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Aired August 1, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET



COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Missed opportunities. CNN investigation reveals the (AUDIO GAP) community may have known a lot more about a September 11 hijacker than it has previously let on.


MCEDWARDS: Hello and welcome to INSIGHT. I'm Colleen McEdwards in for Jonathan Mann.

It is the question that will not go away. How much did U.S. officials know about the September 11 hijackers, and could their plot have been prevented?

The U.S., clearly, missed some clues. Warnings of a major attack being planned, FBI memos about Middle Eastern men taking classes in U.S. flight schools, even warnings al Qaeda might try to hijack an airplane just weeks before the attacks, themselves.

Well, there are, now, suggestions that U.S. intelligence officials may have let one of the hijackers slip right through their fingers just months before the attacks.

In a moment, the results of a CNN investigation. On INSIGHT today, the one who got away.

But first, a quick look at some other stories that are making headlines.


MCEDWARDS: United Airlines Flight 93 was the only hijacked plane on September 11 that did not kill anyone on the ground. Police in Maryland had stopped the plane's pilot, Ziad Jarrah, just two days before for speeding. He was let go because FBI officials say Jarrah was quote "not on the radar screen of any agency." But a CNN investigation suggests the CIA may have been tracking Jarrah for months before the attacks.

Here's CNN's senior international correspondent Sheila MacVicar.


SHEILA MACVICAR, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On September 11 from the flight deck of United Airlines Flight 93, this was the voice of Ziad Jarrah.

ZIAD JARRAH, UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 93 HIJACKER: "Here's the Captain. I would like to ask you to remain seated. There is a bomb aboard and we are going back to the airport. And ...our demand is to please remain quiet."

MACVICAR: After a fight between the passengers and the hijackers, Flight 93 crashed into a field in Pennsylvania killing 44 people. Investigators, now, believe the plane was heading for the White House.

Ziad Jarrah was the hijacker pilot, a key conspirator. Could he have been stopped?

In Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, there is evidence that an intelligence agency was apprehensive enough about Jarrah months before September 11 to track some of his travels and arrange for him to be interrogated, here. U.S. officials, U.A.E. officials and other intelligence and security sources do agree on one thing. Ziad Jarrah was stopped, here at the Dubai airport, nearly nine months before September 11.

That's where the accounts begin to differ. U.A.E. government and Middle Eastern and European intelligence sources tell CNN the agency that picked up Jarrah's trail was the Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA. This is how those sources tell the story.

It was late January 2001. Here in Dubai, the CIA told officials of the United Arab Emirates that Ziad Jarrah would, shortly, be arriving from Pakistan, and they wanted him stopped for questioning. U.A.E. officials say they were told the CIA was interested because Jarrah was quote "suspected of involvement in terrorist activities."

That's not the way they tell the story at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. A CIA spokesman vigorously denied the CIA had known anything Ziad Jarrah before September 11, or had anything to do with his questioning in Dubai saying quote, "That is flatly untrue." The CIA says the first it learned that Jarrah was stopped was in a cable from CIA officers in the U.A.E. after September 11. Senior U.A.E. government officials told of the CIA's denials continue to say that Jarrah was questioned at the request of the U.S.

Both the U.S. and the U.A.E. acknowledge the relationship between the two countries' intelligence services is extremely close. Senior U.A.E. government officials told of the CIA's denials continue to say that Jarrah was questioned at the request of the U.S.

By January 2001, as we know now, Ziad Jarrah had already spent six months in the United States learning to fly. In his passport was a valid multiple-entry U.S. Visa. This fragment found at the crash site of Flight 93. And investigators confirm that he had just spent, at least, three weeks that January at an al Qaeda training camp. U.A.E. officials insist it was those travels that interested the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: According to the information they got from the U.S. was that he stayed in Pakistan for three months, so they wanted to know what, exactly, was he doing, and whether he was, also, in Afghanistan.

MACVICAR: On January 30th, 2001, on board a Pakistan Airways flight from Peshawar, Ziad Jarrah arrived in Dubai. He was in transit, heading for Europe.

U.A.E. sources say that, in a telephone call from the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, they were asked to intercept Ziad Jarrah to find out where he had been in Afghanistan and how long he had been there. The questioning of Jarrah in Dubai fits the pattern of a CIA operation described to CNN by U.A.E. and European sources. Those sources say that in 1999, the CIA began an operation to track suspected al Qaeda operatives, as they transited there.

