General John Ashcroft
Prepared Remarks for the US Mayors Conference
For more than two hundred years, Attorneys 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 ahead of
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 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 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 and waiting to kill Americans
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 were 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
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, disrupt and 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 form - they
focused on doing what was necessary to get the job
done rather than what was dictated by the
Attorney General Kennedy made no apologies for using
all of the available resources in the law to disrupt
and dismantle 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 Bird 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 we face today. Today, many more
innocent lives have been lost.
Many more innocent lives continue to be threatened.
But these differences serve only 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 justice and law enforcement to
engage terrorism at home.
History's judgment will be harsh - and the people's
judgment will be sure - if we fail to use every
available resource to prevent future terrorist
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 and will be the policy
of this Department of Justice to use the same
aggressive arrest and detention tactics in the war on
Let the terrorists among us be warned: If you
overstay your visa - even by one day - we will arrest
you. If you violate a local law, you will be put in
jail and 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, this 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 street. If suspects are found not to have links
to terrorism or not to have violated the law, they
are released. But terrorists who are in violation of
the law will be convicted, in some cases deported,
and in all cases prevented from doing further harm to
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 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 bi-partisan and bi-cameral cooperation
in the Congress, law enforcement will have new
weapons in the war on terrorism. Yesterday, by an
overwhelming margin, the House passed the
Anti-terrorism Act of 2001. 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 our 94 U.S. Attorney's Offices
and 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
The first principle is airtight 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 as an
important weapon 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 traditionally have used
search warrants to obtain unopened email. 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
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 even 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.
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, members of Congress, and state and
local officials. They are careful, balanced, and long
overdue improvements in our capacity to prevent
The federal government cannot fight this reign of
terror alone. Every American must help us defend our
nation against this enemy. Every state, every county,
every municipality must join together to form a
common defense against terrorism.
The law enforcement campaign that will commence in
earnest when the legislation is signed into law will
be many years in duration. 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 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 we
have in the past, never waiver in our faith and
loyalty to the Constitution and never tire in our
defense of the rights it enshrines.
Years after he left the office of Attorney General,
an observer of Robert Kennedy wrote that RFK brought
these assets to his successful campaign against
*A constructive anger.
*An intimate knowledge of his 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
advantages. Our anger, too, is constructive. Our
knowledge is growing. Our team is talented. And our
leadership in the White House is unparalleled.
George W. Bush has done more -- much more -- than
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