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CNN The Point
America's New War: Terrorist Attacks Cause Gridlock; President Encourages CIA
Aired September 26, 2001 - 20:00 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.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: See, the enemy is sometimes hard to find. They like to hide. They think they can hide but we know better.
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ANNOUNCER: The search for terrorists hits a fast and furious pace, while it slows down the highways.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's messed up, man.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'd wait five hours as long as everyone's safe. I have no problem with it, plus, I'm getting paid.
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ANNOUNCER: Before its tragic end, moments of heroism and terror on Flight 93.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't know what to think, because my last words with my wife was her screaming.
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ANNOUNCER: A minute-by-minute look at what we now know happened on the plane where the passengers decided to fight back.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He went down fighting. I know he did.
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ANNOUNCER: And, a 1999 hijacking, with eerie similarities.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They used to praise Osama Bin Laden and they used to give lots of lectures on Islam.
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ANNOUNCER: Training for the future of flying. What it will be like having federal marshals on every flight. And what we already know about airport security breaches. We'll hear from a former member of the FAA's Red Team. Plus, were the warning signs there? Could the attacks have been prevented?
THE POINT: TRACKING THE TERRORISTS - now, from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.
GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: Watch out for that truck! Driving is terrifying enough when one of them is an inch from your bumper. But even more terrifying is the thought of a big truck full of hazardous chemicals, and a friend of the hijackers at the wheel. Today, the FBI is dealing with the trucks, and the courts are starting to see some of the people who may have known the hijackers. We begin tonight with CNN justice correspondent Kelli Arena.
KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Mohamed Abdi was taken before a magistrate in Alexandria, Virginia. The judge ordered him held without bond. The naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia was arrested for forgery, but the FBI is interested in him because his name and phone number were found on a map left in a car registered to one of the named hijackers, Nawaq Alhamzi.
The FBI says Alhamzi was on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Also, in Alhamzi's car, cashier's checks made out to a flight school in Phoenix, four drawings of a 757- airplane cockpit, one box cutter knife, and maps of Washington, D.C. and New York.
Abdi was described in court, as an essential witness who - quote - "may be more." But investigators are still trying to determine what, if any, link he has to the terrorist attacks. His lawyer says Abdi does not know the alleged hijacker or any of the others.
JOSEPH BOWMAN, ABDI'S ATTORNEY: I'm not even going to try right now. And I -- nobody seems to know. I mean it could - it's probably nothing.
ARENA: In raids across Spain, police arrested six Algerians believed to have links to Osama Bin Laden. Government officials there say they believe the six may have been helping prepare attacks on U.S. targets in Europe. The Spanish government says the men were part of the Salafist group for call and combat. Its assets were just frozen by the Bush administration.
And in what may be a related case, British police arrested three people under that nation's anti terrorism law. In the U.S., a massive search of records at trucking firms, investigators checking the records of all drivers licensed to carry hazardous materials, including explosives and poisons, citing the potential for other terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, an unusual statement from the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Mary Jo White, about Albadar Al Hazmi, a doctor from San Antonio, who had been held as a material witness for nearly two weeks - quote -- "he was not and is not a subject of this investigation."
(on-camera): U.S. officials say the investigation presses on with more than 300 detained, but that so far no one yet has been arrested for any crime directly related to the attack.
Kelli Arena, CNN, Washington.
VAN SUSTEREN: As Kelli Arena just reported, the FBI is checking the records of all truck drivers licensed to carry hazardous materials. It has slowed down traffic, but it also has gotten results. CNN's Susan Candiotti joins me from Miami - Susan.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In fact, Greta, the announcement tonight from Justice Department, part of an ongoing investigation that actually began last March. Tonight, the Justice Department announcing the arrest of nine people in three states alleged involved in the sale of commercial hazardous material drivers' licenses.
This is all another indication of the heightened state-of-alert by the FBI, as they begin to review the records of commercial drivers who haul hazardous materials, as well as looking at the records of truck companies and anyone who manufacturers and distributes those materials. Again, all of the FBI is scrambling to cover all its bases.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Scrutiny at America's airports now expanding to America's highways. The Justice Department, as a precaution, reviewing records of anyone who handles or transports hazardous materials, making sure terrorists may not be trying to infiltrate a legitimate company to get their hands on a potential weapon.
In Manhattan, stepped up cargo inspections going in and out of the city, backing up traffic, in some cases, for hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's incredible, you know. But I understand their situation also. I thought that they have a better way of doing this.
