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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
9/11 Commission News Conference
Aired July 22, 2004 - 11:32 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we're going to go straight to the commission there where you are seeing Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton addressing the audience there.
THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Good morning.
Today we present this report and these recommendations to the president of the United States, to the United States Congress and the American people.
This report represents the unanimous conclusion of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
On September 11th, 2001, 19 men armed with knives, box cutters, Mace and pepper spray penetrated the defenses of the most powerful nation in the world. They inflicted unbearable trauma on our people, and at the same time they turned the international order upside down.
At this point, we would like to ask you to remember for a moment how you felt that day: the grief, the enormous sense of loss. But remember also how we came together that day as a nation: young and old, rich and poor, didn't matter whether you were a Republican or a Democrat, we had a deep sense of hurt, but out of that came a deep sense of purpose. We knew what we had to do as a nation to respond, and we did.
But it's also fair to say that on that September day we were unprepared. We did not grasp the magnitude of a threat that had been gathering over a considerable period of time.
As we detail in our report, this was a failure of policy, management, capability and, above all, a failure of imagination.
Now, we recognize, as commissioners, that we have the benefit of hindsight. And since the plotters were flexible and resourceful, we cannot know whether any single step or series of steps would have defeated them.
What we can say with a good deal of confidence is that none of the measures adopted by the United States government before 9/11 disturbed or even delayed the progress of the Al Qaeda plot.
There were several unexploited opportunities. Our government did not watch-list future hijackers Hazmi and Mihdhar before they arrived in the United States, or take adequate steps to find them once they were here. Our government did not link the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, described as "interested in flight training for the purpose of using airplane as a terrorist act," to the heightened indications of attack.
Our government did not discover false statements on visa applications or recognize passports that were manipulated in a fraudulent matter.
KEAN: Our government did not expand no-fly lists to include names from terrorist watch lists, or require airline passengers to be more thoroughly screened.
These examples make a part of a broader national security picture where the government failed to protect the American people.
The United States government was simply not active enough in combating the terrorist threat before 9/11.
Our diplomacy and foreign policy failed to extract bin Laden from his Afghan sanctuary.
Our military forces and covert action capabilities did not have the options on the table to defeat Al Qaeda or kill or capture either bin Laden or his top lieutenants.
Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies did not manage or share information or effectively follow leads to keep pace with a very nimble enemy.
Our border, immigration and aviation security agencies were not integrated into the counterterrorism effort.
And much of our response on the day of 9/11 was improvised and ineffective, even as extraordinary individual acts of heroism saved countless lives.
KEAN: Our failures took place over many years and administrations. There's no single individual who is responsible for our failures. Yet individuals and institutions cannot be absolved of responsibility. Any person in a senior position within our government during this time bears some element of responsibility for our government's actions.
Having said that, it is not our purpose to assign blame. As we said at the outset, we look back so that we can look forward.
Our goal is to prevent future attacks. Every expert with whom we spoke told us an attack of even greater magnitude is now possible and even probable. We do not have the luxury of time. We must prepare and we must act.
The Al Qaeda network and its affiliates are sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal. Osama bin Laden built an infrastructure and organization that was able to attract, train and use recruits against even more ambitious targets. He rallied new zealots with each demonstration of Al Qaeda's capability. His message and his hate-filled ideology have instructed and inspired untold recruits and imitators.
He and Al Qaeda despise America and its policies. They exploit political grievances and hopelessness within Arab and Islamic world. They indoctrinate the disaffected and pervert one of the world's great religions. And they seek creative methods to kill Americans in limitless numbers, including if they can do it, with the use of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
Put simply, the United States is faced with one of the greatest security challenges in our long history. We have struck blows against the terrorists since 9/11. We have, we believe, prevented attacks on the homeland. We do believe we are safer today than we were on 9/11. But we are not safe.
Because Al Qaeda represents an ideology, not a finite group of people, we should not expect the danger to recede greatly as years to come.
KEAN: No matter whom we kill or capture, including Osama bin Laden himself, there will be still those who plot against us. Bin Laden has inspired affiliates and imitators. Societies they prey on are vulnerable, the terrorist ideology is potent and the means for inflicting harm are readily available. We cannot let our guard down.
LEE H. HAMILTON, COMMISSION VICE CHAIRMAN: Before continuing our narrative, may I simply rise to a point of personal privilege to say what remarkable leadership we have had from the chairman of this commission?
One of these days, I'm going to create a public servant hall of fame, Tom, and you're going to go in on the first ballot, I assure you.
And we've had remarkable support from a dedicated group of commissioners and a highly talented staff headed by Dr. Zelikow and Chris Kojm and Dan Marcus and others. And we are deeply indebted to them, as Tom will say again in a few minutes.
I begin with the recommendations.
This commission, of course, does not have all of the answers. But we have thought about what to do, a global strategy, and how to do it -- a different way of organizing our government. But based on our thorough review of the government's performance, and our examination of the enemy, we recommend the following elements for a counterterrorism strategy.
