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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Chilling Audio From 9/11 Hijack Played at Hearing

Aired June 17, 2004 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: On this, the final day of 9/11 public hearings, we learn about terror in the air.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some planes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't try to make any stupid moves.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZAHN: Confusion on the ground.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

COMMAND CENTER: Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?

FAA HEADQUARTERS: Oh, God, I don't know.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ZAHN: A system overwhelmed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flight had already crashed by the time they learned it was hijacked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Tonight, an unprecedented picture of 9/11.

Good evening. Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.

The 9/11 commission is expected to release its final report next month. But today's presentation called a staff statement was dramatic and powerful. It focused on how the federal government reacted to the hijackings on 9/11. Its conclusion: The military and the FAA were unprepared in every respect. Today's statement also included a detailed time line and chilling recordings of the hijackers themselves.

We will take you step-by-step through the commission's findings tonight, starting with the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center Towers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN (voice-over): September 11, 2001, was a perfectly clear day of no particular note in Boston's Logan Airport. But the events that began to transpire there would, of course, forever change the world.

Mohammed Atta and Abdul Aziz Alamari got an early start, passing through security at the Portland main airport on their way to Boston where they linked up with three fellow terrorists. These five hijackers boarded American Airlines Flight 11 and settled into their seats on their Los Angeles-bound flight, armed with box cutters and other weapons that were slipped through security.

And they weren't the only terrorists at Logan Airport that morning. Five other hijackers had boarded United Flight 175 also bound for Los Angeles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 8:00 on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 began its takeoff roll at Logan Airport in Boston. A Boeing 767, Flight 11 was bound for Los Angeles with 81 passengers, 11 crew and 24,000 gallons of jet fuel.

ZAHN: Eight-thirteen a.m., American Flight 11 acknowledged a command to turn 20-degrees right, but it didn't acknowledge a command issued seconds later, the first sign something might be very wrong.

Eighteen-fourteen a.m., United Flight 175 took off from Logan with nine crew members and only 56 passengers on board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 8:21, American 11 turned off its transponder, immediately degrading the available information about the aircraft. The controller told his supervisor that he thought something was seriously wrong with the plane.

ZAHN: Then a mysterious transmission from American 11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some planes. Just stay quiet, and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport.

ZAHN: Then...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any movies, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Between 8:25 and 8:32, in accordance with the FAA protocol, Boston Center managers started notifying their chain of command that American 11 had been hijacked.

ZAHN: Minutes later, another transmission from American Flight 11.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody move, please. We are going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves.

ZAHN: Eight-thirty-seven a.m., 23 minutes after the first sign of a problem, Boston Center contacted the U.S. military. FAA BOSTON CENTER: Hi. Boston Center TMU. We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to -- we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there to help us out.

NORAD EAST AIR DEFENSE SECTOR: Is this real world or exercise?

FAA BOSTON CENTER: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At 8:37, Boston Center polled United 175, along with other aircraft, about whether they had seen a "American 767, American 11" that they were looking for, and United 175's pilot said they had seen it. The controller turned United 175 away from it as a safety precaution.

ZAHN: Eighty-forty-six a.m., two jets on Otis Air Force Base on Cape Code were ordered scrambled to chase down American Flight 11. Then, 40 seconds later, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Two minutes later, unaware that American 11 had crashed, the FAA's New York manager reported.

FAA NEW YORK CENTER: OK. This is New York Center. We're watching the airplane. I also had conversation with American Airlines, and they have told us that they believe that one of their stewardesses was stabbed and that there are people in the cockpit that have control of the aircraft, and that's all the information they have right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beginning at 8:52, the controller made repeated attempts to reach the crew of United 175. Still no response.

At 8:58, the New York Center controller searching for United 175 told another New York controller, "We might have a hijack over here. Two of them."

ZAHN: Nine-oh-one a.m., FAA's New York manager made another report.

FAA NEW YORK Center: We have several situations going on here. It's escalating big, big time, and we need to get the military involved with us. We're -- we're involved with something else. We have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.

ZAHN: Then New York Center contacted the terminal approach center on Long Island.

FAA NEW YORK CENTER: Do you know who he is?

TERMINAL APPROACH: We're just -- we just -- we don't know who he is. We're just picking him up now.

