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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Reno Testifies Before 9/11 Commission
Aired April 13, 2004 - 11:09 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Our Bob Franken is standing by. He is listening in to these statements. We're going to talk with Bob in just a minute. But you can see the live picture there, Bob. Janet Reno, the former attorney general under the Clinton administration, she is up next to testify before this commission. And, in fact, it looks like she is walking to the table right now.
Bob, you want to get in a couple -- just a quick comment about Louis Freeh while Janet Reno has a set?
BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In effect what he's saying is second guessing is very easy. But first guessing, particularly in the unpredictable war against terrorism, is a lot more difficult.
He said if the political climate, if the emphasis had been on the war on terrorism and more resources were available, then they might have been able to prevent the September 11 attacks.
He also reacted against the charges that terrorism was not given serious consideration. The FBI saying, yes, he believed that it had been. That charge made by the staff before Freeh began to testify.
KAGAN: And with that let's go back in and rejoin the commission. There's Chairman Kean. And her's former Attorney General Janet Reno.
THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Madam Attorney General, we are very pleased to welcome you today before the commission. Would you please rise and raise your right hand?
Do you swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
JANET RENO, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: I do.
KEAN: Please be seated.
Madam Attorney General, your prepared statement will be entered into the record in full. We would ask you to summarize your opening statement and proceed.
RENO: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
It is a privilege to be here before you today because I believe this commission is performing a function of the utmost importance to our nation's future. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to give my perspectives based on my service as attorney general.
We understood from early on in the Clinton administration that terrorism posed a grave threat to Americans on American soil.
The bombing in the first World Trade Center case took place just before I came into office. I inherited that case. I had the opportunity to be briefed. I had the opportunity to meet with the prosecutors and the agents involved to understand the details and to follow through on the case as it expanded into further investigation involving Sheik Rahman. I even made the final decision to indict Sheik Rahman.
So it has been an issue that has been with me ever since I first became attorney general. And I've continued to think back to those days when I made that decision, did not know of the connection with al Qaeda, and watched it develop, so that by 1998 we understood that it was a terrible threat to this country and that we had to do everything we could to be prepared.
RENO: Other events followed and they gave me better perspective.
But what I think is important for me to do today, Mr. Chairman, is to try to come to the issues so that we can answer the questions of the families, so that we can provide the best advice we can on how we can prevent this for the future. Not talking about blame, not talking about partisan politics.
And this commission has done, I think, a wonderful job in terms of trying to get to the issues without the politics involved. I think we owe it to the American people.
I think as we -- just to set the background -- I came into office in March of 1993. There was a change in leadership to come in the FBI. We inherited a situation where there were budget difficulties. We had two major operations under way, systems being designed: The NCIC system and the IAFIS system that were to become very important to the FBI, but they were over budget and behind time.
Director Freeh had to face these situations, and there was much to do. But I think let us look at what needs to be done.
First of all, I am so proud of the FBI. The agents that I've worked with, I've seen so many in action. I've seen them do incredible things. I've seen them risk their lives. And I have a profound respect for all the people that I have worked with in the bureau.
But quickly, when I came into office, I learned that the FBI didn't know what it had.
RENO: We found stuff in files here that the right hand didn't know what the left hand was doing. And it was obvious that the development of a computer system and a system of automation would be very helpful to it.
But it was also important for people to begin to look at manually what they could do to find out what they had and what they didn't have, and we proceeded in that direction. Sometimes I thought we had made progress, but then we'd find something else that we didn't know we didn't have.
It was very difficult for the FBI to get that problem solved with Congress' concern about the over-run from the two major projects that preceded it.
Director Mueller has had the chance to develop the program. From what I've heard, it's coming online or is online. I'm not sure.
But the one recommendation I would make first is that he be given the congressional support and that we find the expertise if any further is needed to ensure that that system works correctly, to ensure that agents and others who utilize it know how to utilize it to its maximum capability, that we address the issue of security, and understand how we maintain this system, which will be the repository of probably more information than most any other agency could compile on such a diverse number of issues. And I just think that that would be extremely important.
Director Freeh has suggested that there were two other issues that were problems: resources and legal authorities.
RENO: I think it's important -- I checked yesterday with the department, and the best I can read, in the year 2002, he submitted a budget of over a billion dollars. I think I asked for an increase for $462 million, of which part of it was -- I can't go further on that.
As Director Freeh pointed out, everybody knows that we're competing for limited resources in the budget process and people ask for more than they know they're going to receive. But I worked very closely with Director Freeh to try to make sure that we properly pursued a request that reflected the needs of the bureau.
I checked, and an appeal was taken from two items. I think I approved both items. And what I think we need to do is make sure -- and Director Mueller may have already addressed this issue -- make sure that we provide the FBI with the financial expertise that is necessary in the budgeting process and in the technology process to make sure that we understand the process of the Congress and get it done right.
With respect to reprogramming, when I came into office, I was told that the FBI had come out of the Cold War.
RENO: They now had agents who needed something to do, and that they had been assigned to and were involved in fighting street crime.
Well, America has a lot of resources committed to fighting street crime now. Community police officers were hired, other steps were taken, crime is down, and state and local law enforcement can do that or at least do a very good job of it.
If we needed to reprogram, I told Director Freeh, let's do it and get these people into counterterrorism. We have a drug enforcement agency. If we need to do it, let's get these people into counterterrorism.
Yes, it's sometimes difficult to get reprogramming approval from Congress. But if we have people who work with the Department of Justice, do it the right way, come forward in clear statements, I think we can do a lot more in terms of reprogramming. And if Director Mueller needs support in that area, I think that's important.
With respect to sharing, one of the frustrations is that the bureau even when it finds that it has something doesn't share, and it says it doesn't share because the legal authorities prohibit it from sharing. But I haven't been able to find with respect to the one instance of the two who came into this country and how we just missed them, what prevented anybody from sharing.
