24 September 2001
Text: Ashcroft Outlines Proposed Changes in Anti-Terrorism Laws
(Attorney General testifies before House Judiciary Committee) (2600)
The Bush administration has proposed changes to U.S. anti-terrorism
laws to streamline tracking of electronic communications among
terrorists, make fighting terrorism a national priority in the
criminal justice system, enhance the authority of immigration
officials to detain suspects, and permit authorities to seize, not
just freeze, terrorist-related financial assets.
Attorney General John Ashcroft presented Bush administration proposals
for changes in U.S. laws dealing with terrorism September 24 to the
House Judiciary Committee.
Current laws, Ashcroft said, fail to make defeating terrorism a
national priority. "We have tougher laws against organized crime and
drug trafficking than terrorism," he said. Among other changes, the
administration proposals would eliminate the statute of limitations on
terrorist crimes, and make harboring terrorists a crime.
In addition, Ashcroft said, "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."
The attorney general called the new terrorist threat a "turning point
in America's history," and said the fight against terrorism is now the
highest priority of the Department of Justice. He said the
administration will seek to meet the challenge with "careful regard
for the Constitutional rights of Americans and respect for all human
Following is the text of Ashcroft's prepared statement to the
Attorney General John Ashcroft
House Committee on the Judiciary
September 24, 2001
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before this
committee to discuss the nation's response to the criminal act of war
perpetrated on the United States of America on September 11.
Thank you, Chairman Sensenbrenner and Ranking Member Conyers, for your
expeditious consideration of changes in the law to give law
enforcement the tools we need to fight terrorism. I know that you and
other members of the committee worked through the weekend to prepare
for this hearing. For that, as well as the cooperation you've
demonstrated throughout this time of national need, I am very
In his address to Congress and the nation last Thursday, President
Bush declared war on terrorism and announced the United States will
direct every resource at our command to victory in this war. 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.
Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, 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. It requires that we provide law
enforcement with the tools necessary to identify, dismantle, disrupt
and punish terrorist organizations, before they strike again.
Terrorism is a clear and present danger to Americans today.
At our request, the Federal Aviation Administration has grounded such
aircraft until midnight tonight. In addition to its own preventative
measures, the FBI has strongly recommended that state, local and other
federal law enforcement organizations take steps to identify crop
dusting aircraft in their jurisdictions and ensure that they are
I also urge Americans to notify immediately the FBI of any suspicious
circumstances that may come to your attention regarding crop dusting
aircraft or any other possible terrorist threat. The FBI website is
Our toll-free telephone number is 866-483-5137.
The highly coordinated attacks of September 11 make it clear that
terrorism is the activity of expertly organized, highly coordinated
and well financed organizations and networks. These organizations
operate across borders to advance their ideological agendas. They
benefit from the shelter and the protection of like-minded regimes.
They are undeterred by the threat of criminal sanctions. And they are
willing to sacrifice the lives of their members in order to take the
lives of innocent citizens of free nations.
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.
The fight against terrorism is now the highest priority of the
Department of Justice. As we do in each and every law enforcement
mission we undertake, 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 within our borders
and targeted at our friends and neighbors 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.
Americans were attacked September 11 by an enemy who does not seek
territory, nor resources, nor material gain. As Americans, we were
attacked for our beliefs. Our beliefs in freedom, in equality before
the law, and in the right of all men and all women to reach the
maximum of the potential that God has placed within them. We were
attacked because we have a deep abiding commitment to fairness,
respect for privacy, and dedication to individual freedoms. We were
attacked for our nation's values. We will not now allow our values to
This Justice Department will never waiver in our defense of the
Constitution nor relent our defense of civil rights. The American
spirit that rose from the rubble in New York knows no prejudice and
defies division by race, ethnicity or religion. The spirit which binds
us and the values that define us will light America's path from this
At the Department of Justice, we are charged with defending Americans'
lives and liberties. We are asked to wage war against terrorism within
our own borders. Today, we seek to enlist your assistance, for we seek
new laws against America's enemies, foreign and domestic.
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
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 modern field of battle with
antique weapons. It is not a prescription for victory.
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 --
communications that are also carried by multiple telecommunications
providers located in different jurisdictions.
Terrorists are trained to change cell phones frequently and to route
email through different internet computers in order to defeat
surveillance. 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, such as the phone numbers
dialed by a particular telephone. 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.
We are not asking the law to expand, just to grow as technology grows.
This information has historically been available when criminals used
Second, we must make fighting terrorism a national priority in our
criminal justice system.
In his speech to Congress, President Bush said that Osama bin Laden's
terrorist group, Al Qaeda, is to terror what the mafia is to organized
crime. However, 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
The statute of limitations on prosecuting the types of crimes that are
likely to be committed by terrorists, for example, is five to eight
years. The crimes of murder and espionage, in contrast, have no
statute of limitations. We would eliminate the statute of limitations
on terrorist acts.
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. Given the wide terrorist networks
suspected of participating in the September 11 attacks -- both in the
United States and in other countries -- we must punish anyone who
harbors a terrorist. Terrorists can run, but they should have no place
to hide. Our proposal also increases the penalties for conspiracy to
commit terrorist acts to a serious level as we have done for many drug
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.
We propose that any alien who provides material support to an
organization that he or she knows or should know is a terrorist
organization should be subject to removal from the United States.
Fourth, law enforcement must be able to "follow the money" in order to
identify and neutralize terrorist networks. Sophisticated terrorist
operations require substantial financial resources. On Sunday evening,
President Bush signed a new Executive Order under the International
Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) blocking the assets of, and
transactions with, terrorist organizations and other business
organizations that support terrorism. President Bush's new executive
order will allow the intelligence, law-enforcement and financial
regulatory agencies to follow the money trail to the terrorists and to
freeze the money to disrupt their actions. This executive order means
that United States banks that have assets of these groups or
individuals must freeze their accounts. And United States citizens or
businesses are prohibited from doing business with them. At present,
the President's powers are limited to freezing assets and blocking
transactions with terrorist organizations. We need the capacity for
more than a freeze. We must be able to seize. Doing business with a
terrorist organization must be a losing proposition. Terrorist
financiers must pay a price for their support of terrorism, which
kills innocent Americans.
Consistent with the President's action yesterday and his statement
this morning, our proposal gives law enforcement the ability to seize
their terrorist assets. Further, criminal liability is imposed on
those who knowingly engage in financial transactions -- money
laundering -- involving the proceeds of terrorist acts.
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 want you to know that the investigation into the acts
of September 11 is ongoing and moving aggressively forward. To date,
the FBI and INS have arrested or detained 352 individuals. We are
interested in talking to 392 individuals who remain at large because
we think they may have information helpful to the investigation. The
investigative process has yielded 324 searches, 103 court orders, and
3410 subpoenas. And the potential tips are still coming in to the
website and the 1-800 hotline. The website has received 78,125
potential tips and the hotline has received 14,299 phone calls. I have
said before and I cannot emphasize enough, this is the largest
investigation ever undertaken by the Justice Department and its
Ladies and gentlemen of the Judiciary Committee, the attacks of
September 11 drew a bright line of demarcation between the civil and
the savage, and our nation will never be the same. On one side of this
line are freedom's enemies, murderers of innocents in the name of a
barbarous cause. On the other side are friends of freedom; citizens of
every race and ethnicity, bound together in quiet resolve to defend
our way of life.
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
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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