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America's New War: Justice Department Conf. at FBI Headquarters

Aired September 27, 2001 - 14:20:   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm told we are actually going to start with the press conference momentarily. There's John Ashcroft the attorney general.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good afternoon.

Today we are releasing the photographs of 19 hijackers of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center towers, into the Pentagon and into the rural area in Pennsylvania.

This is another step in what in effect is part of a national neighborhood watch. We've been receiving tens of thousands of tips from across the country as individuals have provided for us information valuable to this investigation. As a matter of fact, this week the combined total of tips from the public over the Internet and through the telephone hotline passed 100,000.

It is our hope that the release of these photos will prompt others who may have seen the hijackers or been in contact with them to contact the FBI with any information they may have that would be helpful to the investigation.

I'm also able to announce today that the administration has sent to Congress another critically important piece of legislation to aid in the financial front that was opened in the war against terrorism recently. The legislation is legislation that was developed prior to September the 11th.

This legislation covers money laundering in a broad sense, but will also help us address the funds that may be flowing to and from terrorist organizations.

The Money Laundering Act of 2001, like the other legislative changes we have asked the Congress to enact, contains careful, considered provisions that will give law enforcement the additional tools needed to identify, track down and neutralize international terrorist groups.

For example, the ability for terrorist organizations to finance the atrocities they commit in this country with money generated by crimes committed in other countries is critical to their success. This legislation would make it a crime to launder the proceeds of foreign crimes in the United States.

One of the financing mechanisms used by terrorists is the smuggling of large amounts of cash into the country and the transportation of this cash throughout the United States. We would make it a crime to smuggle more than $10,000 in currency into or out of the country, or to transport more than $10,000 in interstate commerce with the intent to use the money to commit a criminal offense.

We are also asking for Congress to permit federal courts to restrain the assets of a criminal defendant, such as a terrorist pending trial, in order to prevent the transfer of his or her assets to others in the terrorist network.

A current law allows post-conviction forfeiture judgments. We believe that it makes sense to allow the freezing of such assets earlier, before a terrorist has the opportunity to protect his assets by transferring them to others.

These and other provisions in the legislation we have sent to Congress will aid law enforcement on the financial front of the war against terrorism that was launched by the president earlier this week.

These money laundering proposals were introduced in the House of Representatives in the past two Congresses and were passed by the House Subcommittee on Crime with overwhelmingly bipartisan support in those settings. Some of these proposals are also part of a bill already introduced by Senators Levin and Grassley in the United States Senate.

Now, this contribution to our ability to choke off the money supply to terrorist organizations is more needed than ever. And we urge Congress to move quickly to enact these critical and important changes in the framework of our effort to curtail crime in general and terrorism in specific.

Director?

ROBERT MUELLER, DIRECTOR OF THE FBI: Good afternoon.

As the attorney general has pointed out, today the FBI is releasing photographs of 19 individuals believed to be the hijackers aboard the four airliners that crashed on September 11.

These photographs have helped investigators across the nation, and indeed across the world, to uncover information related to the hijackers and their potential associates. And we are releasing the pictures to the public at this time in the hopes that they will lead to further advances in the investigation.

I want to encourage anyone who has information based upon these photographs to contact our FBI immediately, either through our toll- free hotline, which is 1-866-483-5137 -- again, 1-866-483-5137, or through our web site, which is at www.ifccfbi.gov. I want to turn for a moment to another aspect of our responsibilities. As reported yesterday, federal indictments were returned on two hate crime investigations. These investigations related to attacks on Arab or Muslim Americans. These indictments were based on FBI investigations in the Salt Lake City and Seattle field offices and these indictments are proof that those who attempt to take out their anger and frustration on innocent Americans will be investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

To date, we've initiated approximately 90 hate crime investigations across the country in over 30 FBI field offices, and we remain committed to working with the various Arab American, Muslim American and Sikh American communities to assure that any such acts are vigorously investigated and prosecuted.

I want to add that I met earlier today with key leaders of the Arab American, Muslim American and Sikh American communities, and we addressed issues of mutual concern and discussed ways which we could together address those concerns.

I want to today acknowledge the outpouring of support and cooperation that the FBI has received from these communities, not only in the course of our investigation, but in response to our call last week for translators. We literally were inundated with volunteers from any one of the Arab American, Muslim American, Sikh American communities. And I want to thank those communities for their assistance in this regard, as well as their assistance in our investigations.

