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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Michael Battle
Michael Battle
Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys
June 10, 2005

Michael Battle
Good afternoon, I'm Mike Battle, the Director of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and I’m glad to take your questions about the PATRIOT Act.

Jared, from Grand Rapids writes:
I just have two Questions for you. 1. Do you support the Patriot Act? 2. Why? I think that the Patriot Act is a good thing and I want to know Washingtons opinion on it.

Michael Battle
Hi, Jared. I’m glad you asked! I support the PATRIOT Act, because we need it to keep America safe. After the tragedy of September 11, 2001, we realized law enforcement and intelligence officials didn’t have the tools they needed to detect and prevent terror. We worked with Congress to fix the gaping holes that left us vulnerable, and they passed the PATRIOT Act with overwhelming, bipartisan support. It did several important things that law enforcement desperately needed.

The PATRIOT Act brought down the wall between our intelligence officials and law enforcement officials, so that they could share information and “connect the dots.” We can’t wait until terrorists strike before we begin to investigate – we have to work together and share information in order to prevent attacks, and the PATRIOT Act helps us do that.

The PATRIOT Act also updated the law to help us fight a digital-age battle against terrorists who are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of us with new technology. We can’t fight terrorism with laws and procedures left over from the era of rotary telephones.

The PATRIOT Act also allowed us to use law enforcement tools – the same ones we’ve used for years against Mob bosses and drug lords – against terrorists who want to kill innocent Americans. These are the same tools that have been used for years to fight other sorts of crime, and courts have ruled that they are constitutional and do not violate civil liberties.

Now, thanks to all of the ways the PATRIOT Act helps law enforcement and intelligence officials, we have been able to make steady progress across America in disrupting terrorism.

Gregg, from Corona, CA writes:
To whom do I turn to report possiblesuspicious terrorist link in our neighborhood? Myself and other neighbors find a particular homeand its occupants very unusual? THANK YOU.

Michael Battle
Hi, Gregg. Anyone who believes they have information regarding potential criminal or terrorist activity should report it to their local law enforcement officials or FBI office. Of course, a lot of us have had some pretty unusual neighbors, but that doesn’t mean that they are criminals!

Hugh, from Orchard Park, NY writes:
I realize that some issues can't be discussed because of security concerns, but are there examples where the Federal Government was able to stop andor arrest individuals for terrorism using the Patriot Act?

Michael Battle
Absolutely – there are many cases where the PATRIOT Act was used to stop and prosecute individuals who were supporting terrorism. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, federal terrorism-related investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 people, and more than half of those charged have been convicted already. We have prosecuted terror cells and supporters of terror all across America, in states including New York, Oregon, Virginia, Florida, California, Texas, New Jersey, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio.

For example, in New Jersey earlier this year, we used the PATRIOT Act to convict a man for attempting to sell an anti-aircraft missile to a man whom he believed represented a terrorist group intent on shooting down a commercial airliner inside the United States.

Another example is the terror cell I prosecuted in Lackawanna, New York. Thanks to the help of the PATRIOT Act, we were able to convict six men who had traveled to Afghanistan in 2001 to receive training at an al Qaeda-affiliated camp. These men studied firearms, explosives, including how to detonate hand grenades, land mines, Molotov cocktails, and a Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher. Then they left the camp and came back into the United States to live in my community near Buffalo. Now they are serving hard time in federal prison. These are just a few examples of cases where we were able to use the PATRIOT Act to take people intent on supporting terror off our streets.

Brandon, from Dallas TX writes:
Does the Patriot Act comprimise any civil liberties we currently hold dear in the United States? Please elaborate?

Michael Battle
Hello, Brandon. In my life I’ve been privileged to serve on all sides of the criminal justice system. I’ve been a prosecutor, a public defender, and a judge. I’ve worked my whole life to defend the liberties and freedoms that we as Americans enjoy, and nothing is more important to our system of justice.

Far from compromising our civil liberties, the PATRIOT Act expressly protects them. The law says that “Congress… declares that, in the quest to identify, locate, and bring to justice the perpetrators and sponsors of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans . . .be protected….”

You know, when Congress passed the bill, the fact that it protected civil liberties was vitally important to the members of the House and Senate, and was one of the reasons why it passed with such overwhelming support. That’s why Senator Schumer (D-NY) said if there was one word that underscored the bill it would be “balance.” I can assure you that the Justice Department is in the business of protecting civil liberties, and this law helps us do that – while we protect America from terror.

