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KWAME HOLMAN: Attorney General John Ashcroft went before the House Judiciary Committee this afternoon with a list of expanded federal powers he says are necessary to help prosecute the ongoing investigation. But first he gave an update.
JOHN ASHCROFT: Yesterday the FBI issued a nationwide alert based on information they received indicating the possibility of attacks using crop dusting aircraft. The FBI assesses the uses of this type of aircraft to distribute chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction as potential threats to Americans. We have no clear indication of the time or place of any such attack. The FBI has confirmed that Mohammed Atta, one of the suspected hijackers was acquiring knowledge of crop dusting aircraft prior to the attacks on September 11. A search of computers, computer disks and personal baggage of another individual whom we have in custody revealed a significant amount of information downloaded from the Internet about aerial application of pesticides or crop dusting. At our request, the Federal Aviation Administration has grounded such aircraft until midnight tonight.
KWAME HOLMAN: Ashcroft also gave an account of the overall investigation.
JOHN ASHCROFT: Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that the investigation into the acts of September 11th is ongoing, moving aggressive forward. To date, the FBI and INS have arrested or detained 352 individuals who remain… There are other individuals, 392 who remain at large because we think they have… we think they have information that could be helpful to the investigation. The investigative process has yielded 324 searches, 103 court orders, 3410 subpoenas, and the potential tips are still coming in to the Web site and the 1-800 hot line.
KWAME HOLMAN: Calling the anti- terrorism effort the top priority of the Justice Department, Ashcroft called for broader federal powers including: Allowing a court-ordered wiretap to cover the entire nation, and monitoring Internet communications. The bill also would extend the statute of limitations or the amount of time the government has to bring charges, and allow more discretion in detaining people who are subject to immigration laws. Ashcroft said the changes in law are needed now.
JOHN ASHCROFT: Until Congress makes these changes, we are fighting an unnecessary uphill battle. Members of the committee, I regret to inform you that we are today sending our troops into the modern field of battle with antique weapons. It is not a prescription for victory.
KWAME HOLMAN: Members generally agreed with granting many of the new powers, though some had concerns that a few provisions may violate constitutional standards. Congressional leaders reportedly are working to address those concerns and to move the legislation quickly.