CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Man Indicted For Giving False Statements to FBI
Aired October 12, 2001 - 15:44 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.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The attorney general is starting his comments. Let's listen in.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... in Seattle for the last 18 years. At this time, the case is being investigated. We have no knowledge of motive or any further details.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Tom's family and to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Western District of Washington.
I have several announcements to make today regarding the continuing efforts of the Department of Justice to ensure the safety and security of Americans in the light of the continuing terrorist threat.
First, a federal grand jury in Phoenix, Arizona, returned yesterday, and unsealed today a two-count indictment against a Tempe man, Faisel Michael Alsame (ph), for giving false statement to the FBI, in connection with our investigation into the terrorist attacks on September the 11th. Mr. Alsame (ph) is in federal custody in New York, and will be returned to Arizona to face charges.
This indictment serves as a reminder that the Department of Justice will bring the full weight of the law upon those who attempt to impede or hinder this investigation. Lying or attempting to conceal information from federal investigators will not be tolerated. We will spare no legal means to identify, locate and incapacitate terrorists and those who aid and abet them in their criminal activity.
Second, the United States Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania filed a motion yesterday charging Argenbright Holdings, also known as SECURCORP, with violation of the terms of a sentence that that company received less than a year ago, for an astonishing pattern of crimes that could have directly jeopardized public safety. The motion concludes that Argenbright Holdings continues to violate laws that protect the safety of Americans who travel by commercial airlines.
The Department of Justice investigation reveals that Argenbright Holdings has committed new Federal Aviation Administration regulator violations at 13 airports throughout the United States, including Washington, both Dulles International and Reagan National; Boston, Logan International; New York, La Guardia; Los Angeles, Trenton, Detroit, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Columbus, Dallas- Fort Worth, Seattle and Cedar Rapids.
Our investigation shows Argenbright Holdings has hired pre- departure screeners who have disqualifying criminal convictions, including convictions for theft, burglary and illegal drug possession, and that Argenbright Holdings made false statements about its employees' backgrounds.
Now, members of the Justice Department have conferred with the inspector general of the Department of Transportation and with the authorities at the Federal Aviation Administration. The inspector general is conducting an assessment of procedures and practices and operations, and personnel at other airports, other than at the Philadelphia airport.
In the event of noncompliance, we will prosecute aggressively to secure the safety of the public. Americans who pass through our nation's airports and who travel on our nation's airlines, must and will be protected. Security companies at our airports will be held accountable for their actions. The Justice Department will enforce the law fully and vigorously to protect Americans.
Finally I want today to commend the United States Senate for passing the administration's anti-terrorism bill with overwhelming support, 96-1, to give law enforcement the additional anti-terrorism tools we need -- to give us additional tools, the tools we need to deter and disrupt terrorism. The House of Representatives should act today as well.
Congress needs to send a message to terrorists that they will find no safe haven in America. Again, our anti-terrorism task forces need tough new laws now to defeat terrorists. I ask the congressional leadership to send the president a bill to sign right away. I can say with enthusiasm that they should not delay; we need these anti- terrorism tools now.
While the Department of Justice's actions represent the government's ongoing efforts to protect the public, Americans must be mindful of the threat of additional terrorist acts, and be mindful of the fact that such a threat is real. The alert issued yesterday by the FBI should promote caution, not incite alarm. All possible measures are being taken to detect and prevent future attacks, to both incapacitate and deter would-be terrorists.
Americans can assist in this effort by going about their lives with a heightened sense of vigilance and a renewed sense of responsibility for their neighbors, coworkers and communities. Each of us is affected by the threat of terror. It's a threat that continues to darken our country, but we can brighten our opportunities by being more aware, more alert. And we can mitigate the threat by cooperating and working well together.
QUESTION: Two questions: first, Mr. Alsame (ph) from Arizona, what did he lie about? What is his connection to the case? And secondly, there are reports today that there may have been some trucks stolen around the nation. I'm curious if there any warnings that have gone to law enforcement whether you consider this a serious threat.
ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to make remarks about the charges against Mr. Alsame (ph) that are outside the nature of the complaint that's been filed against him.