FAA NEW YORK CENTER: All right. Heads up, man. It looks like another one coming in.

TERMINAL APPROACH: All right.

ZAHN: Nine-oh-three a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And to help us take a closer look now at what went so horribly wrong on 9/11, we are joined by investigative journalist Peter Lance who testified before the commission just last month -- his latest book is "1000 Years for Revenge" -- and in Washington, regular contributor and former Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke, and Michael Hirsch, a senior editor at "Newsweek."

Welcome all.

Michael, I want to start with you this evening. How could it be that the military did not learn that American Flight 11 had been hijacked until 23 minutes after air traffic controllers were aware of a problem?

MICHAEL HIRSCH, SENIOR EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I think the bottom line is that there simply were not procedures in place for this kind of eventuality. I mean, they had, You know, the Cold War System, the old NORAD system, which was concentrated on incoming threats from the outside.

Simply -- the reaction time simply wasn't there for dealing with the idea of domestically launched aircraft being used as missiles here on the homeland, and I think most of the officials involved will -- you know, will admit that.

And, if you look at some of these exchanges, these dramatic exchanges that you had at the top of your program, it's clear that they're all dealing with something brand new.

ZAHN: What about that, Tori?

VICTORIA CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESWOMAN: Oh, he's absolutely right. If you think back before 9/11 -- and it's hard to do that -- we weren't thinking about these sorts of attacks.

NORAD was set up and trained and equipped and was organized to deal with threats from abroad, not from internally, and that goes to the whole nature of the world in which we find ourselves, for which we weren't prepared and in which we still have some significant challenges.

ZAHN: And yet, we are hearing tonight, Peter, from a lot of family members that this is just absolutely inexcusable.

PETER LANCE, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, I think that it's inexcusable for several reasons. First of all, the joint inquiry of Congress listed 12 separate incidents where planes were used as weapons in the years prior to 9/11, at least four of those instances where they were going to fly them into buildings, so the idea that this thing wasn't anticipated just doesn't wash, and that's the congressional joint inquiry's conclusion.

And the fact is the -- as horrifying as all this is, the 9/11 commission is only telling part of the story. There were significant gaps between what the official report was today and what has been published in places like cooperativeresearch.org, this remarkable time line that traces minute-by-minute what happened.

ZAHN: Well, are you accusing the commission of intentionally leaving information out because it's too tough for the American public to accept?

LANCE: Whether it's intent or negligence, the effect is the same. The public is only getting part of the picture.

Example, quick example, there were two F-16s from the 177th fighter wing in Atlantic City, an Air National Guard unit, doing bomb sortes over the pinelands of New Jersey eight minutes away from Manhattan, and the first -- they admit in the report today that they contacted Atlantic City, but they said they were basically inactive.

What about that? That wasn't even explored. You know, "The Bergen Record" had a big story. They interviewed Governor Kane (ph) on it. They asked to talk to the people at the base. Why weren't we contacted? So you had two F-16s eight minutes away that could have stopped, potentially thwarted AA 11, not to mention the second flight. So what about that? Why isn't that in the commission report?

ZAHN: And, Michael, there's another loose end here. Just one air traffic controller was responsible for both Flight 11 and Flight 175. What were the implications of that?

HIRSCH: Well, obviously, in the circumstances, you know, it wasn't enough, and he was overwhelmed by that. But, again, I just would not agree that the systems we had in place, even with all of the warnings, the FBI clearly had known about the potential for using aircraft as weapons, hijacked aircraft, but this was not something that was communicated up the line so that the FAA and air traffic controllers -- or, for that matter, NORAD -- you know, had gamed this out, as they have since.

ZAHN: Michael Hirsch...

CLARKE: Paula...

ZAHN: ... Victoria Clarke, Peter Lance, if you wouldn't mind standing by, we're going to take a short break. We will continue our conversation on the other side.

Now the fate of Flight 77. Could its crash into the Pentagon have been prevented?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: American 77 traveled undetected for 36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: Today's staff report from the 9/11 commission says the military never had more than nine minutes' warning about any of the hijacked planes, yet American Flight 77, the plane that targeted the Pentagon, flew undetected for more than a half-hour before it crashed. That flight painfully illustrates the confusion inside the air traffic control system and the FAA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): for American Airlines Flight 77's Captain Charles "Chic" Burlingame, it was a routine takeoff from Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C. Sixty-four people on board his Boeing 757 headed to Los Angeles, including the plane's future hijackers.