One of those sources provided this drawing showing the airport layout and describes how people wanted for questioning were intercepted, most often at a transit desk. As was the case with Ziad Jarrah, CNN sources say U.A.E. officials were, often, told in advance by American officials who was coming in and whom they wanted questioned.

U.S. officials declined to comment on whether the CIA operated this way at Dubai Airport. In January 2001, Ziad Jarrah was released after questioning. A senior U.A.E. source says U.S. officials were informed of the results of his interrogation while Jarrah was still in the airport. He was released, they say, because U.S. officials indicated they were satisfied.

Again, a spokesman for the CIA denies any such contact. Senior U.A.E. sources say, because Jarrah was in transit, U.A.E. security had no interest in questioning him for its own purposes.

Senator Richard Shelby is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

SENATOR RICHARD SHELBY, SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If all of this were true, it would be troubling to the Committee, and it would, it would show, again, that there missed opportunities.

MACVICAR: In the early hours of January 31st, 2001, Ziad Jarrah caught his KLM flight back to Europe. And from January to September, he traveled to the U.S., to Lebanon, to Germany and back to the U.S. There was no sign he was, ever again, on the radar screen of any intelligence agency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "It's United 93 calling ... United 93... I understand you have a bomb on board."

MACVICAR: On the morning of September 11, Ziad Jarrah took over the controls of United Flight 93 and turned the plane towards Washington. It was only the heroic actions of the passengers which prevented him from reaching his target.


And, now Colleen, it seems, fairly, certain that there will be further calls for investigation -- Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: All right, Sheila, so is it clear whether or not he was monitored, at all, after this interrogation?

MACVICAR: We know that Ziad Jarrah left Dubai on the 31st of January, 2001, that he flew to Amsterdam, on to Hamburg, and from Hamburg, he, again, traveled to the United States. He went back and forth a number of times, to Lebanon, to Germany, to the U.S. We have spoken to other intelligence agencies in Europe and elsewhere. They tell us that there is no evidence that, at any time, they were aware that anyone had any concerns about Ziad Jarrah, and, in fact, there is no evidence that he was ever, again, stopped and questioned anywhere else.

MCEDWARDS: So is anybody upset about this? Is anybody calling this, at this point, a blunder?

MACVICAR: Well, I think what you're going to see -- obviously, there has been an ongoing investigation, here in the United States, that has been taking a look. The Senate and House Joint Intelligence Committees have been taking a look at, what has been termed, intelligence failures prior to 9/11. And it seems fairly clear that if, as we have reported, this is indeed true, or found indeed to be true, there will be people who wish to investigate it further, and there will be people who will want to look at issues of accountability around that.

MCEDWARDS: And as long at the CIA is denying this, I mean, will people ever know why this person was questioned, and why it wasn't followed up on?

MACVICAR: We have talked to the CIA on more than one occasion. We have told them what our reporting is. You've head what they say. They, flatly, deny that this took place. They say that it is, simply, not true, and they, also, tell us that they cannot understand why officials of the government of the United Arab Emirates are saying these things to us. However, that said, we do know that there are files, and it is clear that if and when investigations go forward, investigators will, probably, want to talk to people in both agencies.

MCEDWARDS: Sheila MacVicar -- thanks very much.

And coming up after the break, questions about Osama Bin Laden and the new face of al Qaeda.

Stay with us.



GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: Osama Bin Laden -- he may be alive. If he is, we'll get him. If he's not alive, we got him. And ...

MCEDWARDS (voice-over): Dead or alive. With the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaching, that seems to be the million dollar question in the United States. U.S. officials say they're holding some of Bin Laden's bodyguards among the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And that has led some U.S. officials to believe that Bin Laden may have been killed by Coalition Forces in Afghanistan.


Welcome back.

Well, no one in the U.S. government seems to know, for sure, what has happened to Bin Laden. He hasn't been heard from or seen for months. But if al Qaeda's leadership is in disarray, its members are, apparently, not. There are signs that they're forming new and very dangerous alliances.

Here's CNN Mike Boettcher.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An attack on French naval engineers in Karachi, Pakistan. Fourteen are killed. This, say Coalition Intelligence officials, is a new face of al Qaeda. A collection of, what are described as, super cells that stretch from North Africa to Southeast Asia. Terrorist groups reverting to smaller, more frequent attacks while the main al Qaeda leadership works to regroup after months on the run.

