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If Ashcroft Says… Remember this

Attorney General John Ashcroft is likely to make a spirited defense of his own and his department’s performance both before and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Below are some key areas he is likely to highlight as either an excuse for failure or as evidence of success.

  • According to his final budget document submitted to the Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 10, 2001, the attorney general requested spending increases in 68 programs, none of which directly related to counterterrorism.
  • In fact, Ashcroft proposed cuts in 14 programs, including trimming $65 million from grants to state and local governments to improve counterterrorism preparedness. He also did not endorse an FBI request for $58 million for new counterterrorism field agents, translators and intelligence analysts.
  • An official memo from the attorney general on the budgetary goals of the DOJ dated May 10, 2001, does not include terrorism among its seven strategic goals, a major departure from then-Attorney General Janet Reno’s last budget memo in April 2000 that listed counter-terrorism as its top priority. According to the New York Times, Reno’s counterterrorism budget increased 13.6 percent in 1999, 7.1 percent in 2000, and 22.7 percent in 2001.
  • Even after the Sept. 11 attacks, internal OMB documents reveal that the administration cut nearly $1 billion from the FBI request for additional counterterrorism funding.
  • Newsweek reported an “extraordinary confrontation” between the attorney general and the then-director of the FBI Louis Freeh at the annual meeting of FBI Special Agents in Charge in May 2001. Ashcroft and Freeh met before their appearance and the attorney general laid out his priorities, “‘basically, violent crime and drugs,’ recalls one participant. Freeh replied bluntly that those were not his priorities, and started to talk about terror and counter-terrorism. ‘Ashcroft didn’t want to hear about it,’ says a former senior law enforcement official.”
  • The New York Times reported that the 9/11 Commission “may make public a series of internal memorandums written by Thomas J. Pickard, who was the FBI acting director in the summer of 2001, criticizing what he perceived to be Mr. Ashcroft’s disinterest in counter-terrorism.” Similarly, the Washington Post also reported that Pickard “has told the commission in private that Ashcroft had little interest in terrorism in the summer of 2001.”
  • Despite appearing in two separate sessions on different days during his confirmation hearing in January 2001, he never uttered the words ‘terrorism,’ ‘al Qaeda,’ or ‘Osama bin Laden.’
  • On Nov. 8, 2001, Ashcroft said, “the attacks of September 11 have redefined the mission of the Department of Justice. Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and over-riding priority.”
  • According to his official bio on the Department of Justice Web site, Ashcroft “was nominated to serve as Attorney General of the United States on Dec= 22, 2000. Upon confirmation by the Senate, Ashcroft pledged to renew the war on drugs, reduce the incidence of gun violence and combat discrimination so no American feels outside the protection of the law.”
  • In testimony before the Senate on counterterrorism policy on May 9, 2001, the attorney general praised the collaborative efforts of intelligence and law enforcement officers in preventing attacks and apprehending terrorists. He said, “To enable effective use of the intelligence collected on terrorists under FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) and the Executive Order (#12333), the attorney general also approves the passage of such intelligence to authorities in a position to prevent the planning, movement, or other actions of terrorists.”
  • As the New York Times reports, nothing should have prevented the FBI from pursuing two hot terrorism leads from its field offices in the summer of 2001: a request to investigate the possible penetration of U.S. flights schools by al Qaeda from the Phoenix office, and the arrest of a suspected terrorist at a U.S. flight school near Minneapolis.
  • Nothing should have prevented the CIA from informing the State Department, the INS, or the FBI that two of the hijackers were known al Qaeda operatives, had attended a meeting of al Qaeda planners in Malaysia in January 2000, then traveled to and from the United States.
  • According to the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist List, established on Oct. 10, 2001, of the 22 terrorists President Bush declared “must be found,” only one has been captured, one may be dead, and at least 20 are still at large.

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