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Cohen, Schultz, Baker on Today's Terrorist Act

Aired September 11, 2001 - 15:00   ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Want to now try to show you some live pictures now of lower Manhattan at this hour. Again, you still see a thick plume of smoke there. Aaron Brown, standing by again in his vantage point on a rooftop in New York City now.

Aaron, what are you seeing?

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joie, thank you. We can see, as our viewers can see, the smoke continues to billow out of the Trade Center building six hours -- more than six hours after the planes hit. Fifty-thousand people going to work in those buildings. We're joined now on the form by Former Secretary of State James Baker and Former Defense Secretary William Cohen.

Mr. Baker, let me begin with you. You've been involved in some extraordinary events in the course of your government service. Can you give us any sense at all of what you expect it is like in the situation room right now?

JAMES BAKER, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I'm sure that it's extraordinarily busy, and it is a very -- is really a very sorrowful day for our country. We've lost many, many innocent civilians to what is -- what can only be characterized as a very dastardly and cowardly act, a terribly tragic day for America.

But I really sense, Aaron, that we are -- we may be entering a bit of a new era, an era where we have been worried in the past about terrorism against America. We've always been able to handle it. We obviously were not in a position to handle it today. We do not know all of the facts, but we can -- we can, I think, suppose and surmise a few things. And one of those is that it took a fairly, I think, sophisticated and complicated planning apparatus to plan and carry out these events.

BROWN: And Secretary Cohen, not a lot of groups in the world would be capable of this degree of sophistication, would have the financing, the wherewithal to pull this off, would they?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I think that's correct. We don't know at this point exactly which group it is, but there aren't many that would have this degree of sophistication, the ability to calibrate it so that you would have nearly simultaneous attacks on three important symbols and sites in the United States.

BROWN: And, sir, when we talk about not very many, are we talking about a handful, three or four, a dozen -- what do we mean?

COHEN: I think we're talking about a handful of groups that would have this capability. Again, we don't know all of the facts yet, in terms of how they were able to gain access to the aircraft, what sort of weapons they had onboard. Much of that information, hopefully, will be forthcoming in the next few weeks.

But at this point, we simply have to gather all of the information we can to make sure that we can carry out President Bush's vow, to hunt down and punish those responsible for this, what Jim Baker just said, dastardly act. There are few acts in our history that certainly measure up to the magnitude of the loss of life and what it means to this country.

And I think that Jim Baker had it right. We are entering a new period and it's going to cause us to focus our efforts, in terms of reconciling what kind of society we can continue to have, where we have a persistent threat against innocent civilians in a Democratic society. We're going to have to engage in a very constructive and intense debate on how we measure the trade-offs between protecting our people and protecting our civil liberties. And that's a debate that has yet to the begin in earnest, but I'm sure that it will.

BROWN: We now know that the president is in Nebraska, that he's -- that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Florida this morning, where he was to give a speech on education to Louisiana. He's now in Nebraska, participating in a national security briefing. Former Secretary of State George Schultz is with us as well. Mr. Secretary, I assume that most of the conversation is going from Washington to the president. What are they telling him, would you guess?

GEORGE SCHULTZ, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't know what we're telling him, but I know how I feel about this. First of all, there has been an act of war of the worst kind, namely, against civilians, designed to disrupt and demoralize civilian life, as well as an act of war against the Pentagon. We know that this was carried out by an organization big enough to do something rather complex and complicated, so we have to know who those people are and we have to go after them. But we have to do more than that.

On the one hand, we have to learn what's coming and preempt it, and not be afraid to preempt potential terrorist acts against us. Then we have to look to our own security and give ourselves a kind of reassurance that we deserve, that we're doing the things necessary so we have our children back to our schools, our government officials back in their offices, and these people are not able to stop a resilient powerful, strong country, as we are.

BROWN: Mr. Schultz, you said we ought not be afraid to preempt it. Have we been afraid to preempt it?

SCHULTZ: It's hard to preempt. Well, we've done some in the past. It's hard to preempt because you have to know who it is you're going after very clearly, and have the right kind of intelligence. But it only underlines the importance of strong intelligence -- not only electronic intelligence and photography and so on, but we have to have very capable human intelligence to know and be able to preempt these sorts of things.

