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America Under Attack: Justice Department Briefing

Aired September 13, 2001 - 12:40   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to break into the undersecretary's briefing to bring you this taping that's happening right now, that we saw moments ago, and it's the first time we've seen this tape.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a great hospital. The doctors and nurses are not only accomplished; they're loving people. There's a wonderful spirit up on the floor that we went to. We told them that there our country is praying for each and every one there. We are praying for their families. Some of the folks could talk, and they described the horror of the incident and the moment. They talked about escaping, going through the fire, and crawling through debris, that clear they were fighting for their survival then, and like every patient up there, they're still fighting for their survival.

And it's just a sobering moment for Laura and me, but we'd again like to thank the hospitals, the doctors, the nurses. And again, tell the families, the nation prays for those who have been injured during this unbelievable act of terror.

Thank you all.


HARRIS: Now if you were watching live here about maybe 10 minutes ago or 15 minutes, ago, we saw this scene from a different perspective, when President Bush and first lady Laura Bush walked out of the George Washington Center Hospital there. And we were wondering what had gone on with that impromptu press conference, where he stopped on the curb. That was it, and you're seeing that tape for the first time as we saw that tape for the first time.

Let's check in now with our senior White House correspondent John King -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, that scene outside the Washington Medical Center, one of the snapshots we have seen just in the past few hours, never mind the past two days on the many emotions and the many challenges facing not only the president, but the first lady as well, very difficult moment. The president went to the hospital, along with Laura Bush, to visit eleven victims, among the most seriously injured when the plane crashed into the Pentagon. He left the White House to get to the hospital moments after the telephone call to both the governor of New York and New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. In that phone call, the president promised them full support of the federal government in recovery efforts, and he also announced he will indeed leave Washington and visit New York tomorrow to get firsthand look not only at devastation caused by attacks, but also to get up there and check in on the relief and recovery effort.

Now in that conference call, the president also talked of his efforts to deal with this. The investigation is under way. We know from sources that the U.S. government, Mr. Bush in his conversations with national security team, already considering potential military options to respond to this. Mr. Bush in a conversation with reporters after that phone call alluded to that, saying this is the first war of the 21st century, he said, and the United States, he promised, would respond.


BUSH: Make no mistake about it, my resolve is steady and strong about winning this war that has been declared on America. It's a new kind of war, and I understand it's a new kind of war, and this government will adjust, and this government will call others to join us, to make sure this act, these acts, the people who conducted these acts those who harbor them are held accountable for their actions.


KING: The president there showing his resolve as commander and chief, but it was just a few minutes later when the president teared up when talking to reporters about another responsibility of the president, any president, at a moment of crisis like this, Mr. Bush talking about his efforts not only console, but also to reassure the nation.


BUSH: I think about the families, the children. I am a loving guy, and I'm also someone, however, who has got a job to do, and I intend to do it, and this is a terrible moment. But this country will not relent, until we have saved ourselves and others from the terrible tragedy that came upon America.

Thank you all.


KING: Now, at this hour, senior Bush aides on negotiation with key members of Congress on a resolution that would back the use of force, Congress backing use of military force retaliate for terrorists attacks. Also expected on the president's desk at the end of the day, an emergency supplemental bill providing a down payment, $20 billion to help pay for some of the recovery efforts, the early investigative efforts. And after two days of often numbing pictures, incomprehensible things happening across the country. Just when we were in that Pentagon briefing, the Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz explaining what some of that money would go for. He said matter of factly. It would help pay for combat air patrols over Washington D.C. and other major American cities. Unthinkable just few days ago, but now U.S. fighter jets flying over the capital and other major cities as well as result of the changing times forced by the deadly terrorist attacks -- Leon.

HARRIS: John, before we let you go, we understand you will be coming up in 14 minutes from now, you will be sitting and talking with first lady, correct?