Much of these issues -- many of these issues will or have been resolved by the passage of the Patriot Act or other statements. But I think it is extremely important that the director or whoever leads the FBI understands that you've got to repeat the message again and again.
RENO: And when you institute new programs -- then I've seen it now based on some of the steps that I took -- you've got to make sure that people understand and are trained in an effective, comprehensive way as to new proposals. Otherwise there tends to creep in a feeling that, "Well I don't have to do this," or, "That's too much trouble."
If they know how to do it and if we train them right, we can expect far more.
They say they can't exchange information with the CIA, but it's all in the context of cases where the FBI and the CIA have been exchanging information. What suddenly prevents them in one situation and not in the other? We can't be selective. Again we have got to change.
And the only two limitations that I have seen with respect to the transfer of criminal investigation material to the foreign counterintelligence effort is grand jury and Title 3.
It had been our impression that, with appropriate authority, then we could do that, and did that in a number of instances. But that's not an issue anymore. And if there are any issues that linger and remain that say we can't share because of legal authorities, then let's make sure that we've addressed those; and if we haven't addressed them, make sure that we take training steps to do it.
I'm not sure that I heard Director Freeh correctly, but one of the points that I think he made was to the effect that the 1995 direction that I gave by letter, that anybody who had reasonable suspicion that they had foreign counterintelligence information that would be relevant to a criminal investigation should take steps, through the letter that I sent, to make sure a contact was made with the Criminal Division.
RENO: Director Freeh says that shouldn't apply in counterterrorism cases, but if the FCI (ph) people have information that will go to the investigation, conviction immediately of the person we're trying to take out of the system, then it seems to me a good thing to do.
I don't blame anybody. I'm responsible. If somebody wants to be responsible, it's going to be me because I tried to work through these issues while I was attorney general and time ran out on me, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that we move forward in the spirit of cooperation and in a spirit of thoughtfulness.
If there are problems that develop then I think it's important that we address those and get those clarified.
KEAN: If we could sum up now because we're getting short on time.
RENO: A lot of talk about a new agency. Don't create another agency, or recommend it. The worst thing you can do is create another agency and then we'll be back talking about whether they can share here or there or what. Let's try to work through it.
Director Mueller has the competence of so many people. He is a wonderful person. He worked with me when he was the U.S. attorney in the Northern District of California. He is approaching things in a thoughtful way. Let's back him up and give him the best tools he can to get the job done.
KEAN: Thank you very, very much.
Lead questions; they're going to come from Senator Gorton.
SLADE GORTON, COMMISSION MEMBER: When Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States, did he have a position, in your view, of the law that protected him from assassination under the anti-assassination provisions of our laws and regulations?
RENO: I have not opined on that, and I would have to look at all the facts at the time of the fatwa to know.
GORTON: That's preliminary to a number of reservations or even complaints that we have heard directly or indirectly from people in the CIA, that your office counseled the White House against any memorandum of notification, which unambiguously allowed for the CIA simply to kill or to eliminate Osama bin Laden, and that that contributed to the fact that all of its plans inside of Afghanistan failed to come to fruition or were never ordered into execution.
Can you comment on that? Did the CIA, or did anyone in the White House ask your view as to whether that phrase could be unambiguous? And did you answer that question in the negative?
RENO: I was not asked whether they could assassinate him. I was asked whether they could capture or follow through with it.
GORTON: You were only asked if they could capture him or perhaps kill him in an attempt to escape or to resist that.
GORTON: You were never asked the question as to whether or not he could be killed unambiguously? RENO: I need, Mr. Chairman, some direction. I don't know what the commission has done in terms of the declassification of these issues, and I want to be able to answer the question.
KEAN: Madam Attorney General, I think if there's any doubt in your mind, we should probably talk with you about it privately, rather than publicly, particularly on this subject, which is a very sensitive one.
RENO: I'm happy to do anything that will forward the issue.
GORTON: We'll submit that question to you in a closed session.
You've heard Director Freeh speak of his relationships through you with the White House on these security issues. Would you characterize for me whether you felt that the president and the White House and the National Security Council felt any inhibitions about relationships, questions to or answers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation while you were attorney general by reason of the history of the sometime misuse of the FBI in previous administrations? Or was the communication free and open, as far as you were concerned, during the whole Clinton administration?
RENO: I think when Tony Lake was national security adviser, he came to the Department of Justice and we discussed exchange of information and the necessity to keep the national security adviser informed.
There was concern because these were criminal cases, and I think the bureau had some concerns. But I said, in any instance in which any investigation or any effort that the FBI was undertaking had an effect on national security, some of the top people on the National Security Council would be advised.
We were supposed to reduce that to writing. It never got reduced to writing, but it was always the governing principle that I had. It didn't get reduced to writing because people were concerned about the independence of the FBI and couldn't get the language straight. But I think the communication developed there.
GORTON: In fact, the relationship worked, as far as you were concerned, openly and freely?
RENO: There would be complaints made and that's the reason during the last year and a half, I went to a situation where we had regular meetings between Director Freeh and Sandy Berger and myself.
GORTON: And did you feel that your communication, your lines of communication with Director Freeh were free and open and that you always got the information from him that you needed?
RENO: I had a working relationship with Director Freeh where I could call him and say, "May I come see you and see exactly what's going on? Can we sit down and talk about it?" And I always felt that I got a very straight answer and had a good working relationship with him. GORTON: One of the factual findings of our staff for this meeting here today says that -- you had already told us in private sessions that you were very concerned about the bureau's information sharing and intelligence capabilities.
