Day of Horror
[Sorry, the video for this story has expired, but you can still read the transcript below. ]
MARGARET WARNER: For more on today’s hearing, we’re joined by two 9/11 commissioners. John Lehman, former navy secretary in the Reagan administration. And Jamie Gorelick served as Defense Department general counsel and the deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration. Welcome back to you both.
John Lehman, what do you think most or best explains the failure of the civilian and military agencies to respond effectively as these hijackings unfolded?
JOHN LEHMAN: I think it’s a failure of the effectiveness of our entire intelligence apparatus. It’s broken. It’s dysfunctional. Its purpose is to gather intelligence and sort out the important and the critical from the unimportant and the background noise.
Time and again in every one of your hearings, our hearings, you have seen that it failed to do this. It failed to bring to the attention of the top policy makers from the president on down through the military and the domestic security agencies the analysis that should have been done to highlight the threat that al-Qaida had become, was becoming and enable policies to be made by FAA and changes to protocols to be made by NORAD and more alert aircraft as well as national policy to do something about al-Qaida. This was a huge intelligence failure that permeates every part of this tragedy.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that where you’d pinpoint it, Commissioner Gorelick, that essentially these agencies never had the input, the intelligence input to make them get prepared for something like this?
JAMIE GORELICK: I think that’s true, and I would agree with John and his assessment. I would just say, though, that, you know, agencies need to be good consumers of intelligence.
If you just take the FAA and NORAD, who we had before us today, they could have done a better job, in my view, of asking for intelligence, of scouring the landscape, of saying what threats are out there.
I mean, NORAD has the job, among its other jobs, of protecting the airspace above the United States , and it says, well, we were postured to look out.
Well, that’s a choice that it’s made based upon its own assessment and the military’s assessment of the dangers. So I would agree with John, but I don’t hold the other elements of the government blameless either.
MARGARET WARNER: You both were in the Defense Department, and Commissioner Lehman, going back to you, how do you explain NORAD’s inability to respond?
I mean, we heard stories today at one point finally when only jets were scrambled they didn’t know which direction to go, there was the confusion over the shoot-down order, which Vice President Cheney had finally given too late, but it never got through to the fighter pilots.
I mean, was the Department of Defense really equipped with this big agency created during the Cold War to defend the airspace of the United States ?
JOHN LEHMAN: Well, they were not equipped. They were not prepared. And they had not trained. They had not foreseen.
I agree with Jamie that just because the intelligence community has not put in front of their desk the fact that al-Qaida was a threat does not mean they should not have known that, and that the threat of aircraft used as missiles was not very real. Alan Dulles said that 80 percent of all good intelligence is public information. They’ve got to think for themselves.
They never, never really got themselves organized to deal with the post-Cold War era, a different era with different kinds of threats. They were focused and remained, their exercising remained focused on the threats of incoming missile, incoming bombers. And to the extent they did exercise about hijackings, it was always foreign hijackings that were headed towards the United States . Everything was outward-looking.
MARGARET WARNER: Jamie Gorelick, you were in the Defense Department, as I recall, or certainly involved in the millennium plot business, and at that point, there were some anticipation that there might be aircraft used, weren’t there?
JAMIE GORELICK: Yes. I was well out of both the Defense Department and the Justice Department by the millennium. I left government in early 1997.
MARGARET WARNER: Sorry.
JAMIE GORELICK: But we have studied the millennium, and one of the lessons you learned from studying the millennium and the response of the government, at least one of the lessons I’ve learned from it, is that when a government agencies aren’t naturally sharing information, when they are in old modes of operation, as John has said, one of the ways of getting them shaken from those old paradigms is to bring them together and knock heads. And that’s what was done during the millennium.
Now, it’s very difficult to know in any linear fashion whether that produced the good results that occurred in that period, but you know, one of the examples we talked about today was the fact that the FAA’s representatives at a very low level who went to White House meetings in the summer of threat didn’t come back with any sense of urgency and didn’t tell anybody outside of their offices.
So the heads of the FAA, the secretary of transportation, had no knowledge and without that knowledge you really can’t expect them to say, are we prepared. He has nothing to prompt the question.
MARGARET WARNER: Commissioner Lehman, you said today, you made a rather impassioned statement. You said, “If there’s one real inescapable failure, it’s the failure of performance of the headquarters of the FAA,” What most concerned you about that?
