FC: Transcript of Atty Gen Ashcroft speech on bigger FBI DNA database

From: Declan McCullagh (declanat_private)
Date: Mon Mar 04 2002 - 22:58:03 PST

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    Attorney General Transcript
    News Conference - DNA Initiatives
    Monday, March 4, 2002
    DOJ Conference Center
    ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Good afternoon. Douglas and Lori White were
    married just 11 days when walking down a bike path in Mesquite, Texas
    in November of 1993 a m an jumped out from behind the trees and
    demanded their money. The frightened couple began t o pray, which
    enraged their attacker. He shot Douglas dead on the scene, raped Lori
    and dis appeared into the Dallas suburb.
         Eight years later, in January of 2001, under the federal DNA
    Backlog Red uction Program, police in Dallas matched a DNA sample
    taken from Alvin Avon Braziel, Jr. with DNA evidence collected from
    the crime scene. Braziel was convicted of capital murder and g iven
    the death sentence.
         The murder conviction of Alvin Braziel is a powerful example of
    how one technology -- forensic DNA analysis -- has revolutionized law
    enforcement. Over the short span of 10 years, DNA technology has
    proven itself to be the truth machine of law enforcement, ensu ring
    justice by identifying the guilty and exonerating the innocent.
         With the strong support of Congress, the Department of Justice
    has serve d as a leader in the national effort to maximize the
    benefits of DNA evidence, and the past five y ears have seen a
    national explosion in forensic DNA collection. All 50 states and the
    federal government now have laws on the books that require DNA to be
    collected from convicted offenders f or the purpose of criminal DNA
    databasing. The strong trend is toward broader DNA sample collec tion,
    including collection from all felons in many states, and the reason is
    simple: Experien ce has taught law enforcement that the more offenders
    that are included in the database, the mo re crimes will be solved.
         More DNA collected, however, means more DNA that must be analyzed
    in ord er to be useful to law enforcement. Today there are literally
    hundreds of thousands of sample s from crime scenes and from offenders
    that are awaiting analysis in evidence storage lockers and forensic
    laboratories across the country. One estimate puts the number of
    unanalyzed rape kits at 1 80,000. In Los Angeles alone, authorities
    recently identified over 3,000 unsolved homicides with frozen but
    untested crime-scene samples.
         The longer this evidence goes unanalyzed, the longer the crimes to which
     it relates go unsolved.  And for the victims of these most violent
    crimes, justice delayed is truly ju stice denied.
         Last August I directed the National Institute of Justice to
    identify way s to eliminate delays in DNA analysis and reduce the
    backlog of unexamined samples. The DNA Delay Redu ction Working Group
    formed pursuant to that directive includes many of the nation's
    leading experts on DNA analysis, including representatives from
    federal, state and local law enf orcement agencies. I thank the
    members of the group, who are meeting here today in the Justice Dep
    artment, for lending their expertise to more fully utilizing this
    remarkable crime-fighting tool.
         In addition to the current work of the DNA Delay Reduction Group,
    the De partment of Justice has addressed the DNA backlog through
    funding assistance to the states. Begin ning in fiscal year 2000, the
    department has provided funds to the states to help clear their bac
    klogs of unanalyzed convicted offender DNA samples. This assistance
    program included a requiremen t that states receiving these federal
    funds agree to analyze a certain number of no-suspect cases; that is,
    DNA from crimes for which police have not yet identified a suspect for
    each convi cted offender sample analyzed with program funds. For
    example, if a state analyzed 50,000 convicte d offender DNA samples
    with federal program funds, it was required to analyze no fewer than
    500 no-suspect cases.
         The Department of Justice instituted this approach in the year 2000 with
     confidence that creating incentives for states to analyze evidence
    from no-suspect cases would result in more crimes matched to offenders
    and to other crimes perpetrated by the same offender. Today it's
     my pleasure to report that the success of this program has surprised
    even its most enthusiastic pro ponents. To date, over 347,000
    convicted offender DNA profiles and nearly 8,000 no-suspect cases hav
    e been analyzed.  This analysis, under the DNA Backlog Reduction
    Program, has identified 610 of fenders and has produced 193 what are
    called forensic hits in which cases which were not know n to be
    related are found to have been committed by the same offender, meaning
    that a no-suspect case is aligned with another no-suspect case.
         The states that participated in the program achieved a remarkable
    19 per cent average hit rate.  That is, of the no-suspect DNA cases
    they analyzed in which a usable DNA patt ern was obtained, an average
    of 19 percent matched either convicted offenders in the database o r
    DNA evidence from other crime scenes. A number of states had an even
    higher success rate i n matching DNA samples to criminals and other
    crimes. Virginia had a 48 percent hit rate. Ka nsas had a 28 percent
    hit rate. North Carolina analyzed 154 cases under the federal program
    and mad e 25 hits. Fifty percent of those hits were rape cases.