CANDIOTTI: American truckers are preparing for visits from federal regulators reviewing security and safety procedures. The FBI is taking new steps after last week's arrest of Nabil Al-Marabh. Sources say he has possible ties to Osama Bin Laden. Agents searched his Michigan apartment. Al-Marabh has a legally obtained license to haul hazardous materials issued September 11, 2000, one year to the day before the terrorist attacks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you would go on and open the back, I'll just check your securement of your load.
CANDIOTTI: In Texas, routine searches of truckers at highway weigh stations take on added significance.
SGT. MICHAEL BISHOP, TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY: We look at their logbooks. We look at their paperwork. We also look at the driver through the inspection process, you know. If we see something that is out of the ordinary, then the troops delve into it a little deeper.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A little bit to the right. Bring it to your left a little.
CANDIOTTI: In Florida, the owner of a school that trains commercial drivers admits he'll be looking at applicants more closely, following the attacks.
Earning a hazardous materials license can cost as little as $800 for an experienced driver to about 5,000 for a rookie. Drivers first must pass a 160-hour course that includes learning the ins and outs of driving a big rig potentially loaded with lethal chemicals, then passing a multiple choice written test. All you need to qualify for the course; a valid driver's license.
ALBERT HANLEY, TRUCK SCHOOL OPERATOR: That's your benchmark, and to be 18 years of age.
CANDIOTTI (on-camera): You need not be a U.S. citizen?
HANLEY: Correct, but you do have to be a resident alien or have a valid social security number.
CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The problem, or course, is catching fraudulent I.D.'s, a problem already plaguing the FBI in its attempt to nail down the real identify of the suspected hijackers.
CANDIOTTI: It's a monumental task. We can tell you, Greta, that we understand that two-and-a-half million commercial HAZMAT driver's licenses have been issued in the U.S. Back to you.
VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, thank you. Susan Candiotti in Miami.
Now we are going off-road, switching gears from the highways, to the money trail. Members of Congress today heard details about Osama Bin Laden's financial networks. CNNFN Allan Dodds Frank was listening, too.
Allan, before we get what happened on Capitol Hill, let's talk first about the SEC. What happened with the SEC today?
ALLAN DODDS FRANK, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS: Greta, just a little while ago, the SEC put out a very unusual order that tracks the president's order -- freezing assets from the 27 individuals and groups associated with Osama Bin Laden, as well as 19 hijackers, asking all brokerages and securities dealers for records that might be related to any transactions.
And now that suggests that they're now really serious about this investigation, not that they haven't always been but I mean that they feel they have substantive leads into the investigation about whether there was alleged short-selling of airline stocks, insurance stocks, hotel stocks, oil and gold futures all around the globe.
Now, regulators have been looking into this from Switzerland, to London, to the United States, to Tokyo.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you know, I was looking at it. It was a request. This is voluntary. This is not an order, right?
FRANK: That's correct but that may have more to do with the current state of the law and whether they can prove there's any transaction. They're asking all these financial institutions to comb their records, to see if any entities or individuals had engaged in any securities transactions or money transfers.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK, let's go from SEC to Capitol Hill. What happened on Capitol Hill today?
FRANK: Capitol Hill, two startling revelations that have been apparently known by the government for some time but not publicly widely known certainly and that is the two Senate money laundering experts, John Kerry and Carl Levin who've been investigating money laundering for years, disclosed kind of a trail of Osama Bin Laden's banking history.
First, John Kerry who investigated the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which you'll recall collapsed in a global multibillion dollar money laundering scandal a decade ago, revealed that - the United States learned that Osama Bin Laden had a number of accounts at BCCI and he lost a lot of money when the bank went under.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, there's another bank in the country of Sudan. How is that linked to Osama Bin Laden?
FRANK: Osama Bin Laden supposedly provided, according to Senator Carl Levin, $50 billion to start a bank in the Sudan called the Al Shamal Islamic Bank, a bank that still operates today. That coincided with the collapse of BCCI.
So after BCCI collapsed, he, apparently, opened his own bank. The senator also said that this bank, which has a Web site, claims to have correspondent accounts, meaning its own accounts through which it could move money in major financial centers around the world, big banks, name banks in Switzerland, France, Germany, England, South Africa.
VAN SUSTEREN: How about United States?
FRANK: China and the United -- three banks in the United States. Those banks big name banks Citicorp, American Express Bank and another bank call Arab-American Bank, stooped doing any business with the Bin Laden bank in 1997 after the State Department put Sudan on the list of official state sponsors of terrorism so that's inactive.
