Skip to main content

#05-09-01: Statement of Attorney General John Ashcroft before the United States Senate





Statement of Attorney General John Ashcroft
before the United States Senate
Committee on Appropriations
Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and State,
The Judiciary, and Related Agencies

Hearing on U.S. Federal Efforts to Combat Terrorism

May 9, 2001



Distinguished Chairman and Committee Members:

It is my privilege to appear before you today for the purpose of discussing the efforts of the Department of Justice to combat terrorism. One of this nation's most fundamental responsibilities is to protect its citizens, both at home and abroad, from terrorist attacks. The Department of Justice has no higher priority.

It is clear that American citizens are the target of choice of international terrorists. Americans comprise only about 5 percent of the world's population. However, according to State Department statistics, during the decade of the 1990's, 36 percent of all worldwide terrorist acts were directed against U.S. interests.

Although most of these attacks occurred overseas, international terrorists have shown themselves willing to reach within our borders to carry out their cowardly acts. Further, the risk of terrorism within our borders does not result solely from persons of foreign origin. The bombing of the Murrah Building is a tragic example of the fact that we must also be alert to acts of terrorism perpetrated by disaffected citizens.

The Department of Justice is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of terrorist acts that violate U.S. law, wherever they occur. It has been involved in responding to overseas terrorist acts against U.S. interests for more than a decade and a half and has been involved in addressing terrorist acts at home for an even longer period. While we continue to make adjustments designed to improve our law enforcement response and to prepare for the challenges presented by the evolving nature of terrorist activity, the fact is that the Department's enforcement program related to terrorism is one which has had an opportunity to be fine tuned through experience. In contrast, the Department's involvement in consequence management preparations is fairly new. In that area, as well, we have made significant progress.

Federal and International Coordination

Let me state at the outset that a fully effective program to combat terrorism requires integration of the capabilities of a wide array of government agencies. As relates to terrorist acts directed against U.S. interests overseas, the Department of Justice works closely with a number of other federal agencies, including the Departments of State, Defense, and the CIA. Within our borders, the Department's counterterrorism efforts require close coordination not only with other federal agencies but also with state and local agencies. Simply put, no one agency can effectively address terrorism on its own. Pulling together, however, we can make great strides at protecting our nation and its citizens from terrorists.

Coordination of U.S. efforts to address international terrorism is handled through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Group of the NSC's Policy Coordinating Committee on Counter-Terrorism and National Preparedness - Although this Group has undergone some refinements and changes in composition over the years, it has, in substance, been in place since the mid-1980's. It is a highly effective instrument in facilitating coordination among the pertinent federal agencies with counterterrorism responsibilities. Interagency efforts to combat terrorism both within the U.S. and abroad are outlined in the Five-Year Interagency Counterrorism and Technology Crime Plan (Five-Year Plan). The Five-Year Plan represents our coordinated and comprehensive national strategy for our continuing fight against terrorism.

The FBI operates a Counterterrorism Center at FBI Headquarters designed to enhance the capabilities of U.S. law enforcement and the intelligence community to combat terrorism in the United States. Further, in discharging its responsibilities relating to terrorist activity within the United States, the FBI operates 29 Joint Terrorism Task Forces strategically located throughout the United States, which bring together representatives of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to address terrorism issues.

The Department's counterterrorism efforts also include coordination with other agencies to protect our critical information infrastructure. The NSC has established a Policy Coordinating Committee on Counter-Terrorism and National Preparedness, which, besides the Counter- Terrorism and Security Group, also has a subgroup specifically devoted to Information Infrastructure Protection and Assurance. We coordinate with these groups and their subgroups on both prevention and incident response, as appropriate. In addition, we work closely on critical infrastructure protection with other centers of expertise within the private sector and the Federal Government, including both the NSC's National Coordinator for Security, Critical Infrastructure and Counter-Terrorism and the Commerce Department's Critical Infrastructure Assurance Office (CIAO). These efforts - including the creation and updating of the National Plan for Information Systems Protection (which is coordinated by CIAO) - aim to prevent cyberterrorism before it occurs and to ensure an appropriate response.

At the international level, the Department is also involved, under the leadership of the State Department, in counterterrorism coordination with other governments on a number of levels. For example, the Department represents U.S. law enforcement and prosecutorial interests in multilateral groups such as the G-8 Counterterrorism Experts Group and in bilateral meetings with counterterrorism officials of other nations. The Department has also played a key role in developing and negotiating United Nations conventions relating to terrorist bombings and terrorist fund raising, both of which have been signed by the United States. The FBI's Legal Attaches, assigned to U.S. embassies throughout the world, assist in our response to counter-terrorism issues that arise in the nations or regions they cover.