At 8:40 a.m., Flight 77 was handed off from Washington Center air traffic control to the Indianapolis Center.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: The controller instructed the aircraft to climb, and, at 8:50, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) went to its next navigational aid. American 77 acknowledged. This was the last transmission for American 77.

ZAHN: And then, at 8:54 a.m., American 77 began to deviate from its flight path, first turning towards the South and within minutes disappearing from Indianapolis radar. Its flight transponder turned off at 8:56 a.m. The controller in charge of the plane tried the radio. Nothing.

ZELIKOW: At this point, the Indianapolis controller had no knowledge of the situation in New York. He did not know that other aircraft had been hijacked. He believed American 77 had experienced serious electrical and/or mechanical failure and was gone.

ZAHN: Indianapolis notified FAA Regional that it had lost contact with Flight 77. A regional search was under way for a crashed plane.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By 9:20, Indianapolis Center learned that there were other hijacked aircraft in the system and began to doubt their initial assumption that American 77 had crashed.

By 9:21, they feared it had been hijacked.

ZAHN: Nine-twenty-five a.m., FAA headquarters was informed that American 77 was lost, and there was no radar to track.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While the Command Center learned Flight 77 was missing, neither it nor FAA headquarters issued an all-points bulletin to surrounding centers to search for primary radar targets. American 77 traveled undetected for 36 minutes heading on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.

ZAHN: Finally, at 9:32 a.m., Dulles controllers located a target traveling east and traveling fast. Officials at D.C.'s Reagan National Airport sent an unarmed military plane to I.D. the aircraft. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified it as a Boeing 757, attempted to follow its path, and, at 9:38, seconds after impact, reported to Washington Tower, "Looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon, sir."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: A postscript: NORAD was not initially notified that a search was under way, and military assistance wasn't requested to track the missing American Airlines flight until 9:21 a.m.

At 9:30 a.m., fighter jets were dispatched from Langley, Virginia, to intercept the hijacked plane, but, according to the report, the FAA forwarded incorrect information about the aircraft closing in on Washington, D.C.

So the fighter jets were headed in the wrong direction. That was 9:38 a.m., seconds after the Pentagon had been struck and the Langley fighters were 150 miles away.

Joining us again, investigative journalist Peter Lance; in Washington, regular contributor Victoria Clarke; and "Newsweek" senior editor Michael Hirsch.

Welcome back.

Victoria, let's talk about American Flight 77 evading detection for some 36 minutes. Is there any rational explanation for that?

CLARKE: Well, I'll answer that, but I have to say listening to this -- and I'm glad you're devoting so much time to it. All day long, I've been thinking about the families of the 3,000 people who lost their lives on that day, and I just -- I can't imagine what they're going through, to hear these new details and this information, so my heart goes out to them.

But what we're looking at right now is we're looking at four airplanes and we're examining in close detail, with the benefit of hindsight, where they were, when they were there, and you need to understand at the time -- and I was in the middle of this.

At the time, there were literally thousands of airplanes in the skies over the United States, and many, many parts of the federal government, including the FAA and NORAD and others, were focused on trying to get those planes on the ground. There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack swaks (ph), and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn't.

So, in defense of the folks at FAA and NORAD and other places -- in hindsight, you could always do things much, much better -- there was a lot going on at the time.

ZAHN: Is that defensible, Peter?

LANCE: Indefensible. It's the greatest failure of defense in American history, and I'd like to ask Victoria if you were working with -- were you working with Secretary Rumsfeld at the time?

CLARKE: Yes.

LANCE: OK. Now there are two stories about Secretary Rumsfeld. One, the official story today is that he didn't go into the war room, the national military command center, until after the Pentagon was struck. I think 10:30ish or something is the official story.

But Richard Clarke in his book, "Against All Enemies," says that a teleconferencing session was set up at the White House at about 9:10. Present in this teleconference were the CIA director, the FBI director, Secretary Rumsfeld, you know, Condi Rice, Richard Armitage representing Colin Powell. The only...