VAN SUSTEREN: But that will at least give us a chance to try to track down finances. Allan Dodds Frank, thank you for joining us this evening.
Meeting the threat of terrorist attacks -- are new rules enough to keep America safe? I'll talk to a former counter-terrorism official when THE POINT returns.
VAN SUSTEREN: There is tighter security on the highways, tighter security at airports, even bag searches at some office buildings. Is it enough? Or, are we doing the wrong things? With me is security consultant, Larry Johnson. He is a former counter-terrorism official with the State Department.
Larry, first I want to talk about man mentioned in the Kelli Arena piece. She talked about Mohamed Abdi who was arrested in Alexandria. He had worked for an airline catering firm.
LARRY JOHNSON, SECURITY CONSULTANT: Right.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are we looking at a much bigger conspiracy perhaps involving ground crews, do you think?
JOHNSON: Ground crews have always been one of the vulnerabilities, not just the caters, the people who can onboard the planes to clean it. There have been several different news organizations, over the last several years, have done investigations where they try to get aboard planes. They penetrated through those kinds of crews. So clearly, there's not enough oversight of them and that's one issue that has to be addressed among many in the coming days.
VAN SUSTEREN: As you look at what happened on September 11, I mean they had box cutters. You know, there's a big question we hear an awful lot about - security breaches at security checkpoints. But on the other hand, do you think that it's also possible that this was a much broader conspiracy at the various airports that there could be somebody on the ground who actually planted weapons?
JOHNSON: Yes, there -- one of the things that is most concerning -- it wasn't really a breakdown of the security screening checkpoint, but at least one of the hijackers had a pilot's uniform, pilot's I.D.
The night before, one of the hijackers who died the next day had tried to penetrate one of the airlines in Texas and was bumped from sitting in the cockpit that night. So it goes beyond just strengthening screening. It means you've got to make sure you're checking the I.D.'s and you have a way to verify that the people who are getting onboard the plane deserve to be there.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you satisfied, Larry, in light of the fact of everything that has happened, that we have now so stepped up our security around this country, that the terrorism is over at least for the short run?
JOHNSON: No, and I don't say that to be alarmist. I think the heightened security is good. It gives us some advantages in terms of defeating the threats. But, we've got to avoid the tendency to let our guard down and go back to things as normal. On the aviation side, there's still lots of holes that need to be plugged notwithstanding the measures announced today.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you mean - what holes have to be plugged?
JOHNSON: Well, first of all, in the past, we've assumed that every bag - if you're onboard a plane and your bag's there that you're not going to commit suicide. You can no longer assume that. And the only way to guarantee that nobody's packed a bomb in their bag is you have to subject them to interrogation with an explosive detection system.
VAN SUSTEREN: Well, you raise the question of the sort of the suicide person on the plane. Looking at these hijackers, as you've studied these people, is it possible that out of groups of four or fives that are on the plane, that only one of them truly intended to commit suicide or knew of the plan? Or is their state-of-mind such that you think they were all in on it?
JOHNSON: Well, I think it's possible. But it - from just looking at it, it looks like there was more than one there that knew that they were going to commit suicide. So it is -- what is remarkable -- never in history have we had this kind of mass suicide with such a conscious lethal effort to take as many casualties as possible.
VAN SUSTEREN: What do you make of the arrests today in connection with the hazardous materials, the obtaining the license fraudulently?
JOHNSON: I - what this tells me is we've had this - this information has been in law enforcement files for a while. They didn't just discover this. There are things that the law enforcement community is going back and looking at and suddenly, it's taking on new significance that before they hadn't paid attention to.
VAN SUSTEREN: Are you critical of them then because I just - we just talked to - with Allan Dodds Frank about the banking, that we knew 10 years ago that Osama Bin Laden was connected with BCCI, the bank and you know, there are all these sorts of clues or is that the beauty of hindsight?
JOHNSON: No, it - part of it is, you know, we're all geniuses with hindsight. But - and it's not criticism of the law enforcement community per se, it's just a criticism of the system. Right now, it is so - it's Balkanized. It's split into different divisions and you don't have a good sharing of information between DEA, FBI, Customs, Immigration Naturalization Service, U.S. Marshals. And then it gets worse; they don't share information with the intelligence community. And the intelligence community really is the only one who's got the time to take a big-picture look at this stuff because all the law enforcement officers, they're out there, very case-focused, working specific cases. They're not trying to draw linkages to these others.
