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U.S. Attorney General: Patriot Act Important to War Against Terrorism

By K.L. Vantran
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2003 – The bombing of the United Nations building in Iraq confirms the worldwide terrorist threat is real, said U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft.

"Our enemies continue to pursue ways to murder the innocent and the peaceful," he said in an address to the American Enterprise Institute here Aug. 19. "They seek to kill us abroad and at home. But we will not be deterred from our responsibility to preserve American life and liberty, nor our duty to build a safer and more secure world."

Tools provided in the Patriot Act, passed by Congress in October 2001, help the Justice Department fulfill its responsibility to protect the American people, added Ashcroft.

The act began to "tear down walls that cut off communication between intelligence and law enforcement officials," he said. "It gave agencies like the FBI and CIA the ability to integrate their capabilities."

The attorney general cited an example. Several persons have been indicted in Portland, Oregon, for allegedly conspiring to travel to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight against American forces, he said. The investigation began when a local sheriff in another state shared information with the Portland Joint Terrorism Task Force that one of his deputies had gotten from a traffic stop. Recently one of the defendants, Maher Hawash, pled guilty to illegally providing support to the Taliban and agreed to cooperate with the government. He faces a prison term of seven to 10 years.

A congressional report on the 9-11 attacks found that U.S. law enforcement relied on "outdated and insufficient technology," according to Ashcroft. The Patriot Act gave law enforcement improved tools. Before the act, investigators had to get a different wiretap order every time a subject changed cell phones. Now investigators can get a single order that applies to all phones a suspect uses.

The report also determined there was not enough cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The act expanded the capabilities of Joint Terrorism Task Forces.

"The Lakhani investigation would not have been possible had American, Russian and other foreign intelligence and law enforcement agencies not been able to coordinate and communicate the intelligence they had gained," stressed the attorney general.

Ashcroft was referring to alleged arms dealer Hemant Lakhani, who was charged with attempting to sell shoulder-fired missiles to terrorists for use against American targets. After a long undercover investigation in several countries, Ashcroft said, Lakhani traveled to Newark, N.J., last week and was arrested with two alleged financial facilitators, as he allegedly prepared to finalize the sale of the first missile.

"The painful lessons of Sept. 11 remain touchstones reminding us of government's responsibility to its people," said Ashcroft. "Those lessons have directed us down a path that preserves life and preserves liberty."

Ashcroft encouraged attendees to visit a new Web site to read about the Patriot Act.

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