Transcript: 9/11 Commission Hearings for June 17, 2004
Thursday, June 17, 2004; 2:01 PM
THOMAS H. KEAN,
LEE H. HAMILTON,
COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN
FRED F. FIELDING,
JAMIE S. GORELICK,
JOHN F. LEHMAN,
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER,
JAMES R. THOMPSON,
COMMISSION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
COMMISSION DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS (USAF),
JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF
ADMIRAL (SELECT) CHARLES JOSEPH LEIDIG (USN),
COMMANDANT OF MIDSHIPMEN,
UNITED STATES NAVAL ACADEMY
GENERAL RALPH E. EBERHART (USAF),
NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND
AND UNITED STATES NORTHERN COMMAND
MAJOR GENERAL LARRY ARNOLD (USAF, RET.)
CONTINENTAL UNITED STATES NORAD REGION
KEAN: Our first panel today will focus on the military's response on the morning of September 11th.
We are joined by a distinguished group of military leaders: General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and past commander of NORAD; Admiral Select Charles Joseph Leidig, current commandant of the Naval Academy, who served as deputy director of operations in the National Military Command Center on 9/11; General Ralph E. Eberhart, commander of NORAD and United States Northern Command; and retired Major General Larry Arnold, who served on 9/11 as the commander of the Continental United States NORAD region.
Could you please raise your hands while I place you under oath?
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
You may be seated.
All written statements will be entered into the record in full.
We recognize that General Myers has to leave for another engagement so we'll proceed directly to questions after General Myers' opening statement. After General Myers departs, we'll proceed with the rest of the panel.
MYERS: Thank you, sir.
I have a brief statement and then we'll get right to questions.
First I want to thank the commission for your efforts to help our nation guard against future attacks. We share a common goal: to capture the lessons of September 11th, 2001, in order to better protect the American people.
You have my written statement and I'll just make a few comments so we have as much time left for questions.
First, our military posture on 9/11, by law, by policy and in practice was focused on responding to external threats, threats originating outside of our borders.
Nevertheless, we executed the continuity of government plan very well on 9/11, and our service men and women displayed superb professionalism, judgment and flexibility at every level that day. And I'm very proud of their performance.
That said, the lessons learned from 9/11 are many. Our armed forces efforts to respond militarily, reorganize our forces, define and effectively resource our evolving task and our missions, and revise our processes have been colossal and are still ongoing.
Day in and day out, our service men and women bravely combat terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world; maintain alert for the homeland defense mission here in the United States; and work phenomenal hours on headquarters staffs to do everything they can to keep America and our allies safe and free.
MYERS: I appreciate everyone who supports their efforts, including this committee, of course.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
KEAN: Thank you, sir.
The questioning this morning will be led by Commissioner Ben- Veniste and Commissioner Lehman.
BEN-VENISTE: Good morning, gentlemen.
MYERS: Good morning, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: I'd like to start first by commending our staff for an extraordinary, detailed, 18-month investigation, which has provided the detail which we have provided today to the American public.
I want to say that nothing that we have found indicates anything but the highest commitment to duty and valor among the pilots and support personnel involved in the air mission on that infamous day of September 11th, 2001.
By the same token, General Myers, our staff has found that NORAD and FAA were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11th, 2001.
And so I would like to ask you, sir, whether you and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs were made aware of the available information during the summer of threat in 2001, which reflected the preparations by Al Qaida for a spectacular attack against the United States, and specifically whether the information in the August 6th PDB was shared with you or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs?
MYERS: We were aware -- I think some of this information started flowing, intelligence information -- at the end of May. It continued to June, July, the August 6th memo. It talked, as I recall, about Al Qaida threat to United States primarily overseas.
MYERS: It was focused primarily on the Saudi Arabian peninsula is my memory of that. And that threat reporting continued through those months. And we were certainly aware of it.
But, in fact, we even took action when, I think it was in July, we actually sortied some ships out of Bahrain because of the threat in the peninsula area.
And that -- as I recall, the best estimate from the intel analysis was that it would take place either on the Saudi peninsula, perhaps in Turkey -- there was one mention I remember of Italy actually. And then there was potential threats to the United States but never including an aircraft.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, the PDB memo that I'm referring to specifically mentions FBI information of suspicious activity within this country consistent with the preparations for hijackings. Was that information shared with you?
MYERS: Not information, at least, that I saw, other than what was contained in the presidential daily brief memorandum, which I think was the last couple of paragraphs or last paragraph.
BEN-VENISTE: Was information shared with you, General, with respect to the arrest of Mr. Zacarias Moussaoui, which occurred on or about the 17th of August, in which the FBI quickly came to the conclusion that Mr. Moussaoui was a suicide hijacker, an individual with jihadist connections who had sought and received some training on a commercial airline?
MYERS: I don't recall. I simply can't recall. I think I would've but I don't recall.
BEN-VENISTE: Wouldn't that be something that you would recall?
MYERS: I would -- don't know. But -- pretty significant information, but I don't recall.
