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Bush Addresses Child Porn, Sniper

Aired October 23, 2002 - 14:15   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to have to interrupt that for just a moment to go to Washington, to the president of the United States in the Eisenhower Executive Office, to talk a little bit about protecting children on the Internet.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because children are so vulnerable, they need the constant protection of adults. And because children are so vulnerable, they're often the targets of cruel and ruthless criminals.

I'm deeply saddened by the recent tragedy that we've seen here in Washington. There is a ruthless person on the loose. I've ordered the full resources of the federal government to help local law enforcement officials in their efforts to capture this person.

Laura and I join our fellow Americans in prayer as we pray for the families and friends who have lost loved ones, as we pray for the safety of our fellow citizens, as we prayer for the quick end to this period of violence and fear.

Protecting children from sexual exploitation is also a priority. It needs to be a priority and is a priority of this country. Earlier this month, I convened the first ever White House conference on missing, exploited and runaway children, and those efforts continue today.

I've just met with law enforcement representatives from the federal, state and local level in several states who spend their time tracking down and prosecuting online predators. These officials are impressive people. They're the best of America. They're doing difficult and disturbing and essential work. And I thank them for coming here today.

Our nation has made this commitment: Anyone who targets a child for harm will be a primary target of law enforcement. That's our commitment. Anyone who takes the life or innocence of a child will be punished to the full extent of the law.

Today I want to discuss with you several aggressive steps we are taking to protect our children from exploitation and from danger on the Internet.

I appreciate so very much Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI, is here with us today.

I thank you for your service, for your good work.

I want to thank the deputy attorney general of the Department of Justice, Larry Thompson, for being here.

Mr. Deputy, thanks for coming.

Bob Bonner, the commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, is with us today. They play an integral role in helping to catch these predators overseas.

Federal, state and law enforcement officers and prosecutors here with us today ranging from California to Alabama to Maryland, from all around the country, I want to thank you all for being here to hear this progress and commitment that we share for our country.

When a child's life or innocence is taken a grave and unforgivable act has occurred; a parent's worst nightmare has become real. And you all here are on the front lines of this great struggle to see to it that no parent has to live through the nightmare.

That's what you're doing.

The Internet is a remarkable technology. We've all learned that. It's revolutionized education, vastly increased the flow of information, increases our knowledge. We're now in closer touch with our family and friends. People are now connected across the globe. It's exciting tool.

But more than half of our nation's children now online -- more than half of the nation is now online, and 75 percent of the children are online. The flow of information is freer and broader. Yet the new freedom presents us with an unprecedented challenge: A technology that brings knowledge also brings obscenity and danger.

Until recently, the worst kind of pornography was mainly limited to red light districts or restricted to adults or confined by geography, isolated by shame. With the Internet, pornography is now instantly available to any child who has a computer. And in the hands of the wrong people, in the hands of incredibly wicked people, the Internet is a tool that lures children into real danger.

Sexual predators use the Internet to distribute child pornography and obscenity. They use the Internet to engage in sexually explicit conversations. They use the Internet to lure children out of the safety of their homes into harm's way.

Every day millions of children log onto the Internet. And every day we learn more about the evil of the world that has crept into it.

In a single year, one in four children between the ages of 10 and 17 is voluntarily -- involuntarily exposed to pornography -- one in four children. One in five children receives a sexual solicitation over the Internet. One in 17 children is threatened or harassed. We got a widespread problem and we're going to deal with it.

We don't accept this kind of degrading. It's unacceptable to America. We don't accept offensive conduct like this in our schools, in commercial establishments, and we can't accept it in our homes. We cannot allow this to happen to our children.

The chief responsibility to protect America's children lies with their parents.

You're responsible for the welfare of your child. It's your responsibility.

And there are several practical things parents can do to protect their children from the dangers of online predators: First of all, pay attention to your children. If you love your children, pay attention to them, know what they're doing, share your experience with your children, make it clear to your children about the potential online dangers they face, make it clear to them the kinds of web sites they need to avoid.

Children need to be told to never provide personal information to anyone online. It seems like a simple parental responsibility. Mothers and dads all across America need to do their job and make it clear to their children there can be danger by providing personal information.

Don't share any passwords. That's a logical thing for a mom or a dad to do; tell their children not to share a password with a total stranger.

Don't agree to meet with somebody they've never met. Don't agree to meet with somebody that chats them up on the Internet unless their mom or dad is with them.

Parents should keep computers in a central location and check up on what their kids are doing. They ought not ignore what their children are doing. They ought to pay attention to their children. They have a responsibility. A mother or a dad ought to pay just as much attention to their child when they're on the Internet as if they're on the playground or walking in the mall.