KING: That's right, first lady Laura Bush. This was scheduled to be weekend she stepped out discussing literacy and education. Instead of course she was at the United States capital when the attacks took place, rushed by the Secret Service to a secure location. Just today, she sent a letter to schoolchildren, school superintendents around the country, asking that it be read to schoolchildren. The first lady trying to step up in a very consoling, reassuring way, to speak to the American people, and urging parents to take some time to talk to their children about all the horror we have seen in the past few days. I will discuss those efforts with her and her husband's handling of this crisis in just a few minutes here at the White House.

HARRIS: All right, good deal. Thank you very much, John. John King at the White House. We'll get back to you on that.

Daryn, over to you.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, one of the big stories of the day, the nation's airports beginning to reopen, and some airports across the country, especially up and down the east coast, that is going to be an eerie experience, thinking of Washington-Dulles Airport. This is where American Airline flight 77 originated on Tuesday morning. it was supposed to go to Los Angeles. Instead, it ended up crashing into the Pentagon.

Let's go ahead and check in with our Kathleen Koch. She is standing by at Dulles.

Kathleen, let's start with the question, is this airport open for business today?


About 45 minutes ago, we actually saw the first commercial aircraft take off. It was a Delta aircraft, empty though. It only had crew on board. It was headed actually to Atlanta to position itself for resumption of flights nationwide. Only few seconds ago, we saw the first commercial aircraft land here. Gradually, bit by bit, things are beginning to get back to normal. However, around the airport, you can see security is very tight. We have seen armed U.S. marshals positioned in various areas around the airport. Outside the airport, when you pull and see that there are huge concrete barriers over the entire terminal.

Now inside at the American Airlines ticket counter, the police tape say has now been removed. Last night, there were about 12 FBI agents in there. They were dusting the counter for fingerprints, checking it. All that now is gone. So there is, again, a feeling that things are beginning to get back to normal, but as Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta pointed out again this morning...

KAGAN: Kathleen, I'm sorry, we have to interrupt you. We want to go live to Washington D.C. A news conference is beginning now. Attorney General John Ashcroft, and by his side FBI director Robert Mueller. Let's listen in.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: September the 11th, 2001, was a day of unspeakable violence and outrage, but also a day of heroism and sacrifice. As endangered men and women struggled to make their way out of burning, collapsing buildings, firemen and policemen, emergency rescue personnel, struggled to make their way into those structures. Many -- and we don't know how many yet -- never made it out of the buildings. Even as we continue to hold out hope that more of these brave Americans will be found alive, it is my duty as attorney general to begin to process the provision of relief to the families of public safety officers who sacrificed so that others might survive the attacks of September the 11th.

The Public Safety Officers Benefits Act of 1976 provides for approximately $150,000 in benefits to the families of law enforcement officers, firemen, emergency response squad members, ambulance crew members who are killed in the line of duty. This morning, the president of the United States, President George W. Bush, directed me immediately to implement procedures to streamline application processes and approval processes of claims for benefits under this act.

Pursuant to the president's directive, the Department of Justice this morning has taken the following actions to expedite the delivery of benefits to public safety officers' families.

First, the existing regulations under the Public Safety Officers Benefits Act requires that officers' families and employing agencies fill out individual forms certifying that the officer was killed in the line of duty and that no disqualifying circumstances were present and that the officer was, in fact, related to the family members seeking the benefits. These regulations direct the Bureau of Justice Assistance in the Justice Department to give substantial weight to evidence presented by federal, state and local agencies and to resolve in favor of payment any reasonable doubt concerning the circumstances of the officer's permanent disability or death.

In view of the unprecedented loss of life and the debilitating injuries to public safety officers, I have directed, pursuant to the president's request, that this process be streamlined in this case. I am directing the Office of Justice Programs to exercise the full scope of its direction and its discretion under the statute and regulations to accept applications, consider evidence justifying claims and to process prompt payment of benefits.

In cases in which benefits are sought by survivors of officers killed in the line of duty on September 11, I am directing that blanket certifications from executives of public safety agencies be considered as evidence of eligibility, without requiring further individualized documentation. In addition, the family claim form will be abbreviated and streamlined.

Secondly, the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs is immediately making available additional resources to see that the claims of fallen officers' families are processed as quickly as possible. Staff are being brought to New York from a variety of other settings to assist in case processing.