BROWN: Secretary Cohen, you were in office, if memory serves me correctly, when the Cole was attacked. Obviously, this is a much more horrific event. Did the Cole incident flash back in your mind?

COHEN: It flashed backed in my mind, but also the bombings in east Africa, I see even more vividly before me, because they were, again, nearly simultaneous explosions directed against innocent civilians. And to follow up on what Secretary Schultz just mentioned, we indeed did gather together and vow to have the long arm of justice reach out and hunt those down who are responsible for it, but we also (UNINTELLIGIBLE). That was the basis on our attack in Afghanistan, when we had intelligence that there was to be a gathering of...


BROWN: Well, we're obviously having a lot of crosstalk and technical problem. We'll sort it out and we'll try and get our guests back.

We mentioned a moment ago, there were 50,000 people who come to work each day at the World Trade Center. There are literally tens of thousands more who come into the city, each of them affected. But the effect of this, we suspect, is much broader than that, that it will affect everyone in the country. Former Secretary of State George Schultz says American life been changed forever seems a bit farther than I want to go, but -- American life been changed today?

SCHULTZ: American life will pick up. We have to look to our security, obviously, and be careful about it. But we're not going to allow these terrible people to change our way of life. They just aren't going to be able to do it. We'll defend ourselves adequately, we will find out who they are. We will get rid of them and we'll learn how to preempt these attacks. But we're not going to change our way of life because of these people. I reject that entirely.

BROWN: And, so, we respond, and then people get on airplanes again with the same sense of security that they had before. People go to the trade center with the same sense of security they had before.

SCHULTZ: I'm afraid it will be a while before they go to the trade center.


SCHULTZ: But as far as the use of commercial aircraft are concerned, yes, I think we'll have our aircraft back in operation. We'll have to have tightened and be very careful, as people get on these planes so that we feel secure that we've done everything possible to keep people off who, obviously, took over a plane. They did it very skillfully. The pilots apparently weren't able to put out any kind of an SOS and they must have been able to fly the plane. So we're dealing with an organized group. They have to have a safe haven somewhere that allows them to do these things. So let's go after them.

BROWN: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us today.

Former Secretary of State George Schultz, James Baker, former secretary of state as well, and secretary of the treasure. And William Cohen, former senator from Maine and secretary of defense in the Clinton administration all joining in and all offering similar messages: that what happened today cannot be allowed to change the basic core of American life, and that the United States must hold accountable and responsible not simply those who carried out these actions in New York and in Washington, and perhaps another plane as well, the plane that crashed in Pittsburgh, but also any government that has turned a blind eye to terrorist groups, that has offered them safe haven or support, financial, physical support, whatever -- that they must be held accountable as well.

James Kallstrom, a former FBI here in New York, joins us. He's in Delaware.

Mr. Kallstrom, can you hear me?


BROWN: What are you hearing? Are you hearing things now? Do you have a network of people who are calling in or that you're calling, who are telling you what they're finding out?

KALLSTROM: Well, I certainly have a network of friends and they're busy doing their work, not calling me. The only people calling me right now are the news media.

BROWN: OK. What's going through your mind? What are the questions, beyond the most obvious, who did this? What is it that you want to know?

KALLSTROM: First off, just the immense tragedy of this event and the desire to save as many people as we can save in this terrible, terrible situation.

Second thought is that, you know, since '93, with the bombing of the World Trade Center, the first time, people that hate us and hate what we stand for and hate our way of life have demonstrated that over and over again. I don't have to go through all of the different events, but we all know what they are. And today they've brought that terrible hatred to the United States of America. And we, as a country, as a nation, need to stand together.

I agree totally with George Schultz, who I admire tremendously, that we need to go -- find out who these people are and, with respect to collateral damage, we need to not let this happen again.

And I think this puts about five exclamation points on why we in this country need a sophisticated, dedicated, high-morale team of intelligence agencies and law enforcement that work together. Not that that -- if it was any better than it was the last five years, I'm not saying it wasn't good, but it needs to be the best and continues to be the best. BROWN: So you're suggesting it has not been good enough?

