Transcript: 9/11 Commission Hearings for June 16, 2004
And it gets back to an issue that I think Senator Kerrey raised, which is as we gain greater understanding about al Qaeda's tactics and specific plots, and we try to illuminate the networks that are behind them so we can take them down -- which is ultimately the only way we can be sure we stop attacks -- it is very important to take that information that is gained in clandestine channels and to as rapidly as possible downgrade it so that it is discernible to law enforcement, nontraditional intelligence customers, people who can take it and act on it in order to secure the country.
And that is a major focus of CTC and the intelligence community, you know, now, day in and day out, to take classified information and push it to first line defenders both here and overseas.
KAY: If I understand the question correctly, you're, sort of, getting at how do we combat this broader jihadist movement?
KAY: There are two points I think I'd like to make. First of all, there are -- there is a segment of the Muslim community that support bin Laden, adhere to his vision, believe in what he stands for, who also believe that they have an individual duty to the Muslim community to pursue violent jihad.
Those folks I'm not sure there's much we can do to combat that type of sentiment, that type of belief. That is, I don't think we can bring them down from whatever cliff they're standing on with those beliefs.
I think what we ought to do is, I think that there's a better chance for success by focusing on those folks who have not made that transformation, who believe that there might be other ways to serve their communities, to improve their position, to achieve their objectives but not through violence.
And I think what would be useful for the United States would be -- is to work with governments in the Arab part of the world and Muslim governments to find ways for those segments of the population to find alternative means of channeling their sentiments, through constructive, nonviolent activities. What those might be I don't know. But I think that's the type of approach we need to pursue.
By doing that we would reduce, I think, the pool of potential recruits for future terrorists.
THOMPSON: But what's happening in Iraq today, doesn't that give you pause about how nonviolent Muslims will respond to the presence in their midst of people willing to fight and die and kill them? When Iraqi insurgents can blow up oil facilities at will, blow up electricity at well, car bomb at well, attack contractors and U.S. troops at will, what does that say about the ability of al Qaeda-like organizations to inflict damage within the Muslim community at large?
KAY: Well, if I were in their position, I would be concerned by what I would be seeing going on around me in a country like Iraq.
KAY: I don't know what I would say.
FITZGERALD: Good morning, Governor.
And I think the sad answer is that I think we all recognize there's no silver bullet. There's no single organizational fix that we could all walk out and say that we're now 100 percent safe.
So then we have to look at the short term and the long term, recognizing that the short term itself is a long process. When people surveil five years ahead of time or think about plans, you know, half a decade before they carry them out, the short term is a number of years.
And there we have to focus on making sure we do the best job to gather intelligence on what is being planned, by getting human source intelligence, working with our allies, but also recognizing the fundamental problem we have at our borders. Every time someone shows up at our border, even if they have a legitimate document, immigration people are asked to call upon to decide whether this person's coming here legitimately to try to make their life better or whether they're coming here to kill us.
And we can't keep drugs out of the country despite all our efforts. We still get drugs coming in here. And the contraband that people are bringing is their minds. They have decided they want to kill us and they're willing to die to do it. And we don't have a magic formula that stops them at the border and says, "This person goes through an X-ray machine," and we figure out why they're really coming here.
We can't turn everyone away. We want to make sure that we don't turn away the good people coming to our shores. We want to keep the bad people out.
And so we've got to deal with that vexing problem that I just don't know what the answer is, that we have someone making a decision in two minutes at a border as to what to do.
We have to look at that issue. We have to gather information about what people are doing about operations they're planning, work with human sources, work with other countries.
The long-term solution is to win the hearts and minds. But we're not going to win the hearts and minds of the people who are already sworn to kill us. They're lost to us. They want to kill us.
What we have to do is win the hearts and minds of people who could be allies and work with us. We would want to win the hearts and minds of people before they'd go over to al Qaeda's ideology. We want to win the hearts and minds of people who may be in the community who may see something that may alert to them and trust us enough to bring the information forward. But it's not easy. It's going to take a long time.
DORAN: Pat touched on some of the themes I was thinking about in response to your question.
In many ways what we need to do at the FBI street agent level is to continue what we've always done. And that is to pursue all the information that we do get, and pursue that information to its logical end; to corroborate what we get or wash out what washes out; to continue to develop sources, human sources, whether we can penetrate them into groups or whether they are people who are eyes and ears -- and that includes members of the public -- to continue to be a presence in our respective cities and towns, to be out there, to give someone pause if maybe they're thinking of doing something against us but they see a car that looks like a federal car drive by or they know that agents have been out in the neighborhood, that they might think twice; and then to continue to ensure that the information that we do develop is passed up and passed out.
DORAN: The sad reality for us is that we have to be 100 percent on the ball, no mistakes, and they only have to get by once, and that's the war we're up against.
