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America Under Attack: Terrorists Crash Hijacked Airliners Into World Trade Center, Pentagon

Aired September 11, 2001 - 19:12   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're standing by for a briefing at the White House with Cabinet members, who will brief on the U.S. response, the emergency response that is obviously under way in New York and here in Washington. You're taking a look at a picture of the White House briefing room. We're expecting Joe Allbaugh, the FEMA director, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Tommy Thompson, and the attorney general, John Ashcroft.

In the meantime, let's bring in Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. He's a Republican. He's a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

You've been briefed on what's going on. What's your initial assessment, Senator Hagel, about who may have been responsible for this coordinated attack?


All right, stand by. Senator Hagel, stand by. We've got a technical problem with your microphone. We're going to fix it. The former CIA director, Mr. Jim Woolsey, is here as well and he's joining us.

You've been looking into this, discussing this with some of your former colleagues over in the intelligence community. What do you hear about those who may have been responsible?

JIM WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Wolf, no one really knows right now, but I do think the following: It's clear now, as it was on December 7th, 1941, the United States is at war. The question is with whom. And December of '41 we knew. Today we really don't.

You know, one of reasons we don't is because when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993, the Clinton administration had a very fine FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Jim Fox, and he had strong suspicions that the Iraqi government might have been behind that terrorist operation. He was relieved. He died a few years later. It was never really checked out thoroughly and effectively.

But there are a number of people who have strong suspicions that Ramzi Yousef may, who is in prison for the bombing out in Colorado, may have had strong ties to the Iraqi government. Now, if that had been checked out at the time, we might know more now than we do. It's at least interesting that Yousef was behind two plots: the one to bomb the World Trade Center, and the other, to blow up a number of American airliners in the Pacific, the one that he was caught while trying to perpetrate in '94 and '95.

So this plot was hatched today in a way is a kind of a combination of the earlier two Yousef plots.

I think we need to very carefully look at all of the history of these terrorist operations and every shred of evidence that we may have on this one, and see if there is any chance there was state involvement behind it, because indignation and action is not enough. We need to have indignation and action at the real perpetrators. And as of yet, we just don't know who those are.

BLITZER: All right, Mr. Woolsey, stand by. I want to try to bring back Senator Hagel, who's also here in our Washington bureau. The former CIA director, Mr. Woolsey, suggesting that perhaps all the finger-pointing, direct finger-pointing that we've heard through much of today toward Osama bin Laden may be premature. Maybe they, others could have been involved, specifically the Iraqi government.

What do you hear?

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: Well, we must not rule anything out here as possibilities. We do know something, I think, for certain here, Wolf, and that is this is a very sophisticated operation. It took a great amount of intelligence, a great amount of resources, timing, all that goes into something like this. The world has never seen anything this sophisticated.

Now, whether bin Laden was a part of that or could have had the ability and resources to do that, I don't know. But Jim Woolsey is right. No one should escape the net here as we find out who did this, and we will find out who did this.

BLITZER: Is there a sense, though, that, Senator Hagel, is there a sense that it definitely was some Middle East-oriented group that coordinated this attack, that it was not necessarily, as Oklahoma City was, a home-grown, U.S.-sponsored attack?

HAGEL: I don't know the facts here, but I would think it quite unlikely that it would be a home-grown domestic group involved here. I just don't think that would be the case.

What part of the area of the world these perpetrators and cowards are from, I don't know.

BLITZER: Stand by. Here's the attorney general in the White House briefing room, John Ashcroft.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Today, America has experienced one of the greatest tragedies ever witnessed on our soil. These heinous acts of violence are an assault on the security of our nation. They are an assault on the security and freedom of every American citizen. We will not tolerate such acts. We will expend every effort and devote all the necessary resources to bring the people responsible for these acts, these crimes, to justice.

Now is the time for us to come together as a nation to offer our support, our prayers for victims and for their families, for the rescue workers, for law enforcement officials, for every one of us that has been changed forever by this horrible tragedy.

The following is a summary of the known facts surrounding today incidents.

American Airlines Flight 11 departed Boston for Los Angeles, hijacked by suspects armed with knives. This plane crashed into the World Trade Center.

United Airlines Flight 175 departed Boston for Los Angeles, was hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center.

American Airlines Flight 77 departed Washington Dulles for Los Angeles, was hijacked and crashed into the Pentagon.

United Airlines Flight 93 departed Newark for San Francisco, was hijacked, and crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Crime scenes have been established by the federal authorities in New York, in the Washington, D.C., area, in Pittsburgh, in Boston, and in Newark. The full resources of the Department of Justice, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the U.S. Attorney's Offices, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Office of Justice Programs, are being deployed to investigate these crimes and to assist survivors and victims' families.