Turning to the investigation, as the attorney general pointed out, we've had over 100,000 tips on our web site and our hotline. We actually have in excess of 200,000 leads that we are currently investigating.

I'll tell you that our primary focus, in addition to bringing to justice those responsible for the attacks on September 11, but our primary focus is on preventing potential future attacks. We are working hard to identify and locate associates of the hijackers who may pose a threat to this nation.

But I want to ask and urge every American to join us in heading off any possible terrorist attacks in the future. We greatly appreciate the many Americans who have stepped forward with information, and we call upon any citizen who has information that may be helpful to contact your local FBI office.

Thank you. And I think we'd be happy to answer some questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Director, how many people have been arrested so far for any fraudulent hazardous material transport licenses? And do you still believe that some of these people may be connected to suspects in the investigation?

MUELLER: Well, across the United States there have been individuals questioned with regard -- those individuals have hazardous material transport licenses, they've been questioned. I know there are -- several arrests have been made in Pennsylvania, arising out of an investigation in Pennsylvania. And it is our preliminary belief that those arrests do not relate, in any way, with -- the individuals arrested pursuant to that investigation do not relate to the occurrences of September 11 of this month.

QUESTION: Can you say whether any of the people who have been taken in as material witnesses or cases that are under seal, which obviously you can't talk about -- but are any of those cases directly related to these individuals in the plot of September 11?

MUELLER: As you correctly point out, whatever is occurring with regard to the material witness warrants, that is under seal and I can't speak to those.

QUESTION: How certain can you be that these are the correct names and photographs of the 19 hijackers? And can you give us some more guidance on how you actually arrived at those?

MUELLER: Surely. The photographs that will be passed out to you and you see behind us are photographs identified with the names on the manifest, and those names on the manifest we've identified as being the hijackers. These photographs are photographs that may come from passports, drivers license obtained in the United States or other identification documents. Consequently, these photographs we've identified with the individuals whose names appear on the manifest.

What we are currently doing is determining whether, when these individuals came to the United States, these were their real names or they changed their names for use with false identification in the United States. That false identification being utilized up to and on the day of September 11, and that false identification used to purchase the tickets and, thereby, being the name on the manifests of the planes that went down. Our investigation has reached out to a number of countries to determine whether or not these individuals definitively, in the photographs we have here and the names associated with these photographs, are the actual identities of the individuals prior to the time they came to the United States.

QUESTION: Have you been able to identify whether any of these people are connected to terrorist groups, including Osama bin Laden?

MUELLER: We believe that one or more of them do have contacts with Al Qaeda.

QUESTION: Do you have any information linking Osama bin Laden or any terrorist groups to the people who illegally obtained the HAZMAT licenses from a Pittsburgh examiner?

QUESTION: And also, can we say are there potential terrorists who are operating HAZMAT vehicles or with access to them in the United States right now?

MUELLER: As to the first part of the question, I think I indicated that we do not believe that those currently under arrest as a result of the investigation in Pennsylvania are related to the hijackings and the crashes of the airliners on September 11. As to the second part of the question, we are looking at individuals who have obtained HAZMAT licenses and particularly those individuals that may have obtained them under suspicious circumstances. And we are tracking those leads.

QUESTION: How large of a support network do you think you're looking for in the United States? And you've made reference repeatedly, I guess, to ask for help from people to head off future attacks. (OFF-MIKE) do you have any sense of those attacks are imminent, were imminent or you've been able to foil them?

MUELLER: I think it's fair to say we're under a heightened state of alert, and without any specificity as to a particular target, a particular place or a particular time. But we're under a heightened state of alert and we ask anybody who believes that they may have information as to a potential terrorist attack, to give their local FBI office a call.

QUESTION: Mr. Director, how many of the 19 are you certain of? Can you say that you're certain of the identities, that they did not pick up false identities of any of the 19?

MUELLER: I think we are fairly certain on a number of them. But you will see in the packages that we put out that we have not indicated those that we are certain on, in the hopes that we will obtain more information that will assist us in making an absolute positive identification of the photograph, with the identification in the United States, with the identification of the individual from the life that they led prior to the time they came to the United States.

