Rules for aliens changed, anti-terrorism task forces established
By Manuel Perez-Rivas
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General John Ashcroft announced Tuesday that the Immigration and Naturalization Service will allow aliens to be detained for an indefinite period of time during emergencies or other extraordinary circumstances, in response to the series of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
Ashcroft also said he has ordered the creation of an anti-terrorism task force at every U.S. Attorney's office across the country, in a bid to improve the flow of information among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies and to help craft strategy to prevent terrorism across the country.
"The details that we have learned and the enormous destruction and devastation that was caused by last Tuesday's attack have brought us to a turning point in our country's fight against terrorism and the preservation of the safety and security of our society," Ashcroft said at a Justice Department news conference.
Ashcroft added that more than 96,000 tips and leads have come in to federal investigators.
The new rules governing the detention of aliens, he said, will apply to the 75 people now being detained by INS who federal officials believe may have knowledge about the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The administrative revision was signed on Monday night by INS Commissioner James Ziglar, Ashcroft said, and it will extend the period of time that aliens may be held from 24 hours to 48, "or to an additional reasonable time if necessary under an emergency or in other extraordinary circumstances."
The attorney general said last week that he instructed US Attorneys offices across the country to appoint an experienced prosecutor to serve as an anti-terrorism coordinator. The coordinator will hold meetings with representatives from all federal law enforcement agencies, and state and local law enforcement agencies also will be asked to participate.
The task forces, he said, will act as conduits of information among agencies at all levels of government, streamlining the sharing of intelligence information either from federal investigators to local agencies, or the other way around.
"This information highway will not be a one-way street," the attorney general said.
The task forces, he said, will be part of a national network that will coordinate the dissemination of information about terrorism and develop a strategy to "disrupt, dismantle and punish terrorist organizations across the country."
Ashcroft noted that the changes are in addition to a package of legislative changes he intends to send to Congress this week. Those changes would grant investigators broader wiretapping powers as well as stiffen the penalties for people who harbor or assist terrorists. But legislation alone, he said, will not be enough to fight the problem.
In addition, he said, the administrative changes also signal a more preventative role for federal investigators when it comes to terrorism.
"We must all recognize that our mission has changed," he said. "It has been changed by the events of this last week. The threat that seemed fairly remote to most Americans seven days ago is now felt in every heart and every home in the United States. And if we are to dispel this threat we must meet it with ingenuity and with determination."
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