Thousands of FBI agents in all of the field offices across the country and in the international legat offices, assisted by personnel from other Department of Justice agencies, are cooperating in this investigation.

The FBI has established a web site where people can report any information about these crimes. That address is That address again is Individuals can report any information they know about these crimes to that web site.

It takes courage for individuals to come forward in situations like this and I urge anyone with information that may be useful and helpful to authorities to use this opportunity.

The Office of Victims of Crime has established a toll-free 800- number for family and friends of victims. They can call 800-331-0075 to leave contact information for a future time when more information is available, to find out information about a victim, or to find out information about the rights of victims and the services available to victim survivors and victim families. The determination of these terrorists will not deter the determination of the American people. We are survivors and freedom is a survivor. A free American people will not be intimidated nor will we be defeated. We will find the people responsible for these cowardly acts and justice will be done.


TOMMY THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Every single American lost something today, and every one of us at this time expresses our deepest sympathy to the victims of today's tragedies and their families.

It is now our mission to begin the healing from this tragedy. From the moment that we learned of these attacks, the Department of Health and Human Services has begun readying teams and resources to be sent to New York City and the Washington area to meet any needs of state and local officials.

So far, we have sent four disaster medical teams to New York City and three of these disaster medical teams to the Washington-Northern Virginia-Baltimore area. These medical teams each consist of about 35 physicians, nurses and emergency medical technicians. They are all trained to deal with traumatic injuries and other emergency needs.

We've also sent four disaster mortuary operational response teams to New York and three to the greater Washington area.

We're also in the process of shipping a great deal of emergency medical supplies to New York City with the help of the Centers for Disease Control.

In short, we're making the full force of the Department of Health and Human Services, both its resources and medical expertise, available to the areas that need our assistance.

We've also this afternoon activated the United States Public Health Service Commission Corps, which consists of approximately 6,000 health professionals. We also are giving backup assistance to the 500-bed ship Comfort from the United States Navy.

Americans all over are calling up and asking what they can do. The best thing they can do is respond to this great call by volunteering to give blood. We need Americans to continue to answer that call. No matter where you live, please do your civic duty and assist us by donating blood.

Our primary job is to make sure Americans harmed by this tragedy get the help that they need.

We will remain in constant contact with the governors, the mayors, public health officials and other local officials to make sure that all of their needs are being met.

It is a sad day, but America and all of its citizens certainly share tonight in the grief that has been caused. And as the president and everybody in his administration have said, we, the government, will continue to operate and continue to provide the services to all Americans.

NORM MINETA, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: One of the most cherished freedoms is the freedom of movement, the ability to move freely and safely. But today that freedom was attacked. But we will restore that freedom throughout the national transportation system as soon as possible...

BLITZER: We're looking at a picture also on Capitol Hill, where the Senate and House leadership is preparing to speak, flanked by hundreds of members of the U.S. Congress. Here is the speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: ... the hearts and souls and feelings of the victims and the families that were a part of this great tragedy that happened in this country today. Our prayers and thoughts and words of consolation goes out to all those who have suffered.

But one thing that happens here in this place is when Americans suffer and when people perpetrate acts against this country, we, as a Congress and as a government, stand united and we stand together.


Senators and House members, Democrats and Republicans, will stand shoulder to shoulder to fight this evil that's been perpetrated on this nation. We will stand together to make sure that those who have brought forth this evil deed will pay the price.


We're not sure who this is yet, but we have our suspicions. And when that is justified and when those suspicions are justified, we will act. We will stand with the president, we will stand with this government, and we will stand as Americans together through this time. Thank you.


SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MAJORITY LEADER: Today's despicable acts were an assault on our people and on our freedom. As the representatives of the people, we are here to declare that our resolve has not been weakened by these horrific and cowardly acts.

Congress will convene tomorrow.


And we will speak with one voice to condemn these attacks, to comfort the victims and their families, to commit our full support to the effort to bring those responsible to justice. We, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate, stand strongly united behind the president and we'll work together to ensure that the full resources of the government are brought to bear in these efforts.

Our heartfelt thoughts and our fervent prayers are with the injured and the families of those who have been lost.


HASTERT: We know as a nation, as we said, our thoughts and prayers are with those families and those injured and those who are the casualties of today's attack. We also remember those thousands of people who are rescue workers. We ask now that we all bow our heads in a moment of silence in remembrance.


Thank you.

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS (singing): ... land that I love. Stand beside her and guide her through the night with the light from above, from the mountains to the prairies to the ocean white with foam. God bless America, my home sweet home. God bless America, my home sweet home.

BLITZER: A pointed display of bipartisan unity at this critical moment in U.S. history. It seemed like a spontaneous singing of "God Bless America" by scores of members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, seriously trying to send a message of unity during this difficult moment.



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