This strategy must be balanced. It must integrate all the elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, homeland defense and military strength.
There is no silver bullet or decisive blow that can defeat Islamist terrorism. It will take unity of effort and sustained and effective use of every tool at our disposal.
We need to play offense, to kill or to capture the terrorists, deny them sanctuaries and disrupt their ability to move money and people around the globe. We need to ensure that the key countries, like Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are stable, capable and resolute in opposing terrorism.
HAMILTON: We need to sustain a coalition of nations that cooperates bilaterally and multilaterally with us in the counterterrorism mission.
We need a better dialogue between the West and the Islamic world.
We also highlight the need to restrict and roll back the proliferation of the world's most dangerous weapons.
We need to put forth an agenda of opportunity -- economic, educational, political -- so that young people in the Arab and Islamic world have peaceful and productive avenues for expression and hope.
We need to join the battle of ideas within the Islamic world, communicating hope instead of despair, progress in place of persecution, life instead of death.
This message should be matched by policies that encourage and support the majority of Muslims who share these goals.
At home we need to set clear priorities for the protection of our infrastructure and the security of our transportation. Resources should be allocated based upon those priorities, and standards of preparedness should be set.
The private sector and local governments should play an important part in this process.
We need secure borders with heightened and uniform standards of identification for those entering and exiting the country, and an immigration system able to be efficient, allowing good people in while keeping the terrorists out.
If, God forbid, there is another attack, we must be ready to respond. We must educate the public, train and equip our first responders, and anticipate countless scenarios.
We recommend significant changes in the organization of government. We know that the quality of the people is more important than the quality of the wiring diagrams. Good people can overcome bad structures. They should not have to.
Day and night, dedicated public servants are waging the struggle to combat terrorists and protect the homeland. We need to ensure that our government maximizes their efforts through information sharing, coordinated effort and clear authority.
HAMILTON: A critical theme that emerged throughout our inquiry was the difficulty of answering the question, Who is in charge? Who ensures that agencies pool resources, avoid duplication and plan jointly? Who oversees the massive integration and unity of effort necessary to keep America safe?
Too often, the answer is no one.
Thus we are recommending a national counterterrorism center. We need effective unity of effort on counterterrorism. We should create a national counterterrorism center to unify all counterterrorism intelligence and operations across the foreign and the domestic divide in one organization.
Right now these efforts are too diffuse across the government. They need to be unified.
We recommend a national intelligence director. We need unity of effort in the intelligence community.
We need a much stronger head of the intelligence community and an intelligence community that organizes itself to do joint work in national mission centers.
We need reforms of the kind the military had two decades ago. We need a Goldwater-Nichols reform for the intelligence community.
The intelligence community needs a shift in mindset and organization so that intelligence agencies operate under the principle of joint command, with information sharing as the norm.
We need to reform the United States Congress. We need unity of effort in the Congress. Right now authority and responsibility are too diffuse.
HAMILTON: The Intelligence Committees do not have enough power to perform effectively their oversight work.
Oversight for homeland security is splintered among too many committees. We need much stronger committees performing oversight of intelligence. And we need a single committee in each chamber providing oversight of the Department of Homeland Security.
We need reform in the FBI. We need a stronger national security workforce within the FBI.
We do not support the creation of a new domestic intelligence agency. What the FBI needs is a specialized and integrated national security workforce consisting of agents, analysts, linguists and surveillance specialists.
These specialists need to be recruited, trained, rewarded and retained to ensure the development of an institutional culture with deep expertise in intelligence and national security.
We need changes in information sharing. We need unity of effort in that task.
The United States government has access to vast amounts of information, but it has a weak system of processing and using that information. "Need to share" must replace "need to know."
HAMILTON: And we need a better process for transitions between one administration and another for national security officials so that this nation does not lower its guard every four or eight years.
These and other recommendations are spelled out in great detail in our report. We have made a limited number of recommendations, focusing on the areas we believe most critical.
We are acutely sensitive to the need to vigorously protect our liberties as we secure and guard our security.
We endorse many of the actions taken in the wake of 9/11 to facilitate government action and information sharing. But we stress that these measures need to be accompanied by a commitment to our open society and the principle of review, safeguards that are built into the process and accompanied by vigorous oversight. We must, after all is said and done, preserve the liberties that we are fighting for.
KEAN: Thank you, Congressman Hamilton, one of the most decent and thoughtful men I've ever had the pleasure to know.
Before we close, we offer just a few more thoughts.
We approached our task with a deep respect for the place of September 11th in our nation's history. Some have compared the shock we felt to Pearl Harbor, others to the Kennedy assassination. There are no comparisons. This was a moment unique in its horror in our long history.
KEAN: As in every four years in this democracy, we are in the midst of a presidential campaign. Our two great parties will disagree, and that is right and that is proper. At the same time, on this subject we must unite to make our country safer. Republicans and Democrats must unite in this cause.
The American people must be prepared for a long and difficult struggle. We face a determined enemy who sees this as a war of attrition; indeed, as an epical struggle. We expect further attacks. Against such an enemy there can be no complacency.