VAN SUSTEREN: OK, if you were still working for the government and you can do anything you wanted, what would you do to make this better?
JOHNSON: Right now, I would require all law enforcement agencies to put all case information into one single electronic database and that means converting the paper files as well. That would be accessed by a very limited number of people that would be tied in with the intelligence community.
People who would be able to start looking at this - I'll tell you, within one year, we're likely to look back and realize we had enough information. We possibly could have prevented September 11. And I don't say that to point the finger of blame at anyone. I'm simply saying our system with - they're all honest, they're hardworking, they're good men and women, the professionals but the system is broken and it's got to be brought together in seamless way that we've been unwilling to do.
VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Larry Johnson, thank you for joining us this evening.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Greta.
VAN SUSTEREN: Ahead on THE POINT, the heroes of Flight 93. Learn more about what happened aboard that hijacked airliner.
VAN SUSTEREN: It is one of the most compelling stories from that horrible day -- United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked and apparently headed to Washington, when the passengers decided to fight back. They cannot tell their own stories, the plane crashed in Pennsylvania. But, from what authorities are piecing together, they are heroes. An update, now, from CNN's Eileen O'Connor.
EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Investigators are struggling to piece together the final moments of United Airlines Flight 93, listening over and over and over again to the cockpit voice recorder, difficult to understand due to damage from the crash, and also sources say, the abundance of angry American voices, shouting over yelling in a foreign tongue, believed to be the hijackers. To help clarify the confusion, agents have been reviewing with family and friends final phone calls made from the plane.
O'CONNOR (on-camera): Investigative sources tell CNN they now believe the passengers were successful in overcoming some of the hijackers, but are puzzling over who had control over the plane when it went down. The questions left unanswered. If the United pilot was successful in regaining control, why crash the plane? Were there still other hijackers still in the back, whom he believed might try to take back the cockpit and fly the plane to its intended target. And did he intentionally down it in a deserted field, to limit the loss of life to on the ground? Or was he already dead and the struggle was strictly one between hijackers and passengers, causing the crash?
(voice-over): What they do know, sources say, is that at 8:41 a.m., United Flight 93 took off from Newark en route to San Francisco. Seated in first class seats 3c and 3d, men identified by investigators as two of the four suspected hijackers, Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami right behind those two were Mark Bingham, a San Francisco publicist, next to him, Tom Burnett, an executive for a West Coast health care company.
In economy plus, Jeremy Glick sat in row 11, right behind him was Lou Nacke, on his way to California, to visit a client and back in the main cabin, Todd Beamer. Unbeknownst to them, another aircraft, American Airlines Flight 11 was heading straight toward the north tower of the World Trade Center. Two other planes had also been hijacked, and sources say there were bomb threats called into air traffic control centers, adding to the chaos, including Cleveland Center, which routinely takes control of the United Airlines Flight 93 as it heads west.
Twenty-four minutes after United Flight 93 was airborne, a second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. Another 35 minutes later, the plane out of Dulles Airport slammed into the Pentagon.
About that time, on the radio frequency Flight 93 used, air traffic controllers in Cleveland hear screams, and shouting, "Get out of here, Get out of here" then nothing. The tower tries to contact a pilot, Captain Jason Dahl, but there is no response. A special code used to signal a hijacking is not entered. His family says Dahl always said he would never relinquish control of the cockpit without a fight.
BILL HEIDERICH, RELATIVE OF PILOT: Jason often talked, just recently, about the heroes of the line. Pilots have crews who perform their duty, made sacrifice, often the ultimate sacrifice, for the safety of their passengers.
O'CONNOR: Within minutes, flight attendant Ceecee Lyles, using her cell phone, called her husband, Lorne.
LORNE LYLES, WIDOWER OF FLIGHT ATTENDANT: She said, "Babe" -- she said, "My plane has been hijacked" and she said, "They forced their way into the cockpit."
O'CONNOR: In the back, after trying to use his credit card unsuccessfully on the airphone, Todd Beamer was routed to a customer service center. The supervisor there called the FBI.
LISA BEAMER, WIDOW OF PASSENGER: He called the GTE airphone operator around 9:45 in the morning and started reporting to her what was going on in the plane, including that there were hijackers, and they had taken over the cockpit and possibly killed the crew.
O'CONNOR: Meanwhile, first class passenger Tom Burnett was telling his wife, Deena, what was happening. DEENA BURNETT, WIDOWER OF PASSENGER: He said, "They've already knifed a guy. They're saying they have a bomb. Please call the authorities."
