Department of Justice Seal

Speech* of Deputy Attorney General
at the National District Attorneys Association
Alexandria, Virginia
Monday - May 20, 2002


    1. I am pleased and flattered to be invited to address this distinguished group because I know that our District Attorneys' pull the laboring oar in the criminal justice system. You are the ones that handle the vast bulk of criminal matters to come before our courts, and you are critical part of the national law enforcement team. I want to turn directly to the topic that consumes most of my energies at the Justice Department and about which I know that you are all deeply concerned: America's global battle against terrorism and the role of American law enforcement in this war.

    2. When I was U.S. Attorney in Atlanta during the 1980s, I quickly realized that federal law enforcement agencies needed to partner with state and local law enforcement to have the maximum impact against what was then our number one priority: defeating organized criminal enterprises smuggling and distributing drugs.

    3. Now, as you are well aware, we have a new number one priority, the fight against terrorist groups bent on destroying our country. Although the federal government has taken the lead in organizing our counterterrorism efforts, we cannot go it alone. We need your partnership and active participation. It reminds me of the story about Muhammad Ali when he was the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. After one of his victorious title fights, the Champ was on a airplane waiting to take off. Ali was annoyed when a flight attendant pestered him to put on his seat belt. "Do you know who I am?" He challenged her. "I am the Champion of the World! I am Muhammad Ali! I am Superman! Superman don't need no seatbelt!" The flight attendant looked at him sternly and then quickly shot back, "Superman don't need no airplane either."

    4. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, we all pulled together to support each other; to preserve our way of life; and to rise to the challenges that this new struggle has thrust upon us.

      • People from all over the country called and/or e-mailed - volunteering to do whatever they can. What a tribute to our country!

    5. There is a common sense of purpose - that we as a nation will prevail against terrorism, but we do face a challenge.

    6. We have not suffered another attack; BUT we have to be vigilant against the continuing threat of terrorism. Every morning I meet with the CIA and the FBI. Every day I learn of some credible terrorist threat that we have to analyze and respond to. The government officials who charged with the responsibility with dealing with this threat will never get back to normal-nor should they.

    7. You can rest assured that we are taking aggressive action to protect the country.

    8. The events of 9/11 have transformed the way we do business at DOJ.

      • Personal transforming effect - this is as righteous of a cause or case as I have ever worked on.

    9. The overriding imperative of DOJ is to disrupt and prevent terrorism / a little like a cop on the beat / save lives.

      • Most essential function of any government is to secure the safety of its citizens.

    10. Attorney General Ashcroft has given strict instructions to investigators and prosecutors:

      • Share pertinent information with appropriate officials where doing so can disrupt or prevent a terrorist attack.

      • Even if it means compromising potential criminal prosecution.

    11. In essence, there is a new challenge at DOJ and a new paradigm to meet the challenge.

    12. Among the most critical initiatives now underway at the Justice Department is our effort to coordinate swift preemptive actions through our ongoing cooperation among federal, state, and local law enforcement.

    13. The Anti-Terrorism Task Forces that the Department has established in every district are the key to this initiative. The ATTFs coordinate all federal, state and local prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in their efforts to protect their respective area against terrorism. This is the best way to get counter-terrorism information that state and local agencies collect to the federal government. I hope that each of you is participating with the US Attorneys in the ATTFs. We certainly need your help.

    14. Each ATTF has designated at Chief Information Officer who is responsible for facilitating the flow of information from federal agencies to the state and local officials who need it to do their jobs. The USA PATRIOT Act, which the President signed last fall, has enhanced our ability to provide information about terrorist threats quickly and directly to state and local officials.

    15. The FBI has also expedited security clearances for state and local officials, to allow them to receive even classified information about potential threats.

    16. Every week the FBI releases a declassified summary of all ongoing counter-terrorism cases to state and local law enforcement agencies around the country to make sure that they are kept informed of investigations in their own areas.

    17. The Department is continuing to make a wealth of information available to state and local law enforcement by placing the names of all foreign terrorism suspects on NCIC -- the standard federal background check system. To that, INS is adding the names of 314,000 deportable aliens -- starting with aliens from countries with known ties to terrorism. In addition, the Department and the Office of Homeland Security are working on a project to share relevant intelligence electronically with state and local agencies


    1. There is no question that we are taking aggressive measures to detect, prevent and disrupt terrorist operations. The steps we are taking in this war are a valid, necessary, and carefully balanced response to the threat of terrorism that looms over the country as never before in our history. Americans before us have gone to war many times - and spent untold blood and treasure to secure the liberties that we hold dear - but we are the first generation of Americans to confront the mass murder of civilians by a foreign enemy on our own soil.

    2. As a public official - and as an attorney who, for many years, represented criminal defendants - I share the concern that the struggle against terrorism not change the essential character of our nation. But I want to assure you that none of these steps threatens our Constitution, our essential liberties.

    3. Despite the gravity of the terrorist attacks and the threat of future attacks, all of the measures that we are bringing to bear have been arrived at openly, in the sunlight of public attention, and are subject to judicial review.

    4. It is our very open, democratic and just society - whose hallmark is our concern for civil rights - that has made us the terrorists' target.

    5. Our freedoms are the envy of the world and the perennial winner in the global marketplace of values and ideas.

    6. It is precisely because the terrorists' ideology cannot compete in the open marketplace that they have turned to violence and horror. They attempt to achieve through mass murder what they will never be able to accomplish in a free exchange of ideas: to subvert our freedoms, freedoms for which millions of Americans have strained and sacrificed.

    7. They target us simply because we are American. They make no distinction between rich and poor. We are certainly not the first nation to be assailed by terrorists bent on its destruction. Others who have responded to this challenge can help guide us to strike the right balance among competing liberty and security concerns.1 Although Israel has been the victim of repeated terrorist assaults, the Israeli Supreme Court has prohibited the use of "moderate physical pressure" by its investigators. In doing so, the Israeli court recognized a principal that applies equally to our own struggle: "This is the destiny of democracy, as not all means are acceptable to it, and not all practices employed by its enemies are open before it. Although a democracy must often fight with one hand tied behind its back, it nonetheless has the upper hand. Preserving the Rule of Law and recognition of an individual's liberty constitutes an important component in its understanding of security. At the end of the day, they strengthen its spirit and [add to] its strength and allow it to overcome its difficulties."

    8. This same reverence for civil rights inspired the Attorney General immediately after the terrorist attacks to challenge all of us in the Justice Department to "think outside the box" in fighting terrorism, but caution us: "Don't think outside the Constitution."



    1. We have much to be proud of as a nation, and as prosecutors and law enforcement officials, in the effectiveness of our response to the terrorist attacks. We cherish the blessings that flow from a system of government based on respect for individual rights rather than fanaticism, spiritual corruption, or rule by fiat. In this we are the bulwark of our society against terror.

    2. I believe we are on the right track, but we will not be complacent. We at the Justice Department look forward to working closely with our colleagues in the NDAA to keep us going right. As Will Rogers once said, "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." And we will not just sit there. We will move aggressively to defeat terrorism wherever it exists and defend citizens' rights whenever they are threatened. I can assure you of that.

     Thank you.

*NOTE: Mr. Thompson frequently speaks from notes and may depart from the speech as prepared. However, he stands behind the speech as presented in written format.

1 Israeli Supreme Court decision of September 6, 1999 concerning the interrogation practices of the General Security Service (also known as "Shin Bet").