Second, a separate computer database is being established to expedite and monitor the case processing. Third, lawyers from the Office of Justice Programs are immediately reviewing all cases from New York to make sure that those cases move as quickly as possible.

The Office of Justice Programs, fourth, staff members are being sent to New York to assist with family contacts and the assembly of claim packages, including the gathering of pertinent records.

The Office of Justice program representatives will be available on site, if requested, to pre-certify claim packages, in terms of the completeness of those packages. These representatives will also work with the Treasury Department to expedite the payments to families once claims are approved.

The provision of benefits is an insufficient but a necessary response on behalf of the American people to the unknown number of individuals who fought fires, law enforcement officers and medical rescue personnel who died answering the call of their fellow citizens on September the 11th.

It is President Bush's and my hope that the actions that we have taken today will provide a measure of relief to the husbands and wives and children that have been left behind. I know that it is the nation's hope that this assistance will stand as a gesture of the inexpressible gratitude that so many Americans feel, as well as a small tribute to the honor of the sacrifice of those who were willing to lose their lives so that others might be saved.

Additionally today, I announced with the Treasury Department a step that has been taken to provide additional security at airports across the country. As airports re-open and as travel is resumed, there will be substantially increased security presence -- a substantially increased security presence on the ground at designated security checkpoints throughout the country.

The departments of Justice and Treasury have deployed hundreds of U.S. marshals -- individuals from the U.S. Marshal Service, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs officials, as part of a broad effort by federal law enforcement authorities to provide a larger police presence at airports, in addition to the heightened security procedures already put into effect. We will take all precautions necessary to protect American travelers.

Finally, our nation calls on us in times like this to be at our best. If we are to prevail in difficult times like this, we must be at our best. Since Tuesday, the Justice Department has received reports of violence and threats of violence against Arab-Americans and other Americans of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent.

We must not descend to the level of those who perpetrated Tuesday's violence by targeting individuals based on race, religion or national origin. Such reports of violence and threats are in direct opposition to the very principles and laws for which the United States of America stands, and such reports of violence and threats of violence will not be tolerated.

I now have a few updates with regard to the ongoing investigation. Legal attaches of the FBI around the world are receiving enormous cooperation from law enforcement authorities in the host countries that are cooperating with us to assist us in following up on leads.

We have also received numerous offers of help from other countries if we need those elements of assistance, and we are grateful for the assistance that has been offered and the assistance that has been rendered.

With regard to federal law enforcement personnel casualties, there is an FBI agent assigned to the New York field office who remains missing. Three U.S. marshals who are assigned to the Southern District of New York sustained minor injuries. We are also in the process of collecting information nationwide regarding the loss of life and casualties among law enforcement personnel.

As of this morning, the FBI's leads hotline has received 2055 phone calls. Some of these leads have been helpful to the investigation. The web site which was opened virtually immediately after the crisis has received more than 22,700 suggested tips. The FBI is working thousands and thousands of leads.

As of this moment, none of the black boxes have been recovered yet. However, we believe retrieval of the black box at the Somerset County location is the most feasible in the short term.

Last but not least, the total number of hijackers, to our best estimate and our best knowledge given the information at this time, on the four planes that crashed was at least 18. Unless contradicted by evidence, which we wouldn't anticipate, two planes had five hijackers and two other planes had four hijackers each.

ASHCROFT: The director of the FBI, Mr. Mueller is here with me and we would be pleased to respond to your questions.

QUESTION: About the hijackers, were they ticketed passengers? If not, do you know how they got on the planes?

FBI DIRECTOR ROBERT MUELLER: Yes, they were ticketed passengers. QUESTION: General Ashcroft, are you convinced based on the evidence in Florida and Boston and elsewhere that Laden was the leader in the (OFF-MIKE)

ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to identify or comment on persons ultimately responsible at this time.

QUESTION: How many people at this point are contained around the country? And why are these potential accomplices, Mr. Director, of such concern to the bureau?