And the staff statement goes on to say, "In 2000, Reno sent several memoranda to Director Freeh expressing these concerns. One memo stated that, quote, 'It is imperative that the FBI immediately develop the capacity to fully assimilate and utilize intelligence information currently collected and contained in FBI files and use that knowledge to work proactively to identify and protect against emerging national security threats,' end quote. Reno's requirements involved improved information sharing, improved counterterrorism training, a threat assessment and a strategy to counter that threat."
And then it goes on to say, "It is not clear what actions the FBI took in response to these directives from the attorney general."
Is it clear to you, did the FBI respond positively to that direction?
RENO: What I think had happened -- and I'm not sure exactly of the time frame on it, Senator -- but what I think happened in the chronology is that Bob Bryant had started earlier to look at some of these issues with respect to how we organized and how we managed the information and how we assigned priorities and how we assigned tasks and how we made sure that we filled the gaps with respect to intelligence information.
RENO: When Bob Bryant left, Dale Watson pursued this and continued to try.
I think we -- both men made real progress. And I think that much of what I hope has been done in the bureau has built on that progress. That's what I was trying to get at.
I sent the memo, along with other memos at about the same time, to make sure that we were absolutely on the same wavelength, because there had been -- for example, I kept finding evidence that we didn't have and didn't know we had. And I would talk to somebody and they'd say, "Well, just wait until we get automated." I said, "How do you know what you're going to automate unless you find it now? You're going to have to find it now, so let's start and get ready to go." And it was a push in that direction.
I think this is going to be -- when it's finally, totally implemented, it's going to be a tremendous tool for the bureau. It probably is now. I don't know. But that was my reasoning for it.
GORTON: So this was a long-range direction going well beyond the end of your term as attorney general, but you think progress was being made as a result of that memorandum?
RENO: I don't know whether it was as a result of the memorandum. They may say they were already doing it. But I did it to push it. And then when the attorney general invited me to have lunch with him after he was sworn in, I came up to Washington and we sat down and talked about issues that I thought were important and I gave him a set of the memos.
GORTON: Now I'd like, as my last question, to have it very open- ended and to get for us the benefit of your wisdom from eight years as attorney general and much deep thought on this subject with respect to the Patriot Act.
On page four of your written testimony, for example, you say, "We continued to seek additional authority, such as pen register authority under FISA, which we were not able to get passed during my tenure, but that ultimately became a part of the Patriot Act."
And Ms. Gorelick tells me you also asked for legislation lowering the FISA bar with respect to intelligence-sharing.
Your reflection now after several years, just in general terms on the Patriot Act, did it go too far? Did it not go far enough?
GORTON: Are there some of its provisions about which you have reservations and would not like to see renewed? Are there elements related to our national security that weren't included in it that you would recommend that Congress adopt when it deals with the renewal of the Patriot Act?
RENO: I have been asked about the Patriot Act and I have always said that the Patriot Act was, kind of, the umbrella that everything that everybody saw happen after 9/11 that they didn't like fell under.
But generally everything that's been done in the Patriot Act has been helpful I think while at the same time maintaining the balance with respect to civil liberties, except with respect to one matter.
And there has been so much discussion about it -- one of the things that I hope we might be able to do is to build on what the commission does and have an opportunity to sit down in a thoughtful, nonpartisan way and talk about the details of the Patriot Act so that people will have a better understanding of them.
But one issue is with respect to FISA searches. I don't have all the details with me, but that would be one area that I would like to learn more about in terms of the administration's perspective.
And it just seems to me a wonderful time when we can stop for a minute and say, "This is national security. This is where America should come together. This is how we should sit down, and let's address these issues and see if we can come up with a consensus that will have the confidence of the nation."
GORTON: So of all of the provisions of the act, the one that you believe requires the most discussion and concern without having a specific position is those search authorities?
GORTON: Now, are there things that you think would be helpful in promoting our national security that weren't included in the original Patriot Act that you would recommend in any successor act?
RENO: I can't think of anything off the top of my head.
GORTON: In other words, it covered all your wish list and more?
RENO: Where I think we've got to go -- it's important to cover the wish list, but where we've got to go is making sure we use our experience to make the system work.
It's not going to be resources. It's not going to be legislation necessary. It's not going to be legal authorities.
It's going to be people sitting down and starting to exchange information, starting to share, starting to trust each other, starting to end the culture that said, "This is mine; I've got to keep to me because it's my case."
GORTON: With respect to the way in which we deal with intelligence activities inside the United States, for national security, do you believe that the FBI is the proper agency for that or that it should be separated from the agency and handled in a different fashion?
RENO: I have seen the FBI do absolutely wonderful work. And I think if we can address the issues that I talked about in terms of resolving confusions, addressing points that need resolution, I think the FBI can do a wonderful job for this country.
GORTON: From your observation from the outside, do you think Director Mueller is moving in that direction?
RENO: I think he is. I have a great respect for him, and I think we should all back him up and help him get the job done.
GORTON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome, General Reno, and nice to see you again. And I appreciate your testimony to us.
You've mentioned several times that you hope to have a nonpartisan discussion between us and sit down and talk about these key national security issues. I hope that's what we can have here this morning: a very honest discussion. We may have a disagreement or two, but hopefully we can engage in that candid discussion.
Let me start by asking you about the memos that you sent to the FBI. One was on February the 29th, 2000. And you sent it to the FBI to, and I quote, "develop an implement a system to ensure the linkage and sharing of intelligence, evidence and other relevant information," unquote, among all components of the FBI, and stating that you wanted, quote, "the system in place by October 1, 2000," unquote. In March, a March 8, 2000 letter, again to the FBI, you write, and I quote, "The bottom line is that we must develop a capacity within the Federal Bureau of Investigation in all fields to identify relevant information and share it internally, and then share it securely with other agencies as authorized by law and the attorney general guidelines," unquote.
