a strengthened and streamlined ability for our intelligence gathering agencies to gather the information necessary to disrupt, weaken and eliminate the infrastructure of terrorist organizations. Critically, we also need the authority for law enforcement to share vital information with our national security agencies in order to prevent future terrorist attacks.
Terrorist organizations have increasingly used technology to facilitate their criminal acts and hide their communications from law enforcement. Intelligence gathering laws that were written for the era of land-line telephone communications are ill-adapted for use in communications over multiple cell phones and computer networks.
Our proposal creates a more efficient, technology-neutral standard for intelligence gathering, ensuring law enforcement's ability to trace the communications of terrorists over cell-phones, computer networks and new technologies that may be developed in the coming years.
These changes would streamline intelligence gathering procedures only. We do not seek changes in the underlying protections in the law for the privacy of law-abiding citizens. The information captured by the proposed technology-neutral standard would be limited to the kind of information you might find in a phone bill. The content of these communications would remain off-limits to monitoring by intelligence authorities, except for under current legal standards.
Our proposal would allow a federal court to issue a single order that would apply to all providers in a communications chain, including those outside the region where the court is located. We need speed in identifying and tracking down terrorists. Time is of the essence. The ability of law enforcement to trace communications into different jurisdictions without obtaining an additional court order can be the difference between life and death for American citizens.
Second, we must make fighting terrorism a national priority in our criminal justice system.
Our current laws make it easier to prosecute members of organized crime than to crack down on terrorists who can kill thousands of Americans in a single day. The same is true of drug traffickers and individuals involved in espionage - our laws treat these criminals and those who aid and abet them more severely than terrorists.
We would make harboring a terrorist a crime. Currently, for instance, harboring persons engaged in espionage is a criminal offense, but harboring terrorists is not.
Third, we seek to enhance the authority of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to detain or remove suspected alien terrorists from within our borders.
The ability of terrorists to move freely across borders and operate within the United States is critical to their capacity to inflict damage on the citizens and facilities in the United States. Under current law, the existing grounds for removal of aliens for terrorism are limited to direct material support of an individual terrorist. We propose to expand these grounds for removal to include material support to terrorist organizations.
Fourth, law enforcement must be able to "follow the money" in order to identify and neutralize terrorist networks.
We need the capacity for more than a freeze. We must be able to seize. Consistent with the President's action yesterday, our proposal gives law enforcement the ability to seize their terrorist assets.
Finally, we seek the ability for the President and the Department of Justice to provide swift emergency relief to the victims of terrorism and their families.
Mr. Chairman, I also want to report to you on the status of the DOJ's activities regarding protecting the civil rights of all Americans. Since September 11, the Civil Rights Division, working closely with the United States Attorneys and the FBI, has opened over 60 investigations into acts involving force or threats of force committed in retaliation for the events of September 11. All of these acts include killings, assaults, the destruction or attempted destruction of businesses, attacks on mosques and worshipers and death threats.
The Department of Justice is firmly committed to pursuing these misguided wrongdoers vigorously. The Civil Rights Division and FBI officials have met with leaders of the Arab American, Muslim and Sikh communities and we have established in the Civil Rights Division an initiative to combat post-terrorism discrimination to ensure that all allegations of violence or discrimination are addressed promptly and effectively.
Let there be no mistakes the Department of Justice will not tolerate acts of violence or discrimination against people in this country based on their race, national origin or religion.
Among the high honors of my life has been the opportunity I have had over the past days and weeks to be in the company of these heroes, these friends of freedom; to meet with and work side-by-side with men and women who have exerted themselves beyond fatigue, who have set aside their own personal agendas and their personal safety to answer our nation's call. The nation has found new leaders - and new role models - in these brave Americans.
Now it falls to us, in the name of freedom and those who cherish it, to ensure our nation's capacity to defend ourselves from terrorists. Today I call upon Congress to act to strengthen our ability to fight this evil wherever it exists, and to ensure that the line between the civil and the savage, so brightly drawn on September 11, is never crossed again.