ROHAN GUNARAINA: AUTHOR, "INSIDE AL QAEDA": Al Qaeda is not able to mount large-scale theatrical operations of the scale of 9/11 (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because to mount such operations, you need to plan across a number of countries. And a large number of operatives are in ...

BOETTCHER: al Qaeda operatives in coalition custody have told their interrogators that Arabs who trained in Bin Laden's Afghanistan camps have returned to their home nations, forming alliances with other extremist groups, super cells and operating on their own without guidance from the men who, once, trained and directed them. They are reverting to their training, according to coalition intelligence analysts, using tactics taught in this 11-volume al Qaeda terrorist manual, which CNN was allowed to inspect.

This encyclopedia of terror describes multiple methods of murder, using bullets, bombs and poisons. Large and small-scale tactics designed to cause widespread terror. One section describes the use of cyanide as a tool of assassination and, not coincidentally, CNN has learned that coalition intelligence agencies have detected several recent purchases of cyanide by al Qaeda operative.

GUNARAINA: Instead of taking strategic targets, al Qaeda has, now, decided to take small-scale and medium-scale targets, and we have seen, since 9/11, al Qaeda has conducted a dozen attack on small and medium-scale targets.

BOETTCHER: Security officials in Morocco have broken one such super cell, which was said to be planning attacks on American and British warships operating in the Straits of Gibraltar. Intelligence sources tell CNN the cell chose its own targets, but got more than $300,000 from a central al Qaeda money source through wire transfers from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

This attack, in Tunisia on a synagogue, killed 14 German tourists. Al Qaeda took credit for the attack. Intelligence officials fear more of these small-attacks on tourist sites, particularly in Europe and Asia.

And there is concern the super cells could use a new tactic. Attacks through the mail. A coalition intelligence source says, what amounted to a letter bomb school was discovered in Pakistan, earlier this year.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, Atlanta.


MCEDWARDS: All right, so just how dangerous are these new super cells?

For more on that, we're joined by CNN's Mike Boettcher, who is, right here in Atlanta, and, in Washington, by Magnus Ranstorp, a lecturer in International Relations at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and a specialist on international terrorism.

Thank you, both, for being here.

Mike, to you first. How dangerous could these cells be?

BOETTCHER: Well, very dangerous because they are fortified by these alliances they have formed with other extremist groups or terrorist groups in their country, so that creates that danger exponentially. But it, also, makes them a little more vulnerable, too, because they're not a closed cell, a closed unit, just al Qaeda people. They may be cooperating with people who are penetrated by intelligence agencies in their home countries. So there is benefit, and there is loss, too, for them.

MCEDWARDS: Well, more vulnerable, and I'll put this question to you, Magnus, if you don't mind. The fact that if they're small groups, not planning attacks on such a grand scale, does that make them harder to detect, or easier to detect?

MAGNUS RANSTORP, LECTURER, INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, UNIVERSITY OF ST. ANDREWS: Well, I think first of all, we have to recognize the fact that the way in which we understand al Qaeda, as a sort of hierarchical structure, is not true. Al Qaeda is a mass movement. And they are very difficult because they mutate. They change all the time. And they are, therefore, able to see what opportunities are available.

And, of course, they are trying, very hard, to strike at targets inside the United States, if the time is right. They are very hard to detect. They are very hard to penetrate. Maybe some of them have been rolled up in the arrest in the United States, but certainly, we should be concerned that they have not gone away. They are patient. They are waiting, and they'll wait to strike at the next available target.

And this is not only in the United States, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) (AUDIO GAP) well as extending across the world towards maritime target, towards other large-scale gatherings of world leaders. So we should be concerned about this, and we should be -- we should not rest on our laurels because they are just gauging and waiting and preparing and regrouping to be able to inflict another blow.

MCEDWARDS: Mike, are there problems, here, with the investigation?

BOETTCHER: Well, there were problems before 9/11, and there are, still, problems. I think that there was unprecedented cooperation after 9/11. But there have been instances that have developed where there has been some information kept from other agencies, not complete sharing of information.

But I must say that we're light years ahead -- the coalition is -- than it was before 9/11. The cooperation continues on a pretty grand- scale. And I don't think that you've seen in history arrest of terrorists around the world like you see now, and a lot of arrests we haven't even heard about.