And then May 2, 2000, memorandum to the FBI, you say you believe, "It's imperative that the FBI immediately develop the capacity to fully assimilate and utilize intelligence information currently collected and contained in FBI files, and use that knowledge to work proactively to identify and protect against emerging national security threats," unquote.
ROEMER: Pretty strong memos, memos that you shoot off almost every month for a four-month period. What prompts these concerns on your part about emerging national security concerns?
RENO: What prompted me is we had an opportunity, during the millennium investigation, in the process to led up to it, to come together, to work together. And I would ask about a specific matter: "Have you checked this to see if we have any additional information?"
ROEMER: Can you give me an example of that, General Reno?
RENO: I was trying...
ROEMER: What triggered it, in your mind?
RENO: What would trigger it is something I had learned before, where I'd discovered that they hadn't checked to see whether there was information in a certain district, though they knew they might have a person there, that might be involved.
And it was just going through that investigation, going through the long nights that we sat there and tried to put the pieces together, the meetings with the principals. It was, "We don't have it yet. And I don't want to leave this office without making sure that we are on track."
ROEMER: Let me ask you...
RENO: Louis response was -- and the reason I sent the one memorandum that says, "I realize that automation may be important," Director Freeh had said, "We need the automation."
And he's absolutely right. And it was very difficult for him to get that automation in light of the prior overrun systems that he didn't have real responsibility for.
ROEMER: Did you feel like you were frustrated in sending this series of memos to try to trigger this activity -- this proactive activity at the FBI?
RENO: I think they expressed a certain amount of frustration, but it was not so much frustration as to, "Let's get it understood. If we don't have the automation, what have we done to start finding what information we have?" And I think by the fall he had identified the retired IBM expert and we were on the way to getting it worked out. But I still think it has been a difficult process.
And I am not criticizing Director Freeh. I am talking about what I thought was essential at the time, and it expresses frustration. But more importantly, it's, "Hey, here's a vision; let's achieve it."
ROEMER: Did you lack confidence in the FBI's ability to accumulate information due to these technological problems?
RENO: I didn't lack confidence in its ability to accumulate it. It accumulated more information than -- I mean, it was...
ROEMER: How about share it?
RENO: Knowing my -- what I lacked confidence in was in knowing what it had. And the second thing was, if it knew what it had, sharing what it had.
ROEMER: Now, you said in your statement that, "Shortly after he took office, Attorney General Ashcroft invited me to lunch with him," and you gave him these same sets of memoranda.
Did you feel like there was some progress then, after you gave these same pieces of paper to General Ashcroft; that he was going to implement this change and do something different from what the FBI had done or not done leading up to that time?
RENO: I had obviously left office by that point and was no longer briefed or privy to what was going to be done, so I don't know what was done. And I apologize to everybody concerned if I've been presumptuous in suggesting what Director Mueller needs, because I haven't really been involved. But I'm giving my historical perspective of the time.
And I think Attorney General Ashcroft was very gracious and said, "This is very interesting." And I don't know what happened after that.
ROEMER: Let's stay on the topic of your relationship to the new attorney general. In the transition period, were you able to brief Attorney General Ashcroft as to your concerns on counterterrorism? And did al Qaeda come up in that briefing?
RENO: I don't know whether al Qaeda came up in the briefing or not. I cannot recall whether I specifically talked to him about al Qaeda.
But what I did talk about was reflected in the memos which I gave him, which is: If we don't put the pieces together and connect the dots, there's going to be something that happens. And there is so much information out there, it is so important that we get this done." And that's the reason I brought the memos with me.
ROEMER: Do you recall -- and excuse me for pushing you on this -- but do you recall mentioning al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, domestic cells of terrorists in the United States to the new attorney general?
RENO: No, I don't.
ROEMER: You don't recall that.
Do you recall being briefed on that type of domestic threat by FBI personnel some time in the 1990s?
RENO: Cells -- what I was briefed on was what the bureau had under way. I don't recall a briefing on cells in the United States.
ROEMER: So all throughout the 1990s, when you had people like Dale Watson or Director Freeh, your contacts with the National Security Council, they never briefed you on al Qaeda cells or a presences of al Qaeda in the United States -- '98, '99, 2000 -- some time in that period?
RENO: They briefed me on the presence of al Qaeda in the United States. But in terms of cells and where they were, I don't recall such a briefing.
ROEMER: And therefore, you had no specifics at that point, so you did not brief the new attorney general on something like that?
RENO: What I thought was important was with respect to all terrorism issues. I told him that it was, to me, one of the most important issues.
And one of the things that is critically important, I never focused just on al Qaeda, because I stood there and watched the Murrah building in rubble just as we saw it -- the beginnings of the Oklahoma bombing on CNN, and tended to jump to conclusions.
RENO: You can't jump to conclusions. You can't say that one thing is going to be our overriding issue.
I think one other recommendation I would make is we have got to be prepared for terrorism in any form. And a focus on one is going to make it difficult.
ROEMER: I want to push back a little bit on the Clinton administration here, and the priority on terrorism.
You say in your statement, priority of counterterrorism efforts, "Counterterrorism was a top priority for the Department of Justice. This priority was reflected in the department's strategic plan."
Now, if it's a top priority for you and your administration, wouldn't that be one of the first things that you briefed to the new attorney general: counterterrorism, al Qaeda, the domestic threat?
RENO: Which I did, and which I did in -- the point that I thought most important to make was if we were going to protect this nation's economic and national security, we had to be prepared at the bureau in terms of the information-sharing, organization, training of people, and that was the point I was making. ROEMER: OK.
Let me come back to a time period when you seem, in the Clinton administration, seems to be working on al Qaeda and the millennium threat with meetings five and six times a week, maybe a couple a day, with principals involved in them during the millennium period in December of 1999.