This is the challenge of our generation. As Americans, we must step forward and we must meet that challenge.
We have reviewed as a commission 2.5 million pages of documents. We've interviewed over 1,200 individuals, including experts and officials past and present. Our work has been assisted by superb staff. Each one of these professionals has provided dedication and expertise that has often exceeded our very highest expectations.
And we also had the honor of working with an extraordinary group of Americans: our commissioners. Each has shown skill, determination and collegiality.
We close, most importantly, by thanking the families who lost loved ones on 9/11. You demanded the creation of this commission. You have encouraged us every step of the way as partners and as witnesses. From your grief, you have drawn strength. You have given that strength to us. And we are determined, as you instructed us, to do everything possible to prevent other families from ever suffering such a tragedy again.
On that beautiful September day, we felt great hurt but we believed and we acted as one nation. We united, as Americans have always united in the face of any common foe.
Five Republicans and five Democrats have come together today with that same unity of purpose. We file no additional views in this report. We have no dissents. We have each decided that we will play no active role in the fall presidential campaign. We will instead devote our time, as we have, to work together in support of the recommendations in this report.
You see, we believe that acting together as Republicans, Democrats, we can make a difference, we can make our nation safer, we can make our nation more secure. We'd be happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Why was it that you decided, as a commission, not to say whether the attacks could have been prevented or not prevented, given all the information that you have accumulated over the 20 months?
KEAN: What we did is present the facts as we learned them. As you look at these facts time after time, you will find, as we detailed, people who got in to this country that should not have gotten in because their travel documents didn't earn that distinction. We documented intelligence agencies that didn't share information. We document actions by the government that should have been taken and were not taken.
But you've asked, "Would any single one of these things or even in combination -- are we sure that if they had occurred in a different way that 9/11 would have been prevented?"
KEAN: I can't say we are sure. We do not know. We think it's possible. But we have not drawn that absolute conclusion, because we don't believe that absolute conclusion is justified by the facts.
QUESTION: Going through the report, the findings seem to focus on a whole array of problems. The proposals for solution are focused narrowly in structural solutions, changes in the shape of government.
The families are already being quoted today as saying that they view this as very, very important. Their next step will be to see that these are implemented.
I'm wondering if there's any concern that it's, kind of, a false promise, the idea that if the structure is fixed that -- as you say, Mr. Chairman, that there will not be -- or may not be another attack such as this, that structural reform is the answer to preventing another 9/11?
HAMILTON: I think the report is much broader than your question might suggest.
You are correct that an important part of the report focuses on organizational change in the executive branch and in the Congress. And in my remarks a moment ago I emphasized those.
But in the complete report, we recognize the necessity of doing a number of things to attack the terrorists, to deny them sanctuaries, to provide stability and security in the key countries, Afghanistan and Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
We have a section in the report on trying to prevent the growth of terrorism. And this is a very formidable challenge, as all of you can appreciate, because what it means is we have to engage in ideas with the Muslim world.
HAMILTON: We have to develop American policies that we understand the consequences of. We need to put together all of the elements of a counterterrorism strategy, which I identified, I think, a little earlier. And we recommend a number of steps to be taken to protect against and to prepare for terrorist attacks.
So if you look at all of the report, you will find a good many recommendations beyond those relating to the organization of government, dealing with American foreign policy, dealing with how you respond to attacks, dealing with the important question of the security of our borders and immigration policy, dealing with the question of terrorist financing, and, of course, law enforcement and many other matters.
I think it's a very complete and comprehensive report. The report, of course, is driven by the mandate of the commission. We did not choose the mandate; it was given to us. And the statute identifies the areas that we are to approach, to make recommendations on, and that is what we've done to the best of our ability.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
TIMOTHY J. ROEMER, COMMISSION MEMBER: What we have tried to do in making recommendations is not to look only at the boxes and the dynamic, structural and systemic changes, but to also concentrate on the people.
We have looked in the intelligence area and, as Lee and Tom have said, made some very dramatic changes, revolutionary changes with a national counterterrorism center and with a national intelligence director.
But we also have stressed the importance of transforming our capability of training people in languages, in rebuilding our human intelligence, in making sure that when we're recruiting people in the front end that we get the right kinds of people for the CIA.
We have done the same thing in the FBI. While we have not picked an MI5 and not endorsed the Directorate of Intelligence Reform that the FBI is currently doing, we picked a third option, a national security intelligence service, concentrating on the people and the skills, concentrating on making sure, again, linguists and analysts are trained properly, that they have career tracks within the FBI that will award that intelligence and counterterror service.
And finally, in Congress, we have said dramatic change is needed, but the people in Congress that are so instrumental for us to tackle this problem have to do their oversight better, more appropriately and more diligently.
This is not only about structure and reform of systems and organizations. It is also about the people in those roles that are so dramatically important to getting this done right. Both must be reformed.
JAMES R. THOMPSON, COMMISSION MEMBER: I think the philosophy which has guided our recommendations and their presentation in that narrow-focused form is driven by first things first.