Number One Goal: The Prevention of Terrorist Activity

It goes without saying that the paramount objective of U.S. counterterrorism policy is the prevention of terrorist acts. This requires both intelligence and investigative capabilities working together to detect and react effectively to incipient terrorist threats. By making effective use of intelligence information, we seek to involve the FBI in the investigation of terrorist plots as early in the chain of conspiratorial events as possible. In this way, the terrorist plot can not only be disrupted but the conspirators can also be apprehended, preventing them from recycling their terrorist plans for use at some unknown future time and place.

This objective - preventing terrorist acts before they occur - requires the collection and effective use of foreign intelligence and foreign counterintelligence to detect and to react to terrorist threats before they occur. The Department of Justice supports the collection efforts of U.S. intelligence agencies by representing them at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and obtaining the necessary warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In addition, under Executive Order 12333, the Attorney General approves the proposals of U.S. intelligence agencies to collect against U.S. persons overseas who are suspected of international terrorist activities. To enable effective use of the intelligence collected on terrorists under FISA and the Executive Order, the Attorney General also approves the passage of such intelligence to authorities in a position to prevent the planning, movement, or other actions of terrorists.

Let me describe for you some of our successes in preventing terrorism. It is no exaggeration to say that, had the law enforcement efforts that led to the prevention of these acts not been successful, the cumulative death toll would be substantial.

Some of our successes in prevention must necessarily remain secret. But some can be described. Several international terrorist plots have been prevented through effective law enforcement efforts.

For example, overseas, the Department worked with other U.S. agencies and our foreign counterparts to disrupt a bomb plot in 1995 which, if carried to completion, would have resulted in the destruction of a dozen U.S. commercial jumbo jets flying Asian-Pacific routes. Three terrorists involved in the plot were arrested in distant countries, brought to the U.S., and convicted in federal court.

Within the United States, investigative efforts resulted in the arrest, and subsequent conviction, of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and a number of his followers in 1993 before they could carry out a deadly plot to bomb buildings, tunnels, and a bridge in Manhattan.

Prevention of these two terrorist plots alone probably averted the death or serious injury of tens of thousands of Americans.

More recently, on December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam. was arrested entering the United States from Canada with powerful explosives and timing devices. He has just been convicted of all counts of a nine count indictment, including the charge of an act of terrorism transcending national boundaries.

Similarly, a number of potentially deadly terrorist acts planned by domestic terrorists have been prevented:

Most recently, on March 29, 2001, a defendant was arrested and charged following numerous threats he had directed at the Chevron Refinery in El Segundo, California, and its employees. The defendant had identified April 1, 2001, as a deadline for his criminal action.

On December 8, 1999, a defendant was arrested on six felony counts related to his plans to steal weapons and explosives from National Guard armories in Central Florida, attack power lines in several states, and ambush federal law enforcement officers. The defendant, a member of an organization comprised of militia units from several southern states, eventually pled guilty.

On December 4, 1999, two defendants were arrested and subsequently charged with conspiracy to blow up a Sacramento, California, propane gas storage facility containing two 12 million gallon liquid propane tanks. The storage facility was located next to a heavily traveled interstate highway and less than a mile from a residential neighborhood. The defendants are pending trial.

In August of 1999, a defendant was arrested in Canada after allegedly planning to bomb portions of the Alaskan Pipeline during millennium celebrations. Had this plan succeeded, it is estimated that it would have caused more than two billion dollars in damages. The defendant is awaiting extradition from Canada.

On April 14, 1999, a member of the Aryan Nations was arrested and charged with firearms violations. He was planning a possible attack on a federal building in Dallas, Texas and also planned to kill Morris Dees, Chief Trial Counsel for the Southern Poverty Law Center. The defendant pled guilty.

In 1998, two defendants affiliated with the Republic of Texas were convicted in Brownsville, Texas, in a plot to use a biological agent against IRS employees.

In 1997, several members of a Klan organization were convicted for conspiring to blow up a natural gas storage facility in Bridgeport, Texas.