THOMPSON: In our hearings and in the commentary of press and public officials, there is a quick and ready assumption sometimes that al Qaeda may be still fighting the last war trying to replicate September 11th in some analogous fashion; that New York City may be a special target to the exclusion of the rest of the country; that we need to guard our airlines; that the goal of al Qaeda is to aim for mass casualties.
Are you concerned that within this context law enforcement, the press, the public and the policy-makers are overlooking other avenues of attack which may bring as devastating or even more devastating results to the United States that would be fundamentally much easier?
Just, for example, if 10 al Qaeda operatives went into 10 different supermarkets across the country at the same time in 10 large cities, or even five large cities and five small towns, and walked over to the produce counter where food is open and uncovered and unprotected, and managed to insert poisons on the food, with a result that people in those 10 communities died all at the same time and then they took public credit for this; you wouldn't have mass casualties, but you'd have mass terror, because people would assume that nothing in the food supply outside of a can or a bottle was safe. And the enormous disruption to the American economy that would result would be staggering.
Are we contemplating the possibilities of attack like this? What are we doing to prevent them? And do you think there is a preoccupation with what al Qaeda has done in the past, or a preoccupation with things that are like what al Qaeda has done in the past to the detriment of thinking as creatively as these people can think?
PISTOLE: Sir, I think we have to think on both levels. Certainly I think the attorney general and Director Mueller and Secretary Ridge have outlined that America still does face a very serious threat of spectacular attack from al Qaeda in the coming months; that it's bin Laden and the few resources he may still have at his disposal in South Asia; that he is focusing on a spectacular attack here in the U.S.
But I think, as we've seen in other places around the world, as we harden certain targets, al Qaeda is willing to move down the food chain to go after softer targets.
I think it's very important -- one of the understandings I think we have come to is that when al Qaeda and bin Laden look at America, they are looking for targets that will be instantly recognizable in the Muslim world and that is why you saw a fascination with the Capitol and the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. And I think that's an enduring fascination on their part when it comes to spectacular attacks.
But I think you also correctly point out that there are a number of other ways to create spectacular events, and I think that's why we remain so concerned about al Qaeda's fascination with CBRN weapons, because those types of weapons if used, no matter what the casualty count, could produce the ripple effects that would be spectacular.
THOMPSON: Well, see, it seems to me that the World Trade Towers in one sense -- this is not a pun -- was a twofer.
THOMPSON: It provided a spectacular, recognizable example to the Muslim community worldwide. But it also brought together American fears of a shared experience that may now be dangerous, like flying in an airplane, right?
So wouldn't al Qaeda logically try to think about things that bind Americans together so that, unlike, perhaps, what happened in New York, where the rest of the country felt a great tragic loss for the people of New York but didn't feel exactly a current physical danger, because New York was here and the rest of the country was here, and the effects clearly wore off after time, but if there was a common experience that Americans share, like buying food at a store, that was made to appear to be unsafe, you're create worse panic in the country than you would with a physical attack in one or two locations?
Am I correct about that?
PISTOLE: Yes, sir. And I believe there was an individual indicted just the other day -- or publicly discussed by the attorney general -- who was looking at shopping malls.
PISTOLE: So I think you're absolutely correct in terms, again, being innovative and adapting their tactics to hit us in new ways.
THOMPSON: Why do you suppose it is that we've not been attacked since September 11th in the U.S.? Any ideas?
Is this beyond public discussion? If so, just tell me and I'll go to another question.
PISTOLE: No, sir. I mean, it's a question we ask ourselves constantly. I think that when it comes to bin Laden and the plots that he's contemplating, al Qaeda's still comes down on: How can we do something spectacular like 9/11? And they are going to be patient, and they're going to wait until they believe they can be successful before they conduct that attack.
THOMPSON: Without talking about details, have we prevented any attacks within the United States since 9/11?
PISTOLE: Yes, sir. I think we've probably prevented a few aviation attacks against both the East and West Coasts.
That doesn't mean that we've totally stopped that particular threat. There are operatives involved in those plots that we still cannot account for. And it is only safe to assume that they are still out there, they are still thinking about ways to conduct those attacks, or that they might move on to some other al Qaeda plot against the homeland.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
KEAN: I've just got a couple of very brief questions.
Do you believe there are al Qaeda cells operating now in this country?
DAVIS (?): Governor, I'd be willing to address that.
There are clearly individuals who are currently under investigation by the FBI, the joint terrorism task forces, in the United States who we have great concern about, some of whom might be considered operatives. There are a much greater number of those who are facilitators in some respect, fund-raisers, recruiters, who we also assess as being potential operatives, but it's a question of when they cross that line. The details of which I think we've discussed in closed session with staff (inaudible) provide more information on that.
KEAN: I wasn't interested in classified information, just if you believed that there were cells operating in this country.