If you look at the failures in the American governments that led to 9/11, it was largely a failure to unearth and share information, because the boxes were spread out all over the place.
Look at Moussaoui. It rose all the way, in Moussaoui, to the head of the CIA, but it only rose to this level in the FBI, and they never came together; a very stark failure of information-sharing and focus.
Could that have prevented 9/11? We don't know. But that failure is there.
If I were the president of the United States, I would want sitting next to me in a Cabinet meeting a national director of intelligence so that I could fix responsibility in one person for issues of this sort. And I would want those counterterrorism center people down the hallway.
And if I were in the Congress of the United States, I would want to make sure that I was protected from the accusation that oversight funding, authorization and appropriations were not adequate.
Our reform recommendations are urgent. We have come together with the families to agree on that.
If these reforms are not the best that can be done for the American people, then the Congress and the president need to tell us what's better. But if there is nothing better, they need to be enacted and enacted speedily, because if something bad happens while these recommendations are sitting there, the American people will quickly fix political responsibility for failure and that responsibility may last for generations and they will be entitled to do that.
Everyone was caught unaware by September 11th: the president, the Congress, the American people, law enforcement agencies. Blame, if there is blame, has to be spread all across the people because the American people never demanded more or better.
But now we've been warned -- specifically warned. And now we've been told by everyone from the president of the United States on down it's going to happen again. And if it happens and we haven't moved, then the American people are entitled to make very fundamental judgments about that.
QUESTION: You've done a tremendous amount of digging, clearly, to describe the plot and how it was executed.
QUESTION: But do you walk away with some unanswered questions, areas that frustrated you that you still don't have answers to?
KEAN: There are still some unanswered questions because, obviously, the people who were at the heart of the plot are dead.
If we capture Osama bin Laden -- when we capture Osama bin Laden, I hope -- and he answers questions, there may be new information. We've always been what the vice chairman has called in the middle of a moving stream on this one.
Our report, we believe, is a definitive work on 9/11. But are there some questions that can only be answered by people who are not in the United States custody at the moment? Very possibly, and those are answers we might find in the future.
But we have done to the best of our ability. We've seen every piece of paper that is out there. We've interviewed every person who had any responsibility in the area under the two administrations.
And we believe, as of today, that every question we were able to answer has been answered in this report.
(UNKNOWN): And just to follow up a moment on that, I think you will find when you read the report that where we don't know an answer or where there is a logical next step that was not discernible, that we've noted it.
We don't -- there's nothing in here that we were trying to push to the side just because we didn't know a final answer on it. All we could give the American public and give ourselves in our deliberations was the very best and the most we could find.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: I think people, particularly with expertise in the area of government, will see that the amount of information we have collected from within the government is of extraordinary breadth and unique in many instances in the type of information which has been put forward and made available publicly.
Heretofore in various other contexts, reports of this nature have been restricted, have been subject to classification.
BEN-VENISTE: And the public has not had the benefit of the knowledge which those who conducted the investigation were presented.
In our case, as you know, we had certain road blocks. We had to push hard for information. We believe that we have done a credible job in unearthing the information which was within our government.
And we have gone further. We have attempted to get information which was the result of ongoing interrogations of others who had information. And we have made judgments about the integrity of that information and have reported that.
And so we have done our level best to bring forward to the public -- and we have done so as we have moved along -- all relevant information within our ability to put forward. And I think the American public can feel that this was a credible effort led by extraordinary people and an extraordinary staff -- very talented, very dedicated and extraordinarily hard working.
QUESTION: Speaking about New York specifically for a moment, you heard a good deal in the hearings about radio failures and technical problems. And while you make reference to it in the report, you mention that your recommendation is to create a signal corps. What exactly does that mean and how would that solve the radio problems that we experienced?
JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER: We uncovered a fairly significant range of command, control and communications problems. Now, specifically, your question refers to the communications problems.
The military has struggled with this for a long time. Now, today, the normal order of military operations involves all services, integrated, working together. Radios that are designed to work at sea don't necessarily work in intense land environments: in cities, in buildings.
LEHMAN: The military learned long ago that you need a systems approach to radios and to connectivity.
In cities like New York, especially, that is one of the -- remains one of the most important, valuable targets of our enemy, we have to be able to ensure the connectivity between the commanders, the civilian commanders on scene, the mayor and the civilian authorities, the fire department, the fire departments of adjacent areas, police departments, and in totally different environments -- tunnels, skyscrapers, in the port areas, and so forth.
There's no one radio you can buy to fix that. And so you need a systems approach like the military uses.
Every military unit that deploys to an operational area has a signal corps-type unit with it that has the robust communications of different kinds that can keep the different units connected together and communicating, whether it's in a ship-to-shore or an air-to-ground or a ground-to-ground environment, and with the people trained on how to ensure a fail-safe connectivity.
That does not exist in New York or most other cities today. And with the assistance of the Pentagon and the federal government, it is a very high priority that this kind of connectivity be established to deal with threats in the future. KEAN: Thank you, John.