Do you recall, General Reno, at all -- can you describe your personal role in this millennium threat period, tow often you may have sat down with the national security adviser, Sandy Berger, the president of the United States?
ROEMER: The Clinton administration has a great deal of success during this time period deflecting or foiling millennium plots. A great deal of this, in my humble opinion, my theory is because of this small group that is meeting at the top levels of government and pushing decisions down into the bureaucracy to get things done.
I want to know your recollection of this time period. How often were you meeting with the principals? How often were you meeting with the president? How involved were you in this? How involved were you with the FBI and the CIA?
RENO: I spent a lot of time at the SIOC.
ROEMER: The SIOC, if you'd explain?
RENO: Somebody help me.
RENO: Strategic Information...
RENO: ... Operations Center.
ROEMER: ... Operations Center.
RENO: I would meet with them at the SIOC.
Let me stress -- and I think it's important, because people have dismissed what happened during that time by saying it was because of an alert customs officer. I want to pay special commendation to the alert customs officer; she was sharp and right on target. And it was an extremely -- it wasn't a lucky break, it was a great break by a good officer.
But it is so important to be able to capitalize on this, to follow through; you have a window, you have an opening to see what's happening. And it was extraordinary to sit in that command center and to see the results come in and to follow it. And then during the height of the crisis, I literally sat at the Office of Intelligence Policy Review until the early hours of the morning to be prepared to sign it at the soonest time possible, to sign the FISA application.
RENO: And to see the whole network in operation is an extraordinary experience and something -- people told me when I came to Washington that there would be one area that would seem mysterious and would be new, and that was the intelligence function of the department.
You can't go to the university to really learn it, at least I haven't found the course that really teaches it. You've got to come in, you've got to be as prepared as you can to learn, to find the good people that can make the difference, find the people that make the link.
And sometimes you've got to sit together so I can say, "But, George" -- referring to Tenet...
ROEMER: And George was George Tenet, the director of the CIA.
RENO: ... "what about this and what about that," and to...
ROEMER: Was Mr. Freeh in the room with you as well?
RENO: Director Freeh would oftentimes be there. And the bureau did a wonderful job. But you can't -- I think it's important for the principals to be involved because they can cut through to the hard issues, they can cut through the red tape. It is very important.
ROEMER: My time has just about run out.
Just to clarify one point then. You think the decision made by the guard on the border to get Ressam coming into our country to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport then was somehow related to the frenetic...
ROEMER: ... active activity of the principals meeting?
RENO: No. I think she did that -- I mean, I think that was just good police work, and it was a lucky break for us.
RENO: But you've got to capitalize on lucky breaks and understand better what you can learn from them.
ROEMER: Now, the fact that these principals are meeting does have an impact on bringing the CIA director, the FBI director and you and the president together to make decisions on a regular basis.
Thank you very much.
RENO: And you asked a question: How many times I met with the president? I don't know.
KEAN: I just have one question.
I agree with you: This intelligence business that I've been getting to learn is very mysterious. And nobody teaches it, I guess, outside of this town.
And the FBI to me is particularly frustrating, because everything I know -- everybody tells me it has wonderful, wonderful agents. And I know some of them and they are wonderful people -- totally dedicated. And there are totally dedicated people throughout the agency.
Yet the agency doesn't work very well, and hasn't worked very well for a long time. And you all tried to reform it. And now we have another effort of reform going on, and I guess the big question -- everybody talks about the word "culture." Some say you got to reform the culture of the FBI, otherwise it doesn't work -- won't work for the new era we are now in.
And I don't know how to change the culture, except that the present director is making a number of efforts.
And the question becomes: Can any one man or one administration change a culture, or do they just wait you out -- and when you leave it goes back to being the same old agency that hadn't worked very well before?
We can't afford that in this country. We can't afford to have an FBI that doesn't work. So you think one man, or one administration, or if we keep on with these reforms, that this agency is going to start to work?
RENO: One of the ways you make it work is not to give up and not to change the boxes and shift things around so that we have to learn a whole new procedure and spend our time doing the procedure.
RENO: I just -- I have great confidence in the director. I think he has built on what others have done -- what Louis, what Dale Watson, what Bob Bryant and countless agents have done. I think he knows that needs to be done. I think we should back him up and not give up.
And I think all of use who have been involved in the process care so much that it works that we should use our institutional knowledge, again, in a thoughtful bipartisan way, to sit down and say, "This isn't politics in America. This is the national security. This is our nation's safety. Let's work together to come up with something that works."
KEAN: Thank you.
JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you.
Welcome, General Reno.
During the years that you were attorney general and before and after, right up till 9/11, there was an administration report issued every year called "Patterns of Global Terrorism." And in it, the counterterrorism policy was described as, and I quote, "to treat terrorists as criminals, to pursue them aggressively, and to apply the rule of law."
Now, during your tenure at Justice, in various documents that dealt with terrorism, your priorities were laid out, number one, to obtain a successful prosecution of terrorists, and number two, to protect the rights of personal privacy.
LEHMAN: Were they accurate reflections of the priorities or did the priorities shift as time went on?
RENO: The priorities shifted almost immediately. I think Director Freeh made clear that we have got to start talking about how we prevent it and how we deter it and how we intervene with it. And I think that has been the important step.
At the same time it is important to understand what Director Freeh was saying, that one of the best ways to prevent it is to get hold of the information, follow it and make the arrest before it happens.
LEHMAN: But one of the problems of that perception, because I'm well aware of the long lag between the changing of official propaganda, which continued unchanged through three administrations, and the reality underlying it, is that other parts of the government view it very differently.
And I'd like to pursue on a strictly unclassified basis this issue of authorities to act, because we've spent a lot of time with the Pentagon and asking the question why we had eight years, following the '91 events and then the '93 events after that, to go after al Qaeda and bin Laden and there were very, very few attempts.
