Fitzgerald: Patriot Act and information-sharing critical to war on terror

September 12, 2011

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(AP/Dave Chidley)
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald says the most important change in fighting terrorism over the past 10 years has been a new cooperation between the intelligence and law-enforcement communities. The cooperation is a result of the Patriot Act.

Prior to 9/11, there was a wall between the law enforcement and intelligence communities, he says. The wall arose largely as an effort to prevent domestic spying on U.S. citizens, but Fitzgerald says it meant there were two teams of people protecting the United States, and those teams weren't helping each other. He says he could get more information from an Al Qaida operative than he could get from some people in his own government.

"It used to be, 'Why should I share something with you?  What is your need to know?  And if someone finds out I shared it, how am I going to justify myself to my boss that I gave out that information?'  That's been reversed.  People now think, 'What is my duty to share?  And if it's found out that I have information that I didn't share with someone, how am I going to justify to myself that I sat on it?'" said Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald says now law enforcement regularly meets with the intelligence community, and he says that's been a key tool that wasn't available before 9/11.

He focused his comments in a speech Monday on assessing the war on terror, but Fitzgerald also took questions from the audience of business and civic leaders.  One of the questions involved public corruption and former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Fitzgerald wouldn't comment on Blagojevich's case, but he says too many people think corruption is a problem just for law enforcement.  "And if I could have a dollar for everyone who's ever come up to me after we've convicted someone to say, 'Yes, we knew he or she was doing it all the time and we wondered when someone was going to get around to do something about it,' and I bite my lip, but I want to just smack them up side the head and say, 'Well the person you wanted to do something about it was you,'" says Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald has been the U.S. Attorney in Chicago for 10 years.  That's an unusually long tenure, but he says Chicago is his home and he loves his job and he has no plans to leave it.