         As a result of this innovative program, we have identified
    suspects, mad e arrests and brought solace to the families of multiple
    murder victims. In one typical case, a cig arette left at the scene of
    an assault on a woman in Ohio was analyzed and matched with a
    convicted-offen der profile to produce a suspect. The man was arrested
    in May and pled guilty to attempted r ape and kidnapping.
         In Washington state, the program assisted officials in
    identifying a sus pect in cases associated with the Green River
    killings, in which 49 prostitutes and runaways were murd ered between
    1982 and 1984.
         In addition, two persons who were wrongly convicted in Texas and
    Ohio ha ve been exonerated under this program.
         The success of the DNA backlog reduction program and its
    potential for e ven greater success in the future merits the continued
    support of the Department of Justice and the United States government
    and its taxpayers. Today, I am announcing a commitment of over $10 0
    million for DNA analysis and backlog reduction under this program,
    including over $40 million to reduce the convicted offender DNA
    backlog and $60 million committed to analyze no-suspec t cases. This
    amount includes funding available in fiscal year 2002 and funding
    included in the president's budget for 2003.
         Of the $60 million for the no-suspect casework program, $25
    million is b eing disbursed under an existing solicitation by the
    National Institute of Justice. The remaining $35 million will be put
    out through future solicitations, the first of which will be issued by
    the Nation al Institute of Justice within the next 60 days.
         This substantial commitment of resources will support the
    expanded use o f DNA technology to identify the perpetrators of the
    most brutal crimes and bring closure to thei r victims. I commend
    Congress for the significant funding it is currently providing for the
    backlo g reduction program, and I encourage the states to take full
    advantage of this federal support.
         The law enforcement tool that makes this DNA analysis useful to
    state an d local police and prosecutors throughout the nation is the
    Combined DNA Index System, known as CODIS. It's administered by the
    Federal Bureau of Investigation. CODIS brings the power o f DNA
    technology to bear on thousands of law enforcement investigations by
    integrating informa tion obtained by state DNA databases and making
    that information available nationwide -- in other wo rds, to
    individuals in other states as well.
         Last August I directed the FBI to submit to me recommendations
    for imple menting a redesign of the architecture of CODIS to enhance
    the system's storage and search capacity , and to provide immediate
    access to system information by participating agencies and improve the
    efficiency of the system. The FBI has now reported to me a CODIS
    redesign and enhancement plan that will achieve these goals.
         Among the improvements that will be gained by implementing the
    plan are these:
         One, increasing the system's capacity from 1-1/2 million DNA
    profiles to 50 million DNA profiles.
         Two, reducing the search time for matching DNA profiles submitted
    by law enforcement to profiles in the database. So a profile is
    submitted, it's compared to the dat abase -- we will reduce that time
    from two hours to just seconds, if not microseconds.
         Three, increasing the frequency with which search requests are performed
     against the national DNA database from weekly to
    instantly. Currently, once a week searches are ma de. That should be a
    process that takes place any time there is a request for a search --
    an ins tant search capacity.
         Four, reducing system server sites from 181 to one, allowing
    central man agement of software upgrades at one location and greatly
    reducing the hardware and software costs
     for the states.
         Today I am directing the FBI to implement the CODUS redesign plan
    as soo n as practicable, so that these benefits and the benefits of
    these improvements can be realized by
     law enforcement.
         Finally, building on the promising result of our pilot program, I
    am dir ecting the relevant components of the Department of Justice to
    utilize our grant programs and res ources to maximize the
    effectiveness of the DNA technology in solving crimes and promoting
    publi c safety.
         This directive includes, among other measures: one, identifying the most
     effective approaches for forensic laboratories to select and
    prioritize cases for DNA analysis; two, e ngaging law enforcement
    personnel to identify cases appropriate for solution through DNA
    testing, to preserve potential DNA evidence in those cases, and to
    submit the evidence for analysis and matching ; three, encourage the
    development of expansive offender databases to maximize the solution
    of crime s through DNA matching; in other words, encourage states to
    put as many of those individual s appropriately who ought to be in the
    databases into the databases.
         The initiatives I've announced today build on a proven record of success
     in ensuring that our criminal justice system utilizes the potential
    of DNA technology. The nation' s law enforcement and criminal justice
    officials must never be forced to ask themselves what could DNA
    technology have done for a case or, even more importantly, to explain
    to the victim of violen t crimes that if we had only had the resources
    to eliminate the DNA backlogs, they might not have bee n victimized at
         We have arrived at an exciting, auspicious moment in the
    administration of justice. We have a tool, DNA analysis, that allows
    us to solve many crimes very quickly and to a degree of certainty
    previously unavailable to law enforcement. We do ourselves and the
    American p eople we serve an injustice if we fail to utilize this
    remarkable tool of DNA technology.
