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America Under Attack: Karen Hughes Delivers Remarks on Terrorist Attacks

Aired September 11, 2001 - 15:47   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm sorry. We're not going to go to George Terwilliger. We're going to go to White House spokeswoman, counselor Karen Hughes in Omaha.


KAREN HUGHES, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT BUSH: ... and I'm here to update you all on the activities of the federal government in response to this morning's attacks on our country.

As you heard from President Bush a short time ago, the federal government is acting to help local communities with search and rescue and emergency management operations, to take all appropriate precautions to protect our citizens, and to identify those responsible for these despicable attacks on the American people.

While some federal buildings have been evacuated for security reasons and to protect our workers, your federal government continues to function effectively. We have a federal emergency response plan, and at President Bush's direction we are implementing it. We began to implement it immediately after the first attack in New York this morning.

We contacted American forces and embassies throughout the world and placed them on high alert. The United States Secret Service immediately secured the president, the vice president and the speaker of the House, and they are all safe. They have also secured members of the national security team, the president's Cabinet and senior staff.

As you know, President Bush was in Sarasota, Florida, when the first attack occurred this morning. Air Force One has now landed at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, and the president is in a secure location. He is in continuous communication with the vice president and key members of his Cabinet and national security team.

Vice President Cheney and our national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, are in a secure facility at the White House. I have just come from there. The secretary of transportation and other members of our White House senior staff are gathered at a command center there, and we are coordinating with other branches of our federal government. The secretary of defense remains at the Pentagon and the secretary of state is en route back to Washington from his trip to South America.

President Bush is conducting a meeting of the National Security Council as we speak. They are meeting President Bush from his location and other members from different locations in Washington and other locations.

As many of you have been reporting, the Federal Aviation Administration ordered all airports closed, and all planes which were in the air were directed to land at the nearest airport. International flights were diverted to alternate locations outside of the United States. Transportation Secretary Mineta has directed the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend operations until at least noon tomorrow. So no airline flights will operate until at least then and until the FAA announces that operations will be resumed. Secretary Mineta has also issued orders controlling the movement of all vessels in United States navigable waters.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has activated eight urban search and rescue task forces in New York, and four of these highly trained teams are at work here in Washington at the Pentagon. Every federal agency has implemented continuity of operation's plans to make sure the government continues to function effectively.

While the markets closed today because of the situation in Manhattan, the United States financial system has continued to operate.

Banks have been open all day. The Federal Reserve has operated regularly and continuously. The Department of Health and Human Services has mobilized medical personnel and supplies to provide help to local authorities who are working so diligently to respond and try to help the victims of these terrible attacks.

President Bush has committed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to identify and bring to swift justice those responsible for these despicable attacks.

The Department of Justice is setting up a hotline for families who fear that their relatives may have been victims of one of these attacks, and we will be announcing that telephone number shortly.

Our fellow citizens and our freedom came under attack today, and no one should doubt America's resolve. President Bush and all our country's leaders thank the many Americans who are helping with rescue and relief efforts. We ask our fellow Americans for your prayers, for the victims, for their families, for the rescue workers and for our country.

Thank you all very much, and we will continue to update you as information is available and confirmed.

(CROSSTALK) WOODRUFF: President -- counselor, presidential counselor Karen Hughes at the -- in Washington, D.C. at the headquarters of the FBI, talking to reporters. And very unusual, she did not take questions, which normally would be the case for -- for someone speaking in a spokesperson's capacity.

But what we heard from Ms. Hughes is that all appropriate precautions are being taken. She said the president is in a secured location, the vice president, and is in continuous contact, she said, with Vice President Cheney. She mentioned again that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is at the Pentagon -- Secretary of State Powell, she said, at an undisclosed location.

She said -- she went through, ticked off a list of measures that have been taken to -- to assure that the federal government of this country continues to operate. She said a plan was put in place after the first attack on the World Trade Center this morning, and she said it has been in operation ever since.

In an effort to be reassuring, she said on high alert, the United States forces were put on high alert. American embassies abroad, the same thing. She said not just the president and the vice president, but also when you -- when you think about the succession to the presidency, the speaker of the House would be third in line after -- or second in line after the vice president. She said the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, has also been put in a safe or taken to a safe but undisclosed location.

CNN's senior White House correspondent, John King, at a location, since the White House was mainly evacuated, about a block away -- John.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, Karen Hughes working throughout the day in the White House situation room in the basement of the White House, that a fortified structure.


MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: ... a great deal during the day. It's going to last for a number of days.

We told the president that we thought that the whole rescue effort would take a week or so or more. But the main -- the main focus right now, obviously, is on saving as many lives as possible. I think it's still possible for us to save a lot of the people that are there.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you said that we were in a state of alert. I'm (OFF-MIKE) state of alert when all of the (OFF-MIKE)...

GIULIANI: They're not all. All of our police and firefighters are not -- we have a lot of police and firefighters. Bernie, do you want to explain where the police and firefighters are?

