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CNN Live Event/Special

America Under Attack: Attorney General Holds News Conference

Aired September 12, 2001 - 15:42   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary Holbrooke, I apologize, but the Department of Justice now ready to brief reporters. To Joie on that.

We'll get back to our conversation momentarily.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... to help the victims of this act of war find relief, and to help the United States of America locate the people who are responsible for these terrible acts of war....

Immediately after the first report of a plane crashing into the World Trade towers numerous federal agencies, coordinating with the White House, mobilized their resources. Throughout the day secure video conferences took place among the National Security Council, the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Defense, Department of the Treasury, FEMA, CIA, the FAA and other federal agencies. Both the president and the vice president presided over a number of Cabinet and sub-Cabinet meetings and video conferences.

Continuity-of-government plans were put into effect. Within the Department of Justice, our full resources were put into operation immediately. As I will explain in greater detail in a few moments, these resources have been deployed both to investigate this act of war and to assist victim survivors and victim families.

But let me stress that this is not simply a Department of Justice effort. The response of the federal government across the board has been, I believe, from the president of the United States to the rescue workers, magnificent.

I'll now turn to the information that the response we have been making has developed. I'll give you the information that we can give you. However, we will give you only facts that we can confirm. You may be hearing things that we have not told you, but some people have the luxury of speculating. We won't speculate, but we'll only give you confirmed facts.

And also, we must be careful to protect confidential intelligence sources and the methods of our intelligence so we do not compromise this ongoing investigation or the capacity of this nation to undertake such investigations as this.

The four planes were hijacked by between three and six individuals per plane, using knives and box cutters, and in some cases making bomb threats. Our government has credible evidence that the White House and Air Force One were targets. A number of the suspected hijackers were trained as pilots in the United States.

The Department of Justice has undertaken perhaps the most massive and intensive investigation ever conducted in America. The full resources of the FBI, the Justice Department's Criminal Division, the U.S. attorney's offices, the INS and other components have been brought to bear and will be focused in this endeavor.

Throughout the day and into the night last night, Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff, who is not with us at this moment, and I were present at the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center, together, of course, with the director and a number of other individuals.

The Justice Department is working closely with investigators, the FAA and the intelligence community, including the CIA, the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department. Numerous agencies have assigned personnel to the SIOC at the FBI to coordinate investigative efforts so that information which is received on these premises becomes immediately available to the cooperating agencies. And I might add that we reciprocate with similar deployments in a variety of other settings.

The Justice Department's terrorism and violent crime section is coordinating the response of the U.S. attorney's offices nationwide. These agencies have a presence at the SIOC here in the FBI 24 hours a day, and are coordinating efforts both in the United States and worldwide around the clock.

Investigators are reviewing intelligence and have received numerous credible leads. Command posts have been established at all crime scenes. Evidence response teams and the FBI's disaster squad have been deployed to the crash sites.

The recovery of bodies and the collection of evidence is ongoing at the Pentagon and at the crash site in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Investigators are working with the National Transportation Safety Board to recover the black boxes from the crash sites. The crime scene at the WTC has been secured but is not yet a crime scene accessible to investigators.

The United States attorney's offices' terrorism units and the FBI's joint terrorism task forces are obtaining the passenger manifests, rental car receipts, telephone logs and videotape from parking garages and pay telephone videotape records at all scenes for review and appropriate follow-up interviews.

All investigative resources of the FBI's laboratory and crisis response capabilities have been mobilized.

Now let me turn this podium over to FBI Director Bob Mueller to talk more about the investigation itself.


ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Thank you, Mr. Attorney General.

I want to start by saying that the men and women of the FBI join the nation in expressing our deep sympathies for the victims of these horrific tragedies and their families. And we -- all of us in the FBI -- pledge to those directly affected by these attacks that we will leave no stone unturned in our quest to help find those responsible and to bring those individuals to justice.

Now let me turn, if I could, for a moment to the effort that we have undertaken at the FBI to investigate these tragedies. Early after the planes started to fall yesterday, as soon as we heard that there was a particular city that was either a city of origin for a flight or a city, such as New York, where a flight went in, we established command posts. We have at those command posts and at a number of offices around the country where there are leads more than 4,000 special agents who are assigned to assist this investigation; 4,000 special agents and 3,000 support personnel.

We have over 400 of our laboratory personnel deployed at the crime scenes in New York City, south of Johnstown in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon.

And we anticipate this level of resource commitment will continue for the immediate future.

In the last 24 hours, we have been addressing two objectives. The first objective is to determine -- identify the hijackers on each of the planes. Having identified the hijackers on each of the planes, we then have sought to identify any of their associates remaining in the United States.

Our first effort is to identify any associates in the United States who might be related to the hijackers and to remove those associates, investigate and arrest, given the evidence, those individuals and to remove any threat to the air system in the future. That is our first objective.

The second objective is to gather any and all evidence we have as to who assisted the hijackers, not only in this country, but also overseas. We have, in the last 24 hours, taken the manifests and used those as an evidentiary base, and have talked to many of the families of the victims, and have successfully, I believe, identified many of the hijackers on each of the four flights that went down.

We also have identified, through a number of leads, principally at the cities of origin, a number of individuals whom we believe may have had something to do with the hijackings, and we are pursuing those leads aggressively.

