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Senator Graham, Congressman Goss Hold News Conference

Aired May 24, 2002 - 11:05   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.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to break away now because we've got some breaking news going on in Washington. A couple of members of the Senate Intelligence Committee are briefing the press on some, I guess, hearings that they are actually proposing. Let's listen in.

SEN. BOB GRAHAM (D-FL), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: ... necessary to reduce the likelihood of such an event occurring in the future. We owe it to the American people, to the innocent victims and the families of those who died at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in the field in Pennsylvania.

What have we been doing since September the 14th? First, we assembled an outstanding investigative staff that has extensive experience in intelligence collection, analysis, management and oversight. The 23 members of the staff have served in both the private and public sectors, including the military. Illustrative of those 23 are the Middle East research director from the Rand corporation; a former State Department senior policy analyst; a former deputy inspector general for investigations at the CIA.

Under acting staff director Rick Cinquegrana, this outstanding team has already collected more than 30,000 relevant documents and conducted nearly 175 witness interviews. Their work is continuing as we speak.

Yesterday, we shared background on this team and the progress of the investigation through a letter to our colleagues in the Congress, copies of which are available this morning. Our hearings will be begin by reviewing the extensive record that the investigative staff has collected. We have an aggressive schedule of fact-finding hearings starting June the 4th, the day after Congress returns from this Memorial Day recess.

Our hearings will continue through June and July and into the fall. We are well aware of our obligation not to disclose any information that could reveal intelligence sources or methods of collection. We are still engaged in a global war with terrorist organizations including the remnants of al Qaeda.

So our initial hearings will be closed so that we can assure that national security secrets are not disclosed to our enemies. But we remain committed to holding open hearings, as well, and expect our first open session during the last week of June. It is our hope and expectation that our two primary witnesses at that first open session will be Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller

It has been a great pleasure to have worked throughout this process with my friend and colleague, Congressman Porter Goss. I know of no member of Congress who brings a greater background, a greater dedication, and a greater insight into the challenges which the intelligence community faces and the responsibility of Congress to provide effective oversight, than does Porter Goss. And I look forward to the future as we move to the next stage of this inquiry. As I have enjoyed our experience together in the recent past.

REP. PORTER GOSS, (R-FL) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Thank you very much, Bob.

Well, obviously, I return the compliment. I share the admiration, the leadership and the inspiration, because we wouldn't be here today had it not been for Senator Graham, who had the idea that the way to do this, to follow the path to truth, was to follow the bread crumbs of fact, rather than the bread crumbs of opinion, and work together as the Senate and the House on a nonpartisan basis. We call it a bipartisan basis, but actually it should be nonpartisan.

And we are spending our time trying to find those facts. We've hired professionals, as Bob has said, and we want to share as much as we can with the public. Because part of this exercise we're going through of understanding what happened on 9/11 and preparing ourselves better so it can't happen again, is going to involve the citizens of the United States of America. And, frankly, the Americans at home, abroad and our guests, visitors and so forth. Because we are a wonderful, free democratic open society.

It is a very discomforting fact to realize that because of that and because we're Americans some people want to do us serious bodily harm. Even among the most innocent among us.

I think it is a different kind of understanding. So we are in a process, also, of delivering a message, which will not be particularly popular message, that the world has changed. It is a more dangerous place in a different way. And there's individual responsibility to be alert, to apply common sense, to be patient and understand what's going on. And I hope that also will come from our hearings.

We have a very ambitious schedule as the senator has outlined. Fortunately, we have wonderful working people already in place on both the Senate Membership and the Senate Oversight Committee and the House Oversight Committee. I'm very proud of the work we've been able to do.

I'm especially pleased that I have such fine ranking member, Nancy Pelosi. I'm sorry she's not here. She is the whip of the Democratic Party in the House. She does have a few other things to do. And I know she was up late last night, as was I, working on major legislation.

We are pleased that it passed. The other responsibilities we have, we are not going to lose sight of. While we are doing the 9/11 joint review, we also have the intelligence authorization bills and appropriations to get out. We need to provide the wherewithal for the intelligence community to go out and invest in the capabilities it has to have and shape for the dangers of the world as they exist today. So that's a second mission.