Previously, in the mid 1990s, defendants were arrested in Oklahoma and convicted of conspiring to bomb the offices of the Anti-Defamation League and B'nal B'rith in Houston, Texas, and the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Several members of the Mountaineer Militia were arrested and convicted for their role in a conspiracy to destroy the FBI fingerprint facility in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

And there are many other examples of terrorist acts which we have successfully prosecuted.

Crisis Response

We must recognize, however, that we will not always be able to prevent terrorist acts. Especially in a free and open society like ours, this simply is not possible. And when an incident occurs, we must react and react quickly.

When terrorist acts occur, U.S. agencies seek to draw on their planning and training in an effort to respond in a coordinated and effective fashion. The Department has promoted crisis response planning in FBI field offices and U.S. Attorneys' Offices throughout the country. Each Office has its own crisis response plan and specially trained attorney and investigative resources.

We can all be grateful for the dedicated efforts of the U.S. counterterrorism community which have led to, or assisted in, the apprehension and successful prosecution of numerous terrorists. For example, the development of the case that led to the successful prosecution of a Libyan official for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 was an extraordinary example of effective cooperation among counterterrorism authorities in numerous countries.

New challenges are also posed by the growing threat of cyberterrorism. Communications networks, especially the Internet, link governments, businesses, and individuals in the same interconnected digital nervous system. These networks offer great benefits, but also provide an easy way to reach within our borders to commit terrorist acts. One person with a computer and an Internet connection anywhere in the world could potentially break into critical systems, shut down an airport's air traffic control system, disrupt emergency services for an entire community, or launch a destructive "denial-of-service" attack.

We are uniquely vulnerable. More than any other nation, the United States depends upon computers and networks. Our critical infrastructures -- like electric power and financial services --are connected to and depend upon computer networks. Our citizens and our industry rely upon an effective government that requires computers for its most basic functions.

In this developing environment, law enforcement must be prepared and equipped to investigate cybercrime quickly and effectively. The Department of Justice has made considerable progress in the fight against cyberterrorism and cybercrime generally. The National Infrastructure Protection Center located in FBI Headquarters serves as a focal point in the U.S. government for threat assessment, warning, investigation, and response for threats or attacks against our critical infrastructures, particularly including cyberterrorism. The FBI has dedicated resources to infrastructure protection matters in all of its 56 field offices, and has also created specialized squads located in field offices around the country. The Department of Justice has trained attorneys in the Criminal Division who are experts in the legal, technological, and practical challenges involved in combating cybercrime and cyberterrorism. There are also federal prosecutors in all of the U.S. Attorneys' Offices who are designated Computer- Telecommunications Coordinators and who have been trained to respond to cybercrimes in their districts.

Intelligence is also key to effective crisis response. To assist in prosecutions where prevention has not been possible, the Department facilitates the sharing, to the extent permitted by law, of intelligence with law enforcement authorities. Information collected at home and abroad by U.S. intelligence agencies on international terrorists has been an invaluable source of lead information for law enforcement officers.

Consequence Management and Domestic Preparedness

As I said earlier, our reaction to a terrorist incident requires consequence management, in addition to crisis response. And in order to be effective, consequence management requires preparation.

Since 1998, the Department of Justice has served a central role in providing assistance to state and local first responders to better prepare them to address terrorist incidents. Our mission has focused principally around two offices, the National Domestic Preparedness Office - or NDPO - located in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Office of Justice Programs - OJP - which oversees the activities of the Office of State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support and the National Institute of Justice.

National Domestic Preparedness Office (NDPO)

The NDPO is an interagency coordinating office for the planning and execution of Federal terrorism assistance programs in support of state and local emergency responders. It coordinates planning, and the providing of training, exercises, and equipment research and development aimed at improving the responders' capabilities to handle incidents relating to weapons of mass destruction (WMD). In addition, the NDPO is an information clearinghouse designed to further enhance state and local preparedness efforts. By providing a venue for a full and sustained partnership of the Federal agencies responsible for WMD crisis and consequence management with their counterparts in state and local emergency management, and with public health and medical counterparts, the NDPO promotes the highest level of national domestic preparedness, using existing mechanisms among state, local and federal agencies.

The NDPO is organized into six program areas (Planning, Training, Exercises, Equipment, Health and Medical, and Information Sharing) to facilitate, coordinate, and share information related to federal domestic preparedness programs. These program areas provide an interagency forum for coordination of federal policy and program assistance. The NDPO is staffed and advised by federal, state and local program managers and experts, most of whom are already engaged on a full- or part-time basis in domestic preparedness activities. It is the NDPO's objective to ensure proper representation of experts from all disciplines responsible for domestic preparedness and emergency response, in the coordination of federal programs.