O'CONNOR: She patched his phone call through to the FBI, but the FAA was already alerting them to Flight 93's predicament.
At about 9:38, nearly one hour into the flight air-traffic controllers saw a dangerously tight turn executed near Cleveland. United Airlines Flight 93 was now heading east towards Washington, D.C. and climbing to 41,000 feet at rate of 1500 feet a minute. Sources say controllers had to quickly reroute a jumbo jet now heading straight at Flight 93. Then air-traffic controllers heard a heavily accented voice saying, "There is a bomb onboard. This is the captain speaking. Remain in your seats; there is a bomb onboard. Stay quiet; we are meeting with their demands. We are returning to the airport." Todd Beamer's wife says he wasn't fooled.
BEAMER: The plane began to fly erratically and he was aware that this was a situation that was not a normal hijacking situation and he informed the operator that he knew he was not going to make it out of this.
O'CONNOR: Jeremy Glick, a new father was on the phone to his wife, asking if it's true two other plane has crashed into the World Trade Center? Now, realizing the hijackers' intentions, investigators believe it's about that time that at least five of the men - Burnett, Bingham, Glick, Beamer and Nacke and perhaps some of the flight attendants and others decided to take action.
BEAMER: He told the operator and he and some other people on the flight were deciding to jump on the hijacker with the bomb strapped around his waist.
O'CONNOR: Mark Bingham is on the phone with his mother, Alice Hoglan, but he seems distracted.
ALICE HOGLAN, MOTHER OF PASSENGER: I said, "Mark, I love you too." And I said, "Who are these guys?" And then he seemed to be pulled away from the phone for a minute.
O'CONNOR: Todd Beamer asked the operator to deliver a personal message for his wife and then to join him in the Lord's Prayer.
BEAMER: And the last thing the operator heard Todd say, at 10:00 a.m., 15 minutes into the call was, "Are you ready? Let's roll."
O'CONNOR: Ceecee Lyles' husband couldn't tell what was going on.
LYLES: I didn't know what to think because my last words with my wife was her screaming.
O'CONNOR: Todd Beamer never came back on the phone to the operator.
BEAMER: She heard some screams and some commotion. She stayed on the line for 10 more minutes, until the flight went down, but she did not hear back from anyone in particular and did not know what happened after that.
O'CONNOR: What is unclear to investigators is whether United pilot, Jason Dahl was already dead or had he somehow regained control with the help of his passengers and crew and then made the decision to put the plane down in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania to minimize the loss of life.
Supporting this theory is an intriguing piece of evidence, a recording of the air-traffic control data showing the plane's track and transponder information. It shows in the last minutes, the transponder code for the destination changing to DCA, the FAA designation for Washington's Regan National Airport, a stone's throw from the White House.
What is clear, say investigators, is there was an heroic struggle for control of the plane, a struggle by people who were willing to die in an effort to say others.
DEANA BURNETT, WIDOW OF PASSENGER: He went down fighting. I know he did. His adrenaline was going. He was not whispering. He was talking quickly and he was ready to do something.
Eileen O'Connor, CNN, Washington.
SUSTEREN: Some aspects of the September 11 hijackings were not unique. CNN New Delhi bureau chief Satinder Bindra looks back on an ordeal that in some ways is all too familiar now.
SATINDER BINDRA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Indian investigators say the September 11 hijacking attacks bare a striking similarity to techniques used in a 1999 hijacking in south Asia. That hijacking, the Indian government says, involved members of al Qaeda.
NIRUPAMA RAO, INDIAN GOV'T SPOKESWOMAN: From the nature of the demands that they made and the people whose release they demanded, who were definitely linked with al Qaeda, I would like to think that even the hijackers had links with this terrorist organization.
BINDRA: In 1999, an Indian Airline Airbus with 178 passengers and crew was hijacked while flying from Katmandu, Nepal to New Delhi, India. The captain of the hijacked plane was told to fly to Pakistan, then Dubai, then finally Kandahar, Afghanistan. The ordeal was to last eight days.
The pilot says the hijackers made clear over the PA system the men whom they regarded as the hero.
DEVI SHARAN, PILOT OF HIJACKED PLANE: They used to praise Osama Bin Laden. And they used to give a lot of lectures on Islam. BINDRA: The pilot of the Indian plane, Captain Devi Sharan, says the hijackers always referred to Bin Laden as a nice man, a philanthropist millionaire. Captain Sharan recalls after he was forced to land in Kandahar, the hijackers appeared to relax. He says they were not scared of the Taliban fighters who surrounded the plane.
