General John Ashcroft
Washington, D. C.
September 18, 2001
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: While the investigation is ongoing and still moving forward
vigorously, we are beginning to learn more about the attack last Tuesday and
the plot to make it happen.
As we have said before, we do believe that there are associates of the hijackers
that have connections to terrorist organizations that may still be in the United
States. The tips we have received and the leads developed in the FBI field offices
have been extremely helpful in helping us assemble a list of individuals that
might have information about these associates, or, in fact, be among the associates.
We are looking at the possibility that there may have been more than four planes
targeted for hijacking. But we are not able at this time to confirm that.
To date the FBI has received more than 96,000 tips and potential leads: more
than 54,000 on the website, nearly 9,000 on the hot line, the toll-free WATTS
line, and more than 33,000 leads that were generated in the FBI field offices.
Obviously there is still a great deal of information to be collected in order
to understand the full picture of how last Tuesday's attack was planned and
the full extent of damage that the terrorists intended to cause is understood.
Our effort includes talking to the numbers of people that may have information
related to the case. That's why we have forwarded a list of more than 190 people
to national, state and local law enforcement agencies across the country and
other organizations that could be helpful in this effort, organizations like
the airlines. We also have a responsibility to use every legal means at our
disposal to prevent further terrorist activity by taking people into custody
who have violated the law and who may pose a threat to America.
The details that we have learned in the enormous destruction and devastation
that was caused by last Tuesday's attack have brought us to a turning point
in our country's fight against terrorism and the preservation of the safety
and security of our society. On that morning last Tuesday the forces of terrorism
attacked the citizens of our country with a ferocity that was nothing short
of a declaration of war against the people of America.
The President of the United States has announced that we will meet that declaration
with a full commitment of resources and with a firm resolve to rid the world
The fight against terrorism must be an overriding priority of the Department
of Justice. I have talked this week about possible legislative changes that
we would need in order to be able to fight effectively against terrorism. And
I'm pleased with the cooperation from members of Congress and their ideas, their
comments, their suggestions and their support for a package which we would hope
to have ready in the next few days. But this new effort requires more than just
There are actions the Department of Justice can take now on its own to make
sure the prevention of terrorism is a high priority.
That's why last night at my direction Immigration and Naturalization Service
Commissioner Jim Ziglar signed an administrative revision to the current INS
regulations regarding the detention of aliens. The regulation previously allowed
the Immigration and Naturalization Service only 24 hours in which to decide
whether to charge an alien that had been taken into custody because of a violation.
The revision announced last night expands the 24-hour time period to 48 hours,
or to an additional reasonable time if necessary under an emergency or in other
extraordinary circumstances. This rule change will apply to the 75 individuals
who are currently detained by the INS on immigration violations that may also
have information related to this investigation.
In addition, every United States attorney's office has reviewed the office's
resources and structure in light of the growing threat of terrorism. As a part
of the new counterterrorism strategy, every United States attorney and every
district of such an attorney that hasn't already done so has been asked to establish
an antiterrorism task force. At my direction last week, each U.S. attorney's
office identified an experienced prosecutor who will serve as the antiterrorism
coordinator for that district.
That coordinator is to convene a meeting of representatives from the federal
law enforcement agencies, and that would be the FBI, the INS, the DEA, the Marshals
Service, Customs, Secret Service, the ATF, or Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms.
Together with those federal officials there would be the invitation to primary
state and local police forces in that district.
That group, headed by the U.S. attorney, would be the antiterrorism task force
in that U.S. attorney's district.
These task forces will be a part of a national network that will coordinate
the dissemination of information and the development of a strategy to disrupt,
dismantle and punish terrorist organizations throughout the country.
First, the task forces will serve as a conduit for information about suspected
terrorists between federal and local agencies, so that local police forces can
be part and parcel of an effort to prevent terrorist attacks by having access
to the information available to federal agencies.
Intelligence about terrorist networks obtained by federal agencies will be disseminated
through these task forces to the local police officials who can help monitor
any terrorist network in their locality.
Also, intelligence developed by local police will be conveyed through this collaboration
to the federal agencies. This information highway will not be a one-way street.
Second, the antiterrorism task force in each district will serve as a coordinating
body for implementing the operational plan for the prevention of terrorism.
Once substantial credible information is received indicating that individuals
or groups in a particular district may be terrorists or abetting terrorism or
aiding terrorism, the members of the antiterrorism task force in conjunction
with the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice will determine and implement
the most effective strategy for incapacitating any terrorist activity on their
Third, the antiterrorism task force in each district will serve as a standing
organizational structure for a coordinated response to any terrorist incident
in that district.
In sum, the implementation of the task force coordinated by the U.S. attorney
in each district, working with the FBI, will provide the operational foundation
for a concerted national assault against terrorism. This system will provide
law enforcement with a comprehensive, seamless approach to attack terrorism
within our borders.
