General John Ashcroft
Outlines Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force
October 31, 2001
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon.
As a nation of immigrants, America welcomes friends from other countries who
wish to visit, to study, to work, become a part of our nation. But as September
the 11th vividly illustrates, aliens also come to our country with the intent
to do great evil. Just as we welcome America's friends, we will not allow our
welcome to be abused by those who are America's enemies.
The Department of Justice will prevent aliens who engage in or support terrorist
activity from entering our country. We will detain, prosecute, deport terrorist
aliens who are already inside the nation's borders. America will not allow terrorists
to use our hospitality as a weapon against us.
Today I'm announcing several steps that we're taking to enhance our ability
to protect the United States from the threat of terrorist aliens. These measures
form one part of the department's concentrated strategy to prevent terrorist
attacks by taking suspected terrorists off the street.
Forty years ago, the Department of Justice, under Attorney General Robert Kennedy,
undertook an extraordinary law enforcement campaign to root out and to dismantle
organized crime. The Kennedy Justice Department, it is said, would arrest a
mobster for spitting on the sidewalk, if it would aid in the war against organized
In the war on terror, it is policy of this Justice Department to be equally
aggressive. We will arrest and detain any suspected terrorist who has violated
the law. If suspects are found not to have links to terrorism or not to have
violated the law, they'll be released. But terrorists who are in violation of
the law will be convicted, in some cases be deported, and in all cases be prevented
from doing further harm to Americans.
Aggressive detention of lawbreakers and material witnesses is vital to preventing,
disrupting, or delaying new attacks.
It is difficult for a person in jail or under detention to murder innocent people
or to aid or abet in terrorism.
Three Michigan men suspected of having knowledge of the September 11th attacks,
for example, were arrested on charges of possessing false documents. In addition
to a day planner containing notations in Arabic and what appeared to be a diagram
of an airport flight line, agents found false immigration forms, a fraudulent
U.S. visa and a false alien identification card in the apartment of the three
On October 29th, the president instructed the Department of Justice to create
a Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. Today I am pleased to introduce the
man who will head the task force. Steven C. McGraw is an FBI agent who hails
from El Paso, Texas. Currently he serves as the deputy assistant director of
the Intelligence Branch of the Investigative Services Division at FBI Headquarters.
In addition to his long career of service at the FBI, Mr. McCraw is a former
Texas state trooper. His personal experience attests to the important role that
our state and local law enforcement partners play in the war against terror.
The Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force that Mr. McCraw will lead will ensure
that federal agencies coordinate their efforts to bar from the United States
all aliens who meet any of the following criteria: aliens who are representatives,
members or supporters of terrorist organizations; aliens who are suspected of
engaging in terrorist activity; or aliens who provide material support to terrorist
In addition, Mr. McCraw will oversee the government's efforts to coordinate
information that allows us to track, detain, prosecute and deport any such aliens
who have managed to enter our country. The Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force
will pursue both these goals -- barring terrorists from entering the United
States, and tracking down and deporting those who do enter the United States
-- to the maximum extent permitted by law.
The terrorist task force, the tracking task force will serve one of the most
important objectives in the war against terrorism, to facilitate communication
and coordination among the INS, the Immigration and Naturalization Service;
the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and the Customs Service; and other
agencies responsible for protecting our nation against terrorist aliens.
With the task force, these agencies will function as joint participants in our
common mission to neutralize the threat of terrorist aliens. The task force
will also encourage them to share critical information about potential terrorists
so that future attacks can be disrupted before they occur.
In order to prevent terrorists and their supporters from entering the United
States, the Department of Justice, the Department of State and the CIA have
agreed to impose new security measures on the issuance of non-immigrant visas.
First, in light of the heightened security interests and new authorities for
exclusion in the anti- terrorism law, we will revise the non-immigrant visa
The revision will serve two purposes relevant to our review. First, it will
serve to elicit additional biographical and other information that is relevant
to our security review; and second, it will serve to provide additional information
that the FBI, the INS and CIA can use as starting points to conduct further
investigations before visas are issued.
Secondly, we will require security advisory opinions and background investigations
of some non-immigrant visa applicants. Based on the information obtained on
the application and from any consular interview, the Department of State will
determine whether an application will be referred to Washington for the preparation
of a security advisory opinion or for background issues in consultation with
the FBI and the CIA. No visa will issue to such a person unless and until a
favorable security advisory opinion or the additional time allowed for background
investigation has been completed or expired.