Once on Afghan soil, the five hijackers demanded India release three jailed Islamic militants. One of them being, Molana Massad Azur (ph) was being held by Indian authorities for his activities in Kashmir. India says he was a prominent member of a group the U.S. regards as a terrorist organization.
RAO: He was a known constituent member of the Mujahedeen, which as you may be aware, is part of al Qaeda.
BINDRA: The Indian government released Azur (ph) and the two others demanded by the hijackers. And almost immediately, the plane's passengers and crew were let go. The hijackers vanished. Two years later, Indian investigators and Captain Sharan say the techniques of the hijackers of the Indian airliner show some similarities to techniques apparently used in the U.S. SHARAN: They helped crash the airplanes there also. In our case also, they were ready to die and crashed this airplane any time.
BINDRA: The hijackers of the U.S. flights investigative sources say used box cutters in initial attacks. Captain Sharan says the hijackers used knives on his plane, targeting three passengers, killing one to take control of plane.
SHARAN: His hands were tied like this on the seat. And his throat was slit from here and from here. His jugular vein was cut.
BINDRA: All this took place in full view of the passengers. Captain Sharan says the objective was to maximize fear. On the U.S. hijackings, passengers speaking on cellphones described how they were herded to the rear of the plane. Captain Sharan says the same thing happened on his plane.
SHARAN: In our case also, you know, the people were pushed in -- sorry economy class. And executive class totally empty. And you know, there was a lot of struggle was going on. You know, they were pushing the people back.
BINDRA: Captain Sharan says the hijackers had an amazing knowledge of avionics. Fuel loads, maps and navigation. One of the hijackers said he'd been trained on a flight simulator.
SHARAN: He was a trained person in the simulator. And the way he was acting in the cockpit, I could see that he knew where the cockpit -- I could not make him fool at all.
BINDRA: Captain Sharan is not the only one who believes the Indian and U.S. hijackings are similar.
KPS GILL, TERRORISM ANALYST: We believe in the good old modus operandi that if you use the method and you're successful, you tend to use it again.
BINDRA: A former police chief and consultant on terrorism, KPS Gill, says it appears both sets of hijackers had similar training and may have shared techniques.
GILL: The experience of Kandahar came in very handy to plan and train those people in the USA.
BINDRA (on camera): Captain Sharan says he's not sure who trained the men who took over his plane, but he's sure what happened to him and his plane may help U.S. investigators figure out who was behind the world's worst terrorist attack.
Satinder Bindra, CNN, New Delhi.
SUSTEREN: THE POINT, tracking the terrorists, will be right back.
ANNOUNCER: Still ahead on THE POINT, we're going to see them on almost every flight we take. And they're getting ready for the worst.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police, put with your hands on top of your head!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: U.S. federal air marshals in training. Plus, the warning we might have ignored. THE POINT, tracking the terrorists, will be right back.
SUSTEREN: President Bush does not want pilots to carry handguns. But tomorrow, sources say he will ask that armed, federal marshals ride on virtually every U.S. commercial flight. The government is recruiting and training them right now.
As you can see, the Federal Aviation Administration has an elaborate training facility in New Jersey. Since September 11, more than 100,000 people have downloaded applications from the FAA's web site. The air marshals are just part of an airline security package the President will ask Congress to approve.
To discuss airline security, past, present and future, I'm joined from New Orleans by Steve Elson. He's a former member of the FAA's red team.
Let's start there, Steve. What is FAA's red team?
STEVE ELSON, FMR. FAA RED TEAM MEMBER: Good evening. The red team was a small unit formed after Pan Am 103 to go out and conduct realistic assessments of the civil aviation security system and see what things are really like.
SUSTEREN: OK, say realistic assessments. You mean you tested security, right?
ELSON: That's correct.
SUSTEREN: How do you do that?
ELSON: We basically are a small unit. Nobody knew when we went out. We went out and we looked for more procedural methods and did realistic testing. Nobody knew we were coming. And to see what we could basically could get through. We did not necessarily use bombs or knives. We were looking for procedures. And we'd take objects or when we were doing checkpoint testing, for example, to see if it aroused, elicited a detection and a required response.
SUSTEREN: OK, Steve, I did a little research today. Let me read two facts that I read today. One in "The Boston Globe," which says at Logan Airport between 1991 and the year 2000, this is in a test, 234 guns, inert hand grenades and bombs got past checkpoints. That's the first thing.
