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Text: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft

Thursday, Oct. 25, 2001

Following is the text U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft's speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Ashcroft talked about the current state of the retaliation effort against the terrorists.

ASHCROFT: Thank you very much.


Thank you. Thank you very much.

How pleasing it is to be with mayors. I think the toughest job of all is the job of mayor.


When I was governor, people called me with a problem, I would always give them the mayor's phone number.


People rely on you. They look to you for leadership. And I'm grateful for the opportunity of being with you.

Mayor, thank you for the kind introduction.

For more than 200 years, attorney's general have called on the men and women of Justice to be faithful stewards of the law. Rarely in history has an attorney general asked America's prosecutors and law enforcement officers to do what they are asked to do today: to be both defenders of justice and defenders of the people, to devote their talents and energies to the urgent task of saving lives, even more important than winning cases.

On September 11 the wheel of history turned, and the world will never be the same. A turning point was reached, as well, in the administration of Justice. The fight against terrorism is now the first and overriding priority of the Department of Justice.

But our war against terrorism is not merely or even primarily a criminal justice endeavor. Our battle is the defense of our nation and its citizens.

The men and women of Justice and law enforcement are called on to combat a terrorist threat that is both immediate and vast; a threat that resides here at home, but whose supporters, patrons and sympathizers form a multinational and multi-international network of evil.

The attacks of September 11 were acts of terrorism against America, orchestrated and carried out by individuals living within our borders. Today's terrorists enjoy the benefits of our free society, even as they commit themselves to our destruction. They live in our communities, plotting, planning, waiting to kill Americans again. They have crossed the Rubicon of terror with the use of biological agents.

We cannot explicitly link the recent terrorist attacks to the September 11 hijackers. Yet, terrorists, people who are either involved with, associated with or are seeking to take advantage of the September 11 attacks, are now poisoning our communities with anthrax.

Forty years ago another attorney general was confronted with a different enemy within our borders. Robert F. Kennedy came to the Department of Justice at a time when organized crime was threatening the very foundations of the republic. Mobsters controlled one of the nation's largest labor unions. Racketeers murdered, bribed and extorted with impunity in many of the nation's largest cities.

Then, as now, the enemy that America faced was described bluntly and correctly as a conspiracy of evil. Then, as now, the enemy was well-financed, expertly organized and international in scope. Then, as now, its operations were hidden under a code of deadly silence.

As Attorney General Robert Kennedy launched an extraordinary campaign against organized crime, under his leadership, the mission and momentum of the Department of Justice were directed toward one overarching goal: to identify, to disrupt, dismantle the organized crime enemy within.

A new spirit of cooperation was forged, both among federal agencies and between state and federal law enforcement. Prosecutors were action-oriented, pursuing cases, rather than waiting for the cases to come to them. Investigators focused on function, not on form. They focused on doing what was necessary to get the job done, rather than what was dictated by an organization chart.

Attorney General Kennedy made no apology for using all of the available resources in the law to disrupt and dismantled organized crime networks. Very often, prosecutors were aggressive, using obscure statutes to arrest and detain suspected mobsters. One racketeer and his father were indicted for lying on a federal home loan application. A former gunman for the Capone mob was brought to court on a violation of the Migratory Birds Act. Agents found 563 game birds in his freezer--a mere 539 birds over the limit.


There are obvious differences, of course, between the network of organized crime America faced in 1961 and the network of terror that we faced today.

Today many more innocent lives have been lost. Many more innocent lives continue to be threatened. But these differences only serve to call us more urgently to action.

The American people face a serious, immediate and ongoing threat from terrorism. At this moment American service men and women are risking their lives to battle the enemy overseas. It falls to the men and women of the Justice community, and of law enforcement to engage terrorism at home. History judgment's will be harsh, and the people's judgment will be sure, if we fail to use every available resource to prevent future terrorist attacks.

Robert Kennedy's Justice Department, it is said, would arrest mobsters for spitting on the sidewalk if it would help in the battle against organized crime. It has been said that that was an effective policy, and I believe it was.

It will be the policy of this Department of Justice to use the same aggressive arrest and detention tactics in the war against terror. Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you overstay your visas even by one day, we will arrest you; if you violate a local law, we will hope that you will, and work to make sure that you are put in jail and be kept in custody as long as possible. We will use every available statute. We will seek every prosecutorial advantage. We will use all our weapons within the law and under the Constitution to protect life and enhance security for America.


In the war on terror, our Department of Justice will arrest and detain any suspected terrorist who has violated the law. Our single objective is to prevent terrorist attacks by taking suspected terrorists off the streets. If suspects are found not to have links to terrorism, or they have not violated the law, they're released. But terrorists who are in violation of the law will be convicted, and in some cases deported, and in all cases prevented from doing further harm to Americans.