And I must say, as far as New York City goes, I personally feel one of our important recommendations is that money for homeland security should not be given out of as a revenue-sharing program, but should be given largest amounts, by far, to the areas of greatest need and the most prominent targets. And that would, I presume, give most of that money to New York City, with Washington equal or a close second.
QUESTION: On this question of the Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship, it looks as if, in this final report, you, sort of, scaled back some of the language from the staff statement with respect to that finding of no collaborative relationship. This time you say "no collaborative operational relationship with regard to the attacks on the United States." I wondered if you might just address that.
And then, on the same lines, whether you're talking about Richard Clarke's e-mails contained in this final report or Secretary Cohen's testimony to the commission, it appears that the Clinton administration believed in 1998 and believes today that Iraq provided at least some chemical weapons expertise to Al Qaeda. I wondered if you had a comment on that.
KEAN: Well, there was no question in our minds that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda. At one point, there was thought maybe even Al Qaeda would find sanctuary in Iraq. And there were conversations that went on over a number of years, sometimes successful, sometimes unsuccessfully.
While we don't know about weapons collaboration, particularly chemical collaboration, there was a suspicion in the Clinton administration that when they fired that bomb at that factory, that if, in fact, there were chemicals there, they may have come from Iraq.
So there was a relationship.
Having said that, we have found no relationship whatever between Iraq and the attack on 9/11. That just doesn't exist.
So I think we are very careful in our wording in using that word "collaborative relationship." I mean, that's what we found. It's language that's evidence-based.
HAMILTON: In further response, I think there's a very large distinction between evidence of conversations that might have occurred between Iraq and Al Qaeda, on the one hand, and an emerging strategy or emerging assistance -- concrete -- on the other.
And what we do not have, as the chairman said, is any evidence of a concrete collaborative operational agreement. Conversations, yes, but nothing concrete.
QUESTION: In reading the report, I noticed that the language that you used to describe Saudi Arabia is very vague and it seemed actually a little watered down, given what that country's track record is. I wonder if you can explain that.
And I also wonder if you can get into why you did not address any of the issues that have been raised recently by film-maker Michael Moore about connections between the Saudi family, the bin Laden family and the Bush administration and whether that may have played any role in all of this.
KEAN: Well, I haven't seen Mr. Moore's film. I'm not sure what those allegations are.
We do talk quite definitively about the allegation that there was a flight of Saudis that took off before airspace was opened, authorized by a high level in the United States government without the proper interviewing by the FBI. And what we say is that story is just not true.
That plane took off. It took off after the airspace was open, after the FBI had screened the people, and it was authorized by Mr. Clarke. We do handle that one.
We didn't water down any language that I'm aware of on Saudi Arabia. What we do say is that we've got to get beyond this relationship having to do with just oil. We have got to work with the Saudi government, that shares a very common interest with us now, because the terrorists would be very, very -- just as happy, I think, to destroy the government in Saudi Arabia right now as they would our own government. And they have a very common interest in working with us against the terrorists at this point, who have attacked them as much as well as attacked us.
We do believe, however, that our relationship with that country cannot be just, we'll ignore this and that and they'll give us oil and everything will be fine. We have got to help them and urge them to implement reforms to get some stability in that country, to help us trace money, if money is a problem, as it gets to terrorist organizations.
HAMILTON (?): Tom, if I may add to that, we have found no evidence of the involvement of the Saudi government in the plot. We have found evidence of individual Saudis and Saudi charities, whether witting or unwitting, we do not know, whose funds have found their way to the support of Al Qaeda and terrorism.
Since 9/11, and especially since May of 2003, Saudi cooperation with regard to the United States has sharply improved. And they are helping us now on the terrorist financing issue. They've taken steps to tighten up the regulation in their financial communities to guard against terrorist financing.
As the chairman mentioned, this is a very difficult relationship for the United States and has been for a long time. But we want to see that relationship get more depth and texture to it than it has had in the past several decades. And that relationship should include a shared commitment to political and economic reform in the kingdom, and a shared commitment to greater respect for tolerance in the society, and a shared commitment to fight terrorism and a shared commitment in the reform area to improve the quality of education.
This is a very large agenda that we need to develop with the Saudis because it's such a very important country in this war on terrorism.
KEAN: Senator Gorton?
SLADE GORTON, COMMISSION MEMBER: I think, you know, in a sense it's difficult to answer a negative. But in the report, we include all of the facts that we regard relevant to Al Qaeda and the United States and to Saudi Arabia and Iraq to the charge which we were given.
GORTON: You know, we do not spend a lot of time attempting to prove negatives. We lay out the evidence. We lay out the facts. By and large, the conclusions from those facts are left to the American people to make, except when they seem to us to be obvious.
So the materials in here on Saudi Arabia are the materials we consider relevant to our report. The materials in here on Iraq are the materials we consider relevant to the report.