ZAHN: All right. This is a much, as we know, highly controversial book, a much discounted book in some circles, so where was he?

LANCE: Where was the SECDEF?

CLARKE: After -- first thing that morning, as a matter of fact, he was meeting with members of Congress. He was having breakfast meetings with members of Congress, and what he was talking about was the world in which we found ourselves has changed dramatically, and it was much less likely that we were going to face armies and navies and air forces going forward, it was much more likely we were going to face asymmetrical threats, terrorist attacks, cyberterrorism, et cetera.

ZAHN: But, Tori, was he a part of that...

CLARKE: Wait.

ZAHN: ... teleconference or not?

CLARKE: Let me finish. Let me finish. He was having a conversation with them about exactly the fact that the world had changed and we hadn't changed with it. What is indefensible is, despite the fact that he and George Tenet had been going up to the Hill, had been going out to the American people, to other people in the government saying we have to change and adapt, nobody was doing anything because we had been so blessed for so long.

ZAHN: So he...

CLARKE: Now let me tell you what -- let me tell you what happened that morning. He was meeting with the...

ZAHN: We have to do it quickly.

CLARKE: He was meeting with the members of Congress when the planes hit the World Trade Center. The communications center immediately started spinning up. He was part of it. I was in another part of the building when the plane hit the Pentagon.

He goes to his outer office and says what was it? Immediately, people didn't know. So his instincts, which are very good, said find out exactly what happened. He went down the side of the building. The smoke got too bad. He went outside the building, got to the crash site, was one of the first people at the crash site, and did what any human being would do, which is help those people who were injured and hurt in the crash.

As soon as the...

LANCE: Fair enough, but why didn't he go to the war room?

CLARKE: As soon as -- wait!

LANCE: He's the secretary of defense.

CLARKE: As soon as -- I think...

LANCE: Why didn't he go into the war room and command -- take command in the Pentagon? He didn't show up for over an hour and a half after the first plane was hijacked. Why? The secretary of defense?

CLARKE: Well, you actually have your numbers wrong, but I think when there is a huge explosion in your building and you ask people what happened and they don't have the answer, the first thing you want to do is determine what happened, and then, when you arrive at a crash site in which people have been killed and people have been injured and they need help, I think it is absolutely appropriate and wonderful that a human being stepped up and tried to help them.

ZAHN: All right. We're going to have to leave...

CLARKE: As soon as the emergency people showed up, he did come into the building, into the command center.

ZAHN: All right. We're going to have to leave that part of the conversation there. My trio, if you'd please stand by, we will continue our conversation on the other side.

And that's where we pick up with United Flight 93. It was minutes away from Washington, so why was the official response to a growing crisis marked by so much confusion and indecision?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's talk about 93. Wheels up at 8:42. At 9:28, Cleveland confirms a hijack. You know it at 9:34! Now we have this conversation at 9:49, 13 minutes afterwards!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The report at today's 9/11 commission hearing made special mention of the passengers of United Flight 93, the one that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The report said the nation owes them a debt for their attempt to keep the plane from reaching Washington. It also said there is doubt that fighter planes could have intercepted Flight 93 and shot it down in time.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): Flight 93 was more than 40 minutes late when it took off from Newark Airport that morning bound for San Francisco. Among the 44 passengers and crew on board were four terrorists.

At 8:55 a.m., in Sarasota, Florida, President Bush was at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School getting ready to talk with students. Moments earlier, he had been informed that a small twin engine plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. At the same time, Vice President Cheney at the White House watched on television as a second plane struck the World Trade Center.

Ten minutes later, sitting with a classroom of second graders, the president was informed of the second plane, but he remained with the students another five to seven minutes before leaving the class.

At 9:28 a.m., a Cleveland air traffic controller received a radio transmission that sounded like screaming, but he didn't know where it was coming from. The controller responded, "Somebody call Cleveland?"

This was followed by a second radio transmission of screaming and someone yelling, "Get out of here! Get out of here!" Then Cleveland air control noticed that United Flight 93 had descended some 700 feet. The controller tried to make contact again. No response.

And then a third radio transmission, "Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board." The controller understood but responded, "Calling Cleveland Center. You're unreadable. Say again slowly."