Let me conclude at this juncture by emphasizing again the FBI's total and unwavering commitment to this investigation. We will not stop, and as I said before, we will leave no stone unturned until we have determined who was responsible for these attacks on our freedom.

Now, I would be happy to entertain questions, as I'm sure the attorney general would.

QUESTION: Director, have there been any arrests of these associates you've identified?

MUELLER: No. I understand that there is reporting out there that the FBI has made arrests with regard to the hijacking. That is not accurate. There have been occasions where we have interviewed individuals and come to find that the individual's out of status and that individual has been detained on an immigration hold. But there have been no arrests relating to these hijackings at this point.

QUESTION: The people that you've talked to and the people that you've identified, are these people that have been under FBI's watch in the past relating to other kinds of terrorism activities? Are they people whom you are familiar with?

MUELLER: As we identify names, there may be one or more individuals with whom we have information as to involvement with individual terrorist groups.

QUESTION: We've seen activity today in Boston, Rhode Island and southern Florida. Can you walk us through, in any of these cases, and give us any guidance on why these particular individuals have been stopped and what the FBI is doing?

MUELLER: We have, in Boston, from my understanding, also in Providence and also in Miami, we have leads indicating the presence, at some point in time, of either the hijackers themselves and we're attempting to recreate the travels of each of the hijackers on the planes -- either the hijackers themselves or their associates. And consequently, we are following all leads. We have interviews. We have search warrants, and whatever investigative techniques are necessary to obtain the evidence.

QUESTION: How many associates, Mr. Mueller, do you think? And how many were workers at the airports?

MUELLER: I can't give you a definitive number on the associates.


MUELLER: Thank you very much.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: FBI Director Robert Mueller, along with Attorney General John Ashcroft, while speaking with reporters -- a relatively brief briefing on the current status of the investigation under way. Mr. Ashcroft talking about investigating the act of war against the United States.

Some of the information that they've given in terms of new material really isn't all that new to those people who have been watching a lot of television. Mr. Ashcroft is saying three to six individuals involved per airplane, knives, box cutters, in some cases making bomb threats, and noting that the United States does have credible evidence that the White House and Air Force One were targets, at least at some point, and that some of those involved were trained as pilots in the United States.

They also said that a number of efforts are being made to try to recreate the travels of those suspected of being involved, including looking at passenger manifests, phone records, security camera, videotapes, that sort of thing. Following up on the investigation, the efforts to track down who is responsible and how this thing was put together, CNN's Mike Boettcher joins us now.

We've heard what the attorney general and the FBI director had to say. What have we learned, in addition, about the investigation?

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the investigation is moving very quickly across the Eastern seaboard, from Maine on down to Florida. Now, in Boston today, the hotel there, the Westin Copley Hotel, was surrounded by FBI agents who went in to rooms in the hotel. And "The Boston Globe" is reporting that they detained three people because they believed that the credit cards that they had were used to buy some of the airline tickets used in the attack. But that's a "Boston Globe" report. We have not confirmed that.

CHEN: And again, just from the FBI director a moment ago, he said on the record before the reporters, that there have been no arrests made.

BOETTCHER: That's exactly right, so -- but according to "The Boston Globe," those three people were taken off.

Now, in Portland, Maine, police there are examining an automobile that was found at Portland International Airport. It's been taken to state police headquarters there, and it apparently was linked to two of the hijack -- pardon me, the hijackers and attackers, alleged hijackers and attackers, who came over the border from Canada, that we've learned.

Now, as well, there is a second car that was found in Boston's Logan Airport that apparently had a flight manual written in Arabic. It is also being examined by police and FBI agents there. That automobile was registered to a Mohammed Atta. Now, CNN has determined that Mohammed Atta has a commercial pilot's license, and he lists the address as Hollywood, Florida.

There, as well, is a second person with the same address listing with the FAA. His name is -- let me grab that here -- is Marwan Al- Shahee (ph). He also has the same address, as his pilot's license was reissued on the same day, which would have been July -- let me get this correct -- June 19, 2001.

Now, the interesting thing, both the addresses, which are the same address, are registered to a mail box, etcetera. It's not a real address. so if you go in, Joie, into, for example, what I have right here, which is the al-Qaeda manual for launching terrorist attacks, they list specifically these sorts of things, using mail drops like this, not real addresses, not real names. And we'll go into this in further depth.

CHEN: Tell them what al-Qaeda is.

BOETTCHER: Al-Qaeda is the terrorism network that U.S. intelligence officers say is operated by Osama Bin Laden. Al-Qaeda is less a group than it is a network of various people around the world engaged in terrorism, and that is the name of it, al-Qaeda.

This particular manual right here was used in the trial -- in the African embassy bombing trial that occurred in New York. It was introduced there. It was confiscated and found in London. And so it's a very important piece of information related to this. So there's a lot of stuff going on around -- around the country, especially in Florida as well.

Two homes are being searched in Florida at Vero Beach. And that also allegedly is connected to this.

CHEN: All right, the investigation continues. And your observation of the investigation under way continues. Mike Boetcher, we'll here from you again.

Now to Bill.

HEMMER: Interesting stuff. We'll watch for more briefings.