QUESTION: Governor Thompson indicated that policy-makers will ignore your own recommendations, sort of, at their own peril, but some of these recommendations have been out for a long time. For example, the joint inquiry two years ago recommended a director of national intelligence.
Your charter expires in a month. The legislative calendar is very short. You're in an election year. What concrete steps can you take to ensure that your report isn't just on a bookshelf somewhere like so many other blue ribbon commissions?
KEAN: We have been working on that one ever since the day we were created.
We read those other reports. There are a number of commissions who made first-class recommendations. If they'd been implemented, this country would have been better and safer. They were not implemented. They were ignored. The Hart-Rudman commission comes to mind. The Lockerbie commission is another on. All commissions which made good recommendations.
We have determined as a commission not to let that happen.
Now, these are tough recommendations. These are not easy to implement. One of the reasons some of the ones haven't been implemented yet that have been made already is because they're tough, they're not easy to do. A lot of these recommendations require changing around the United States government in ways that take power away from some people and reorganize in other ways. That's tough in this town. Very hard to change government agencies. But we think it's essential and we think it's necessary and we have absolute determination to make the tough recommendations if they were right. And the other thing we decided to do, all 10 of us together, is our charter expires and we go out of business as a commission, we do not go out of business as people.
KEAN: And all 10 of us have decided to keep in touch, to work to implement these recommendations, do everything we can -- whether it's testimony or lobbying or speaking or whatever is necessary -- to let the American people know about these recommendations, know how important they are, our belief that they can save lives, and continue to work as a group long after our charter goes out of existence. And we agreed to meet in a year to determine our progress.
HAMILTON: Tom, may I add a word to that?
I've certainly served on more commissions than any sane man should.
In my experience, commissions have clout and impact relating to two factors.
One is the quality of work done in the report. At the end of the day, this town does examine ideas. And if the professional work that is done in this report is of the highest quality, as we think it is, that will have an impact on decision-makers.
The second think that brings about impact by a commission is the stature of its membership. And I do not think you could exceed the stature of the membership of this commission. We're all, or most of us at least, are former politicians, some of us, as one of my friends said a moment ago in the Congress, we're washed up politicians. That's an accurate description, I guess. But we have a pretty sense and feel of the politics of this town.
If you want to look back on commissions, take a look at the Social Security commission of a few years back and ask yourself whether or not that commission had impact. Believe you me it had impact; it restructured the entire Social Security system.
And even those commissions that are said to simply file their reports on the wall, we built on the commission reports of a dozen commissions. We stand on their shoulders. We are indebted to them. And I think that we cannot judge, we cannot claim at this time that this commission is going to have a big impact. That remains to be seen.
But Tom and I have been enormously pleased by the reception we have had in the Republican and Democratic caucuses, in the House and in the Senate, by the extraordinary reception we had this morning by the president and the vice president of the United States.
HAMILTON: And so we entered the fray here optimistic that we can get some important things done. BOB KERREY, COMMISSION MEMBER: If I could disagree slightly with that, I would call myself hopeful but not optimistic that these changes will be enacted prior to another terrorist attack on the United States, regrettable though that may be.
These are significant changes we're recommending. John Diamond (ph) asked earlier -- he described it as restructuring. It is -- this is not a private sector company we're talking about restructuring here. These are changes in law that we're asking for, changes in law that would give those who apparently have responsibility the authority necessary to carry out their job.
And it will require members of Congress in some cases to give up committee assignments that they currently have that they love. It will require in the government people to give up authority that they currently have over hiring, over budgets. The Department of Defense most notably will be asked to give up substantial authorities, though they will get substantial new authorities.
And in experience in politics, when somebody is asked to give up something, they will come up with all kinds of reasons, other than the most important one, which is they don't want to surrender authority, to cite for why they don't want to do it.
And I am hopeful that the circumstances surrounding this commission will cause Congress to act differently, but I am not optimistic.
And I will say as well that, under the leadership of Governor Kean and Congressman Hamilton, this commission did something extraordinary. I want to emphasize that. We were selected by elected politicians in the most partisan city in the world, and we reached a unanimous conclusion.
And that didn't happen accidentally. This is not the virgin birth you're looking at here. This is 10 people who made a decision that the most important thing for us to do is acquire the unity of purpose that this nation had after we were attacked on 11 September, and we need it again before we're attacked again.
And I hope -- as I said, I'm hopeful that we will acquire, but I'm not, based upon my experience, optimistic that we will.
JAMIE S. GORELICK, COMMISSION MEMBER: We thought about this issue from the very beginning. And we made a couple of decisions which I think are very important.
One, we decided to be transparent, which is different from the way prior commissions have operated. And you can see that in our report. One little factoid is that our footnotes, if set in a normal typeface that a normal person could read, would be a 250-page book on their own.
Our commission -- and I have served on other commissions, most notably the Scowcroft review that dealt with some of these same issues -- most commissions look at policy issues. We started with the facts. And our policy recommendations are tied to those facts and flow ineluctably from them. And so you will find in this report the basis for every single recommendation. And as Jim Thompson says, policy- makers ignore that at their peril.