LEHMAN: And the recent book by Mr. Coll and the articles in The Washington Post and the book "Ghost Wars" quotes senior officials in CIA and the Pentagon, and indeed in the NSC, as follows.
And the reason I'm -- and I don't want to go outside of public documents, but the reason I'm quoting them is that we've got a lot of classified testimony that is not inconsistent with it.
"Attorney General Reno and her Justice Department were deeply invested in law enforcement as the approach to terrorism. And this translated into the Pentagon and CIA must make a good-faith effort to capture Osama for trial before targeting him as an individual."
Again, just asking your personal view, and not based on any classified information, is that an accurate reflection of your view?
RENO: I think he could be captured or killed.
LEHMAN: Captured or killed.
RENO: Yes. LEHMAN: This was translated by both agencies as having to mount a full-scale, good-faith organizing logistics effort to capture him. And if he happened to get killed, fine, but you had to do that first. Is that an accurate reflection of it?
RENO: Again, my personal opinion would be that he could be captured or killed.
LEHMAN: Roger that.
The other approach, apart from capturing or killing Osama, the Pentagon -- a number of senior Pentagon officials have written publicly. And I'll read from one of them, but again, it's not inconsistent with the classified testimony we have.
LEHMAN: And that is, quote, talking to what they perceived as the Justice Department policies that we just talked about, "If you declare terrorism a criminal activity, you take from the Defense Department any statutory authority to be the leader in responding.
"Whenever the White House" -- and they're talking about Clarke here -- "proposed using special forces against terrorists, it found itself facing a band of lawyers at Justice defending the turf. They would assert that the Pentagon lacked authority to use force and lawyers in the DOD would concur; they argued that we had no statutory authority because this is essentially a criminal matter."
Do you agree with that?
RENO: I have not heard that before, sir.
LEHMAN: Do you think that's a wrong interpretation and just making excuses by people who didn't want to go in, put boots on the ground, anyway?
RENO: I don't know what their motivation would be.
LEHMAN: Thank you very much.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
BOB KERREY, COMMISSION MEMBER: Attorney General Reno, it's very nice to see you again. Thank you very much for coming and helping us try to figure this all out.
Later this afternoon Cofer Black -- who was the head of the CTC for, I think, a couple of years -- I think framed this whole thing very well when he says -- he's going to say it and I'm going to say what he's going to say, which is, "I come here to tell you what we did, what we tried to do and what we failed to do."
And it's in that last area that I'd like to focus some attention because I see three big failures -- mistakes -- that were made both in the Clinton administration and in the Bush administration.
The first is the failure to give the Department of Defense a leading role in dealing with terrorism. It wasn't in PDB 62, and it wasn't changed until after 9/11.
The second had to do with allowing al Qaeda to come inside the United States.
KERREY: I understand after '98, we knew that they were part of an Islamic army intending -- and we saw on the 7th of August, they had tremendous capability. We continued to allow them to come into the United States. We didn't put a full-scale effort on with consular offices and INS and FBI and all sorts of other people in the United States to try to prevent them from coming into the United States.
And the third is, I still can't get my head out of the idea that we were not at a high state of alert at our airports on the 11th of September.
And I'd like to start with PDB 62 because I asked the same question of President Clinton and National Security Adviser Berger, do you have any recollections of PDB 62 and why the military was not given primary authority to wage the war against terrorism?
RENO: No, sir, I was not. I'm not part of the security council except as it's within my jurisdiction, and I don't recall that.
KERREY: The PDB would not have been circulated through the attorney general's office?
RENO: I think it was circulated through the attorney general's office with respect to legal issues.
KERREY: Talk to me about the second thing. The second item is also equally perplexing.
I mean, al Qaeda wasn't just a group of terrorists. They were part of an Islamic army called the jihad against the people of the United States of America.
But was there ever any discussions between you and the president, between you and the national security adviser -- any internal discussions at all about saying, "We can't let this army inside the United States and we've got to make certain that we don't" -- either through a consular office or INS or any other sort of point of weakness -- "allow them to penetrate our soil"?
RENO: My conversations with Doris Meissner, who is commissioner of INS, were that she focused on the issue of how we build the database that gets the information with regards to terrorists. She found that working with the joint terrorism task forces and others were very important.
RENO: But the problem was you had to get the information to her, and I think we failed there.
KERREY: But it seems to me though that it would had to have occurred at a Cabinet meeting with the president saying, "Look, this is an army. We've got to figure out how to keep that army out of the United States." Did that ever occur at any Cabinet meeting? RENO: I don't recall any Cabinet meeting that addressed that.
KERREY: Well, help me with the last one then.
I didn't have time earlier to follow up so in some ways this is not fair because I'm treating you as if you're Director Freeh.
RENO: It's quite fair. Go right ahead.
KERREY: I didn't like his answer. He basically hid behind the Gore report. I mean, we didn't need the recommendations of the Gore report to be at a higher state of alert than we were.
I mean, we were at ease on the 11th of September. We were not prepared for a hijacking. How did that happen in your mind? I mean, you had significant authorities over the FBI and, you know, this thing could have happened in 2000 as easily as 2001. What did we miss? What happened that allowed us to be so relaxed on the 11th of September in our airports?
RENO: I wasn't in office so I can't answer...
KERREY: No, no, I know. But we were just as relaxed as you were going out of office as we were on the 11th of September. I mean, this attack could have easily have happened on your watch. I mean, we were just as vulnerable while you were attorney general as we were when John Ashcroft was attorney general.
RENO: What I indicated to you and the commission at the outset of this session were the issues that I think that we had to address at the bureau. I gave my reasons for how they happened, what was necessary to address them, what had been done, what we could do to avoid it for the future.
