Transcript: 9/11 Panel Releases Its Final Report
Well, we tell everybody how big our Navy is, we tell everybody how big our Army is, we tell them about everything else having to do with national security, but for some reason, how much we spend on intelligence is withheld, and it creates a tremendous problem.
Note for the record that 75 percent of what we knew about -- found out about Osama bin Laden after 9/11, we knew in 1996. Ninety percent of the facts that we knew about Osama bin Laden, we knew in 1998. But the full story wasn't delivered until after 9/11. It was held in classified, compartmentalized sections.
KERREY: And it produced a tremendous problem. How, in God's name, are you supposed to imagine a threat if the facts are being withheld from you?
I believe central to the problem that we have dealing with a non- nation-state actor is the more information you withhold, the less likely there is a Congress and the American people. Not only are you going to imagine the threat but provide the political support necessary to deal with that threat.
QUESTION: Can you say anything about was any material withheld because of classification disagreements, or, you know, that you simply were not allowed to release?
And more deeply, Mr. Hamilton said earlier that one of the problems before 9/11 is there was no answer to the question of "Who's in charge?" You've put forward some recommendations that you hope would fix that but it could take a while to put them in place. The Homeland Security Department 15 months later is still gaining its footing, so it could be a while until there is a statutory answer to that question.
In the meantime, is it clear who is in charge now? Is there adequate power and accountability to prevent another terrorist attack?
KEAN: Well, I'll start with the first question and, Jamie, do you want to take the second or do you want to take the first?
GORELICK: No, second.
KEAN: This is a report basically without redactions. When I told that to the members of the United States Congress, their mouths dropped open.
We were able to work with this government to enable us to reveal a number of things, including things that had already been redacted from other reports. And, no, we did not have anything withheld from us. So this is a complete report.
The only redactions, I believe, are some of the sources in the PDBs. Both the PDBs themselves, both the Clinton one and a Bush one, are there in full, but some of the sources may be blacked out. But other than that, there are no redactions and nothing withheld. And we're very grateful for that.
The second part of the question, Jamie?
GORELICK: Yes, just to finish up on that first answer, I mean, the staff worked with the administration, where necessary, to essentially write around issues so there is some statements that are perhaps a little less precise than we otherwise would have been. But no material information has been withheld.
GORELICK: On your second question, which I think is a very, very important one, the reason that you're hearing such a tone of urgency in our collective voices is because the answer to the question that I repeatedly asked and numbers of us asked in our hearings -- Who is in charge? Who is our quarterback? -- was almost uniformly, "The president of the United States," which, of course, he is. But this is not his full-time job. And it is an impossible situation for that to remain the case.
We offer, what we think, is a good and helpful solution to that. As Jim Thompson said, it may not be the only solution, but I think the burden is on others to come up with a better one.
Right now, the authorities to act cohesively do not exist.
KEAN: Senator Gorton asked to be excused. He said it's not any questions you asked. It is, instead, the fact he has an appointment with a number of senators who he's going to talk to about our recommendations. I said, "That was most important, Senator. God speed."
QUESTION: I'd like to go back to a question that was raised earlier.
Former Defense Secretary William Cohen testified before your commission to the effect that the Clinton administration believed that Osama bin Laden and Iraq collaborated on the construction of a nerve gas factory in the Sudan. And it was on that basis that the factory was bombed on August 20th, 1998.
What I'd like to know is, given your finding that there was no collaborative operational relationship, what was it about that testimony and that issue that caused you not to give weight to Secretary Cohen's testimony before you?
KEAN: We gave weight to the testimony.
KEAN: And it's the same belief that President Clinton had, the same belief that Sandy Berger has. But there are a whole bunch of people on the other side who dispute that finding, who say there is no independent collaborative evidence that those chemicals were there.
And this is a debate that goes on. We were not able to come to a conclusion on that debate. We could say that there is no evidence that we found -- independent evidence -- that those chemicals were there. But I can tell you that the belief of people we all respect, from the president of the United States, President Clinton, down through Sandy Berger and down through Cohen, believe very, very strongly that they were right to target factory and in fact it was what they thought it was.
But the evidence is not there, and the facts are being argued against, and we could not come to a fact-based conclusion on that one.
QUESTION: You've stayed away from placing blame on both the Clinton and Bush administrations. But could you tell us where you think they could have done a better job, especially in the area of domestic surveillance and collection of intelligence?
KEAN: Look, we have some of the same comments to make, frankly, about both presidents. We believe they understood thoroughly the threat from Osama bin Laden. We believe they both took actions that they thought were necessary to meet that threat. They met. They talked about it. They talked to their advisers about it.
We also believe that they did not take it as seriously as it should be taken. It was not their top priority. It was not on top of the priority list.