QUESTION: Do we have a death toll (OFF-MIKE)? GIULIANI: No, we do not, and we're not going to put one out until much later, after we get a better sense of the numbers that we're talking about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police -- the police deployment is, you know, primary focus is down in southern Manhattan and the rescue effort. But we're attending to our police (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all over the city.

We, as the mayor said earlier, we're getting assistance from the governor and the National Guard. About 200 National Guardsmen about two hours, about an hour ago I guess. It will be another about 1,500 sometime this evening to come into to -- to help us, and we're going to continue on the rescue efforts. But policing will go on in the rest of the city as usual.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for other possible actions. How -- how is that (OFF-MIKE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously, we're in a high state of alert. We're looking at other government buildings, securing those buildings, securing other areas in this city. Right now, our primary focus in our -- our efforts here in southern Manhattan.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One more, please.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anybody. The mayor and I were there this morning. I was there when the second plane hit the building. I was right underneath the building. I don't think anybody would have imagined that one of those airliners would have hit the building like that. Nobody in their -- in their right mind would have thought that would happen.

So -- and in this circumstance, it was something we couldn't have avoided, we couldn't have stopped even if we tried. So...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, thank you.

WOODRUFF: We've been listening to Mayor Rudy Giuliani, obviously, fairly close to the site where the rescue operations are under way in New York City, reassuring that every effort is being made to get as many people out and to hospitals as they possibly can.

Now, back here in Washington, let's return to our senior White House correspondent, John King.

John, and let's talk about what the White House is doing, and some of which we heard about from Karen Hughes, who's a counselor to the president, just a minute ago.

KING: Well, Judy, some of this involves security precautions, which is one of the reasons the president is not yet back in Washington. He is now in Nebraska at a military air base conducting a National Security Council meeting, although at the White House they are putting a priority to getting him back as soon as possible. They believe that picture of the president returning to the White House would send a powerful signal.

You heard both Karen Hughes here in Washington, Mayor Giuliani just again in New York trying to reassure the citizens that the government is at work despite these atrocities today. They very much want to get the president back.

Now, from an operational standpoint, the vice president and the national security adviser Condoleezza Rice are in the situation room in the basement of the White House. That is the command-and-control system used for natural disasters, used for terrorist attacks like this one, used in the case of major military operations. That has been up and running throughout the day. The senior staff at the White House operating out of that.

Ms. Hughes on the one hand trying to send reassuring signals, saying the government was up and running, that financial systems were up and running. Yet, on the other hand, she, too, noted the remarkable paralysis this event, these terrorist attacks have caused in the United States: commercial air systems shut down nationwide at least through noon tomorrow. Security officials still not confident enough to bring the president back to Washington.

So Karen Hughes delivering a statement, bringing us up to date on the activities and the movements of the president and the vice president, at the same time saying the United States government still looking into who is responsible for this. And I know David Ensor is standing by with more information. White House officials say their early indications are that they believe -- and David may have more information -- that this -- these attacks are linked to the suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, John, you are right. David Ensor, our national security correspondent here in the studio in Washington. David, I know you've been on the telephone. What have you been able to learn?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: U.S. officials are saying that they now have new and specific information, and they say this information is good indications that people with links to Osama bin Laden may have been responsible for these attacks.

I asked, is this new information that's come in since the attacks? Yes, it is. Is it specific in nature? Yes, it is.

Now, they're not completely eliminating the possibility that the attacks could have come from somewhere else, not ruling out a Saddam Hussein-inspired attack or some kind of combination of Palestinian groups or some other combination. But good indications that people with links to bin Laden may have been behind the attack. And this is new and specific information, the officials say.

They are also expressing a certain amount of what I think is best described as anger at the comments by the Afghan government, by the Taliban government, by Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil and Mullah Omar, the leaders, leaders over there who have commented today in which they denied that Osama bin Laden has ever organized terrorism out of Afghan territory. One official calling that "Lies -- lies, lies, lies."

And there's a certain amount of black humor also now setting in as, like other Americans, national security officials, intelligence officials, the first thing they felt when they saw what's happening and what we're looking at on our screen here was shock. But that is turning now to anger. And when I asked whether there were considerations being given to some sort of retaliation against targets in Afghanistan, one official said, "I wouldn't be planning your vacation there if I were you."


WOODRUFF: David Ensor, just quickly, when they say, when they described this new and specific information, do you know enough about the kinds of sources or the kinds of -- the methods here that you could characterize where this information might be coming from or in what form?

ENSOR: Well, they are not saying anything specific about exactly what the nature of this information is, as you can expect, Judy. However, when I talk to officials about the kinds of information that they would be gathering now, they confirm that that information includes passenger lists of the aircraft that were downed, videotape at airports from cameras, from security cameras in the airports. In a few days, they will have cockpit recordings. And there's also a limited number of people who are suspected of belonging to terrorist groups who are known to be able to fly aircraft. And it looks as if at least some of the personnel involved in this plot must have been able to do that in order to carry off this -- this set of attacks -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Absolutely chilling to hear you say that, David, that there are people in these organizations -- and we now know it -- who could fly commercial jetliners to do what, these horrible, unspeakable acts that have been committed today in the United States.



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