At 9:34 a.m., FAA headquarters got word that United Flight 93 was hijacked and informed the National Air Traffic Control System Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. From that moment on, the Command Center continued to update the FAA on the progress of United 93.

Two minutes later, Vice President Cheney was moved to an underground shelter. He contacted the president and urged him not to return to Washington. At the same time, Cleveland air control asked the command center whether someone had requested the military to launch fighter aircraft to intercept United 93.

It then offered to contact a nearby military base. But the command center told them that decision needed to be made by personnel higher up in the FAA chain of command.

Nine-thirty-nine a.m., a fifth radio transmission was picked up by Cleveland.

ZIAD JARRAH, HIJACKER: Is the captain. Would like you all to remain seated. There is a bomb on board and are going back to airport and to have our demands (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Please remain quiet.

ZAHN: The controller responded, "United 93, understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead." United 93 did not respond. Soon after, the flight reversed course over Ohio and headed towards Washington, D.C.

At 10:01 a.m., the command center informed FAA headquarters that another aircraft in the vicinity had seen United 93 waving his wings.

At 10:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 125 miles from Washington, D.C. By the time the military learned United Flight 93 had been hijacked, it had already crashed.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Joining us once again, investigative journalist Peter Lance in Washington, regular contributor Victoria Clarke, and "Newsweek" senior editor Michael Hirsch.

Michael, can you explain something to me? At 9:35 a.m., the FAA knew that Flight 93 had been hijacked, never requested military help, but, by this time, two planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center. Why no assistance or call for assistance from the military?

HIRSCH: Disconnection of information. You know, you had four separate aircraft from different airports, at least three of them -- two of them at one airport, but the others from different airports, and, you know, you've got to remember this is all happening in the space of a little over an hour from the time the first plane hits to the final crash of Flight 93, and there simply is not enough time to connect all this up.

So you have different air traffic controllers responding, hearing, you know, little chards of information that are being talked about as the buzz grows, spreads about the two aircraft that strike the World Trade Center, but, you know, from the bottom down, from the controller's level on up to the vice president and president, they're barely getting a grasp on this even as the last plane is crashing into the ground.

ZAHN: Tori, do you believe in your heart of hearts there was no way to connect the dots here?

CLARKE: Not at the time. I really don't think you could. But what disturbs me is, in all this conversation, which is important, what people aren't focusing on is the fact as good as you have the systems, as quickly as you can respond to things, you can't protect against every attack, and I think we're setting up false expectations for some people that you can. You can't build a bunker deep enough, you can't fortify a building enough to protect against every attack, which is why you have to go after these people before they get to us.

ZAHN: All right, but, Tori, the American...

CLARKE: The fundamental...

ZAHN: ... taxpayer can expect a better system than was in place on 9/11, can't they?

CLARKE: They absolutely can, and they should, and I know dramatic improvements have been made, but I worry about how far some people want to take it and I worry that they don't focus on the really fundamental issues about how do we prevent these things before they occur. The best way is to go after these people before they plot these attacks.

ZAHN: I don't think anybody would argue with that point. Peter, let's move on to the issue of the behavior of President Bush that morning. The president went into the classroom after hearing about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. While in the classroom, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, apparently came over and whispered in the president's ear quote, "a second plane has hit the Trade Center. America is under attack." But the president remained in the classroom for at least five more minutes.

LANCE: Ten more, actually. In the classroom and then he stayed in the school in which he prepared a press statement and they actually did a press conference from the school. Now, keep in mind that at this point, as many as 11 planes, there was a suspect that were hijacked, they have no idea where these other planes are going. The president is a highly visible target.

ZAHN: What could he have done at that point?

LANCE: First of all, with hindsight, the commander-in chief, let's put a -- commander, as soon as he heard, 9:06, the nation is under attack, we know that there are marines and Secret Service people going, are we ready to go? And he...

ZAHN: He's in Sarasota, Florida.

LANCE: I know, but he could have made it to Air Force One if he was going to do a press conference to reassure the nation, he could have done it aboard the plane. Point is he had the sole ability to order the shoot down of the planes and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Air Force Base pilots Duffy (ph) and Nash (ph) said, we didn't have the authority and even if they had gotten there in time, without that authority from the president, so the potus (ph) is out of the loop.

ZAHN: Final thought, Michael Hirsch and then Tori, you get the last word.