And then there's a third mission, and it's the mission that Brent Scowcroft and others have been working on to examine the architecture of the community and try and find out how we can get better performance, better cohesion, fusion, coordination, cooperation, by architectural change as well. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) changes, if you would.

That was a project that Senator Graham and I had to retreat just about a year ago on with our colleagues, and we thought that was going to be our main effort this year. As it turns out, events have changed it. But I am delighted to be able to work with such a fine American as Bob Graham on this or any other project.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, could tell us how serious these allegations are that were made by the agent from Minnesota who has sent you a letter? And whether you think that Director Mueller has in fact given you an accurate account of how the FBI handled the information about Moussaoui.

GRAHAM: I think the letter from the former counsel of the Minneapolis office of the FBI is very serious. Not only is serious in terms of what she has to say about the specific case of Moussaoui and how it was handled, particularly by the FBI here in Washington. But it also speaks to what I anticipate will be one of the areas that we will probe in our inquiry, and that is the issue of the culture of intelligence agencies.

Why has it taken so long for the intelligence agencies to make the transition from their Cold War mentality to the much more complex world in which we live today? Why has there been this lack of imagination to see what appears to be neon lights of problems and to treat them as being routine matters in some critical cases unworthy of further investigation? That's -- the whole issue of the culture of the intelligence community is I think going to be another one of the areas that we will probe extensively.

QUESTION: And the second part of my question would be...

HARRIS: We were listening just a moment ago here to Senators Bob Graham and Porter Goss, announcing the date for the hearings that many had been anticipating; hearings that will be looking into intelligence matters leading up to 9/11. And you also heard him describe looking at the culture of the intelligence community and seeing what needs to be changed there.

Let's go to our Jeanne Meserve in Washington, who has also been listening and may have heard more than we did here -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, first to clarify the letter that was being talked about there, this was a letter that was sent this week to FBI Director Robert Mueller and some key members of Congress by a woman who is the general counsel for the FBI field office in Minneapolis. We are told that it is an absolute scorcher. It lays out chapter and verse criticism of how the FBI headquarters in Washington dealt with issues relating to Moussaoui that were put before them by the Minneapolis field office.

It also does talk about the culture of the FBI, something you just heard Senator Graham referring to, saying that this is a culture that does not foster -- that they've omitted -- excuse me, let me get my thoughts together here for just a moment. They say, "They foster a climate of fear which has chilled aggressive FBI law enforcement and decisions." That's a quote put on "TIME" magazine's Web site from the rally letter.

So, first of all, that's the specifics of the letter they're talking about, Leon.

HARRIS: Very good. We also heard that the date for the beginning of the hearings is going to be June 4, and the hearings are going to be a combination of both closed and opened sessions, correct?

MESERVE: Right. And you heard him say that towards the end of June, they intend to have their first open session. Amongst the first, they hope to have Tenet testify -- George Tenet of the CIA and Robert Mueller of the FBI. A lot of tough questions are going to be put to them. It's appears, in light of this letter particularly, Mr. Mueller might be put on the hot seat.

HARRIS: OK, he could have a long summer. This is going to go all the way through the fall.

MESERVE: He could.

HARRIS: Jeanne Meserve in Washington, thank you very much.

MESERVE: Leon?

HARRIS: Yes?

MESERVE: Leon, before you say goodbye to me, can I tell you another piece of news that has to do with threat warnings?

HARRIS: Sure.

MESERVE: We have learned that a threat advisory was put out to subways and transit systems around the country. This is a threat advisory, it is not a warning. It is not for a specific system. It doesn't advice specific action be taken, but it is telling them to be put on alert.

An official tells me that the intelligence that the Department of Transportation was getting from agencies is that subways had become a topic in some intelligence reports. Also federal officials are confirming to CNN that the FBI has put out a warning about possible a terrorist threat for scuba divers. We're told that this advisory went out to the cruise industry, the pipeline industry and nuclear power plants, as well as to local law enforcement. Quoting here from the FBI communication, "Various terrorist elements have sought to develop an offensive scuba diver capability." So I wanted you to know about that, Leon.

HARRIS: Very good, interesting -- nice job. Jeanne Meserve, thank you very much. Sure do appreciate that update.

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