With Steven Mufson
State Department and Foreign Policy reporter
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001; 1 p.m. EDT
Washington Post State Department and Foreign Policy reporter Steven Mufson was online to discuss the apparent terrorist attacks.
Mufson joined The Post in 1989 in the New York bureau covering financial news. In early 1990, he moved to D.C. to cover the Bush administration's economic policy. He has covered the Office of Management and Budget, the Treasury, the IMF, World Bank, and a variety of other policy issues. From mid-1994 to 1999 he served as the Post's correspondent in Beijing.
The transcript follows.
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Early on this morning we heard reports that there was an explosion near the State Department, then that these reports were false. What do you know about that?
Steven Mufson: A State Department spokesman told me that that report was false. The building was evacuated, however, with some people going home and others moving to alternate sites.
Are all of the planes back on the ground?
Steven Mufson: I believe so. Earlier there was a question about an American airlines flight, but I haven't heard anything further about that.
Arlington, Va.: Who is responsible?
Steven Mufson: That's a very good question. As of now, we don't know. But it was someone who was able to get hold of passports, buy plane tickets, infiltrate airports, hijack planes, pilot planes, etc. And willing to die in the process. And to do that in two or three different airports. So it was someone pretty organized, well-financed, and determined. That should narrow the possibilities. The immediate suspicions will inevitably turn to Osama bin Laden, the Saudi businessman who has been training terrorists in Afghanistan.
Some experts caution against jumping to conclusions citing the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, which turned out to be the work of Americans.
ARE all international airports closed.
Steven Mufson: Yes all US airports are closed at the moment.
An explosion rattled windows in my Arlington neighborhood many minutes after the Pentagon explosion, but I heard that the alleged car bomb at State and explosion on Capitol Hill were both untrue rumors. Do you know what the explosion was?
Steven Mufson: I do not know what you heard in Arlington. We'll check on that.
Has there been confirmation that all planes are indeed on the ground?
Is there a general sense that the immediate threat of attack has passed or should we expect them to continue throughout the day?
Steven Mufson: I think it's been a pretty busy day for the terrorists already, but it's hard to say when we will all feel comfortable again. Today or tomorrow or the day after.
Will the Post be putting out an Extra? If so, where and when will it be distributed?
Steven Mufson: The Post is putting out an extra which will be out within an hour and will be available at retail stores and news stands and metro stops throughout the Washington area.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Why hasn't anyone claimed responsibility? This was obviously a planned coordinated attack and I would think any terrorist organization would be proud to claim it.
Steven Mufson: Good question. It's early right now, and we might see several groups take responsibility. On the other hand, to do so would certainly be to invite the full wrath of U.S. security forces.
What is happening on the West Coast?
Steven Mufson: nothing that I know of.
Do you think this will result in violence against people and Americans of non-European ancestry?
Steven Mufson: I certainly hope not. That would certainly be an unjust and undignified and ineffective response. The United States should be able to figure out a great deal about these attacks given how complicated they were and while it might take time it makes sense to wait and strike appropriately -- and more effectively.
Iowa City, Iowa:
Any news on who is deceased at the Pentagon?
Steven Mufson: Not that I know of, but one of my colleagues here said there were casualties of some sort. I'm sorry I haven't been working on that one.
Is there any cause for US citizens in Nicaragua to be concerned or take any extra security precautions at this time?
Steven Mufson: No, I don't believe so.
The CIA has sometimes been criticized for not fully cooperating with other international intelligence and security agencies. What implications do you think this might have for our, and the world's intelligence infrastructure? Could we see a new "Global CIA" appear sometime in the near future?
Steven Mufson: this will put the spotlight on the CIA, because on one level this was obviously an enormous intelligence failure. And the response will be, among many, to sharply increase the CIA and intelligence community's already large budgets. More importantly, it will risk encroachment on the civil liberties of Americans and greater scope for surveillance. But it does show the importance of international intelligence and effective methods of intercepting people who wish to harm the United States.
College Park, Md.:
How can we help? It's terrible to hear of all this going on, and to feel that there's not much you can do. I know that I am not alone in my feelings of restlessness and helplessness. If there is anything we can do, please advise.
Steven Mufson: At this point, I don't see what can be done. Ultimately I'm sure families of the victims will need help and support.
Do you have any reports that US Intelligence Agencies had ANY prior knowledge to these attacks? Were there any advisories, threat conditions, hints?
Steven Mufson: We're looking into that. There was a broadcast generalized threat against the United States recently in the Middle East, but that's not unique. I don't believe there was any unusual alert about threats.
What is likely to happen over the next coming days? weeks?
Steven Mufson: First the government will be trying to secure the country and care for victims. Then it will try to identify the culprits, from reports on the planes, passports, ticket records, etc. Then it will probably strike out at whoever is deemed responsible.
Fontainebleau, France :
Do you think that perhaps Bush's attitude of indifference towards the rest of the world opinion may have escalated the rage that is obviously being shown here by some fanatical group to the United States?
Steven Mufson: I don't think indifference breeds this sort of hatred. I think this is born of some sort of innate fanaticism, exacerbated by some events. Perhaps, if -- repeat if -- this was done by some Muslim group in the Middle East, then maybe the conflict between Israel and Palestinians inspired some people to do this. Perhaps it is connected to the Persian Gulf war and revenge by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Until we know who really did this, it's hard to describe the motivation.
As busy as the president is at this time, I think that he should quickly issue a call for 'calm' and urge that people not overreact and take out any pain or anger out on those that are clearly not responsible for this act such as the Arab population currently in the US. Your thoughts?
Steven Mufson: That would be reasonable, I think, and we'll see what the president says when he touches down somewhere today. I'm sure he will say more before the end of the day.
Telecom Corridor, Tex.:
I have read that several people are interested in knowing WHY our Military seemingly was unaware of the actions that took place at the Trade Center. I pose to you this..... There are almost always AWAC Planes cruising the Eastern Seaboard for obvious reasons. However, these we COMMERCIAL Airliners that were seemingly on target for their appropriate destination. Not foreign fighter jets! A Flight from Boston to New York, would last only about 40 minutes in a 757, and without any advance notice of deviation from a flight plan it would have been impossible to launch a team of Ready F14's in time to even attempt to deter the aircraft as it was in route to the Trade Center. Believe this! Our Government and Military respectively are not taking this lightly and the originators of this heinous attack on this GREAT Country of ours WILL PERISH for their actions!
Steven Mufson: I think you're right that the United States is always on some level of alert and that there are people in the government whose job is to do nothing but think about terrorist attacks. It is, as you point out, difficult to stop everything in a busy, open country.
I was frightened to hear that we are concerned about chemical or germ warfare next. I haven't heard anything more. How do we monitor or detect this sort of attack, and who is responsible for this surveillance?
Steven Mufson: When something this unimaginable happens, we obviously start thinking about other things previously unimaginable. There are people who think about chemical and germ warfare, but many security experts think we need to do much more and you will undoubtedly hear a lot more now about the need for what experts call "homeland defense."
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