HIRSCH: Yes, I think this is really just Monday morning quarterbacking of a fairly useless kind. Yes, you can raise questions. The report actually says the president was there five or seven minutes. Could he have done something differently? Should he have stayed in the classroom with the kids pretending to read? He later maintained it was so the nation would not get unduly alarmed. He referred to this as, "looks like we have a small war here." It wasn't clear what was happening. This sort of second-guessing going on, I think the bottom line is the families of the victims of 9/11, I think, have to understand that it's virtually impossible to conceive of any way in which these attacks could have been stopped even had the best things happened.

ZAHN: All right, Tori, you get the last word and a brief one at that. CLARKE: I agree completely.

ZAHN: That was briefer than I thought. Next time you come back, I'll give you another 20 seconds. Tori Clarke, Peter Lance, Michael Hirsch. Thank you for all of your perspectives this evening.

When we come back, we'll be hearing from some of those family members. Two 9/11 family members talk about the hard facts and the tender emotions of the commission's investigation. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: It is, of course, not easy to hear all of the details of what happened on the morning of September 11, 2001. Reliving the tragedy can be especially difficult for those who have lost a loved one that day. Two 9/11 family members join us tonight. Stephen Push lost his wife, Lisa Raines, on American Airlines flight 77 which hit the Pentagon. He has been at most of the 9/11 commission hearings including today. He joins us from Washington.

Robert McIlvaine's son worked and died in the World Trade Center. Mr. McIlvaine has not missed a commission hearing and was also in Washington today. He joins us from Philadelphia. Thank you both for joining us after a long excruciating day.

Bob, describe to us what it was like to sit here after you heard about the number of systemic failures within the FAA and NORAD.

ROBERT MCILVAINE, LOST SON IN SEPT. 11 ATTACKS: Well, as you said before, I've been to every meeting and regretfully, I spend my entire life reading about this, talking about it, going to commission so I'm sort of relieved that this whole thing is over, but in the morning, which is so difficult to listen to the account, the actual account, the timeline, because when the airline was going into the north towers, you're thinking -- I'm going to get upset. What was my son doing? And, of course, that was very difficult.

But as the day went along, it was great to hear from the FAA and NORAD and although we're not getting -- personally, we're not getting enough information. And I really want to stress this is what really upsets me and I have a tremendous amount of anger out there because this commission is not there to put blame or hold anyone accountable. I personally want people accountable and I want blame because this system really broke down and it goes right to the top and right to the bottom. And the commission just doesn't have time to get to this and that's, you know, I think I'll spend the rest of my life telling people what should have happened and what didn't happen so forth and so on. So I carry a lot of anger and bitterness because of that.

ZAHN: And I think it's difficult for anybody to stand in judgment of you. I mean, I think it's fairly easy for us all to understand why your emotions are so raw. Stephen, do you share the same sense of anger and the same hope that there ultimately will be some accountability in play here? STEPHEN PUSH, LOST WIFE IN SEPT. 11 ATTACKS: Well, I am very angry, have been very angry since shortly after 9/11 over the systemic failures in the government to prepare for such an attack. But I'm actually very gratified that the commission is doing, I think, a very excellent job of investigating 9/11, of laying out the scenario of what happened, and, hopefully, next month, coming out with recommendations of what can be done to help prevent future attacks. I think our loved ones will not have died in vain if we can see some serious improvements in intelligence and border control and aviation security that will save lives in the future.

ZAHN: Bob, do you find that comforting on any level?

MCILVAINE: No, I don't find it comforting. Because, again, there's just been too many questions that haven't been answered and the theme all through today, Myers saying that we thought it was going to be an external attack. And then commission members saying, well, how could you possibly think it was going to be an external attack since what's happened since '93, Khobar and just the information coming from the outside and this is the thing that really bothers me that, you know, I go back to Tenet.

It seems like the commission wants to give the CIA an "F", the FBI, an "F" for that great wall they had between them. But I was there when Tenet said there is just so much information we can give to the administration but I can't make policy. I remember those words. And then I remember Ashcroft saying, this was high-priority terrorism. But, yet, they only met twice during the summer. I said what is going on here? And this is what's mind boggling here that Tenet says his hair was on fire and, today, they said if they had the information, they could have shot down all four planes, not that I want to see anyone, but it's just the idea that the commission continues to say there is no dissemination of information. There was plenty of information. I really resent this that the previous gentleman had said this is Monday night quarterbacking. Well, it is not Monday night -- I devote my entire life to this and there are still so many questions that haven't been answered.