Parents have the first and foremost responsibility. Yet we as a society share this duty as well, and that's what we were talking about today. Parents need allies in the upbringing of their children. Our nation should make the essential work of mothers and fathers easier, not harder. Our government at every level must take the side of responsible parents, and we will.

We're waging an aggressive nationwide effort to prevent the use of the Internet to sexually exploit and endanger children.

That's what we're doing. I want to share some of that with you today.

Through an FBI program called Innocent Images, we identify, we investigate and we prosecute sexual predators across the country. FBI agents are obtaining evidence of criminal Internet activity by conducting undercover operations using fictitious screen names and entering into online chat rooms. I had the honor of listening to one such FBI agent today. She was telling us what it's like to deal with these sick minds. Interesting, afterwards I said, "It must be tough to do the job you do." She says, "I've got two children. I don't want it to ever happen to any child." And I appreciate your dedication.

Innocent Images prosecutions increased by more than 50 percent over the last two years. We're making progress. Just like we're hunting the terrorists down one at a time, we're hunting these predators down one at a time too.

Based on the progress I'm pleased to announce that we will expand this program and significantly increase the funding in the next fiscal year.

We will also seek to almost double funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children task forces, from $6.5 million in fiscal year 2002 to $12.5 million in fiscal 2003. These task forces help state and local authorities enforce laws against child pornography and exploitation.

Since 1998, the task forces have helped trained more than 1,500 prosecutors and 1,900 investigators.

They've served 700 search warrants and 1,400 subpoenas. The task forces have provided direct investigative assistance in more than 3,000 cases. They've arrested more than 1,400 suspects.

These task forces are a great success. They're a great success because we've got a lot of good people working on these projects, a lot of dedicated Americans whose stomach turn (sic) when they realize what's happening to our children, great Americans who decided to do something about it.

This additional funding I've announced means that -- will increase the number of regional task forces up to 40 around the country.

Our efforts to fight Internet exploitation of children extend throughout this government, throughout all levels of government. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service provides an important role in tracking sexual predators, because child pornographers often use the mail...

O'BRIEN: You've been listening to President Bush in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, formerly the Old Executive Office Building, talking about protecting children on the Internet. He's pushing a bill that would prohibit the distribution of child pornography on the Internet. This is an area which often runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Let's talk a little bit about this with our White House correspondent Kelly Wallace, who joins us from the North Lawn.

Kelly, no one's in favor of child pornography, but the First Amendment sometimes makes it difficult to ban such thins. KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It certainly does. Obviously, you have those free speech advocates and First Amendment advocates raising questions. But the president here really calling for the Congress to act on legislation that would make it illegal for any obscene computer-generated images of children to go out on the Internet.

What he also did, though, Miles -- and you saw him there talking about this Washington, D.C.-area sniper situation -- the concern that parents have now, especially after Police Chief Moose yesterday indicated that a note left by the alleged sniper indicated that children are not safe any time, anywhere. You heard the president say that he was deeply saddened by what is going on. He said there is a, quote, "ruthless person on the loose"; and he said he has ordered the full resources of the federal government to help.

Miles, as you know, some questions have been raised over the past few days about whether the FBI and federal government in general should take over the entire investigation. The message from the White House is no, the current operation -- federal officials assisting state and local officials -- is working, and the president, again, is confident the federal government will do everything it can to help -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Tell me: As time goes on now, there's got to be increasing pressure to turn this into a federal case, don't you think?

WALLACE: Certainly, the questions keep being raised here at the White House. And it was interesting, Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary, really giving us the lengthiest list, earlier today, about how the federal government is helping. More than 1,000 federal officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, from the Secret Service, from the FBI involved.

Also officials keep saying that federal officials are playing a very large role assisting state and local law enforcement. And they're saying, Miles, that law enforcement, both state, local and federal officials believe, the current operation is the best way to go. So right now they're saying status quo -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Quickly, before you get away, I know the White House is carefully watching what's going on in the United Nations Security Council, debate over the Iraq resolution. Bring us up to date on where things stand. Is it getting close to putting something together there?

WALLACE: No question, Miles, U.S. officials are showing that their patience is starting to wear thin. What you had today, earlier, ambassadors from the five countries on the UN Security Council with veto power -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia -- meeting behind closed doors. Doesn't appear that they've reached an agreement. And so the message now is there's going to be a meeting of the full UN Security Council, the 15 members getting together at 4:00 today. And it does appear this might be a move by U.S. officials to put pressure on countries such as France and Russia, so far reluctant to sign on to this proposal. They are worried that this U.S. proposal really could, even though it doesn't specify military action would be used, they are concerned that the U.S. could go ahead and wage war against Saddam Hussein if he doesn't cooperate.

Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: The devil is in the details and the language on this one.

Kelly Wallace, thank you very much, as always, for joining us from the White House.


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