         The initiatives I've announced today will help ensure that we
    harness DN A technology to punish the guilty, to protect the innocent
    and to ensure that the full, fair and jus t administration of the
    nation's laws will, in fact, take place.
         Thank you. I'd be happy to answer questions you have. Yes, sir?
         Q Sir, there have been several reports in recent days about
    terror alert s issued in October related to nuclear attack either in
    New York or in Washington. From a law enf orcement perspective, can
    you tell us how relevant some of those alerts may be now and
     what is being done to counter any perceived threats?
         ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I think it's fair for me to say that this
    administra tion, when it has credible information about an attack that
    it feels is a serious threat, that it will share that attack with
    appropriate -- that information, pardon me, with appropriate officials
    to tak e steps to secure the public and the safety and security of the
    people in our communities.
         That has been our policy. That remains our policy. And it's with
    that in mind that we will continue
    to operate.
         Q Do you think the federal government made the right decision in
    not not ifying the New York public officials about the possibility of
    any threat?
         ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I'm not going to be making comments about
    either rep orted threats or actual threats or assessing threats. I
    just want to provide the informatio n, which I did in response to the
    previous question.
         Q With respect to DNA and the testing of some of the detainees
    now in Af ghanistan and Guantanamo, the director said yesterday that
    some of the detainees have alrea dy had samples taken. But will there
    be a new database or a new section of CODIS, will CODIS
    be expanded to include these alleged terrorists' analyses?
         ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: Well, I can tell you that we are going to take every
     reasonable step to make sure that we identify those individuals who
    have been involved in the terrorist effort against the United States
    -- supporting it, sustaining it, or fighting against the Un ited
    States. And certainly DNA, collection of DNA, identifying
    characteristics, those identifiers are va luable, and to be understood
    as valuable and collected. I'm not prepared to indicate to you the
     extent to which those might be integrated or used with other DNA
    databases in the country.
         Q Senator Leahy said some months ago that the federal government
    ought t o require the states to include DNA analysis before someone is
    executed. Do you have a position on that or does the department have a
    position on that?
         ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: The department is assembling a response to
    Senator L eahy's request for comment on his bill. The response will be
    announced when it is ap propriate.
         I would indicate, though, that I believe that DNA, as I said in
    my remar ks, has the potential not only of helping convict the guilty,
    but to make sure that we don't convict th e innocent. And as a matter
    of principle, it is the policy of this Justice Department to support i
    tems which will provide a basis for us having a Justice system which
    reaches the right conclusion -- pr otecting the innocent as well as
    convicting the guilty.
         Q General, we're coming up on the six-month anniversary of the September
     11th attacks. I was wondering if in your opinion you think that we've
    done enough to prevent any future catastrophic event like that?
         ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: We have taken a very serious set of steps to
    improve our development of information, and information is the best
    friend of prevention. We have begun to integrate at a far higher level
    of seriousness the efforts of state and local communities and law
    enforcement officials with the federal government. I spoke to a
    conference on terrorism in Florida this morning early, and then later
    today, with the National Association of Co unties, and we are
    integrating our effort and the ability to exchange information and
    gather int elligence with our state and local officials.
         We are meeting on a regular basis with our counterparts in
    nations aroun d the world to develop an understanding which will
    provide better information from and information e xchange from those
         You'll note that the September 11th attack was a fragmented
    attack. It w as planned in one area; trained in another area;
    undertaken in another area. And this fragmentation o f the effort
    makes the interval for detection of these different things very
    difficult, because the interval is shorter in each space than if there
    was training, planning and execution all in one locality.
     This requires us to be far more cooperative and integrated in our
         Now, to get to your question. We have done much to improve our position,
     but we believe that we need to be very alert. I personally believe
    that the training of tens of t housands of individuals in the camps
    designed to develop terrorists who have the capacity to hurt not on ly
    the United States but freedom-loving people around the world, that
    that training was intended t o sustain more than one day of
    attack. And so I will continue to do everything I can and to encou
    rage others. And I would recommend that we all have the kind of
    alertness for which we give grat itude when we think about the people
    either on Flight 63, who subdued a threat, or those individu als on
    Flight 93, who gave their own lives up so that the plane would land in
    Pennsylvania rather t han here in Washington.
         Q With respect to the DNA again, did the FBI ask for the ability
    to incl ude those DNA profiles from suspected terrorists in CONUS? Is
    that something the Justice Department is reviewing or considering
    doing based on an FBI --
         ATTY GEN. ASHCROFT: I really can't answer that question now. I wish I --
     I do know this: that we are collecting, making reasonable collections
    of identifying characte ristics of those who are part of the assault
    against America, and I'm just not prepared to say at this
     time the full extent to which those will be deployed who are
    integrated with various databases that w e maintain.
         Thank you very much.
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