The Department of State will have the discretion to waive this Security Advisory
Opinion requirement for individuals who are known to them or who are otherwise
determined not to pose a risk.
The Department of Justice is also moving forcefully to implement new authorities
in our antiterrorism law. Today, the Immigration and Naturalization Service
has issued guidance to immigration personnel informing them about the new power
that the USA Patriot Act provides for them in terms of the detention, arrest,
and removal of terrorist aliens.
The act broadens the grounds of inadmissibility, that is grounds for which admission
to the United States can be denied, to include representatives of groups that
publicly endorse terrorist activity in the United States. It also makes aliens
inadmissible if they provide material support to a designated terrorist organization;
even if they don't specifically intend to support this terrorist activity, they
are giving support to the organization which conducts terrorist activities,
they can be denied admission to the United States. In most cases, aliens will
be inadmissible under these new provisions for past support they had given to
In addition, the USA Patriot Act requires the detention of aliens whom the attorney
general certifies to be a threat to national security, or who are determined
to have engaged -- to have been engaged -- let me start that over again. One,
the attorney general, if he certifies that they are a threat to national security,
they must be detained by a requirement of the USA Patriot Act; or two, if they
are determined to have been engaged in terrorist activities. Once arrested,
aliens must be charged with a criminal or immigration offense within seven days,
under the act. If the charges are dismissed, the aliens will be released. Otherwise,
charged aliens must be detained until they are removed from the United States,
according to the act, or until they are determined no longer to pose a threat
to national security. This measure, which is the equivalent of denying bail
to violent offenders, will prevent dangerous aliens from being released to mingle
among the American citizens that they would harm.
Finally, I am today asking the secretary of State to designate 46 groups as
terrorists organizations under the USA Patriot Act. All these groups have committed
or planned violent terrorist acts, or serve as fronts for terrorist organizations.
The groups to be designated as terrorist organizations include those linked
to the al Qaeda network, whose assets the president has frozen, pursuant to
an executive order. The remainder of the groups to be designated have been found
by the Department of State, in its "Patterns of Global Terrorism"
report, to have engaged -- to have been engaged in terrorist activity. Designating
these groups as terrorist organizations will enable us to prevent aliens who
are affiliated with them from entering the United States.
In addition, any aliens who are inadmissible because of their affiliation with
these groups at the time they manage to enter our country would also be subject
Now these restrictions apply to the groups' representatives and members. Also
inadmissible are aliens who use their positions of prominence to endorse terrorist
As the president has emphasized, America's new war against terrorism has two
fronts. Our armed forces will fight abroad against terrorism and the states
that support terrorists abroad. It falls to all Americans to fight terrorism
at home. Our borders divide these two fronts. The U.S.A. Patriot Act authorized
vital new weapons for us to fight the war at the borders and here at home, and
the Justice Department is committed to ensuring that these weapons are deployed
quickly, that they're deployed efficiently, and that they're deployed effectively.
I'm pleased now to introduce Jim Ziglar, the commissioner of the Immigration
and Naturalization Service for the United States of America. Commissioner?
MR. ZIGLAR: Thank you, General. Following up on what the general said, the U.S.A.
Patriot Act, we believe, is very important to the INS's success in carrying
out its part in this war on terrorism.
In addition to the things that the general mentioned, there were three things
that were addressed in this act that we consider quite vital to us. One is the
additional personnel that we will need at the border; secondly, the additional
technology and enhancement of our technology, so that we can disseminate information
more readily and on a real-time basis; and thirdly and most importantly, the
provisions in the act that allow us to share information among agencies. That
has been a critical block, I believe, to a lot of effectiveness that we've had
-- is not getting the information in a timely fashion. And this act, we believe,
will facilitate that in great measure.
The INS definitely welcomes the Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force -- it's
a little difficult to say that all in one fell swoop. We believe that this task
force is going to provide us, as well as other agencies that are involved, with
real-time access to information that we can share in order to do our job better.
I'd like to note that the INS has been and continues to be a very vital player
in this war on terrorism, in this investigation, as well as the ongoing process
of protecting the American people from what we see as the forces of evil. I'd
like to thank the INS folks who have been involved in this. Since September
11th, they have worked very long hours. Our people are working double time.
