CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Target Terrorism: Attorney General Holds News Conference With Canada's Solicitor General
Aired October 2, 2001 - 15:23 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.
BOBBIE BATTISTA, HOST, CNN'S "TALKBACK LIVE": I'm sorry, I've got to interrupt here, because Attorney General Ashcroft is about to speak with reporters, so we'll go there.
JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good afternoon.
Allow me to express my deep appreciation to Solicitor General Lawrence MacAulay of Canada and to Canada's government for its both immediate and comprehensive assistance to the United States of America in relation to the tragedy of September 11 this year: the attacks by terrorists on the World Trade Center, on the Pentagon and, of course, on the flight which ended so tragically in Pennsylvania.
Our relationship with Canada is one of the most satisfying relationships that could be anticipated between two nations. And the commerce which flows so freely between our countries is the basis for a substantial part of our success and our prosperity.
And it's very important that we have the kind of continuing relationship, and the kind of openness between our cultures, and the kind of capacity for commerce and individuals to flow back and forth across our borders that sustains our relationship.
The assistance on September 11 and since then by our Canadian neighbors has been remarkable. The attack on September 11 was not just an attack on the United States, it happened to have been an attack on every civilization that values freedom.
I'm personally saddened by the -- deeply saddened by the 23 Canadian victims still unaccounted for in the World Trade Center attack. And I want to express publicly my condolences to the solicitor general of Canada and the citizens of Canada for their loss in this setting.
As President Bush expressed his gratitude to Prime Minister Chretien during their meeting on September 24 of this year, let me reemphasize again the urgent need to implement strong and sometimes difficult measures to combat terrorism. The vital assistance that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are providing to the United States investigators builds on a foundation of excellent law enforcement cooperation, something both authorities depend upon in the ordinary course of our relationship. In previous cases, Canada's assistance in our investigation of terrorist activity, especially the matter that was planned to coincide with the millennium's celebrations in the United States, that was facilitated by our relationship and which made easier the work of prosecutors from Seattle and New York in convicting Ahmed Rassam, known to have been affiliated with Osama bin Laden and other individuals -- that all took place earlier this year and was a result of our cooperation.
In these extraordinary circumstances, all countries must implement measures aimed at dismantling terrorist organizations and preventing further and future attacks.
And I'm just delighted to have this opportunity to express personally the gratitude of the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service and other agencies regarding and participating in law enforcement in the United States, to express personally to the solicitor general of Canada our profound appreciation for their many acts of cooperation and for their participation in an investigation which has been self- initiated in many respects. Sometimes before we could ask, they were already cooperating to do those things they knew to be necessary in order for us to succeed.
With that in mind, I'm very pleased to introduce to you the solicitor general of Canada, Lawrence MacAulay, and ask him if he cares to make any remarks.
Friend, thank you.
LAWRENCE MACAULAY, CANADIAN SOLICITOR GENERAL: Thank you very much, John.
First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Ashcroft for his leadership through these very difficult times. As the prime minister indicated, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you and support you in these difficult times.
We discussed the investigation, and I was pleased that Mr. Ashcroft and the FBI couldn't express enough pleasure in how support they have with CSIS and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and how important it is for the security of both nations.
We also discussed legislation and what we plan to do in our country. We passed a resolution in our country today that freezes assets connected with terrorists, and that just extends the list and that will be also published.
We also discussed the Canadian border -- the Canadian- American border. And I was so pleased that Mr. Ashcroft indicated and is also concerned about the free flow of goods and to make sure that the economies of both countries do not suffer and, in fact, more or less, do what the terrorists intended to do and that was hurt democracy.
Again, I want to thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with you, John. And to have you leading this investigation and making sure that the people who are responsible are brought to justice and democracy, in the way that you and I and all Canadians and Americans and people who live in the free world live and wish to continue to live, and will live that way. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Mr. Attorney General, you said last week that the northern border has become a transit point, quote, "for several individuals involved in terrorism." Has there been any evidence at all linking September 11 to terrorists who might have come across the Canadian border?
ASHCROFT: First of all, let me say that the 4,000 miles or so of border between the United States and Canada are a model for the way neighbors ought to conduct themselves. I mean, it is a very substantial open border between two nations, the friendship of which couldn't be stronger in my judgment.
But any time there are borders that are that open and that substantial, there are risks that people crossing the border could be individuals who are involved in very serious activities that could be troublesome.
Without commenting on this investigation, let me just refer to you to one where the conviction has already been obtained. The Rassam bombing was a situation where, with the help of Canadian authorities, we apprehended him transporting significant explosives into this country. And those were for purposes of disrupting the millennium celebration.
So that cooperation is important, the border is important, but obviously there is an exposure, and a potential for problems there, and that's what working together will help us curtail.
QUESTION: Senator Ashcroft, the United States has shared some evidence with our allies about how the terrorism attacks are connected to Osama bin Laden. What can you tell us about what that evidence is?
