MARGARET WARNER: For more on these latest findings, and today's testimony, we're joined by the chairman of the commission, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, and the co-chair, former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs committee, Lee Hamilton.
Welcome, gentlemen once again. Your conclusion today in the staff statement was-- and I quote-- "we have no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaida cooperated on attacks against the United States." Chairman Kean, are you unanimous in that conclusion and what makes you so sure?
THOMAS KEAN: Well, first of all, this is a staff report. It's not the report of the commission or the commissioners as yet. But the staff in their investigation has found that, yes, there were contacts between Iraq and al-Qaida, a number of them, some of them a little shadowy. They were definitely there. But as far as any evidence that Saddam Hussein was in any way involved in the attack on 9/11, it just isn't there.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Hamilton, you agree with that, do you?
LEE HAMILTON: Yes, I do.
MARGARET WARNER: What about the testimony that we played that the U.S. Attorney, Mr. Fitzgerald, was commenting actually on an indictment from '98 about sort of least an understanding between al-Qaida and the government of Saddam Hussein about not doing operations against each other, maybe in the future collaborating. Where does that fit in?
LEE HAMILTON: I don't think there's any doubt but that there were some contacts between Saddam Hussein's government and al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden's people. But our finding relates to a collaborative effort, the lack of evidence for a collaborative effort to attack the United States. We're not saying that there were no contacts of any kind or description.
We're quite sure on the basis of the evidence we have that there was not an operational tie between Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi government on the one hand and Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida on the other with regard to attacks on the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: And Chairman Kean, just one more question on this. The much discussed purported meeting between Mohammad Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in April of 2001 the staff statement says based on cell phone records and travel records that it believes that definitely did not occur. Do you concur in that?
THOMAS KEAN: Yeah, it would seem that Mohammad Atta from all the records we have was in the United States at that time. If he got over to Prague he did it -- out and back in a very short time. The credible evidence seems to be that he was in the United States at that time.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Hamilton let's go to the details of the plot. There was a lot of new information today that there were originally maybe ten targets, the deep involvement of Osama bin Laden in the planning, the fact that the date of 9/11 wasn't really set until two or three weeks beforehand. One, where does all that information come from and what lessons do you draw from that?
LEE HAMILTON: Well, the lesson I draw from it is that al-Qaida is a very sophisticated, very careful, very patient, highly skilled organization. This attack was quite a remarkable feat of planning and execution. So the huge lesson that comes out of that very detailed description that we had this afternoon or this morning is the kind of enemy that we confront.
They're exceedingly careful, they're highly trained. They're well educated. They're very sophisticated. They know exactly what they want to do. And I think the nature of the enemy, as it were, is the big lesson as we look at the details of this plot.
MARGARET WARNER: What would you add to that, Tom Kean?
THOMAS KEAN: Well, this organization had problems. This plot didn't go smoothly. They had problems getting people into the United States. And some of the operatives didn't get in. They had problems getting people flight training. In fact some of the people took the money and then didn't take the training.
They had disputes in their own leadership between perhaps Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Osama bin Laden. They had disputes among the hijackers themselves. They thought for a while they were going to lose a pilot. Probably they had Moussaoui being trained to be a substitute pilot. But in spite of all these problems, they were able to pull it off. That shows leadership. It shows flexibility and that we have a very serious enemy out there.
MARGARET WARNER: Does it also show that, you know, when the intelligence intercepts or chatter that they died down kind of spring to midsummer of '01 that if anyone in the U.S. Government thought the threat had died down, of course, they were dead wrong --
LEE HAMILTON: Well, they were. We were impressed, I think all of us, that -- all of us, the Congress, the executive branch, the American people, the intelligence community -- just did not realize the gravity of the threat that we confronted; not only that, we didn't have the imagination to think that they would attack us by flying an airplane into the World Trade Towers and the Pentagon.
Looking back, of course, you can see all of these signals that we missed. I lived through that period. I was in the Congress in that period. And I just think all of us missed how severe this threat was, even though you had had a number of attacks on Americans in the decade or more prior to Sept. 11.
MARGARET WARNER: Governor Kean, one new piece of information that came out and we played some of it in the report which apparently was new to you all -- you just got it in the last two or three weeks --was that we've always been told the intelligence chatter at that time focused on the likelihood of an attack overseas, that there was a CIA source and a CIA report in June of '01 that Khalid Sheik Mohammed was planning attacks in the U.S. and was spending operatives to the U.S.