The second thing I read today, according to "The St. Louis Post Dispatch," analysis of FAA enforcement records during the last decade, U.S. airlines have been cited for 20,936 cases of security breaches. Do those numbers surprise you?
ELSON: Not really. The figures tend to be, some of them, misleading though, I think.
SUSTEREN: And? I mean, is it possible to get guns and bombs past security?
ELSON: Oh, absolutely. I don't think there's any question about that. Probably on a daily basis.
SUSTEREN: Why is it so bad?
ELSON: Well, one of my friends put it very succinctly and eloquently when he said regarding the civil aviation security system, it's not necessarily a breakdown or failure in the system. The entire system is designed for failure. And basically, tend to focus too much on technology, and not enough on people and procedures.
SUSTEREN: OK. So where is the design for failure? You know, what is the specific design that's the biggest problem?
ELSON: Well, the typical FAA testing involves using devices and generally known agents to conduct a test. For instance, a big bomb in an empty bag, which you'd run through the x-ray. It's hard to fail those. And if you look at the records, it indicates that they are detected frequently.
SUSTEREN: All right. There are 19 hijackers who apparently had box cutters. We don't know if they were planted by someone on the ground before they boarded the plane, or whether they brought those weapons through security. Do you think it's easy to bring weapons like box cutters through security?
ELSON: Absolutely. And to be honest, I really don't see it as a big deal. That is something it would be very difficult to detect. And people tend to focus on strictly one aspect, the most visible, the screening checkpoint.
This is a system, in the old days of computers first came, and people talked about a system approach. And that's what we have to deal here in the airlines, not just the checkpoint.
SUSTEREN: Well, the checkpoint though apparently is where the big failing was here. Because I mean, in order to accomplish the hijacking, they had to get the weapons on the plane so they could disable pilot and terrorize the passengers.
ELSON: Well, that's true. But I can tell you easily, I could go to almost airport today and most people could, and get a much more lethal weapon through without getting detected, a three inch hunting knife, for instance.
SUSTEREN: What -- when were you testing airlines, what was the failure rate in terms of -- I mean, not the airlines but the security?
ELSON: The screening? If you're talking about the screening checkpoint, generally FAA records will talk about up in the 90 percent success rate in detecting weapons. We went out. We found it was probably closer to 80, 90 percent failure rate when we did it realistically.
SUSTEREN: What happened when you told your superiors there was that failure rate?
ELSON: Well, at that time, we were building a database. But essentially, we sent out a very cursory report, so as not to identify ourselves. But generally, those reports tended to go in the file.
SUSTEREN: Weren't you scandalized that they were simply going in a file with a failure rate that high?
ELSON: Yes, we were. And a number of people were pretty upset about it. As the database developed in the red team, it became apparent that the FAA didn't want this known. And they tended to hide the results.
SUSTEREN: Now you say they tended to hide the results. What do you mean by that?
ELSON: Well, the results would go into a file. They would stay there. Or certain particularly egregious failures, reports sometimes disappeared out of the files.
SUSTEREN: Before I let you go, Steve tell me, do you think the government should be in charge of security or should it be the airports or the airlines?
ELSON: Well government's the ones gave us the Swiss cheese security. So I have increasingly come to feel that the government's not answer. The basic answer to me is good, well trained, highly motivated, closely supervised, and inspirationally led people. And if you can get an organization with some character that will allow the people to do their jobs, it really doesn't matter who they work for, in my estimation.
SUSTEREN: All right, Steve Elson. thanks for joining us this evening.
ELSON: Thank you very much. Good night.
SUSTEREN: Long before September 11, my next guest knew what changes the U.S. would have to make to track down terrorists and avoid future attacks. I will ask him why no one paid attention, when THE POINT returns.
SUSTEREN: No doubt about it, life in the U.S. is changing. And former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton knew it had to. He was a member of the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century. Never heard of it? Not many people paid attention then. They are now. Lee Hamilton joins me.
Congressman, the commission, one of the conclusions, number one national security threat, terrorism at home. Nobody paid attention.
LEE HAMILTON, FMR. CONGRESSMAN: Well, we issued that report a few months ago. It's pretty hard to get the attention of the American people. A lot of things are going on. Believe you me we got their attention after September 11.
SUSTEREN: What was it that led you to the conclusion before September 11, that that was the number one national security threat?