Secondly, we're always concerned about unaccounted-for trucks. Stolen trucks obviously would be a matter of concern to us, but we have not, to my knowledge, made a special notation in terms of informing law enforcement.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) that one of the hijackers was located near where the anthrax was found in Florida, that one of the hijackers might have been at a drug store with red hands and that type of thing. Can you tell us whether there has been any connection made between the anthrax cases found in Florida and the hijackers?
ASHCROFT: We have not been able to develop information which would allow us to draw a conclusion about a connection between the anthrax cases in Florida, meaning the one setting where three or four anthrax-related situations have existed; either that case in Florida or the case which was mentioned earlier today in New York. We have established separate criminal investigations, but we are promoting communication between them, so that in the event we see similarities or other indicia that indicates that there, perhaps, is, in fact, a relationship that that would be understood by the operations and the investigations.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, you have -- you and the president keep saying that we should go about our normal lives. But when you give warnings that say, "Anyone with a cut on their hand or a lesion on their hand should call their doctor," how...
ASHCROFT: I don't think anyone -- if you'll just pardon me. I don't think we've said that. I was with the secretary of health and human services when he said, anyone with a lesion that had certain characteristics of redness, that was dark in the middle, and they had reason to suspect -- that's a different thing. I mean, if your skin is as fragile as mine, I can't put a trowel in the garden without drawing blood, and it's not that kind of situation.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) explain that a little bit more, because, of course, the second part of my question is, how do you keep people from panicking over every little cut?
ASHCROFT: Well, frankly, we want people to do what they can do. And people want to do what they can do, and they need to know what to do. And one of our challenges is -- I don't know why I brought this poster with me, but, for instance, this is a little poster that's been put out by the FBI.
It was put out over a year ago, I believe, sometime in the year 2000, regarding mail which may appear suspicious. These are the ways to, sort of, evaluate the mail. And today when we were at the department with Secretary Thompson, we had the officials from the postal service to talk about things you should do if you have mail that arouses in you a sense of suspicion. Look for a return address. If it's not familiar to you, try calling the people at the return address. Try finding out whether it is really anticipated mail or gratuitously appears.
And then there are items of advice. I don't want to go back through, sort of, the litany of things that can be done, but I want to say this that we have to learn to be both more alert and to continue with our lives at the same time.
We're doing that as it relates to air transportation. We are going to be more alert to security at the airports, but we're not going to cease to fly. We're going to be more alert in a variety of aspects of our existence, but we're not going to cease to live. And it will take some adjustment in that respect. We're going to be more alert; the way in which we look at mail. I'm sure that's the case, but we're not going to cease to use or operate using the mails.
QUESTION: Have you gotten any evidence or intelligence since yesterday's warning that would indicate the likelihood of further attacks over the next several days?
ASHCROFT: I'm not going to comment on the kinds of intelligence we get. I don't think it's productive for me to try and get into assessments of that. When we feel that information that we receive is sufficiently credible and valuable to the American public, we'll provide as much advice as we can, particularly to the law enforcement agencies and to the security agencies.
We do have the NLECTC system, which is an immediate notification to 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the country. And we have a special system known as ANSER, which is our connection with about 40,000 corporate security organizations.
And we think sharing information is important, but we also are very careful about sharing things unnecessarily or sharing intelligence.
QUESTION: This is a difficult balancing act that you have, on the one hand to provide information and, on the other the other hand, not to scare the public. Yesterday's warning obviously prompted some people to say that it did scare some people.
And I wonder how you came to the decision to make this announcement, whether there was serious consideration of not making it because it might have the wrong impact.
ASHCROFT: Well, I think we trust the American people to make good judgments. And we are careful about the things we say because we know that we don't want to promote a sense of panic.
But we, as a nation and as a community and as families and as individuals, have to learn how to use information to be prepared, not to be panicked. We should promote caution, not insight paralysis. And I think that we're learning how to do that one step at a time. And the additional security in air transportation is one of the ways we're handling that. An additional awareness about how we handle mail is another way of doing that.
And we're going to -- I suspect, as a result of the world being a little different now than it been, we're going to adjust so that we can continue to have the kind of activities we have always expected as freedom-loving people, unintimidated and uninhibited but better prepared than we were before.