Why do you think that didn't make its way up the chain of command and in fact to the president in that famous daily briefing of Aug. 6, '01?
THOMAS KEAN: Well, you know, I'll say my personal opinion. That is that both presidents, that we're studying, both President Clinton and President Bush, were not well served by the intelligence they received. We had all the information somewhere, either in one intelligence agency or another to link Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida with this whole series of attacks.
I mean, as Commissioner Kerry said today, if we had known in Mogadishu that Blackhawk Down was about al-Qaida, if we had recognized all these other attacks up through the Cole were really al-Qaida -- if we had read what Osama bin Laden said which basically is every Arab has a duty to kill Americans, every Muslim -- if we had put all that together plus with the kind of information you just said, plus the tidbits that were coming in from one area of the world or another, we had all the information but we never put it together.
Connecting the dots is the word people use. We never put all that information together. And therefore we were taken unawares. We were asleep.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Hamilton, a couple of the people who testified before you today, CIA and an FBI official said since 9/11 some attacks have been thwarted including aviation attacks. Have you all developed independent, perhaps classified evidence, to support that?
LEE HAMILTON: I think we accept that as a commission. We've heard it many times in the course of the 1100 witnesses or more that we have interviewed. It's hard to prove a negative, of course. But we do have a lot of leads and have had a lot of leads. We've had a lot of people under surveillance monitoring them quite carefully. We have a pretty good understanding now of how this vast network of al-Qaida operates.
MARGARET WARNER: But I mean, if I can interrupt you, do you all see things that we don't hear about publicly that actually persuade you that there's been... there have been solid... there's solid information that there were attacks in the works?
LEE HAMILTON: Well, I can't point to any specific thing where we blocked it except the ones that are publicly very well known: Like the attack on the Los Angeles Airport and some others. But I think there isn't any doubt in our mind that we have in fact blocked some of these attacks.
We have, after all, a remarkable record since 9/11. There have been no attacks in the United States now since that date. And we're exceedingly fortunate there. And I think part of that can be attributed to our increased awareness, our increased preparedness in thwarting a terrorist attack.
MARGARET WARNER: Gov. Kean, you asked a number of questions today of some of the witnesses about whether there are still al-Qaida cells operating in the U.S., the likelihood of a big attack. What conclusion did you draw from the answers you got?
THOMAS KEAN: Well, I never got a straight answer on whether people identified al-Qaida cells although the suspicion obviously was that there are al-Qaida cells operating out there. What every witness we've seen not only at this hearing but at previous hearings -- every knowledgeable witness says there is another major attack being planned as we speak, and there is another one coming.
And nobody seems to know obviously where or when. But this is an enemy who is determined to do another major attack, who is determined to kill Americans and we've got to keep our guard up. We've got to be vigilant because it's coming.
MARGARET WARNER: Chairman, your report is, of course, due next month. There have been a couple of news accounts concerning a couple of matters that I'd like to ask you about. One is that perhaps despite your desire to have it be a unanimous report that it may not be.
THOMAS KEAN: Well, it's hard to tell yet. I think every commissioner would like it to be unanimous. I think every commissioner would work toward that end. Now whether as we go through a whole series of very complicated recommendations some commissioner finds in conscience that they can't vote for that recommendation, that's possible.
But I think we're working very well together. Five Republicans and five Democrats don't usually work very well together in this town. But we're working well together. We'd like to make it unanimous. We're going to do our best to do that.
MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Hamilton, do you think it will be unanimous?
LEE HAMILTON: Well, that's our goal. We have had remarkable leadership under Chairman Kean. I don't have any doubt at all that the commissioners want it to be solid unanimous. We all understand that if our recommendations are going to have any currency in this town that it cannot be recommendations that break along party lines.
We're either going to have to have a unanimous report or something very close to it. I would make the prediction, however, that I think most of our recommendations will be unanimously supported.
MARGARET WARNER: And Chairman Kean, one final question to you. You were quoted in the Wall Street Journal this week as having concerns that the classified information on which this report is based will not be released. What's the status of that?
THOMAS KEAN: Well, it's a question of when it will be released. If it's classified, it's not up to us. The commission can do very little about that. That has to be declassified by the White House and I would hope a lot of it would be. I think all of us on the commission would recommend that a lot of it be declassified but that's not something we have control over. We'll suggest it. But somebody else has got to make that decision.
MARGARET WARNER: Thank you, Mr. Kean, and Mr. Hamilton.
LEE HAMILTON: Thank you.