KALLSTROM: Well, in a free society, you know, it's virtually impossible to know everything about every bunch of cowards and crazy people that populate the world, unfortunately. But we need to get as close to that as possible without changing our way of life. And I think that exclamation point has just -- hits home today, and we need to stop this, we need not to change our way of life. We need to find out who did this.

And I will tell you right now, that's a short list of people. And our government knows pretty much what that short list is, they're putting the final touches, I am sure, and well over the course of the next few hours, next few days, and we need to do something about it.

BROWN: Sir, thank you for your time today. I appreciate you joining us.

KALLSTROM: Thank you.

BROWN: We have shown you a number of times the video of this second plane that at 9:08 hit the Trade Center.

We have, I believe, some still pictures of that plane as it moved. I am seeing them for the first time with you, so bear with us.

You can see that in the first shot the plane approaching the Trade Center. And here in the second frame you can see in the front -- I believe what we saw there was the plumes of smoke and fire from the first -- from the hit on the first building. The plane, now, visibly closer, visibly closer to the Trade Center building. It is just the most extraordinary and painful thing to look at because you know what's happening.

Mr. Kallstrom, are you able to see these pictures, by the way?

Mr. Kallstrom?


BROWN. Were you able to see those?

KALLSTROM: I was able to see that, yes.

BROWN: As you watch that, as you have seen that, I hear -- the anger builds, doesn't it?

KALLSTROM: It does. It certainly does build. I mean, it's unbelievable, it's unbelievable.

BROWN: I mean, we're trained, in many ways, both of us, by profession, not to use words like "unbelievable," and then you confront moments like this where, in fact, "unbelievable" is about the only word that seems to apply.

KALLSTROM: Yes, I just can't -- having lived through the tragedy of TWA Flight 800, which is as sad as that was, I mean, this is geometrically worse. And just thinking about the personal terror of all the people involved in this, the people on those planes, I am sure there's teenagers and babies and adults and just normal people on those airplanes that suffered tremendous terrorism.

BROWN: Yes, sir, it is hard to imagine what it must have been like on those four airplanes because, while the attacks on the -- excuse me -- on the buildings themselves happened quite quickly, these people in these airplanes were aware that something horrible was happening for perhaps an hour; the flight from Boston to New York, right around an hour, a little bit less. Clearly, they knew this was -- something horrible was -- had come into their lives.

KALLSTROM: That's probably...

BROWN: And they knew it for a long time.

KALLSTROM: That's probably true.

And think about the fact that people obviously took control of the plane and knew something about flying one of these sophisticated fly-by-wire airplanes. I don't know how much they knew. They knew enough, obviously, to crash it into the building.

I can't imagine any American pilot crashing an airplane into one of these buildings. Even with a gun to their head, they wouldn't do that.

BROWN: I was thinking exactly the same thing, that it is unimaginable to me, at least, that any pilot, no matter the circumstance, would have followed that order, crashed that plane into this building or that building. I don't know what they would have done, how they would have dealt with it, but it is unimaginable that they would have followed that order.

KALLSTROM: So you've got people that not only are willing to give up their lives for just a horrendously, in my view, stupid, cowardly act, but are sophisticated enough to fly a modern jet plane.

BROWN: It was described by Secretary of State Schultz, and I don't know if you heard it, as an "act of war" against the United States. Do you see this as an act of war?

KALLSTROM: I think it's clearly an act of war. I think it's -- in many ways, it's a different time, but it's everything that Pearl Harbor was and more. It just puts an exclamation point next to this dangerous world we live in. And the inability to appease people that are this demented with rhetoric, it's -- hasn't worked, it's not going to work.

We can see what happened today. All peace-loving people of the world, all people that believe in democracy and freedom, need to stand against this. Any country that harbors or aids this type of activity anywhere in the world needs to declare which side they're on and we need to seriously do something about this. And I believe we will.

BROWN: Mr. Kallstrom, thank you for joining us.



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