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Mueller, Ashcroft Address Reporters

Aired May 30, 2002 - 14:39   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.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: As promised, here is FBI Director Robert Mueller.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: ... nonetheless, our reforms of the FBI will and must strengthen our ability to prevent future terrorist attacks.

The guidelines changes that the attorney general is announcing today are important, they're important steps to help remove unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles to the effective investigation of terrorist cases.

And we understand that we need to rigorously conform to constitutional and statutory protections in the conduct of our investigations, and under these revised guidelines we will continue to do so.

We will also need to free up our extremely talented law enforcement agents to aggressively investigate possible terrorist plots without unnecessary bureaucratic obstacles or hurdles.

And I thank the attorney general for these changes. They will be exceptionally helpful to us.

And with that, it is my pleasure to introduce John Ashcroft, the attorney general.

Thank you, sir.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Bob.

In its 94-year history, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been many things: the defender of the nation from organized crime, the guardian of our security from international espionage, the tireless protector of civil rights and civil liberties for all Americans.

On September 11, a stunned nation turned once again to the brave men and women of the FBI, and once again they answered the call. I spent the hours, days and most of the first weeks, months, after the attack on the United States in the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center, SIOC, as it is known. I spent those days with Director Mueller. Even today, eight months later, it's difficult to convey the professionalism, the dedication, the quiet resolve, the determination that I witnessed in those first 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week sessions. I saw the people of the FBI work themselves beyond fatigue to prevent new terrorist attacks. I witnessed individuals put aside their personal lives, personal agendas and personal safety to answer our nation's call.

From the first moments that we spent together launching the largest investigation in history, we understood that the mission of American justice and law enforcement had changed. That day, in those early hours, the prevention of terrorist attacks became the central goal of the law enforcement and national security mission of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

And from that time forward, we learned, in the leadership of the FBI and the Department of Justice, that we must begin a concerted effort to free the field agents, the brave men and women on the front lines, from the bureaucratic, organizational and operational restrictions and structures that had hindered them from doing their jobs effectively.

As we have heard recently, men and women of the FBI in the field are frustrated because many of our own internal restrictions have hampered our ability to fight terrorism. The current investigative guidelines have contributed to that frustration.

In many instances, the guidelines bar FBI field agents from taking the initiative to detect and prevent future terrorist attacks or acts unless the FBI learns of possible criminal activity from external sources. Under the current guidelines, FBI investigators cannot, for example, surf the web in the same way that you and I can to look for information. Nor can FBI investigators simply walk into a public event or a public place to observe ongoing activities. They have no clear authority to use commercial data services that any business in America is authorized to use.

These restrictions are a competitive advantage for terrorists who skillfully utilize sophisticated techniques and modern computer systems to compile information for targeting and attacking innocent Americans.

That's why the attorney general's guidelines and procedures relating to criminal investigations and national security were high on the list of action items for reform.

Beginning in the 1970s, guidelines were developed to inform agents of the circumstances under which investigations could be opened, to inform agents of the permissible scope of the investigations, and to inform them of the techniques that could be used and the objectives that should be pursued.

These guidelines provide limitations and guidance over and above all the requirements and safeguards imposed by the Constitution, so that these are additional restrictions other than constitutional ones, and are beyond the legal framework established by the federal statutes enacted by the Congress.

Promulgated for different purposes and revised at various times, the guidelines currently cover FBI investigations, undercover operations, the use of confidential informants, and consensual monitoring of verbal communications.

The guidelines defining the general rules for FBI investigations, for example, were first issued well over 20 years ago. They derive from a period in which Soviet communism was the greatest threat to the United States, in which the Internet, for all practical intents and purposes, did not exist, and which concerns over terrorist threats to the homeland related mainly to domestic hate groups.

Shortly after September the 11th, I took two steps to free FBI field agents to prevent additional terrorist attacks.

First, I authorized the FBI to waive the guidelines with headquarter's approval in extraordinary cases to prevent and investigate terrorism. That authority has been used, but I'm disappointed that it was not used more widely.

This experience over the past few months reinforces my belief that greater authority to investigate more vigorously needs to be given directly to FBI field agents.

Second, I directed a top-to-bottom review of the guidelines to ensure that they provide front-line field agents with the legal authority they need to protect the American people from future terrorist attacks. That comprehensive review showed that the guidelines mistakenly combined timeless objectives -- important ones: the enforcement of the law and respect for civil rights and liberties -- combined those objectives with outdated techniques and means.

Today I am announcing a comprehensive revision to the department's investigative guidelines. As revised, the guidelines reflect four overriding principles.

First, the war against terrorism is the central mission and the highest priority of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. This principle is stated explicitly in the revised guidelines and it is facilitated and reinforced through many specific reforms. The guidelines emphasize that the FBI must not be deprived of using all lawful authorized methods in investigations consistent with the Constitution and with statutory authority to pursue and prevent terrorist actions.

Second, terrorism prevention is the key objective under the guidelines -- the revised guidelines. Our philosophy today is not to wait and sift through the rubble following a terrorist attack. Rather, the FBI must intervene early and investigate aggressively where information exists and that existing information suggests the possibility of terrorism. This is necessary to prevent acts of terrorism.

The new guidelines advance this strategy of prevention by strengthening investigative authority at the early stage of preliminary inquiries. Also, even absent specific investigative predicates, FBI agents, under the new guidelines, are empowered to scour public sources for information on future terrorist threats.