They are doubling up on the border; they're doubling up in terms of the investigations.
They're working very hard, and they deserve great commendation.
At the same time, I'd like to note that the INS continues to carry out the other
duties that we have, and one of those is welcoming immigrants to this country.
I had an opportunity several times to testify before the Senate and the House,
and to make the point that what we're dealing with here is not immigration;
we're dealing with evil. Immigrants are not terrorists. We've got lots of immigrants
that -- people that come to this country to build their lives here and to contribute.
And so we're not talking about immigration, we're talking about evil.
The guidance that is being released to our field operations and to you is really
just the first step in explaining to our field operations what this new law
means. It will be an evolving process for us to develop reactions to specific
situations. And I can tell you that the headquarters will be very much involved
in this as we go along.
I'd like to assure everyone that the INS will exercise this new and very powerful
authority in a very careful manner in order to protect our cherished liberties.
I'd also like to personally thank the Congress for working together in a very
bipartisan way to develop this bill so that we can move on and more effectively
do what we're required to do at the INS, both with respect to our ongoing duties,
and with respect to this investigation.
And with that, I'd like to introduce to you the new director of the Forest Terror
-- Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force -- I knew I was going to do it! --
(laughter) -- that's Steve McCraw.
MR. MCCRAW: Thank you, Commissioner. Attorney General. I'm truly honored to
be selected for this extremely important position and assignment with the Foreign
Terrorism Tracking Task Force. I'd like to speak on the behalf, if I may, for
the women and men in local, state and local law enforcement, the State Department,
Immigration, our military, everyone wants to -- no matter what position you
have, to do everything they can to prevent another foreign terrorist act.
I mean, that is absolutely the essence. And to be involved with a task force
whose mandate is to first focus on keeping those terrorists and those that support
them outside, not let them into the United States is critical. Secondly, if
they've made it into the United States, to find them, those would-be terrorists,
to find them, their supporters, and get them out of the United States. It's
very simple. And the only way you do that, and the attorney general said it,
the commissioner reiterated, is we have to share information. And what better
way to do it than in a task force? There's always a value- added benefit, and
certainly, it's been said, a force multiplier, when you do it in a teamwork-type
approach. And that requires information- sharing, and that's what we'll be doing,
information-sharing, maybe the most seemingly mundane data which may end up
being important, but also the most sensitive data.
And I want to personally thank the attorney general for the selection for this
important assignment. Thank you, sir.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Thank you. Questions?
QUESTION: General, has any anthrax been found in the building from the tests that have
been done? And second question is, has the threat in any way diminished since
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The tests are still being processed regarding anthrax, in
terms of testing done regarding the facilities associated with the Justice Department.
And we do not have test results back.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: And I have no reason to indicate that there is any reason
for people not to be as careful as we have asked them to be.
QUESTION: General, what progress can you report in trying to track down the source of
the anthrax? Is any progress being made?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, this is a matter of great concern to us, and not merely
to the Justice Department authorities but to a number of others: state and local
authorities, to the postal authorities. And we are working very hard to try
and to locate the source and determine ways to prevent additional problems and
threats associated with it. But I don't -- I'm not in a position to be able
to say to you that we are on the brink of making an announcement here. We don't
have progress to report at this time.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, can you walk us through, or Mr. McCraw, when and how
the FBI will be opening the mail that was sort of trapped in the Capitol. And
then secondly, if someone can comment on the story out today on the six men
detained by the INS supposedly with maps or photos of a nuclear powerplant in
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I don't -- I cannot comment on any plan by the FBI to open
the mail that was destined for the Capitol.
And as to the story, to the best of my knowledge, that's a story and nothing
more. I don't have any reason to believe it to be true. It was noted that I
had responded emotionally to this situation, when, as a matter of fact, I hadn't
even known about the situation until I read about my response in the newspaper.
(Laughter.) So I would say that if the story were true, I think that they have
accurately predicted the kind of response I would have. (Laughter.) And they
almost -- well, anyhow, you know -- but a lot of things are said about me that
aren't totally true. You take Imus, for instance, this morning said I had the
most hideous $2 haircut in the history of the world. (Laughter.) And I beg to
differ. It's a $7 haircut, not a $2 haircut. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: But there have been some instances in which, we have learned in the aftermath
of September 11th, that some of the hijackers had some visa problems or inconsistencies.