QUESTION: Is there any indication that any of these suspects are related?

MUELLER: There is some indication by names and otherwise that one or more of the hijackers is related to one or more of the hijackers.

QUESTION: Do you know if any of them had associates who may have left the country, either shortly before or after? Have you been able to track any of that?

MUELLER: Without getting into the details -- I cannot get into details of the investigation, but I can assure you that we are attempting to identify any associates of the hijackers and trace their movements within the United States, assuming they were still here, and overseas.

QUESTION: I have a quick follow up. Sir, can I just ask a quick follow up? Because knowing how easy it was for them to get fake IDs, how can you assure people that these people if they left the country may not be able to come back in and get other fake IDs? How do you prevent something like that?

MUELLER: Well, we have heightened scrutiny at the borders with immigration. To the extent that we have identified individuals as being associates of one or more of the hijackers, we also identify any aliases they may have used. And whenever an individual's put on the watch list, they're put on with a photograph with the name they're believed to be using, as well as any names they may have used in the past.

QUESTION: Can you explain why (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was denied access to an attorney for six days? And are you satisfied at all that the several hundred have been given legal representation by the states?

MUELLER: The -- we do not detain persons for questioning. When we go out and interview individuals, we may find that they have information that is necessary to the investigation. And in such case if there is predication for obtaining a material witness warrant, we go to a judge and explain to the judge that this individual has information relevant to the investigation and we believe the grand jury should hear that information, that testimony, and we believe there's a risk of flight. And a judge determines that a material witness warrant should issue.

Once that individual is presented -- or arrested and then presented to the court, the judge then supervises the timing and the assurance of the presentation to the grand jury. And after that, the person is generally, once they have satisfactorily testified, released.

Alternatively, we will go out and interview individuals and if we find that they are out of status illegally in this country, they will be detained by the INS.

Alternatively, and the third alternative is that we will find that an individual we wish to interview is the subject of a criminal case -- it could be federal, state or local -- and the person may be detained to respond to those charges. Those are the only three ways that individuals have been detained in the course of this investigation.

QUESTION: Is your watch list still growing? How many people are you looking for?

MUELLER: It grows and then it reduces. I mean, to the extent that we are -- who asked the question, because I -- right here. I'm sorry. I couldn't tell where the question was coming from.

MUELLER: To the extent that we identify another individual whom we wish to question and we cannot find that individual, that person will go on what is called the watch list.

When we find individuals and we question them -- ask them questions, interview them, if we find that they are in no way related to the hijackers, no way to terrorism and are not subject to arrest for other things, then they come off the watch list, we apologize for taking their time, appreciate their cooperation with the investigation and that concludes our contacts with them.

Thank you very much.

(END) JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: A number of subjects covered there by FBI Director Robert Mueller, and the Attorney General John Ashcroft.

But the most significant thing, our justice correspondence Kelly Wallace joining me now, is that they have released now, Kelli, these photographs of the 19 hijackers, but we -- I'm sorry, I said Kelly Wallace, this is Kelli Arena.

ARENA: I understand.

WOODRUFF: But they released them, but they still are not sure. We heard the FBI director say they're still not sure, and they're hoping that the American people seeing these photographs, anyone has either seen these people or has any information, that that information will now come forward.

ARENA: Right. And they're also reaching out to several other governments to try to make sure that the names that these -- these alleged hijackers were using, matched these pictures. I think that they're pretty sure of the pictures, it's just the names that have been used that could be a case of stolen identity.

He wouldn't say exactly how many they were sure of here, but sources have told me that they're pretty sure of at least more than a dozen of them.

WOODRUFF: Just quickly, Kelli, in how many instances do we know that these were these the names that they used on the manifest? I mean the names that they used as they bought the airplane tickets, and got on these flights?

ARENA: I mean they have all been used on the manifest, and they've been used on driver's licenses, they have been used on pilots' licenses, anything they did in the United States this is the name that they used. So, but again, they could have just stolen identity before they got into the country and used the name, and that's the picture that's been associated with the name, at least in this country.

WOODRUFF: All right. Attorney General John Ashcroft calling this the first step in a national neighborhood watch, asking Americans all over the country, all 280 million of us, to help the FBI. We even have a phone number and a web site that you heard from the FBI director.

All right, Kelli Arena joining me here in the studio.

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