Prepared Remarks of Attorney General John Ashcroft
Report from the Field: The USA PATRIOT Act at Work
July 13, 2004
In Afghanistan, our Special Operations Forces have deployed state-of-the-art weaponry and cutting edge tactics to hunt al Qaeda and destroy their safe haven.
Here at home, our domestic warriors - federal, state and local law enforcement - have used the new legal tools and technology in the Patriot Act to hunt down al Qaeda, destroy their safe haven, and save American lives.
Let me be clear about something before I move on: Congress intended that the Patriot Act be used to save lives from terrorist attacks. In fact, there are a number of provisions that are only to be used to prevent terrorism or foreign spying.
But other tools in the Patriot Act were developed to combat serious crime across the board, and we have used those general tools both in terrorism cases as well as in other cases, such as to catch predatory child molesters and pornographers.
We are a nation at war. That is a fact. Al Qaeda wants to hit us and hit us hard. We have to use every legal weapon available to protect the American people from terrorist attacks.
Like the smart bombs, laser-guided missiles and predator drones employed by our armed forces to hunt and kill al Qaeda in Afghanistan, the Patriot Act is just as vital to targeting the terrorists who would kill our people and destroy our freedom here at home.
I am pleased today to have met with these distinguished members of Congress and to have presented to them a report on how the Patriot Act has been our laser-guided weapon to prevent terrorist attacks. I have also been pleased to discuss how we have used the Patriot Act to save lives from violent criminals who prey on the vulnerable.
This report is an unprecedented compilation of dozens of real life cases from across the country in which the FBI and other law enforcement officials have used the tools of the Patriot Act to protect America's families and communities, and even to save lives.
In fact, this report provides a mountain of evidence that the Patriot Act has saved lives.
By tearing down the wall between law enforcement and the intelligence community, we have been able to share information in a way that was virtually impossible before the Patriot Act.
The removal of "The Wall" and the dramatic increase in information sharing allowed by the Patriot Act has enabled us to hunt down and dismantle terror cells in Portland, Oregon; Lackawanna, New York; and Northern Virginia.
The information-sharing and coordination made possible by section 218 assisted the prosecution in San Diego of several persons involved in an al Qaeda drugs-for-weapons plot, which culminated in several guilty pleas. They admitted that they conspired to receive, as partial payment for heroin and hashish, four "Stinger" anti-aircraft missiles that they then intended to sell to the Taliban, an organization they knew at the time to be affiliated with al Qaeda.
To allow section 218 and the other provisions of the Act to sunset at the end of next year would be paramount to unilateral disarmament against al Qaeda.
To take away the smart bombs, advanced night-vision equipment, and 21st Century communications capabilities from our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines would gut their ability to hunt and destroy al Qaeda terrorists.
To let the Patriot Act's laser-guided tools sunset would be to disarm the FBI and rollback our ability to target terrorists here at home, and would return us to the vulnerabilities we faced before September 11, 2001.
The Patriot Act is al Qaeda's worst nightmare when it comes to disrupting and disabling their operations here in America. Our law enforcement and intelligence teams have never before been so integrated and coordinated, and technologically-equipped, to target the 21st Century threat of global terror.
The Patriot Act has also allowed us to go after violent criminals who would harm the innocent.
In Kentucky, law enforcement used section 210 of the Patriot Act to investigate an individual linked to several sexual assaults of children at public libraries and local parks. Just before the individual in question became the primary suspect in the case, he attempted to rape and abduct a six-year-old girl at a playground in Boone County, Kentucky.
Investigators used section 210 to obtain key information from an Internet service provider. Within 20 minutes of receipt of the subpoena, the investigators obtained the information that allowed them to get a search warrant of the suspect's residence. Without that information, it is unlikely that investigators could have obtained a search warrant for the house.
Evidence located in the house proved essential in the arrest of the suspect and his wife within 24 hours. The couple was charged and prosecuted for 100-counts of receipt and possession of child pornography.
The prosecution also led to information tying the couple to multiple sexual assaults in Kentucky and Virginia. The defendants were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of approximately 30 years and 90 years.
In another example, Section 212 was instrumental in quickly rescuing a 13-year-old girl from Western Pennsylvania who had been lured from her home and was being held captive in Virginia by a 38-year-old man she had met online.
An anonymous caller contacted the FBI and stated that he had chatted online recently with an individual claiming to have taken a girl from Pittsburgh.
Based on information provided by that caller, FBI agents in Pittsburgh quickly requested information from an Internet service provider pursuant to section 212.
With the information provided in response to that request, agents were able to locate the kidnapper. They immediately went to his residence in Herndon, Virginia, and rescued the child victim. The suspect subsequently was arrested, pleaded guilty to charges of travel with intent to engage in sexual activity with a minor and sexual exploitation of a minor, and was sentenced to over 19 years in prison.
There are those who have criticized us for using the Patriot Act aggressively both in our war with al Qaeda and to protect the innocent from criminal predators.
This report will help reinforce what the majority of Americans already know: When it comes to saving lives and protecting freedom, we must use the Patriot Act and every legal means available to us.
I thank Chairman Sensenbrenner and the Members of Congress for taking the time to meet with me today. I thank them for their continued support as we work together to protect the lives and liberties of the American people.