HAMILTON: Members of the commission went to about 28 different countries. In every one of those countries, friends, allies, adversaries they all said to us there was a deep resentment against the United States and in some cases hostility.
Then we learned that the terrorists groups were getting some pretty sophisticated equipment. We also knew that American cities were very vulnerable. You put all of this together and some other things, too and the conclusion's pretty obvious. And the commission was unanimous.
SUSTEREN: Well, I mean, no doubt about it from what you say. You know, the writing was on the wall, but was there ever anything we could do? I mean, you know, we've enjoyed so many freedoms here. Had you made that announcements quite loudly and we paid attention to you, I'm not so sure we would have done a whole lot then.
HAMILTON: That may be true. Our commission chairman, Senator Redmond, said sometimes you have to hit the American people with a two-by-four to get their attention. And maybe that's what it took, unfortunately. I must say that all of the people who really looked at this over a period of several years, reports go back 5, 10 years, have all come to the same conclusion. The American people are -- at risk could suffer massive casualties, as indeed we did, from terrorism on our soil.
SUSTEREN: All right, so we've had the September 11 event, horrible terrorism. Does your commission conclude that it's not simply limited to something like that? What else do we have to fear?
HAMILTON: We didn't try to make predictions about which of the possible terrorist devices would be used. As a matter of fact, I was not surprised that we had a major attack on U.S. soil. I was surprised that they used hijacked aircraft to fly them into buildings. That technique surprised me.
SUSTEREN: You know, today, there was a report in the last couple days about hazardous materials, people trying to obtain fraudulent licenses. Now it's very early on. We don't know if anything sinister was associated with that. But that certainly, you know, seems rather at least at this point terrifying. Is that realistic problem to you?
HAMILTON: Well, I think it is. The type of threat we in the commission fear the most I think was the biotech. The chemical attacks, we put at a little lower priority, but biotechnology could be used to against us and cause massive problems.
SUSTEREN: And the President's going to announce a lot of changes, maybe sky marshals on every plane. At least, that's what we're expecting. What else can we do? I mean, we seem now to be coming up with solutions to avoid the problem we just had, but what else do we need to do?
HAMILTON: Oh, we need to do a lot of things. We need to sharply improve our intelligence. We need to launch upon a massive homeland security protection effort, that includes airports. But it also includes protecting our critical infrastructure, electrical grids, water systems, the cyber -- defending against cyberattacks. There are many, many things. SUSTEREN: In protecting those things, the first thing you suggest was intelligence. If we get more intelligence, don't we sort of cut things off at the pass? I mean, if we have some advanced knowledge. Isn't that our biggest defect?
HAMILTON: I think we had a massive intelligence failure here. And everybody's solution to the problem of terrorism is better intelligence. The problem in this case, and we have to appreciate the difficulty of the task, is to penetrate these very small, closely-knit groups, often just family members, have a very different culture, very different language from ours. They are the toughest target for the intelligence community to penetrate. We've had some successes, but we've had some failures.
SUSTEREN: All right, so what -- in light of that, what do you recommend? HAMILTON: We made four principle recommendations with regard to terrorism. One of them now has been adopted. The President has said he's going to create a single person in charge of homeland security, Governor Ridge.
HAMILTON: Put him in charge. That was by far the most important recommendation we made. Secondly, we said that the Congress needs to reorganize itself.
SUSTEREN: And thirdly?
HAMILTON: It's begun do that, incidentally, with the appointment of the committee that Speaker Hastert announced the other day. Third, we're going to -- we recommended an Assistant Secretary of Defense.
SUSTEREN: And four?
HAMILTON: And four, to make the National Guard a primary mission being fighting terrorism.
SUSTEREN: Congressman Hamilton, thanks very much for joining us this evening.
HAMILTON: Nice to be with you. Thank you.
SUSTEREN: Nice to be with you.
What happens if Osama Bin Laden is captured? Watch for a couple of my viewers' opinions when we come back from this break.
SUSTEREN: That is a sampling of the e-mail I received about last night's POINT discussion about the possibility of putting Osama Bin Laden on trial if he is captured alive. Tonight, I'd like to know what you think about national security, and especially airline security. Send an e-mail to askgreta@CNN.com. That's one word, askGreta.
Tomorrow on THE POINT, we will take a close look at President Bush's proposals for making airlines safer. And the story of one small airline that's taking matters into its own hands. I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington.
Next, the reporter who went under cover in Afghanistan to produce the documentary "Beneath the Veil" is among the guests on "LARRY KING LIVE."
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