JOHN LEHMAN: Well, I think that it is a failure that goes back before this crisis. It was a failure that was revealed in the hearings we had a year ago, over a year ago in May, that there did not seem to be any interest in the intelligence issues and a kind of a sense that this was not their business.
Secretary Mineta that told us that he had never… nobody had ever told him anything about the possibility of aircraft being used as missiles, and Jane Garvey, the administrator, told us the same thing.
Well, it turns out that our staff demonstrated that indeed those very kinds of warnings were sent to their office but were winnowed out by their staffs presumably because they didn’t place a very high value on reading daily intelligence reports.
Then on the day of 9/11, there was failure after failure . The system that the FAA had organized, the protocols required, everything to go forward up to headquarters for approval before things could be done, even notifying the military, had to be done after checking with headquarters. Every time from, as you heard witnesses today and read our report, things were set up to the headquarters, nothing happened, nothing came back, and to me that’s inexcusable.
MARGARET WARNER: Commissioner Gorelick, there was a difference of opinion between your staff and the head of NORAD, General Eberhart. He said, “If we had been given — alerted soon enough, we could have intercepted and shot down all four planes.” Your staff report made clear they didn’t agree with that. What is your view of that?
JAMIE GORELICK: You know, if you really listen to what he said, he didn’t say that. John and I were talking about this earlier. He said, if you had in place all the fixes that you now have and you had them in place at the time, then…
MARGARET WARNER: Now.
JAMIE GORELICK: Then with the warning that NORAD had, it could have intercepted the planes. Well, that’s a very big if. I don’t think he could answer the question as you put it affirmatively. He could not have said we would have been able to intercept those planes just based on earlier notice.
MARGARET WARNER: So do you think that if the same thing were to happen and– we know it’s unlikely that four cockpits would be breached, given the fact they’re all locked now and so on– but if that situation were to present itself, how confident are you that the fixes have been made and that the whole system would respond, not only differently, but effectively?
JAMIE GORELICK: Margaret, across the board, the agencies of government have told our commission that they have made changes and that many things are much better and they are able to protect us. But as Lee Hamilton said today in the press conference after the hearing, you know, we have our doubts and our reservations.
And even today we heard both advice from some of the government witnesses, particularly at the FAA saying, well, there are an awful lot of agencies that have to work together, and we’re not sure whether they are.
And we heard an example from very recently of a not pretty set of communications that could have led to a lot of harm if the aircraft in issue had really been bent on harming us. So I guess we would say progress but still some concern on our part.
MARGARET WARNER: Commissioner Lehman, what’s your view on that?
JOHN LEHMAN: I totally agree with Jamie on that. Mr. Bulger today, our witness who is no longer at the FAA, has said that, has urged us to look into the issue of the exercising and protocols and communications between the new agencies, like DSA that have now taken over an important part of FAA’s mission. The Pentagon, the NMCC and…
MARGARET WARNER: That’s the military command center.
JOHN LEHMAN: That’s right, the military command center. Still to this day there have been no exercises to sort out the communications issues and, you know, that’s kind of inexcusable. That needs to be seen to.
Yes, we’re safer today. Yes, as Bulger also said, there’s 16,000 pairs of eyes now among the controllers that are spring loaded to find anything that’s deviating in the air system. That’s the first line of defense. But we have not sorted out the need to exercise the command and control issues and the communications.
MARGARET WARNER: Commissioner Gorelick, when Commissioners Kean and Hamilton had their press conference, they offered some interesting information about President Bush’s own communication problems. Can you shed any further light on that? Was this while they were still on the ground, before they got back on Air Force One? Or was this on Air Force One?
JAMIE GORELICK: On Air Force One, the president was unable to reach most of the people or at least many of the people whom he tried to reach. He could not functionally lead the government from Air Force One at a time of great national stress and national emergency.
He told us when we interviewed him that this was a source of enormous frustration, as you can imagine it would be. He gave instructions and orders for that to be fixed. We had some testimony about that today. That’s not a good situation.
MARGARET WARNER: Jamie Gorelick, John Lehman, thank you both.
JAMIE GORELICK: Our pleasure.
JOHN LEHMAN: Thank you.