And that reflected, by the way, the American people. It reflected the presidential campaign. I mean, we had an entire presidential campaign in 2000, right? Thousands and thousands of words spoken, as always are spoken in presidential campaigns. We can find only one reference to terrorism in the entire campaign.
KEAN: That means the reporters weren't asking questions, the American people weren't asking questions, the Congress wasn't stimulating discussion, and it wasn't there.
So, yes, we do believe both presidents could have done more in this area. But we also believe that, like the rest of us, they did not envision this as the kind of problem it obviously already was.
And, by the way, they were not served -- in my opinion, they were not served properly by the intelligence agencies of this country. Having read every single presidential daily briefing having anything to do with this subject, under two administrations, I can tell you that the two presidents of the United States were not well-served by those agencies, and they did not, in my opinion, have the information they needed to make the decisions they had to make.
HAMILTON: Tom, if I may just add, I think that both Presidents Clinton and Bush understood that Al Qaida was a dangerous threat to the country. I think in both cases they took a number of steps -- military, covert actions, diplomatic steps -- to deal with the threat.
Now, obviously, it turned out that those steps were not sufficient.
What I believe -- and I think we say in our report -- is that they, like the rest of us, did not understand the gravity of the threat. Or to put it another way, they did not understand that 3,000 people could be killed in an hour's time.
If you look back, all of us had signals. We recite those signals at great length in the report. And we simply did not put them together to understand that terrorism was the predominant national security threat to the United States.
You didn't have to have access to PDBs or secret information to figure that out.
HAMILTON: There's a long list of attacks by terrorists against the United States. But we simply did not understand how grave the threat was.
So my view is that the presidents acted, understood that the threat exists, but, like most of us, did not understand the gravity of it.
KERREY: If I could add to it too, I think one of the things that we say in the report is that-- and it's difficult to say it, but the facts bear the conclusion out that when attacks were over there, they weren't as powerful or motivated as attacks that are here.
When Yousef and Mir Aimal Kasi killed Americans on U.S. soil in 1993, in January and February of 1993, Yousef, blowing up the World Trade Center, Kasi killing two CIA employees in Langley.
We didn't have to demonstrate that they were the overriding threat to the United States of America to deploy all of our resources to hunt them down until we were able to render them back to the United States and then try them and convict them, which is what we did.
Both of those men were brought to justice in the United States of America. And we didn't find ourselves troubled by all kinds of diplomatic nicety requirements, et cetera, or that we had to prove that there was a great national security threat here.
I say again, one of the problems with Osama bin Laden is that I'm uncomfortable, actually, having to say to the American people, I'm not sure that either President Clinton or President Bush had the full narrative of who he was until after 9/11; that he was involved with a series of attacks against U.S. military and civilian personnel for nine years prior to 9/11. I'm not 100 percent certain that all of those things were known by either President Clinton or by President Bush prior to 9/11.
LEHMAN: And one of the reasons for this failure of imagination really gets right to the heart of our organizational recommendations, because it was an institutionalized failure of imagination.
We went into the 21st century in an era of transnational terror with a government apparatus that was designed, following World War II, to fight the Cold War.
LEHMAN: It's a 50-year old apparatus, dating from the 1947 National Security Act, and it is one that is -- that totally separates foreign intelligence and foreign threats from domestic. And our domestic security was simply, utterly incapable of imagining the threat and dealing with it that was internal to the United States.
So that is why we are not just recommending moving around the deck chairs and boxes on organizational charts. There is a deep, fundamental dysfunction in the way we go about our intelligence gathering and analysis and providing the data to the decision-makers.
QUESTION: You talk in the report about assistance from Hezbollah and Iran to Al Qaida -- we've heard recently about the hijackers who passed through Iran -- but you also say that any relationship currently between Iran and Hezbollah seems to have been concealed. Is it your view that there is a current relationship, a collaborative relationship between Iran and Al Qaida?
KEAN: We don't know of any current relationship, I don't think I've seen in our research.
We do know there were relationships in the past. We do know that these relationships were serious and over a period of time. We do know that when people wanted to get through Iran to Afghanistan to meet with Osama bin Laden, including a number of the hijackers, they were able to do so without marks in their passports that would indicate they'd been through Iran. We know that kind of collaboration.
But there is no evidence whatsoever, for instance, that Iran knew anything about the attack in 9/11 or certainly assisted in any way whatsoever.
So we know of a relationship. How deep that relationship is and we don't know if it exists to this day. That's going to require more research.
HAMILTON: I think this is an area that really does need more investigation. What we find at this point is, number one, Iran and Hezbollah did provide assistance of various types to Al Qaida in the years before 9/11.
HAMILTON: And, secondly, as the chairman has said, we have not seen evidence that would suggest that Iran or Hezbollah had any pre- knowledge of 9/11. And it is our view that Al Qaida planned this operation and carried it out by themselves.
KEAN: Thank you all. We do believe that in this volume are recommendations that will make the American people safer. Thank you all very much.
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