ZAHN: So, Stephen, even though you say you're heartened that this investigation, you think, will lead to improvements down the road, isn't it hard for you, as Bob just described, to accept all of the disconnects that happened along the way?

PUSH: Well, it's hard to accept them, but we've known about most of them for a long time. I had come to the conclusion within two weeks of 9/11 that this was the most colossal failure of intelligence since Pearl Harbor. Now, for a long time, it was difficult to get anyone to listen to that point of view. It was difficult to even get this commission established. We had to struggle for the better part of a year just to get the commission started. And then the commission faced all kinds of hurdles for funding and extension of the time.

Now, we're finally getting close to having a final report and, finally, we're seeing, you know, more media attention to these issues and we're seeing more people who accept the fact that there were serious flaws in what the government did here. And I've heard many commissioners suggest, we haven't seen the final report yet, but a number of the commission members suggested they now believe that 9/11 was preventable. So I feel that we're finally turning the corner on convincing the public and convincing policy leaders that there need to be serious changes made.

ZAHN: OK.

PUSH: And I don't think it's an accident that tenet resigned recently.

ZAHN: Bob, a final reflection on where you think the American public stands once this final report is issued.

MCILVAINE: Where do I think the American public stands?

Well, the thing I've learned about this whole thing is that it seems like the American's public's attention on this thing is approximately two days. It seems like you have a news item and people forget after two days. I don't think -- and that's the reason I'm so angry, so many people, they're concerned when it's in front of them, but it's so easily forgotten. And my thing to the American public is you really got to work hard in this democracy and so many people are uninformed and these things can happen again. That's why I think accountability is necessary. Because politicians -- people have to learn that, hey, we're watching them. And that we don't have these mistakes before. We have to be diligent, but if the American people are not diligent then these things are going to happen again.

ZAHN: Well, I can't tell you how much I appreciate both of your coming in to share your points of view with us tonight. Robert McIlvaine and Steven Push, I know it has been a very tough day to endure. Thank you both.

MCILVAINE: Thank you, Paula.

PUSH: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: When we come back, after half a century of waiting for an enemy invader, the nation's air defense is taken by surprise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had never practiced cooperating. They didn't know how to talk to each other. They did not anticipate a domestic threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Today's commission hearing exposed just how unprepared the FAA and the military were as they struggled to respond to the September 11th attacks. NORAD, North American Aerospace Defense Command had scrambled fighter jets that day, but the 9/11 Commission said the pilots were getting faulty or incomplete information from the ground. And a key command issued by the vice president never even reached them.

Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr has that part of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On 9/11, confusion, missed signals, and poor communications between the FAA and the military. The commission concluding no one expected hijacked airliners to become suicide bombs.

PHILIP ZELIKOW, 9/11 COMMISSION EXECUTIVE DIR.: What ensued was the hurried attempt to create an improvised attempt by officials who had never encountered or trained against the situation they faced.

STARR: Today, the FAA and the military are in constant contact and can respond instantly with more fighters on alert than there were on 9/11. NORAD calculated what would happen today in the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11 which hit the north tower of the World Trade Center.

GEN. RALPH EBERHART, USAF, NORAD COMMANDER: On 9/11, we got six minutes of notification time for American Airlines Flight 11. Today, we believe he -- believe we would have at least 17 minutes to make that decision.

STARR: Problems at the FAA help explain why fighter aircraft couldn't catch the hijacked airliners. No one from FAA headquarters passed along to the military what information it had about United Airlines Flight 93 which later crashed in Pennsylvania. Some traffic controllers never knew American Airlines Flight 77 the plane that hit the Pentagon, was hijacked. There was confusion in the military as well. Fighter aircraft over New York and Washington never received Vice President Dick Cheney's authorization to shoot down civilian airliners. Pilots flying armed planes were confused. One pilot thinking it might be an enemy missile attack. Different pilots had different orders. At Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, fighters were scrambled outside the military chain of command because the secret service requested them to protect the White House. A government simply unprepared.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: They had never practiced cooperating. They didn't know how to talk to each other. They did not anticipate a domestic threat.