DAVIS (?): Absolutely.
KEAN: The rest of you?
DORAN: Through the investigations that we have done prior to 9/11, it was clear to us, at least traditionally, that any al Qaeda affiliates based in the United States, resident here, whether citizens or not, tended to be people who were looked to by the organization perhaps as a logistics assistance and not for operational purposes.
There was a fear that any U.S.-based al Qaeda affiliate would already have been discovered by security, by the FBI, by the CIA, and that to involve them in any operational plans would breach the operational security of whatever planned operation they might have.
And, in fact, after 9/11, when the photographs of the 19 hijackers were shown to one of these al Qaeda members, he said, "See, I knew. I knew I wouldn't recognize any of them because they would never send anyone over here who would know me." The threat is going to come from the outside, most likely.
KEAN: Mr. Fitzgerald?
FITZGERALD: I would also assume there were cells here until, and I don't know how we would ever prove otherwise. And I think the danger we have is we, obviously -- as Mr. Pistole said, you identify who you suspect might be cell or who you might know to be a cell, but we have to recognize that there are things that -- we can't assume that we know everything, and so, I think, we always have to operate in the assumption that there could be people out there that we don't know about.
KEAN: You would agree, "Dr. K"?
KAY: Yes, although I don't have a lot of intelligence to back it up with.
KEAN: all right, if...
(UNKNOWN): Governor, if I could just add to that the issue of whether there are al Qaeda sleeper cells, if you will, here and the issue of hardened targets which Ted mentioned.
I think the fact that last Friday at the National Cathedral, if there is not a better target in the United States or worldwide for al Qaeda to hit last Friday for the service where a number of you were present: world leaders, obviously U.S. government leaders -- the fact that al Qaeda did not attempt anything to our knowledge I think is indicative, one, of the fact that when you harden targets, al Qaeda will go elsewhere. And that there is a result of hardening targets that we have seen at least from information that we have obtained post-9/11.
The other aspect is it may indicate a diminished capacity within the United States for al Qaeda to hit substantially hardened targets. But that's something that we're still assessing.
KEAN: Would you suspect that there will be a major attack within the next year or two, just from your information and your work and what your knowledge of this organization and its capabilities?
(UNKNOWN): We are currently dealing with threat information that pertains to the next several months or the end of the year, if you will, based on several streams of reporting that the attorney general referred to in a press conference, where he had the "be on the lookout" notices for the seven individuals.
So we are clearly looking at that closely. There's indication that al Qaeda wants to hit the U.S. hard as the attorney general mentioned in the next several months. And we are doing -- taking a number of steps to address that.
KEAN: Just really one final question for you all. We're charged with trying to make recommendations to make the country safer. Would each of you have one recommendation that we should pursue, that we could make in our report, which since you're out there in the field really doing the work, you probably know better than anybody else, what could we recommend that would make your job easier and America safer?
FITZGERALD: Since you asked -- I was going to bite my tongue -- but I would strongly urge you to think very, very long and hard before you think about the MI5 option. My concern is, if you create another division in government, I'd be worried about tearing down a wall than digging a moat. Because if a wall is gone that the FBI can share information, but then the information is now put in a different agency, people have to decide what's intelligence versus what's evidence when it's information.
I'd be very concerned that we would think we're making things better, but we'd actually be making things worse in putting it back to the way it was.
KEAN: OK. That's a recommendation you don't want us to make.
What recommendation would you like us to make? Or anybody.
DORAN: Drawing on an idea presented by Senator Kerrey -- or touched on -- might do well to consider the intelligence community as an integrated body of a number of different agencies, and that in times of crisis or times of need for information, to consider the experts in those organizations, regardless of where they come from -- go to your best source.
KEAN: "Dr. K"?
KAY: The only recommendation that I would make is one which -- and purely parochial interest here -- but it's one where we continue to strengthen our intelligence agencies, to enable them to do the job that they are supposed to do, both from an analytical perspective, in terms of the CIA, as well as an operational perspective, that we have enough people and enough resources. I think that's what we need.
(UNKNOWN): I will make an affirmative recommendation. If I were to be an immigration inspector at the border, the one thing I'd like to know is if someone's been to a training camp. I don't know if we still ask the question whether or not anyone's ever been a member of a communist party when they immigrate to our shores, but that threat is gone.
And why not ask people when they come to our country to be visitors whether they've been to a military training camp, and whether they've been to one in Afghanistan?
Now, it wouldn't be disqualifying. They could explain why it is they went there, and we can make an informed decision whether to let them in. But if they identify themselves, we could decide to give them more attention and merit closer scrutiny as to when they went and who they went with. And if they should come in and lie, which is perfectly understandable that they might lie about that, that would give us a reason to throw them out of the country. If we could prove that in fact this person came in under false pretenses, we can get rid of them.