Office of State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support (OSLDPS)

The Office of State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support provides direct assistance to state and local agencies. That office has:

Established six National Training Centers under the National Domestic Preparedness Consortium which serve the needs of police, fire, hazmat, state and local emergency management, as well as state and local elected officials;

Trained over 60,000 responders in a wide range of training from awareness level to the specialized, technical level;

Provided equipment grants to the 50 states, territories and the District of Columbia as well as to the 157 largest local jurisdictions nationally;

Implemented a nationwide assessment of WMD threat and risk and response needs and capabilities for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories, to provide a basis on which to make equipment funding decisions and to serve as a baseline on which to build our future programs.

The Office is in the process of completing training and exercises for the nation's largest 120 cities under the Domestic Preparedness Program, established by the Department of Defense pursuant to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, and transferred to the Department of Justice last year. Thus far, 68 cities have completed training and exercises under this program. Training has been initiated in 37 additional cities, with 15 cities remaining to be scheduled. In addition, the Office continues to provide training, equipment, and technical assistance to states and localities under the program first established by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.

In May 2000, at the direction of Congress, and in collaboration with FEMA, the Office conducted TOPOFF, which stands for "Top Officials" - the largest WMD terrorism exercise ever in the United States, and the first national exercise that involved top Federal and state government officials. TOPOFF was a congressionally-mandated no-notice exercise designed to test the government's response to a large scale, domestic weapon of mass destruction crisis.

The exercise, which included participation by officials in federal, state and local government, involved a biological consequence management scenario in Denver, Colorado, a chemical crisis response effort, involving the military, in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and a radiological weapon attack in the National Capital Region, which comprises Baltimore, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. The Capital Region scenario focused primarily on consequence management and was treated as an adjunct to the TOPOFF exercise.

The Attorney General and the Deputy Director of the FBI participated for the Department of Justice, and were supported by other senior Justice officials. High level officials also participated from the other governmental agencies, such as the Departments of Defense and Health and Human Services, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Prosecutors from the Department's Criminal Division and the United States Attorneys' Offices from New Hampshire, Colorado, Maryland, and the District of Columbia participated in the exercise. An analysis of the results of that exercise is underway and we expect to transmit a report soon. Congress has directed that a second TOPOFF exercise be conducted in the Autumn of 2002. Planning for TOPOFF II is underway.

National Institute of Justice (NIJ)

The National Institute of Justice is the research arm of the Department of Justice. Its mandate includes research and technology needs of all levels of the criminal justice system, with a focus on the needs of state and local criminal justice agencies. Since 1997, NIJ, through its Office of Science & Technology (OS&T), has been actively involved in providing public safety agencies better tools to deal with terrorist incidents. Pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, its efforts focus on meeting the unique needs of law enforcement responders. However, it is also addressing technology needs shared with other types of public safety agencies, not elsewhere addressed.

Public safety agencies play a leading role in this effort by defining the specific requirements which NIJ research and development efforts should address, and testing the new tools being developed by OS&T and its technology partners. OS&T's technical partners include: the Technical Support Working Group; various Departments of Energy and Defense activities, such as the Sandia National Laboratory and the US Air Force Research Laboratory; the Federal Aviation Administration; the FBI; the Centers for Disease Control; and FEMA. NIJ coordinates its efforts with the Office for State and Local Domestic Preparedness Support, the NDPO, and the InterAgency Board for Equipment Standardization and Interoperability - the responder community's forum for issues dealing with standards.

Allow me to provide you with some examples of the projects NIJ has undertaken in the area of defending against terrorist acts involving chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear devices. In support of the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, NIJ provided initial funding for the PROTECT program -the "Program for Response Options and Technology Enhancement for Chemical/Biological Terrorism." This collaborative effort involving the Department of Energy will demonstrate a chemical attack warning and response system for subways, which will complete testing in 2001. NIJ, collaborating with the Technical Support Working Group - or TSWG - is sponsoring Author D. Little to develop and demonstrate a low- cost, wearable device that will warn its wearer of unexpected exposure to chemical and, eventually, biological hazards. Prototypes will be available for evaluation in 2001. NIJ, through the TSWG, is also funding development and assessment of the effectiveness of protective gear for bomb technicians. Explosives devices incorporating material resistant to chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear attack are of growing concern to the bomb disposal community. Initial testing should be completed in 2001.