Now, I understand that this is an aggressive and an ambitious agenda, that it
represents a more preventative approach to doing business in the U.S. attorney's
offices together with the FBI than perhaps has been the case in the past. We
must all recognize that our mission has changed.
It has been changed by the events of this last week.
The threat that seemed fairly remote to most Americans seven days ago is now
felt in every heart and every home in the United States.
And if we are to dispel this threat, we must meet it with ingenuity and with
I want to thank all of the hard-working individuals in the Federal Bureau of
Investigation and all of the United States attorneys across the country, and
state and local law enforcement officials who have joined together with us for
their quick action in this important mission.
Let me just address you on another matter that I think may be of concern to
As you all may be aware, a new Internet infection designed NIMDA -- some people
say that's "ADMIN" backwards -- it is, but I'm not sure if that's
consequential -- was noted this morning. It may have started as early as yesterday,
and it infects computers on the Internet worldwide.
The computers that are infected then scan the Internet in search of other computers.
And this very substantially expands the traffic load on the Internet. The scanning
activity thus far indicates that this could be heavier than the July activity
with Code Red. Our government together with the private sector -- which is,
incidentally, a very strong and powerful partnership when we work together --
is assessing the problem. And we'll try and provide more information from the
FBI to you about this later today.
In the meantime, I'm pleased to say that I understand that most of the antivirus
companies have posted the files needed to protect unprotected computers, and
those files obviously are available at this time.
There is no evidence at this time which links this infection to the terrorist
attacks of last week.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: What evidence is there, Mr. Attorney General, at this point that might
connect this case to the Iraq government? And secondly, has the FBI scuttled
any other planned attacks that you're aware of?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Let me take those in inverse order, if you will. Obviously,
as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies elevate their security, we would
hope if there were other attacks in the making, that those would be deterred.
And that's the reason we are asking people around the country to not only work,
but to watch, and law enforcement and security agencies to elevate their concerns.
I wouldn't be in a position to discuss evidence in regard to questions about
other responsible parties.
QUESTION: Two weeks ago -- a few weeks ago, I should say, the FBI questioned
flight schools in Minnesota and in Oklahoma about a man who we now know is in
custody because of suspicions about his flight training requests. Did the FBI
or any federal officials warn airlines or FAA to be on the watch for this individual?
And if not, why not?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm not able to make a comment on that.
QUESTION: Mr. Ashcroft, earlier this year, you had a series of meeting with
a bipartisan group from Congress in an effort to try and repeal the use of secret
evidence, evidence that is not shared with the defendants, so-called classified
information. Courts have repeatedly struck down the use of secret evidence against
possible criminal aliens. You also had assured Congress a while back that to
the best of your knowledge, secret evidence is not being used by this administration
against possible criminal aliens, including alleged terrorists, and that you
would not use secret evidence until Congress decided what to do.
Given the situation, will that change you opinion and also Congress' move, which
I thought was imminent this month, to try and repeal the use of secret evidence?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, your question brings us really to a point about the
extent to which we will respect the constitutional rights of individuals.
And we will not yield in our determination to protect the constitutional rights
Very frankly, those who attack the United States would attack the constitutional
rights as well as the safety of individuals.
We're going to do everything we can to harmonize the constitutional rights of
individuals with every legal capacity we can muster to also protect the safety
and security of individuals.
It's with that in mind that we would evaluate any potential changes in the law.
QUESTION: Are any of the 71 being held --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- system to track visa over-stays? No one even knows
how many people are in the U.S. now without a visa.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Would you want to repeat that question?
QUESTION: No one would ever have found these people if there hadn't been a catastrophe,
because there's no way to track people who are out of status or whatever way
you want to call it.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The president of the United States recognized a very broad
set of deficiencies in our Immigration and Naturalization services that related
to very many people out of status, and suggested and has called for a reformation
in INS. Plans to make the Immigration and Naturalization Service a better service
agency and a better enforcement agency are under way.
And I can only hope that when we do that, it will result in an elevated capacity
to secure the safety of the American people.
QUESTION: General Ashcroft -- (off mike) -- information that there were more
than five planes or six planes? You said you're unable to confirm it.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We are unable to confirm that there are additional planes,
but we have not ruled that out in our evaluation.
And we are pursuing an examination and investigative potentials that might help
us be more certain about that particular matter.
QUESTION: Are you assuming wartime powers?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) -- possible tips, how is it possible to check all of them?
And how many are actually proving to be helpful?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: (Chuckles.) Well, that's a very good question. Obviously,
many of them are redundant and many of them are mutually exclusive. And so we
sort through them as best we can. We try to prioritize them.
And pursuing an investigation like this is a little bit like selling insurance;
it doesn't matter how many bad ones you get, it's a matter of how many times
you finally find a situation where the answer is yes, and you pursue it. When
we get to a good lead, then we follow it.
QUESTION: Are any of (these suspects ?) considered prisoners of war? Are you
assuming wartime powers in any way?