QUESTION: Regarding the Argenbright situation, will that monitoring -- the enhanced monitoring of the company be limited to Argenbright facilities? And will it cover all the Argenbright airports?
ASHCROFT: I have conferred with the inspector general, through Department of Justice officials today -- the inspector general of the Department of Transportation, who works with the Federal Aviation Administration -- to indicate that we want to know about any shortfalls in Argenbright's performance.
The company was fined very substantially last year. The outcome of the charges last year was not only the fine and punishment but a probationary period, during which a number of procedural improvements were to be undertaken. It is the shortfall in the achievement of those improvements which has prompted yesterday's action.
And it has focused on Philadelphia, but the jurisdiction of the federal courts exists there. And whether it be there or in other settings and venues, if we, in conjunction with the assessment of the inspector general of the Department of Transportation and the Federal Aviation Administration authorities, learn that there is a failure to protect properly the public in other settings, we will act based on those, and we will act aggressively.
QUESTION: Do you have any more information about the shooting death of Tom Wales (ph)? What kind of cases did he work on?
ASHCROFT: We don't have any information about a motive. And frankly, this came to me before I came to work this morning, and the case is just being developed.
Thank you very much.
BROWN: Attorney General John Ashcroft. That last question may have been a little confusing to you, so we will deal with that.
First, Tom Wales was an assistant U.S. Attorney in Seattle. Actually, someone that we've known some years back. And he was shot yesterday and as the attorney -- shot and killed yesterday. And as the attorney general indicated, still no motive -- no arrest made and that was that. The principal news that the attorney general made is that a two- count federal indictment was issued and unsealed today in Tempe, Florida (sic) for a man -- against a man, for giving false statements to the FBI in regard to September 11.
Attorney general refused to provide any detail -- what the person was asked, what he said, what was untrue about it. In any case, the man is currently in New York and will be flown back to Tempe, Arizona.
There was some other business having to do with one of those companies that provides security to the nation's airports, baggage screeners. And the charges the federal government is bringing there -- among the things that makes this interesting is there is a considerable and ferocious debate going on in Congress about whether baggage screeners ought to, in fact, be federal employees rather than private employees, who essentially get these jobs through companies that provide the lowest bid, though there are obviously some standards as the attorney general indicated.
Anyway, the Bush administration would like to see federal oversight but not federal employees. Many Democrats, some Republicans, would like them to be federal employees, and this all plays into that.
Kelli Arena, who covers Mr. Ashcroft and the Justice Department -- Kelli, any detail on this one indictment, a two-count indictment, in Tempe.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Nothing more than we just heard from the attorney general.
As you know, Aaron, there are lots of people that have been taken into custody, more than 600 people for various infractions. Either they are immigration violations, they can be brought in as material witnesses, or they may have been guilty of violating some state or local law.
I am assuming that Mr. al Salmi was one of -- fell in one of those three categories because he was in custody in -- as the attorney general said, in relation to the September 11 attacks, so he provided false statements.
Now whether that were -- that could be anything. It could be immigration, you know, status, statements or -- we don't know.
ARENA: But we're going to try to find out, that's for sure.
BROWN: I bet we are. Kelli, thank you, and I bet you will.
Thank you, Kelli Arena.
One other thing he said before we go to break here: The attorney general said we have not been able to develop or to draw -- we have not been able to draw conclusive evidence between the terrorist attack on September 11 and the anthrax case.
I underlined the word "conclusive." I don't want to read the attorney general's mind, but it seems to me he used that word deliberately, which may suggest -- it may suggest that there are some things they are looking at, but they just don't have enough to conclude that there is a link between the anthrax cases and the attacks on Washington and New York City, now a month and day ago.
We saw or I saw -- I'm not sure if you all did -- I saw the president's helicopter, Marine One, on the White House lawn. The president, shortly, will be headed for Camp David for the weekend.
We'll be back at 10:00 tonight -- a special report. We hope you'll join us then.
We'll take a short break. And CNN's continuing coverage of "America's New War", in what has been a remarkable day in this, will continue in just a moment.
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