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Ashcroft Discusses Anti-Terrorist Measures

Aired September 16, 2001 - 11:23   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: I've got to break into your show to bring you some statements by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who now joins us from Camp David. I'm actually looking at this shot, and I don't think he has appeared at the table yet, but I'm told he has walked into the room and will be making a statement shortly. There's the microphone he will be addressing. A little hubbub of activity preceding the attorney general's arrival.

Let's listen.

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's a resonant podium.

During this past week, we've been dealing with the impact of an assault on the United States and civilized people of the world that has come from a pervasive and substantial terrorist network.

It's a matter of the compound nature of the tragedy to understand that nations from Argentina to Zimbabwe, from A to Z, have lost hundreds of citizens in this tragedy. It illusrates for us that terror ism is the enemy of human civilization. Our effort is to develop all the information we can about terrorism, the terrorists and the terrorist networks that have inflicted this injury on the United States and this assault upon the people of the world, and to do everything we can to disrupt them and to put an end to their capacity.

They have declared war on the United States with an act of war, and the president has very carefully noted that we consider it a responsibility to do everything within our power to those interests that threaten the United States and its interests, to end their capacity to do so.

Obviously, among the organizations that have that capacity and have previously been involved in assaults against the United States and its interests is the network of Osama bin Laden and his network. It is important to note that in recent months and years, a variety of terrorist organizations have cooperated in networking together and that terrorism is an enemy to civilized people.

We will be doing everything we can. We have launched the largest single investigation in the history of the United States. We have 4,000 active FBI agents pursuing a wide variety of tips and understandings and questions. We'll get to the bottom of this circumstance, but we will also develop an understanding of how we can prevent further episodes, assaults on America and our people. It's clear to me that we need to upgrade and strengthen a number of laws in the United States. The Congress has very appropriately expressed its thorough willingness to provide for the president the resources that are appropriate in terms of finances to conduct this effort, and I believe they will cooperate to provide the enhanced law enforcement resources by way of authority.

Let me indicate a few of the matters that I believe will be in a package that we will carry to the Hill, and ask members of the Congress to assist us in this effort by enacting authorizing legislation. I might add that I expect to be involved with members of the Congress on the Hill this afternoon in discussing these issues.

In terms of upgrading and strengthening our capacity, let me say that we need to make sure that we have assigned a high priority to the fight against terrorism. There are areas of our laws and procedures which give us better tools against organized crime, against illegal gambling, for example, than we have against terrorists. We need to make sure that we provide the maximum capacity against terrorists in the United States.

We need for instance to elevate the penalties for those who would harbor or assist terrorists to at least the same level as the penalties for those who would harbor, assist those who have been involved in espionage. And there are areas in which we need to just expand our capacity to surveil those involved in terrorist activities. Telephone surveillance has been limited historically to specific telephones, rather than to people, so that if the telephone number changes out of its home area or if a person ceases using one telephone and begins to use another telephone, we have to go back to court to get new authority.

Now, most Americans, we all understand that you can buy disposable telephones now, use them for a limited period of time and throw them away, and it simply doesn't make sense to have the surveillance authority associated with the hardware or with the phone instead of with the person or the terrorist. And we're going to ask Congress to help us with items like that.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to go to the members of Congress, many of whom have called me and spoken to me during this last week and indicated that they are eager to provide a basis for us to address the new challenges which we indeed are facing as a result of this turning point in the history of the United States. And we will develop the tools, strengthen our capacity and persist in our investigation and effort to disrupt and reduce the risk of reoccurrence in matters like this.

I thank you for this opportunity to speak with you and for the reporting you do on this issue.

Thank you.

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