STARR (on camera): Today, the military says it is prepared for the nightmare scenario of shooting down a civilian airliner over U.S. skies. But it hopes that improved airport security and shutting down terrorist networks will keep that from ever happening -- Paula.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Thanks so much. That report from Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

Coming up next, what if it happens again?

If terrorists try to use planes as missiles again, are we any better able to stop them?

The lessons learned is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Is the United States prepared for another terrorist strike? The FAA and NORAD apparently were not ready for the September 11 attacks, but is security better now? Today, before the 9/11 commission, Benedict Sliney, an FAA operations manager in New York described an incident when he called the military. It happened within the past few weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENEDICT SLINEY, NY OPERATIONS MGR., FAA: In this particular instance, an aircraft was -- an unidentified aircraft at 16,000 feet approaching New York City from the northwest at a pretty moderate ground speed of 300 knots. No one was working and we did not know who the aircraft was. We reported immediately to the FAA -- excuse me, to the Air Route Traffic Control Center who reported it immediately to NORAD.

NORAD later, in the same episode within a few minutes, asked me if I were requesting a military intervention. And I indicated to NORAD that I'm advising you of the -- of the facts of this particular incident. I'm not requesting anything. I wasn't sure I even had the authority to request such a thing. And when the lady persisted at NORAD, I asked her if I could call her back and I went to the domestic event net, which is available to all facilities and most of the major facilities around it, and I queried NORAD and the FAA headquarters as to whether or not I had such authority to ask for intervention by the military or a scramble on this particular aircraft, and they did agree that I had such authority after a discussion on the virtues of collaboration.

However, I indicated further when I agreed that we should collaborate on such decisions, but if time did not permit it, did I have that authority, I persisted in that and they said that I did. I didn't know that prior to that moment in time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Mr. Sliney says these conversations took several minutes and by the time he received an answer, the aircraft was past Manhattan. Sliney says communication lines are still not as clear as they should be. Joining us now from Washington to discuss today's air security, aviation security analyst Peter Goelz. He is a former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board. Good of you to drop by, sir.

That was not an encouraging story we just heard. Much of what we talked about tonight is disturbing. Is there any good news here?

PETER GOELZ, AVIATION SECURITY ANALYST: Well, there is a little. Security has improved since 9/11. You've got cockpit doors that are armored, that are almost impossible to penetrate. You've got an increased air marshal program. You've got flight crews that are trained now to carry weapons. And most importantly, you've got a general public, a flying public that will never allow a takeover of a plane that occurred on 9/11. But are there still problems in coordination of information and how government agencies react, absolutely. As someone who ran a federal agency and had to coordinate with the FBI and other agencies on a number of major investigations, it is difficult.

ZAHN: All right, but so...

GOELZ: It's not worked every day.

ZAHN: SO how would you characterize where that state of confusion is today?

GOELZ: You would say we saw an example just a few weeks ago when you had the attorney general and the FBI director announcing a heightened security environment and the director of homeland security, Secretary Ridge, apparently not aware of it. The communication issue, the sharing of information, the working of the process has to take place every day. In addition, we have to move quicker on technology. The information, the technology that's being used at our checkpoints at aviation, at airports across the country is old technology. Just today, we are putting out as a test bed, trace detection devices that are going to monitor whether individuals have explosive material on them. This is, you know, too -- too little too late. We need to put those devices into play right now at every airport.

ZAHN: Is this a money thing as far as you're concerned?

GOELZ: I think it's both a money issue, but, more importantly, it's a -- it's a issue of leadership. To get bureaucracies to work together takes a lot of work. It's got to be a priority.

ZAHN: And I think you got the public screaming to make it a priority out there. Peter Goelz, thank you for your input tonight. We appreciate it.

GOELZ: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: That wraps is up for all of us here this evening. Thanks so much for joining us tonight. We hope you learned something tonight. I know I did. Tomorrow, the comeback kid is back again big time. Bill Clinton's White House memoirs put him back in the spotlight. We're going to talk about his big return with former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta. Hope you'll join us then.

"LARRY KING LIVE" is next. Until then, have a good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com


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