RENO: I think in the meantime -- and I would also stress something that's very important.
I think people feel that because there is a strategy in place now, because there is a war, because we have come to a war footing, that we are somehow or another -- we don't have to have the heightened sense of urgency that we saw during the millennium, for example.
Somebody said we couldn't have sustained the millennium pace. But if the situation is such that the reports that I've seen -- and I have not been briefed on them, it's, again, what I've read in the papers -- you have got to be prepared in the best of circumstances and with the best of strategy for the people to meet who are the principals and work together to get the job done. And if it takes night after night, our soldiers fight night after night and day after day, and we ought to be able to do it here.
KERREY: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Ben-Veniste?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: Good afternoon, Attorney General Reno.
Let me start out by making an observation with respect to my friend Commissioner Lehman's questioning, that it is my understanding that the communication to CIA agents in the field with respect to kill or capture of Osama bin Laden was that they were told, pursuant to direction from the president, that they would be paid if they killed him or captured him, either way.
Let me ask you about millennium.
BEN-VENISTE: After Ressam is captured by the alert customs agent Diana Dean, for whom we all owe a debt of gratitude, there was follow up, as you have indicated.
And Diana Dean, like Agent Jose Melendez, who testified before us in an earlier hearing and who alertly prevented the entry into the United States at the Orlando port of entry -- the airport -- prevented Mohammad al-Qahtani, who we now believe was to be the sixteenth hijacker.
BEN-VENISTE: Twentieth hijacker, I'm sorry.
The work that was done after Ressam had been arrested by the alert customs agent was something which you had begun to discuss. And I would like you to have the opportunity to tell us about the cooperation among agencies in the follow up and how that may have resulted in the roll-up of operations in Brooklyn and Boston and elsewhere.
RENO: It was fascinating, Commissioner, to see how the pieces came together; working with authorities around the world, working with agents in New York, seeing how it came together.
RENO: To see the exchange of information, to have people who trusted each other so that somebody from OIPR was talking to somebody at the CIA, and another piece came together.
People have talked about data as they -- like water coming out of a fire hydrant. And sometimes it's just that one precious piece that can make the difference, but it all seemed to just open a door so that you can observe how something like this could happen. And it was based on trust and the fact that the principals were there. They were exchanging information. They were sharing. I think that made an important difference.
The principals were saying, "What about this? We need to get something translated." Well, get it to the Defense Department and they can get it translated. Cut through the red tape. Move it. I mean, we were in -- I put it to the equivalent of war. We do the best we can and the leaders should be there.
BEN-VENISTE: Let me ask you whether, in your briefing of the incoming attorney general, you elaborated on the terrorist threat from al Qaeda within the United States? Being mindful of the millennium threat that you had just talked about, the bridge and tunnel threat, which had been interdicted and interrupted by the FBI, as Director Freeh had talked about, or unsuccessful attempt to prevent the first bombing of the World Trade Center, did you brief Director Ashcroft on the presence of al Qaeda cells in the United States and the potential for terrorist activity in this country?
RENO: No, I didn't. I'd talk about it in terms of terrorism generally, threats to our national security generally, and the need to develop the capacity in the bureau to collect the information, to manage it and to use it in the most organized way possible.
BEN-VENISTE: And let me ask you...
KEAN: Last question.
BEN-VENISTE: ... a final question. You heard perhaps from Director Freeh -- there are others who have commented on the FISA court interpretation of the restrictions on the dissemination of information. And the fact that Director Freeh, a former federal judge, others in the Justice Department, disagreed with the FISA court's narrow interpretation which was ultimately overturned by the appellate court.
Can you tell us why it was you did not seek to challenge the FISA court's interpretation during your term of office?
RENO: We were in a situation where it seemed to me we had need for FISAs at every moment. We were getting the FISAs. We felt like we were doing it the right way. We had, we thought, a good relationship with the court. And if we took an appeal, delay would occur and we were worried about what effect it would have on the court.
BEN-VENISTE: Could you not have taken an appeal on some matter of less urgency to try to get a clarification?
RENO: We looked sometimes for cases, but when you come to this crunch, it is usually the cases where you need the best facts to make the best law.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Ms. Reno.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FRED F. FIELDING, COMMISSION MEMBER: General Reno, thank you for being here.
I'm very impressed -- I'm sure everybody's very impressed at the record that you've demonstrated of trying to acknowledge and fix issues within the FBI as you perceived them and tried to do it from within, by trying to urge the director to deal with some of the deficiencies as you saw them, and you just related those to us.
Did you ever advise the White House or the national security adviser or the president of those concerns about the bureau and/or the director?
RENO: When you say "concerns about the director," I had a good working relationship with the director. I mean, we might have disagreements, but concerns, that's -- it was common knowledge that one of the problems was that the bureau sometimes didn't know what it had and that it didn't share the information.
I think some of my frustration was urged on, if you will, by the National Security Council, and I told them what I was trying to do. I told them of the problems we had, the problems with respect to automation. And I don't recall ever briefing the president on it.
FIELDING: Thank you.
I'm also very interested in the effectiveness of transitions. Because it seems to be, especially when it's a transition between different parties, there's a short period of time, and in the most recent one, even a shorter period of time. And especially in areas of national security intelligence, there's a very vulnerable moment when the baton is handed off and that period of time during a transition. And I think this is something that I hope that we will be looking at carefully as a commission.
But in your dealings with the attorney general-designate, or subsequently the attorney general, I was interested -- you said that after he became attorney general, you met with him. Was that the first time you met him do to any briefing or transitioning?
RENO: I had called him when I heard that he was nominated, offering to brief him. He said that he would wait until he got confirmed, and when he got confirmed he called me.
FIELDING: OK. Now, during that meeting with him, did you ever express to him your concerns about the severe technology problems and deficits within the FBI?