So we have the facts.
GORELICK: We have 9/11 as a tectonic moment in our history.
Slade Gorton and I visited with an editorial board yesterday, and one of the questions we got was essentially this one: Why will you be any different?
A Pew poll has come out that shows that over 60 percent of the American people, even before the rollout of our report, have been following our work and think it's important.
We think that this issue has resonance in the country. And the proof will be in whether our leaders come together with the same unity of purpose that we have had to create a unity of effort around the counterterrorism mission.
There are bad consequences to being in the middle of a political season and there are also good ones, because everyone who is running for office can be asked, "Do you support these recommendations?"
ROEMER: I will be brief. And I just want to say that I believe the recommendations in this particular report will be different, not so much because of the stature of this commission, nor because of the Pew Trust polling data, but because of the perfect storm that is coming together politically.
The eyes of history are on our backs, the claws of Al Qaeda are on our shoulders, and the grief of 9/11 is still in so many Americans' hearts.
I think those indicators and reasons are all going to come together and compel members of Congress and others to pass what's in this report and to act on this.
We don't have time to waste with another attack coming.
ROEMER: We will do a report card in six to 12 months to assess what the Congress or the White House has done or not done. We will work with the 9/11 families that have been instrumental in their energy and their commitment to create this commission and keep it going on the right track.
And furthermore, with the American people as agents of change, I think they will compel the elected officials and policy-makers in this country to make the significant changes, to make this a country that is safer and more secure in a bipartisan manner. We must take those actions today.
KEAN: Mr. Fielding? FRED F. FIELDING, COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Just add another thing: You know, often in Washington, when a problem occurs and people don't know what to do or it's a meddlesome problem, they appoint a commission. But what we have here today and the action-forcing event of this commission was something quite unprecedented.
And we assumed that responsibility and that that was a charter for us to think surgically but think big. We had a lot of discussions about this. And many people have said, since it started to leak out as to what our recommendations were, they've said, "You know, why do you make recommendations that are so bold? Why do you make recommendations that are going to be very difficult because somebody has to give up something, somebody has to break a cookie jar? Why do you do that? Why don't you do something that you know has a better percentage chance of passing?"
I think after our discussions, the answers that we came to, and the reason you see the recommendations we have, is -- the question is: If not now, when?
So thank you.
KEAN: I might say, by the way, that the conversations that Congressman Hamilton and I have had with the leaders in both houses, House and Senate, both parties, with the president of the United States, with Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards, all those conversations are encouraging. And they give us hope that some of these bold recommendations are, in fact, going to be taken very seriously.
QUESTION: I was struck in the report by the statement about the failure of imagination in our country. And I would just like to know -- you've interviewed many government officials throughout your research -- is that failure subsided? Are we beyond that failure of imagination now? And what is the current state of that?
KEAN: Do you want to take that one?
HAMILTON: I think the failure of imagination we consider to be one of the major failures of the government.
The fact of the matter is we just didn't get it in this country. We could not comprehend that people wanted to kill us, they wanted to hijack airplanes and fly them into big buildings, and important buildings.
Policy-makers did not have the imagination to think of that kind of a scenario. There were hints here and there in a variety of places, but as a whole the government didn't grasp the potential scenario that occurred.
We were often advised, during the course of the hearings, to read very imaginative writers, like Tom Clancy, and encouraged to think outside the box. And I think that's an important part of the counterterrorism effort.
HAMILTON: Have we gotten beyond the lack of imagination? I'm not sure I can answer that today. But I think all of us are aware of the fact that we have to understand we're contending here against a very entrepreneurial, very innovative enemy who know how to penetrate our open society. They understood that they could get a four-inch knife on board, but maybe not a six-inch knife. And they understood a lot of other weaknesses in the system.
So we have to have an imagination strong enough to think about a number of different scenarios, and it is a very key part of a counterterrorism strategy.
KERREY: Let me add to this. Part of the problem here is that it's very difficult to imagine something if the facts are withheld from you. And let me lead with one and use our vice chairman's novelist as the example.
In order to have a debate in this country about how much should we spend on intelligence, here is how it has to go. According to Tom Clancy, we will spend $40 billion this year on intelligence. If Mr. Clancy is correct, I believe that's an insufficient amount. Or I'll have to say, according to Tom Clancy, we spend $6 billion on the National Reconnaissance Office and we spend less on the DCI than we do on the Environmental Protection Agency. And if Mr. Clancy is correct, I believe we spend too little.
We can't have a public debate because the American people aren't entitled by law to know how much money we're spending on all of these agencies. By law. And in the old world, it was because the Soviet Union knew, we didn't want them to know.
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.
(APPLAUSE) 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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda -- 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 Qaeda?
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 Qaeda 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 Qaeda 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.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN ANCHOR: And this is Drew Griffin in the CNN Center in Atlanta, continuing coverage here of today's release that you just heard of the 9/11 report. You've been listening to the briefing by the panel that studied the attacks, the failure to thwart them. And it's made some conclusions that the nation's leaders failed to understand the threat America faced until it became shockingly plain on September 11, 2001.