ASHCROFT: Well, obviously, our investigation is ongoing. And it's not in my position at this time to detail the evidence that's available. Let me just indicate to you that from very early stages in the investigation, we saw Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda network, which is a network that is a substantial group of individuals as well as organizations, as being a focal point of those responsible for this act of terror.
QUESTION: Senator Ashcroft, do you think one of the solutions to the potential for trouble between Canada and U.S. in terms of crossing the border and the vulnerability there is a security perimeter around North America? Is that something you favor?
ASHCROFT: Well, I believe that we can work together to improve the right kind of access on our border. It's in Canada's interest that they have an awareness of who's crossing the border from the United States to Canada. It's in our interest to have an awareness and a cooperative endeavor for us to know who's both leaving United States, and coming into the United States. These mutual interests will provide, I believe, the basis for a continuing cooperation. And it may be that we'll adjust the way in which that cooperation is achieved as a result of what happened on the 11th of September. But I believe that we'll continue to cooperate, and I think that it will facilitate our capacity to prosper in both settings.
QUESTION: Attorney General, several of our allies have received what they call conclusive proof that Osama bin Laden is connected with the September 11 attacks. This information has gone to other countries. Can you share it with the American people now?
ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to share the evidentiary basis regarding parties responsible for these tragedies at this time.
QUESTION: Mr. Ashcroft, as you know there was a good deal of discussion since Sunday about your comments on a couple of television shows -- whether you meant to say that another terrorist attack in this country is likely, as opposed to merely possible. Could you clarify or amplify on that for us today, sir?
And if I may also ask Mr. MacAuley if there are any steps that the Canadian government is planning to take to tighten up on immigration into your country, sir?
ASHCROFT: Well, let me just indicate that I believe that additional terrorists acts are possible. And I believe the kind of attack which we endured shows that the risks of such possibilities are substantial, and that we should be very much aware of those risks.
I don't think the United States should retreat or should withdraw. There shouldn't be a cultural paralysis, which otherwise curtails our activities. The president's clearly stated that he thinks we should have a heightened awareness. And we've called upon Americans for their assistance in this heightened awareness.
And I think the right balance and understanding that is what's important for us. We're not going to cease to be the free, open society that offers opportunity to Americans that we've been. But we're going to be careful, and I've asked the Congress very clearly for additional tools to reduce the risk of further incidents. And I believe it is time for us to understand that tools can reduce the risk of terrorism; talk won't. And we need to make sure that we curtail the risks of terrorist activities.
Let me just finally say that terrorism won't happen based on what we decide the risk factors are. On September the 10th, we didn't have an understanding of how high the risk factors were.
We need to be prepared and we need to understand that there is a possibility of additional activity, and act accordingly, but not surrender the freedom that we have. And I know you addressed a question to my counterpart.
MACAULAY: Yes, in Canada in the Senate of Canada we have an immigration bill, C. 11, that will tighten up our immigration rules. For an example, anybody coming into the country, there will be advance information on who they are and what they're about, and there is the possibility that they need an identification card.
And John is absolutely right: Interception with our intelligence agencies -- we made a commitment that we're going to beef up that area; more funds for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; and to make sure also that our seamless cooperation with Mr. Ashcroft's responsibilities with the FBI and other agencies in this country continue, so that we provide as safe a society as possible.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft meeting with the Canadian solicitor general, who's equivalent (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Lawrence MacAulay, describing again (UNINTELLIGIBLE) both countries would work together in the fight against terrorism.
The attorney general underlining that there in a question you heard from a reporter, trying to pick at an answer he gave over the weekend, where he said more terrorist attacks are expected. And he said this is something that is possible, but it has raised a lot of concern among those who pay attention to these things, because he is the attorney general of the United States and he'd be in a position to know if something were coming.
But again, and our Kelli Arena, Justice Department correspondent, joining me.
Kelli, he seems again to be saying we don't have specific evidence or information suggesting this. It's just out of an abundance of caution.
KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Well, what he said over the weekend, what concerns him, he said that he expected that there might be some chemical or biological attack, in one of the interviews. And so, that was like, whoa, wait a minute, he's taking one step further. He's going one step further than he's gone before. And today, I think back-pedaling just a little bit, saying, look, you know, we have to be on-guard. As a population, we need to be aware, as evidenced by September 11th, that these things can happen.
So I know lots and lots of craziness over that, that statement, but he does seems to be back pedaling a bit.
He was also asked about the evidence today that was given over to...
ARENA: ... sharing with our NATO partners and other allies. And he, of course, refused to comment on what that evidence was, but sources have told CNN that part of that evidence includes the fact that at least four of the alleged hijackers were -- they had connections to Afghan training camps. That is for sure, No. 1.
No. 2, we know that several telephone intercepts have been provided between members of the al Qaeda organization. Money transfers, specific information on money transfers back and forth between the suspected hijackers and contacts in the Middle East and elsewhere. So, that -- that evidence, we do know that it was very specific and credible evidence.
WOODRUFF: All right, Kelli Arena, our justice correspondent. Again, that information Kelli is describing coming from other sources, credible sources, but not from top-ranking officials in the U.S. government.
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