Tom, from Tulsa, OK writes:
Mr. Battle, President Bush and his administration have made a recent push for Congressional approval (renewal)of the Patriot Act. Besides allowing law enforcement more oversight of criminal activities, what other areas do you see the Patriot Act aiding officials? (Immigration,

travel, homeland security, etc.) Best wishes Thanks.Tom Tulsa, Oklahoma

Michael Battle
Thank you, Tom. While many people know that the law strengthened law enforcement’s abilities to investigate terrorism, there are a lot of other good things in there people don’t hear about. The PATRIOT Act enhanced the penalties for crimes likely to be committed by terrorists, such as arson, destruction of energy facilities, material support to terrorists and terrorist organizations, and destruction of national-defense materials. The Act also helped to stem the flow of money to terrorists, improved laws protecting against cyber-terrorism, and filled a gap in the law by creating a new criminal offense to prohibit attacks against a mass transportation system. It allowed for more resources to enhance our border security and improved some of our immigration laws, too. For example, it made people who use positions of prominence to endorse or support terrorist activities ineligible to enter the United States. A lot of these things sound like common sense, but it was the PATRIOT Act that made them possible!

Over the past three-and-a-half years, America's law enforcement and intelligence personnel have proved that the Patriot Act works, and we have been encouraging Congress to renew the 16 provisions of the law that are set to expire this year. As President Bush has said, they are practical, important, and constitutional.

John, from Texas writes:
Can you predict approximately how long the Patriot Act will be needed?

Michael Battle
I wish I could say when the war on terror will end – but I can’t. However, the tools in the PATRIOT Act protect America from terror and violent crime, while also protecting our freedoms and liberties. We need it to keep us safe in the world we live in today.

Daniel, from Great Barrington, MA writes:
Hi, I am a 15 year old very interested in politics and the law. Has the government used the library provision? And how many people has the Patriot Act helped to arrest? Is the PATRIOT act used for anything other than stopping terrorist activities, like the war on drugs? Thank you.

Michael Battle
Hi, Daniel, I’m glad you’re interested in this subject! Despite all the misinformation that’s out there, libraries aren’t mentioned in the PATRIOT Act. There is a provision in the law (section 215) that allows investigators to request the production of records to aid in international terrorism and espionage investigations. This can only happen with a court order and when those records are relevant to a national security investigation, such as an international terrorism or espionage investigations. Not only do we have to get approval from a federal judge before we can do it, we have to report to Congress how often we use it. Plus, we can’t use it to investigate ordinary crimes, and we can’t use it for an investigation based solely on activities protected by the First Amendment - so there are lots of protections.

As of March 31, 2005, which is the most recent date on which this information was declassified, we have not used section 215 to obtain records from libraries or bookstores. However, it’s important that law enforcement have the tool to get records in case they need it someday to protect this nation. We do know that terrorists and spies, including Al Qaeda operatives, have actually used libraries to plan and carry out their activities and I hope no one would argue that libraries should be safe havens for terrorists.

As far as whether we use the PATRIOT Act to fight other types of crime, in addition to including provisions focusing only on terrorism, Congress also improved many areas of the general criminal law in the Act, and we are therefore allowed to use those tools to combat other forms of serious crime, not just terrorism. As a result, when allowed by the law, we have used some of the tools to prosecute crimes such as child pornography and kidnapping.

Let me give you two examples - Last December, Bobbie Jo Stinnett, who was eight months pregnant, was strangled and killed in her Missouri home. When law enforcement found her, they saw that her unborn baby had been sliced out and was missing. They used the PATRIOT Act to find the alleged killer and the healthy baby girl in Kansas a short time later. Also, in Operation Hamlet, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents used section 210 of the PATRIOT Act to assist in dismantling an international ring of active child molesters, many of whom were molesting their own children. The perpetrators photographed and videotaped the abuse and then exchanged it amongst the ring of child molesters over the Internet. In some instances, the abusers molested the children while simultaneously running a “live- feed” via a webcam so that the other molesters could watch the abuse occurring in real-time. Law enforcement used the PATRIOT Act to identify many members of this molestation ring and rescue more than 100 child victims. I hope you agree Congress was wise to let us use some of these new tools against these sorts of horrible crime.

John, from Abilene, Texas writes:
I work in law enforcement, and see many benefits to the Patriot Act in combating crime and terrorism. The law-abiding public should not feel threatened by the scope of the Act, since "probable cause" is still required before officers may take action. Are there plans for some type of public forums to give citizens better insight into the Act's intent?

Michael Battle
Thank you for your hard work to protect America! I’m doing this chat today because I think that it’s important for citizens to ask questions and to learn how law enforcement uses these tools every day to protect them. Congress has held many public hearings about the law this year, President Bush has talked about it a lot, and many federal prosecutors have also held events in their areas to encourage this conversation as well. We also have a website dedicated to educating citizens about this law, I hope everyone checks it out!

Michael Battle
Thank you for all logging on and participating today.