Much more on the commission's report. It is 567 pages. And among the warnings that some of the commission members made came from Governor Jim Thompson, urging lawmakers who will need to make significant changes in the government to do so and do so quickly. And he says everyone caught unaware on 9/11 has now been warned that this, indeed, could happen again.
Sean Callebs is in Washington, D.C.. He has been -- excuse me, John King in Washington.
And John, you certainly know the ins and outs of the power struggles in Washington and could fill in on whether or not the government agencies that would have to give up power would, indeed, be able to follow this -- this report -- John.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Drew, that will be one of the fascinating debates as we go forward. And we should note, of course, as we go forward with that debate, should the government, should the intelligence structure be reformed and changed significantly, should how Congress handles intelligence be reformed significantly, that debate is playing out a few months, of course, between a hotly-contested presidential election. So this report immediately not only is subject to debate in Washington, but is subject to debate around the country, and in a campaign context as well. One of the key recommendations is create that new director of national intelligence. The White House has not said, yes, it agrees with that. It says it will study that recommendation and does agree that something has to be done to better coordinate intelligence agencies. That will be a debate in the days ahead.
At the White House today, we saw the leaders of this commission, Chairman Kean, and the co-chair, Lee Hamilton, meeting with President Bush. They came to give him an advanced copy of the report. Mr. Bush you see here in the Rose Garden, thanking them for their service.
The president very careful. He said he very much welcomes these recommendations, and that he will study them. But he did not commit to specifically endorsing any of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look forward to studying the recommendations and look forward to working with responsible parties within my administration to move forward on those recommendations. As well, we look forward to working with the Congress on the implementation of -- of ways to do our duty. And the most important duty we have is the security of our fellow countrymen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Quick reaction on the campaign trail, too, from the presumptive Democrat Democratic nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. He is in Detroit today. He has received some briefings on the new report. He says he will get a much more detailed briefing later.
Senator Kerry urging the Congress and administration to embrace these recommendations and act quickly. He also said that if the Congress does not act quickly, and he is elected president, he will make them do so.
GRIFFIN: John, acting quickly, we hear from both sides of the aisle here already that it would be too quick to assume any changes would be made before January and the new Congress. That's certainly not what this commission had in mind.
KING: Well, Drew, the commission says it will lobby for the changes as soon as possible. We are in a presidential election year, also a congressional election year. The legislative calendar for the Congress has almost expired.
They want to go home, pretty much, and campaign for reelection. Trying to get changes like this adopted quickly is a very steep hill, and everyone on the commission realizes that. They say they will push for it, but trying to get that done, embraced by the president and signed into law, so you could have changes in place by early next year, that is a very steep hill I think on this day most in Washington would conclude unlikely to happen -- Drew.
GRIFFIN: John, five -- five members of this commission Democrats, five Republicans. They were trying to be nonpolitical in their nature. Will it remain that way as we move on into this political season, and the commission members go out and try to basically sell their report?
KING: Very interesting. And I think everyone in Washington here tips their hat to these commission members, and people around the country certainly should. This report is quite exhaustive. It is a fascinating narrative as to how the attacks took place and what these commissioners believe are the problems within the government.
You saw even in that press conference everyone trying to say they will not get involved in the campaign from a partisan standpoint. They want to keep their neutrality, if you will, and push for the recommendations, not a specific candidate. But there are some disagreements of nuance, anyway, between the Democrats and the Republicans on that commission.
I think the interesting thing will be if a member of the commission, say a Democrat, believes it is the Republicans, either in Congress or at the White House, holding up action on the recommendations, will that -- will that bipartisan flavor and spirit we see today, will that break down? That will be something to watch in the weeks ahead -- Drew.
GRIFFIN: John, we want to go from the Capitol to the campaign trail now. We do have comments from Senator John Kerry on the 9/11 Commission release. This is a statement that he made in Detroit after he spoke with the National Urban League.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What this report has underlined, which is the separation of different duties and responsibilities within the intelligence community, the bottom line is that this is not a time for bickering. This is not a time for politics.
When it comes to protecting our security in the homeland, there are no Democrats, there are no Republicans. There are just Americans, and there is America. And there is the American interest. And there are imperatives that we must move on rapidly.
This is a time to come together. It's a time for bipartisan solutions. It's a time to act.
Mark my words, if I am elected president and there still has not been sufficient progress rapidly in these next months on these issues, then I will lead. I will lead immediately by convening an emergency security summit that brings together leading Democratic and Republican members of Congress, as well as the leaders of the agencies that play a vital role. And we will put together the rapid agenda necessary, the administrative and legislative changes necessary to protect this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP) GRIFFIN: John Kerry's comments following the release of a 9/11 Commission report which happened just about one hour ago. We'll have much more in our continuing coverage of this release at the top of the hour with "LIVE FROM." Kyra Phillips and Miles O'Brien will have that for you.
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