Within days of the September 11 attacks, we launched this anti-terrorism offensive to prevent new attacks on our homeland. To date, our anti-terrorism offensive has arrested or detained nearly 1,000 individuals as a part of the September 11 terrorism investigation. Those who violated the law remain in custody. Taking suspected terrorists in violation of the law off the streets and keeping them locked up is our clear strategy to prevent terrorism within our borders.

Today, the Department of Justice is positioned to launch a new offensive against terrorism. Due to extraordinary bipartisan and bicameral cooperation in the Congress, law enforcement will have new weapons in the war against terrorism.

Yesterday, by an overwhelming margin, the House passed the Anti-Terrorism Act. Hours from now, the Senate is poised to follow suit. The president is expected to sign this legislation on Friday.

The hour that it becomes law, I will issue guidance to each of the 94 United States Attorneys' Offices and the 56 FBI field offices directing them to begin immediately implementing this sweeping legislation. I will issue directives requiring law enforcement to make use of new powers in intelligence gathering, criminal procedure and immigration violations. A new era in America's fight against terrorism, made tragically necessary by the attacks of September 11, is about to begin.

The legislation embodies two over-arching principles. The first principle is air-tight surveillance of terrorists. Upon the president's signature, I will direct investigators and prosecutors to begin immediately seeking court orders to intercept communications related to an expanded list of crimes under the legislation. Communications regarding terrorist offenses such as the use of biological or chemical agents, financing acts of terrorism or materially supporting terrorism will be subject to interception by law enforcement.

Agents will be directed to take advantage of new technologically neutral standards for intelligence gathering. So-called roving wiretaps that allow taps of multiple phones a suspect may use are being added as important weapons in our war against terror.

Investigators will be directed to pursue aggressively terrorists on the Internet. New authority in the legislation permits the use of devices that capture senders' and receivers' addresses associated with communications on the Internet.

Law enforcement will begin immediately to seek search warrants to obtain unopened voice mail stored on a computer, just as they have traditionally been able to use search warrant to obtain unopened e-mail. They will also begin to use new subpoena power to obtain payment information, such as credit card or bank account numbers of suspected terrorists on the Internet.

The second principle enshrined in the legislation is speed in tracking down and intercepting terrorists. As soon as possible, law enforcement will begin to employ new tools that ease administrative burdens and delays in apprehending terrorists. Investigators are now able to use a single court order to trace a communication when it travels outside the judicial district in which the order was issued. The scope of search warrants for unopened e-mail and other evidence is now also nationwide rather than limited to a judicial district.

The new tools for law enforcement in the war against terrorism are the products of hundreds of hours of consultation and careful consideration by the administration, by members of Congress, and by state and local officials. They are careful. They are balanced. They are long overdue improvements in our capacity to prevent terrorism.

The federal government cannot fight this reign of terror, the threat of terror alone. Every American must defend our nation against this enemy. Every state, every county, every municipality must join together to form a common defense against terrorism.

Through the establishment of our anti-terrorism task forces the Department of Justice is working to establish an ongoing system to forge this cooperative fight against terrorism. We need the help of every city hall, of every court house, of every state house, of every citizen. It is not a fight which we can win alone. It is a fight which we cannot lose together. And we will work together.


The law enforcement campaign that will commence in earnest upon the signing of the legislation into law will be a campaign that will last for many years.

Some will ask whether a civilized nation, a nation of law and not of men, can use the law to defend itself from barbarians and remain civilized. Our answer unequivocally is yes. Yes, we will defend civilization and, yes, we will preserve the rule of law, because it is that which makes us civilized.

The men and women of Justice and law enforcement have been asked to shoulder a great burden for the safety and security of the American people. We will, as in the past, never waver in our faith and loyalty to the Constitution. And we will never tire in our defense of the rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Years after he left office, Attorney General Robert Kennedy was chronicled by an author who observed that Kennedy brought specific assets to the campaign against organized crime. And these were the assets the author listed: a constructive anger, an intimate knowledge of the subject, a talented team of prosecutors, and finally a partner in the White House.

Today, as we embark on this campaign against terrorism we are blessed with a similar set of assets and advantages. Our anger too is constructive, and our knowledge is growing. And our team is talented. And our leadership in the White House is unparalleled. George W. Bush has done more--much more than to declare war on terrorism. George W. Bush is fighting a war on terrorism. Under his leadership, we have pledged ourselves to victory.

Terrorists live in the shadows under the cover of darkness. We will shine the light of justice on them. Americans alive today and yet to be born, and freedom-loving people everywhere, will have new reason to hope, because our enemies now have new reason to fear.

Thank you. We look forward to working together with you.


© 2001 The Washington Post Company