BEN-VENISTE: Had you received such information tying together the potential reflected in the August 6th PDB memorandum that was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States" together with this additional information, might you have followed up on a training scenario, at the least, such as the Positive Force training scenario, where a hijacked plane was presumed to fly into the Pentagon, a proposal that was made and rejected in the year 2000?
MYERS: Well, a couple of things. I don't know that we would have because exercising alone is not enough. If you look at all, and you have -- you've looked at all the policy guidance we've gotten through the '90s into early 2000, 2001, all the policy guidance was that we treat terrorism primarily as a criminal event.
And the role of the Defense Department was to defend our forces, primarily, it was force protection, anti-terrorism, not counterterrorism. Counterterrorism responsibilities domestically were the FBI, externally were the CIA.
There was an exercise, and this was -- the idea was to stress the continuity of command in the one you referenced there. But it was an exercise focused on Korea and that's why the scenario was rejected, because it did not contribute to the exercise at hand.
I can't answer the hypothetical. It's more -- it's the way that we were directed to posture, looking outward. Those were the orders that NORAD had and has had for -- ever since the end of the Soviet Union when we had at that time I think it was 26 alert sites around the United States and we'd gone down to seven.
So it would have required more than exercising if you wanted to be effective and it would have been not just the military, because civilian agencies had the major role.
BEN-VENISTE: You've anticipated my next question. It might not be the entire answer, but it would be a start.
And let me ask you whether that might not have stimulated an effort to determine the level of communications with FAA which, as we determined, on September 11 were abysmal.
BEN-VENISTE: Would that not have also stimulated you, had you thought about the information had you received it, about an internal threat involving the United States air space involving the hijacking of commercial airliners by a suicide hijacker?
MYERS: It's certainly possible. And I can't -- you know, you just can't take hypothetical situations and say what you would have done in hindsight. I mean, obviously we've got pretty good hindsight at this point.
The communications between the FAA and NORAD were specifically designed for the hijacking scenario, but a hijacking scenario where NORAD's role was to track the aircraft, if it crashed to report the crash site, but certainly not to take -- it was not -- the understandings in the policy at the time was not these were hostile aircraft other than the fact they'd been hijacked. So it was to track that and help the FAA track that. And those were the rules that were standing at the time.
If we'd had definitive information, I think we would have probably taken steps, I hope, to work that. But to my knowledge, we didn't have that, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: Let me direct my remaining time to General Eberhart and General Arnold.
Why did no one mention the false report received from FAA that flight 11 was heading south during your initial appearance before the 9/11 Commission back in May of last year? And why was there no report to us that, contrary to the statements made at the time, that there had been no notification to NORAD that flight 77 was a hijack?
ARNOLD: Well, the first part of your -- Mr. Commissioner, first of all, I'd like to say that a lot of the information that you have found out in your study of this, of the 9/11 -- things that happened on that day -- helped us reconstruct what was going on.
If you're talking about the American 11 in particular, the call of the American 11 -- is that what you're referring to?
ARNOLD: The American 11 that was called after it impacted, is that what you're referring to?
BEN-VENISTE: No. I'm talking about the fact that there was miscommunication that flight 11 was still heading south instead of having impacted...
ARNOLD: That's what I'm referring to. That's correct.
As we worked with your committee in looking at that, that was probably the point in time where we were concerned -- remember, that call, as I recall, actually came after United 175, as well as American 11, had already impacted the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. Then we became very concerned -- not knowing what the call signs of those aircraft were that had hit the World Trade Center, we became very concerned at that particular point that those aircraft -- that some aircraft might be heading toward Washington, D.C.
BEN-VENISTE: General, is it not a fact that the failure to call our attention to the miscommunication and the notion of a phantom flight 11 continuing from New York City south, in fact, skewed the whole reporting of 9/11? It skewed the official Air Force report, which is contained in a book called "Air War Over America," which does not contain any information about the fact that you were following or thinking of a continuation of flight 11 and that you had not received notification that flight 77 had been hijacked?
ARNOLD: Well, as I recall, first of all, I didn't know the call signs of the airplanes when these things happened. When the call came that American 11 was a possible hijacked aircraft, that aircraft just led me to come to a conclusion that there were other aircraft in the system that were a threat to the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: General Arnold, surely by May of last year, when you testified before this commission, you knew those facts.
ARNOLD: I didn't recall those facts in May of last year. That's the correct answer to that.
In fact, as I recall, during that time frame, my concern was why did -- the question that came to me was, "Why did we scramble the aircraft out of Langley Air Force Base, the F-16s out of Langley Air Force Base?"
And there had been statements made by some that we scrambled that aircraft at a report of American 77, which was not the case and I knew that. And I was trying to remember in my own mind, what was it that persuaded us to scramble those aircraft.
And I thought at the time it was United 93. But as I was able to -- we did not have the times when we were notified of this. I did not have that information at that time.
BEN-VENISTE: General Arnold,...
ARNOLD: It didn't happen.
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