That, to me, might be one of the most important questions we'd want to know about someone coming into our country, so why not put it on the form?
KEAN: Secretary Lehman?
LEHMAN: Mr. Fitzgerald, since you raised the third rail of MI5, I'd like to ask you a related question to that.
LEHMAN: Actually, "Dr. K" and Mr. FITZGERALD and Ms. Doran, the reason you're here of course is because our staff thinks that you among all the professionals in the intelligence community understand al Qaeda better than anyone else.
We have been grappling with the issue that has been raised to us by two presidents, that they were unable to get a clear answer from FBI as to who did the Cole operation really definitively until the summer, almost 10 months later. When did each of you conclude after the October bombing of the Cole that al Qaeda did it?
KAY: Well, if you first approach it from the perspective of personal suspicions, I don't think there were many analysts at the time who doubted that al Qaeda was responsible.
And I think we were operating at the time, there were two concepts we had to deal with. One, responsibility in terms of -- you know, when you talk about command and control, who ordered it? Who directed it? And the other, which may or may not be related, was who carried it out, who did it, I mean, in terms of actually launched the boat, planted the bombs and bombed the ship.
And the message clearly that we relayed to the policy-makers within the first month after the Cole bombing was that individuals with varying degrees of association with al Qaeda carried out the bombing.
You heard that from Director Tenet, and that's exactly the message.
What we couldn't say from an intelligence perspective was who ordered the bombing, who directed the bombing.
KAY: That we did not have the information. And that -- as your, as the staff statement accurately tells, it wasn't -- we didn't have the smoking gun, so to speak, until two years later.
LEHMAN: Mr. Fitzpatrick?
FITZGERALD: Yes. Well, let me tell you how right we can be and how wrong we can be. The moment I heard about the August '98 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, simultaneously, when I heard on the radio I said, "bin Laden." When I saw the Kohl bombing and I saw that he had issued a video beforehand as I believe, with the Yemenese dagger in his belt, thought, "bin Laden."
On the other hand, when we had the Murrah Federal Building go up, up in Oklahoma City while we're on trial with the blind sheikh in New York, I think many people thought, "The blind sheikh." We never thought, "Timothy McVeigh."
So it was the initial reaction from the Cole bombing certainly that bin Laden did it, absolutely? Just like on September 11th there was no doubt in my mind. But that's what you think and then there's what you can prove.
I know that the people, my colleagues in New York who worked the Cole bombing case, when they knew they could prove it, they charged it. But an instant reaction that you think he's behind it because of the whole circumstances, what his M.O. is, because of the Yemeni dagger on his belt, because of his speech, but you recognize that you could be mistaken.
The first World Trade Center bombing they first looked at Bosnians and Serbs as to whether they carried it out. So you want to temper your instant reaction that, "I know the answer," because you recognize that you can be dead right or you can be dead wrong.
LEHMAN: And by November 25th, after the Khalid (ph) material was there any doubt in your mind who did it? You, personally, I'm asking.
FITZGERALD: I wasn't involved in that case. The November 25th, that date doesn't mean anything to me. I was involved in getting ready for the trial, and somebody else was working on it. So I can't fix in my mind what that material meant to me, so I can't give up a good answer to that.
LEHMAN: Ms. Doran?
DORAN: First off, as Pat mentioned, when it happened, when the Cole was attacked, I think all of us, our first reaction was, "Yes, this has got to be al Qaeda." And the deployment of FBI investigators to Yemen reflects our belief that it was al Qaeda in that, normally our Washington field office would have had responsible extra- territorial responsibility to respond to anything happening in the area, such as Yemen.
DORAN: But in this instance, the investigators were sent from the New York office, which was already the office of origin for the al Qaeda investigation. So they were the first teams sent immediately after the attack.
And my understanding from my colleagues in New York who worked the case was that by some time in November, early November, the investigations had led to the point where they believed they could show that it was al Qaeda.
LEHMAN: But that's the very heart of the issue we've been trying to get at: What is wrong with our intelligence community that the president of the United States was not given a definitive answer on whodunnit so that a retaliation decision could be made until August, 10 months later?
Now, there are two contending schools of thought that emerged from our witnesses. First, we found no witness that was involved that was not sure it was al Qaeda by the end of November. And so there are some that say they didn't want to box in the White House, whichever president was in charge. They didn't want to back him into a corner by forcing him to have to retaliate. So they kept a hedge on it.
Those who don't like that political answer say, "No, that it's a classic case of FBI and their obsession with making their criminal case. They had 300 agents and prosecutors building a case to prosecute and they did not and could not, until they reached the evidentiary standards of a trial, take that word 'preliminary finding' off until the summer."
Mr. Fitzgerald, which theory do you buy?
FITZGERALD: Well, maybe we should look back at what the question is.
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