One even had an arrest warrant out. But when they went through checkpoints with
the Immigration in Miami and elsewhere, these things were -- they were allowed
into the country, essentially. How did that kind of thing happen? And I suppose
this task force is meant to stop that kind of thing from happening.
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, the task force is meant to help us do a better job.
You'll remember that some people were allowed to come into the country based
on saying they would have a permanent residence, and they just wrote things
like "Marriott Hotel, New York." There are a lot of Marriotts in New
York, and even when you sweep those and ask for their eventual -- whether or
not they ever showed up there, you can't find that they did. So the development
of a new set of protocols that will provide better information and give us an
opportunity to screen will improve our performance, and that improved performance
should elevate the security of the American people. That's really the number-one
QUESTION: Mr. Ashcroft, one of the things that we've heard about over the last few years
that was a big problem with immigration situations is that the INS and FBI databases
could not talk to each other, they were not married, and a lot of people were
slipping through the cracks in that system, and that it was going to cost hundreds
of millions of dollars to marry the two systems; and every time any White House
took a look at that --
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, a lot of married folks don't talk to themselves either.
QUESTION: But seriously, sir, are you going to be able to marry those two systems, to
combine the two systems so that they can talk to each other?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We are working very carefully to develop a capacity to share
information more profoundly. And you touch on what is a very strong objective.
The federal government has been all too frequently characterized by a variety
of databases or informational awarenesses that aren't available. The USA Patriot
Act, which the Congress providently legislated, takes down some of the walls,
so that -- previously it was against the law for information to flow, but it
doesn't automatically provide the mechanisms whereby information will flow.
And one of the things that -- Steve, you've gone -- there you are -- he's going
to be doing is to make sure that we get as much exchange and cross-availability
of this information. Information is a key element in the war against terrorism,
and we are working very aggressively to coordinate our informational capacities
so that they become interoperable, so that those in one part of the government
that have information can make that information available to and valuable to
And I think you had --
QUESTION: Yes, I had a question about how you determine whether someone is a supporter
of a terrorist group. And this would get to the question of what their political
allegiances are, what their political philosophies may be. If a student comes
into this country and he comes with no bad intent, but at some later point determines
that he is sympathetic to a terrorist organization, how do you track that, how
do you determine that?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, one of the things that I've done today is to announce
that there are, I think, 46 known terrorist organizations that will be publicly
posted. And those who are involved with them or support them are deemed by the
law to be supporters of terrorism. And this law applies to aliens, to those
who are not U.S. citizens. And if they support those organizations and give
to them financially or work with them, provide work for them and the like, it'll
be a basis for their removal from the United States of America. This is a clear
authority that strengthens our ability to say to terrorists, "You're not
welcome in the United States."
We have the broadest welcome, immigration-wise, of any country on the face of
the Earth. About 500 and oh, maybe 50 million people a year cross the borders
of the United States, in and out. Over 300 and, say, 30 million of those, almost
30 million a month, are non- citizens of the United States. We are not a nation
that does not welcome individuals of goodwill and individuals who respect freedom.
But we are equally intent to say to those who are associated with or support
-- who are participants in -- pardon me -- involved with supporters of terrorism,
"You are not welcome here." And if you develop that characteristic
after you get here, as an alien, you will be asked to leave.
QUESTION: (Off mike) -- the recent death in New York of the woman from anthrax, how
has that elevated the risk to the general mail? And in addition to that, I'm
wondering if you feel like you have any sense of containment at all on the general
threat that anthrax continues to pose?
ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Our investigation in regard to the death of the woman in
New York, whose diagnosis according to the authorities was from inhalation anthrax,
is ongoing, and we're not able to announce conclusions in regard to that. We
believe that the threat --
You know, I wish I could turn the clock back to before September the 11th. I
wish that we didn't have to talk about threats, I wish we didn't have to make
announcements about threats. But the facts are different. We simply have an
environment in which threats exist, and we have to -- and I believe are warranted
in trusting the American people to talk to them about that. And I don't believe
we can say that the threats have abated. I believe that we still have to ask
people to be alert, but we all have to understand that being American includes
a certain amount of activity, and the freedoms we've enjoyed we should continue
to enjoy. It's with that in mind that I can't say that people have any right
to think that the risks have abated as it relates either to the anthrax or other