The video for this story is not available, but you can still read the transcript below.
No image

Background: Warnings and Worries

Kwame Holman reports on terrorism warnings before and after September 11th.

Read the Full Transcript


    From the White House to the Pentagon to the Capitol, official Washington reacted today to the controversy over terror warnings.

    This morning, The New York Times reported Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller were told of an FBI agent's concern over suspicious pilot training within days after the September terror attacks, but did not tell President Bush. The Phoenix-based agent alerted FBI headquarters that Islamic militants were trying to gain access to U.S. flight schools. The agent briefed Senators in a closed session at the Capitol this afternoon.

    At the White House, spokesman Ari Fleischer was asked if the President should have been informed about the memo sooner.


    Does the President not see a problem that this memo was out there, that the FBI and the Attorney General at least were briefed broadly about these suspicions, and they were not communicated to the White House or to the President until a week or two ago?


    Kelly, I don't think anybody needed a memo after September 11 to know that there were general suspicions that people were in flight schools. Everybody knew it as a result of September 11.


    The flap about the memo comes as high-level officials continue to warn of possible future attacks.

    Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge told a group of business executives today that it would be naive to think the United States now is immune from suicide bombings or other attacks.


    While we prepare for another possible terrorist attack, we need to understand that it is really not a question of if, but a question of when. The Office of Homeland Security operates on the assumption that this sophisticated, persistent terrorist organization that has cells all over the world, that has struck us on September 11 in the most horrific kind of way, will do it again at some point in time. We operate on that assumption.


    Ridge said the nation's terror status remains at yellow, an elevated state of alert. Leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were briefed late today by Attorney General John Ashcroft.

    Afterward, Florida Democrat Bob Graham was asked about a report the Islamic group Hezbollah might target the United States.

  • SEN. BOB GRAHAM, Chairman, Intelligence Committee:

    What we have in terms of targeting is the general increase of the threat, a level somewhat similar unfortunately to what we were hearing in July and August. We know that Hezbollah, while it has not attacked the United States within our homeland, has attacked U.S. interests abroad and has operatives in the United States who have been trained and recruited for the purpose of carrying out terrorist activities.


    Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his comments about possible terrorist use of nuclear weapons before a Senate subcommittee this morning.


    With respect to the nature of the weapons, there's no question but that we will continue to be surprised in the sense that who would have… if you think about taking one of our airliners filled with our people and using it as a missile to fly it into the World Trade Center or the Pentagon, that is a new technique of terrorism. We can expect other new techniques of terrorism.

    The problem I see, and it's a very serious one, is that there has been a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the terrorist networks have close linkages with terrorist states, the states that are on the worldwide known terrorist list– Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, North Korea, one or two others. Now those countries have been developing weapons of mass destruction for some time. They are testing and weaponized chemical and biological weapons. They are aggressively trying to get nuclear weapons, we know that.


    Two more administration officials appeared before another Senate panel. They, too, were quizzed about the pre-9/11 memos and intelligence.

    But first, Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings criticized the idea of arming airline pilots.

  • SEN. FRITZ HOLLINGS, Chairman, Commerce Committee:

    First the pilots wanted guns. "No, we'll give 'em stun guns." Then the flight attendants wanted metal bars, 18 inches long, crowbars. And now I guess that we're going to give the passengers machetes and all… and let them all just fight it out in the cabin. If I was a terrorist, I'd say, "whoopee, we don't have to worry about all this security and your EDS system and whatever else. They've got all the weapons on board for me. All I got to do is grab a bunch of them and take the plane over."


    Democratic Senators then pressed Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta for answers about the FBI memos and warnings gathered before September 11.

    NORMAN MINETA, Secretary of Transportation: In reviewing all of those reports, they really are of generalized information gleaned from the intelligence reports, and very little in terms of specificity about the method or kind of things that might take place.

    And I remember asking one time after… soon after the 11th of September, "Is there a way of taking all the pieces of information that we have heard since I've been here on the 20th of January, and putting those dots together to have anything point to anything?" Very, very difficult to do that.

    SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) Oregon: Yesterday's Wall Street Journal, Mr. Secretary, reported that the FBI informed the FAA a week before September 11 of the arrest of Mr. Moussaoui, the terrorist who wanted to learn obviously to fly large planes. The FAA chose not to pass along this information to the airlines, I gather, because the individual was arrested.


    The FBI sent the FAA the following information in a cable June 5. It was a classified cable, meaning its contents were not to be widely shared. It said that Moussaoui's arrest was part of an ongoing FBI investigation. It stated that the only suspect was in custody, indicating any threat that he might have created had been removed.

    Nothing in the cable indicated that an event was imminent. The cable it sent to the FAA simply said that Mr. Moussaoui wanted to learn how to, "take off and land a 747." It did not, and I repeat it did not say that he only wanted to learn how to take off, and was not interested in learning how to land. The cable to the FAA said, rightly or wrongly, the only pilot training he wanted was how to take off and land. So take off and landing are the only two things that a suicide bomber is not interested in. So based on the nature of all this information, the FAA decided the threat was general and nonspecific enough that it would wait for further information from the FBI before it should notify stakeholders in the aviation community.


    Mineta said the various agencies monitoring threats to airline security now participate in twice a day secure phone calls.