The Challenge Ahead

As we look to the future, new challenges are posed by the potential use by terrorists of chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear weapons. We are working within the U.S. counterterrorism community to address these and other challenges. In this regard, the development and pursuit of the Five-Year Interagency Counter-Terrorism and Technology Crime Plan required by the Conference Report which accompanied the FY 1998 Justice Appropriations Act, has proved a helpful vehicle. The Department developed the Plan during 1998, in coordination with 24 federal agencies which have responsibilities relating to the combating of terrorism, and after consultation with representative state and local agencies and academia. The resulting Plan was submitted to Congress at the end of that year, and is the subject of annual updates.

Consistent with Congressional direction, the Plan contains concrete proposals for long term implementation. The proposals are advanced in the context of six major goals (1) to prevent and deter terrorism within the United States and against United States interests abroad; (2) to maximize international cooperation to combat terrorism; (3) to improve domestic crisis and consequence planning and management; (4) to safeguard public safety by improving state and local capabilities; (5) to safeguard our national information infrastructure; and (6) to spearhead research and development to enhance counterterrorism capabilities.

The yearly updates provide an opportunity to measure the success of our efforts to meet the objectives contained in the Plan and to refine the Plan consistent with the evolving nature of terrorism. The Second Annual Update was transmitted to Congress on May 1, 2001. Let me describe just a few examples of the progress that we reported to you in our second update:

Agencies report steady progress in the enhancement of intelligence collection, analysis and sharing, as well as the refinement of software applications that can be used on an interagency basis.

With a continued critical need for analyst and language capabilities, agencies report that they have made progress toward enhancing these capabilities.

The Visa Waiver Pilot Program was made permanent through legislation, and statutory requirements now exist to implement an automated system for tracking aliens who travel in and out of the United States.

Terrorist fundraising has continued to be the focus of nationally coordinated investigations and training efforts, including a commitment to establish within the Treasury Department a Terrorist Asset Tracking System.

Agencies have continued to make progress in upgrading the security at federal facilities and have increased interagency coordination of security at special events.

Capabilities of state and local emergency responders to address weapon of mass destruction incidents have been further enhanced through training of more than 1900 additional first responders.

The Second Annual Update of the Five-Year Plan describes many more forward steps that agencies have taken, alone or working together, to address our common goals of preventing and responding to terrorist acts.

FY 2002 Budget Request

The President's FY 2002 budget increases the Department's resources for counterterrorism and critical infrastructure protection by $103 million over the enacted FY 2001 funding level. This amount includes $40 million in requested program enhancements plus base adjustments and portions of programs that support counterterrorism-related activities.

Of the $40 million in program enhancements, a total of $32 million is requested by the FBI for security and investigative duties at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, for increased security requirements at various FBI locations, and to support its incident response readiness responsibilities.

For the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), $7 million in new funding is included to establish intelligence units along our Northern and Southern borders. These units will monitor terrorist activities and smuggling operations, and assist in tracking the movement of illicit narcotics, weapons, and other contraband across our nation's borders.

And the Criminal Division requests $1 million for extradition and foreign legal assistance workload, translation services and computer network security enhancements.

In addition to the enhancements discussed above, and in recognition of the critical role State and local public safety agencies play in managing the consequences of any terrorist event involving weapons of mass destruction, the Department's total budget request includes $220.5 million to continue the Office of Justice Programs' Counterterrorism programs in FY 2002 and ensure State and local response readiness.


In conclusion, let me say that I am grateful and impressed by all of the efforts of the dedicated men and women - in government, in communities, in the private sector - whose work contributes to our fight against terrorism. The many "faceless bureaucrats" who toil behind the scenes, the brilliant researchers who daily seek answers to the questions posed by new technologies, the dedicated fire, police, and emergency rescue personnel on the streets of our communities, the law enforcement personnel who daily risk their lives in the fight against terrorism - all contribute to our ability to prevent terrorist acts and, when we cannot prevent these cowardly acts of violence, to our ability to manage the aftermath. The Congress has been a constant ally and supporter of our programs and our efforts. I appreciate your continued support and look forward to working with you in this area. As I said at the outset, we have no higher priority and no greater responsibility to the American people.



Updated March 7, 2017