RENO: I expressed to him my concerns and I gave him copies of the memorandum, which outlined my concerns.
FIELDING: And how about your concerns and the problems with the wall, as we're calling it loosely, and legal authorities?
RENO: With respect to the wall, I told him that there was an issue with respect to -- arising out of the Wen Ho Lee report -- the attorney general's task force report, that Mr. Bellows conducted at my direction, and that there were concerns. It was important that the July -- the 1995 memorandum be updated. And Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson updated it, in, I believe, August.
RENO: I told him that I had not made a decision, because we could not reach consensus within the department, and that it was important that they take a look at it as a follow-up. And I didn't want to make a decision that didn't have more consensus attached to it for the new administration that might want to pursue a different course.
FIELDING: And did you discuss with him any issues of the culture of the bureau?
RENO: I don't recall talking about the culture of the bureau. I talked about the need to share, the need to develop the capacity to share and to organize the information in an effective manner.
FIELDING: And was there any discussion about the personnel of the bureau, any discussion about the retention or possible retention of Director Freeh?
FIELDING: OK, thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Commissioner Thompson?
JAMES R. THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER: Madam Attorney General, thank you for your testimony today.
I think you were a bold and gutsy attorney general, and stood up for what you believed, and provided extraordinary leadership on many issues during your time. And I think the nation should be grateful for that.
RENO: Thank you.
THOMPSON: Two questions, if I might.
THOMPSON: In today's hearing and in past hearings, there seems to be an undercurrent, or an assumption, or maybe even something more specific or direct than that, that there is some kind of reporting relationship, or ought to be some kind of reporting relationship, between the attorney general of the United States and the national security adviser, or the director of the FBI and the national security adviser.
The director of the FBI reports to you, as the attorney general. Is that correct?
RENO: That's correct.
THOMPSON: And you, as a confirmed Cabinet official, report to the president. Is that correct?
RENO: That's correct.
THOMPSON: And while there are undoubtedly many appropriate occasions for you to confer with the national security adviser or members of the NSC staff -- and you did, and other attorneys general have as well, and other directors of the FBI have as well -- the national security adviser is not some sort of "Super AG" or "Super Director," is that correct?
RENO: That's correct. THOMPSON: In your prepared testimony on page 5, I think it's worth repeating these few lines -- because you weren't able to do it in your opening remarks -- "There are simply no walls or restrictions on sharing the vast majority of counterterrorism information. There are no legal restrictions at all on the ability of the members of the intelligence community to share intelligence information with each other.
"With respect to sharing between intelligence investigators and criminal investigators, information learned as a result of a physical surveillance or from a confidential informant can be legally shared without restriction.
"While there were restrictions placed on information gathered by criminal investigators as a result of grand jury investigations or Title III wire taps, in practice they did not prove to be a serious impediment since there was very little significant information that could not be shared."
THOMPSON: If you were to have used those words in a legal opinion directed to the members of the intelligence community and specifically to the members of the FBI and the CIA, according to a lot of what we have heard in public or in private, and certainly according to a lot of assumptions reported in the press, the members of the intelligence community would have been astounded. Or am I wrong about that?
RENO: I think some would have been astounded.
I think it's again very important to understand -- and I think I learned from this how important it is when you announce a policy, when you try to do something, that you make sure you train, you get feedback from people.
And I think one of the things that I failed to do was to get feedback from them to understand exactly what their problems were with it, try to accommodate those interests and proceed to ensure a full exchange of information.
THOMPSON: In your answer to an earlier question you said that, I think I'm quoting you correctly and please correct me if I'm wrong, that you did not say something like this or talk about this subject near the close of your administration because you had failed to achieve consensus within the department on the issue.
THOMPSON: What did you mean by that? And why would you, as the attorney general of the United States, have needed consensus within the department before you issued your interpretation of what the law did or did not demand?
RENO: This obviously was a very sensitive issue, and to make a decision that I thought that would be binding -- obviously, they could change it -- I should have great confidence it seems to me before delivering to the next administration a decision.
I chose to let the next administration make the decision because -- no, you're right, I don't have to have consensus, but I've got to have a pretty clear idea of what's the right thing to do. Harry Truman said doing the right thing is easy; trying to figure out what it is is much more difficult. And it was very difficult for me in that situation.
THOMPSON: Thank you, General.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you.
I have one final question, just really a follow up to Commissioner Fielding.
You're unique in a sense because you've been a part of two transitions. It seems every year it takes every new administration that much longer to get its key personnel appointed and confirmed, and it involves White House procedures, it involves requirements of the United States Senate, it involves financial disclosures.
But every year the pile gets higher, and we're looking now at the Bush transition between your administration and their administration when it took six months or more for some of their key personnel to really get into place.
You went through the earlier transition.
KEAN: Would you have any recommendations of any ways, particularly for key personnel, such as in your department or in a national security area, to speed up these transitions so that administrations will not be left lacking key personnel at very important times for this country?
RENO: I think it is absolutely critical that this nation sit down and come together and let the president of the United States, whoever he or she is, have the people that they think can best represent the interest of the administration that has just been elected and that continues to serve during the entire four years.
It is extremely frustrating to try to implement policy, to try to deal with these critical issues, to try to understand all these problems and not have somebody that's confirmed.
KEAN: General, thank you.
Thank you very much for your testimony. Thank you for your service.
At this time, the commission will recess for one hour. Everybody should be back here. We'll start promptly at 1:30.
Wait a second. The chair has been asked to announce that the Capitol Police have asked that as you leave the room for lunch, please take all packages or bags with you because unattended items will disappear. They'll be confiscated.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. The chairman, Tom Kean, the former governor of New Jersey, wrapping up this morning's session of the 9/11 Commission hearings.
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