Third, unnecessary procedural red tape must not interfere with the effective detection, investigation and prevention of terrorist activities. To this end, the revised guidelines allow special agents in charge of FBI field offices to approve and renew terrorism enterprise investigations rather than having to seek and wait for approval from headquarters. I believe this responds to a number of concerns we have heard from our field agents.

The guidelines expand the scope of those investigations to the full range of terrorist activities under the USA Patriot Act.

These major changes will free field agents to counter potential terrorist threats swiftly and vigorously without waiting for headquarters in order for the field agent to act.

Fourth, the FBI must draw proactively on all lawful sources of information to identify terrorist threats and activities. It cannot meet its paramount responsibility to prevent acts of terrorism if the FBI agents are required, as they have been in the past, to blind themselves to information that is available for everyone else to see.

Under the revised guidelines, the FBI can identify and track foreign terrorists by combining its investigative results with information obtained from other lawful sources, such as foreign intelligence and commercial databases and data services.

To detect and prevent terrorist activities, the FBI, under revised guidelines, will also be able to enter and observe public places and forums, just as any member of the public has the right to enter and observe what is happening in those places.

Let me pause here for a moment. What I'm saying is this: FBI agents have been inhibited from attending public events, events open to any other citizen, not because they are barred by the U.S. Constitution, or barred by any federal law enacted in Congress, but because of the lack of a clear authority under administrative guidelines issued decades ago.

Today, I am clarifying that, for the specific purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities, FBI field agents may enter public places and attend events open to the public or other citizens, unless they are barred from attending by the Constitution or federal law.

Our new guideline in this respect reads as follows, and I will just read it to give you the verbatims of it.

For the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities, the FBI is authorized to visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public on the same terms and conditions as members of the public generally.

I believe in the principle of community policing. That's a principle in which local police forces have a visible, active, law enforcement presence that's linked to communities and to neighborhoods. Local police, sheriffs, deputies, highway patrolmen, state police enter public places and attend public events in their communities, and they detect and prevent crime by doing so. To protect our communities from terrorism, the FBI must be free to do the same.

The revised guidelines will take effect immediately and will be incorporated into the training of FBI agents. These guidelines will also be a resource to inform the American public and demonstrate that we seek to protect life and liberty from terrorism and other criminal violence with a scrupulous respect for civil rights and personal freedoms. The guidelines are available on the Internet at www.usdoj.gov.

The campaign against terrorism is a campaign to affirm the values of freedom and human dignity that transcend national boundaries, racial classifications and religious differences. Called to the service of our nation we are called to the defense of liberty for all men and women.

On behalf of the Department of Justice and the people of this great nation, I want to thank Director Mueller and the FBI for their hard work in defense of freedom.

And I want to thank Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Assistant Attorneys General Michael Chertoff and Viet Dinh -- Viet Dinh is here with us today -- for their efforts in revising the guidelines to honor the values of America while we protect the security of American citizens.

These two gentlemen who are with me today are expert in the details of the new guidelines, and I would call upon them in the event that I misstate anything in regard to those guidelines to make corrections so that there is clarity in that which is made by way of response.

QUESTION: When you talk about FBI agents (OFF-MIKE) public places, how do religious institutions, such as mosques, fit into that?

ASHCROFT: The definition provided in the new guidelines is a definition that relates to the place -- whether or not the public is invited to the place. So that if a place is a place to which the public is invited and in which the public is welcome, it is a place in which the FBI is welcome.

QUESTION: So mosques would be included then, right?

ASHCROFT: The definition relates to the extent to which the public is eligible to attend. It is not a definition that relates to the nature of the place in other terms.

QUESTION: Attorney General, in all fairness, if you hadn't taken this step you'd be accused of handcuffing your agents. Now that you have taken this step, you're going to be accused by some people of returning the FBI to domestic spying without probable cause. Are you sure that the department and the bureau have a handle on this, that this isn't some slippery slope that's going to take us back to the days when the bureau spied on Martin Luther King and other dissidents in this country?

ASHCROFT: Well, let me make clear what we have done, and that's the reason I read the specific text. The specific text indicated that this is an activity authorized in the guidelines for purposes of preventing terrorism, and so that it's not to be abused for other purposes.

Additionally, the guidelines contain very clear instruction about what kind of records can be kept. The abuses that once have been alleged about the FBI decades ago about the keeping of files or records about prominent figures in this country would not be allowed either under the guidelines or under the statutes regarding privacy which are incorporated in the guidelines.

The new guideline, let me just read it, I've been fumbling with these papers to get back to it, it's very simply stated: "For the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities the FBI is authorized to visit anyplace and attend any event that is open to the public." And then it says, "...on the same terms and conditions as members of the public generally."

QUESTION: Could you clarify then that this doesn't change any standards for searches and seizures conducted by the FBI or the Department of Justice?

Could you clarify then that this doesn't change any standards for searches and seizures conducted by the FBI or Department of Justice?

ASHCROFT: No, I don't believe it does. None whatsoever.

I have the privilege of just announcing that the deputy attorney general has another commitment, but he would make a statement before he leaves.

LIN: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and the war on terror may be good news for those who are fighting another terrorist attack, but what does it mean to individuals' civil rights now that agents will have more authority to initiate investigations as well as perhaps reading e-mails and attend events, public or otherwise, and what sorts of records will be kept now on civilians in the name of preventing terrorism?

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