MUELLER: I can't give you a specific number. What has happened, as I indicated yesterday, that as the result of following up leads, we're interviewing a number of people, and in the course of doing those interviews, we find that a number of the individuals, when asked for identification and the like, are out of status. And when we find somebody out of status, we, quite obviously, bring in the INS and they are detained, and that is the policies and procedures we are following.

QUESTION: And they are of concern to you regarding the investigation?

MUELLER: Some may be of concern to us and some may not after we interview them.

QUESTION: What sort of indication do you have of other operations being aborted; other plane hijackings, perhaps other terrorist operations?

ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to make comments about any other items at this time.

QUESTION: Do you have any determination about where the plane crashed in Somerset might have been?

ASHCROFT: I just... QUESTION: Have you found any determination about where the plane crashed in Somerset County, what part it might have been in, and what happened to cause that plane to crash where it did?

I think it's fair to say that we're unable to comment on that.

QUESTION: How many...


QUESTION: ... are you looking at? How many hijackers and associates do you have?

ASHCROFT: Well, obviously, I've just announced that there are 18 hijackers. The number of associates is significant, but I don't think it would be appropriate for me to try and attach a specific number. We are continuing to develop an understanding of all the associates that these individuals had.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the associates are in the country or do you have a (OFF-MIKE)

ASHCROFT: First of all, if we knew exactly where associates were, it would make our work easier. But we are interested in finding associates and making inquiry of them.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about flight training that any of the hijackers had received? Did they receive any training here in the United States?

ASHCROFT: It is our belief and the evidence indicates that flight training was received in the United States and that their capacity to operate the aircraft was substantial.

It's very clear that these orchestrated coordinated assaults on our country were well-conducted and conducted in a technically proficient way. It is not that easy to land these kinds of aircraft at very specific locations with accuracy or to direct them with the kind of accuracy, which was deadly in this case.

There were some reports that at least one of the passengers on the flight from Newark kept the air phone off the hook as this was going on, as they were preparing to take the plane back from the hijackers. Were law enforcement officials or FAA people able to listen in on some of what was going on?

ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to make a comment on that at this time.


QUESTION: General, which flights have...


QUESTION: ... hijackers have you identified, and what can you tell us about who they are, where they came from, and how they (OFF- MIKE)

ASHCROFT: I think you might be able to say which flights had which numbers on it?

MUELLER: On the American Airlines, number 11, flight out of Boston, going to LA, there were five, we believe. Our preliminary investigation indicates that five of the passengers were involved in the hijacking on that plane.

United Airlines 175, also out of Boston to LA, our preliminary investigation indicates that there were five hijackers on that plane.

On United Airlines 93, Newark to San Francisco, four hijackers.

And American Airlines 77, Dulles to Los Angeles, four hijackers.

That is our preliminary. The results of our preliminary investigation, the investigation is continuing. That is our best view at this time as to the numbers and the planes they were on. QUESTION: Could you clarify for us, please, on what you've been able to verify and document concerning the flight path of the 77 into the Pentagon? Did it go over Washington, D.C., first?

MUELLER: I really can't comment on what we have with regard to that particular flight.

QUESTION: The national origin of some if not all of the hijackers, what can you say at this point about the national origin?

MUELLER: I'm not prepared to comment on that.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the warrants? Can you tell us how many warrants and tell us what cities, what states?

MUELLER: No, I can tell you that throughout the country, and not necessarily in a particular region, but throughout the country, when we received leads, we have followed those leads. We are interviewing any number of people across the country. The number of FBI offices that are directly involved in the investigation has expanded.

And they are interviewing witnesses, they are where necessary, obtaining search warrants, obtaining grand jury subpoenas and whatever is necessary to obtain the evidence to identify the -- more particularly, identify the particular hijackers, and anyone associated with them.


QUESTION: Are they believed to be U.S. citizens?

MUELLER: I'm not going to comment on anything with regard to the hijackers.

QUESTION: How many were already on the terrorist watch list?

MUELLER: Can't answer that question either.

QUESTION: Any suicide notes? Have you found suicide notes?

STAFF: Thank you.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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