MCEDWARDS: Right. And, Magnus, to you, if you feel -- if you don't mind picking up on that. I mean, it must be quite difficult even for investigators to know what to look at. If you take the anthrax situation, for example, I mean, investigators -- a bit of a development on that, today, looking at a former lab worker in the United States. It's something that a lot of people, I think, assumed, at the time, was linked to al Qaeda. But that isn't necessarily the case.

RANSTORP: No, I think, there's a lot of problems in terms of groups and individuals copy catting and taking advantage and being very opportunistic in terms of -- or just creating havoc and mayhem in trying to create problems for the United States, both economically in terms of the infrastructure. And I think that there has been a lot of success, not only in terms of the United States efforts in trying to, not only understand al Qaeda, but also in terms of the arrests that they have been making all around the world.

They have been assisted by a number of key allies, particularly France, Spain and Italy have unraveled several al Qaeda cells, along with other coalition partners in the Arab world. And I would like to, particularly, single out Jordan's role because, I think, Jordan has had an unsung hero's role in terms of the war against terrorism in the broader scale, and, of course unfortunately now, they are being -- they sit uneasy in a coming war on Iraq, if that happens, particularly in United States efforts in trying to maintain a multilateral coalition against the War on Terrorism, while, possibly, maintaining a unilateral action against the Iraqis.

MCEDWARDS: Mike, we've heard that some of Bin Laden's bodyguards are, apparently, in custody in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. I mean, how -- is it possible to say how likely they are to be helpful in determining where Osama Bin Laden is, if he's even alive?

BOETTCHER: Well, you know, they would be very helpful in talking about his mode of travel, the way he traveled, when he traveled, how he traveled and to where he traveled, but, you know, the speculation that because there are bodyguards in custody that this shows he is, likely, dead just isn't true.

I've talked to many different agencies around the world and they say they have no evidence that he's dead. Some people have that as a hunch, but we know this, and this came from interrogations of prisoners: that Bin Laden, in order to travel more quickly, more easily, shed some of those bodyguards and is traveling in a smaller group, and it's likely that these bodyguards who are in custody were those bodyguards that were shed from the main entourage of Bin Laden.

MCEDWARDS: Well, and Magnus, based on what you know about the organization, are bodyguards or people at that level likely to know that much?

RANSTORP: Well, I agree with Mike in the sense that it's very unlikely that Bin Laden would have been traveling and trying to disguise his movements with a large entourage. One of the problems is that these individuals, even at the foot soldier level, not just senior individuals, have been very skilled at counter-interrogation. Is been making very difficult in trying to solicit what is true and what is not true, what is disinformation, what is fact.

And I think that the bodyguard issue is not, really, relevant in that sense because of the importance of real-time intelligence in trying to get at the -- not only the top end of the structure of al Qaeda, but also, continuing the effort in trying to find out these sleeper cells that are not only in Europe and other places, but also, within the United States waiting and being ready to strike at an opportune moment.

MCEDWARDS: Magnus, how much is known about al Qaeda's alleged presence in Iraq? We've heard the suggestion, again this week.

RANSTORP: Well, there has been certain Iraqi (UNINTELLIGIBLE) movements that have had contacts with al Qaeda operatives who have traveled, previous to 9/11, to Iraq who have had meetings with them, but it is not a major problem. I think there are a number of different blind spots in which al Qaeda operatives have traveled out of Afghanistan to regroup, to make their way to their home countries to try to coordinate, and some of those countries have, of course, not only been Southeast Asia, but also, through Iran. In Lebanon, there is some coordination going on, right now, that's very important. Even extending all the way down to South America, to the tri-border area between Brazil, Argentina, as well as Paraguay, extending even beyond there.

So there is a lot of movement on their front in regrouping, in coordinating activities between various actors, not only al Qaeda, but also tactical marriages of convenience, that it's important to monitor.

And, more importantly I think, we have to move beyond the fact that al Qaeda is not just an hierarchical organization. It is a movement. It's a movement that there are a number of different organizations that are in the service of al Qaeda, that are mutating, that are changing, that are regrouping, that are forging alliances, and that can be very dangerous, not only within the context of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in trying to mount a large-scale attack, but also in trying to strike at the principal enemy, and that is the United States.

MCEDWARDS: Understood. Magnus Ranstorp, Mike Boettcher, we've got to leave it there, but thank you, both. Really appreciate it.

MCEDWARDS: And that is all for this edition of INSIGHT. I'm Colleen McEdwards.





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