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

Aired September 11, 2001 - 16:32   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Our colleagues at CNNfn are reporting now that the stock exchanges, the Nasdaq, the American Stock Exchange, the New York Stock Exchange, all of course closed today, will remain closed through Wednesday. So the stock markets, the financial markets in the country -- and yet again we cannot recall anything like that ever occurring. Perhaps it has and we don't remember it, but we don't remember it.

The stock markets, all of them stay closed through Wednesday. Air travel shut down in the United States until at least noon tomorrow and certainly no guarantee it will open after that. That affects, on an average, about a million and a half people every single day: 40,000-50,000 flights, all of them grounded.

There were about 50 planes in the air after the FAA essentially locked down airports in the country. All of those planes made it safely to destinations. We don't know if they made it to the destinations they were headed for, but they were all able to land safely.

CNN's Joie Chen in Atlanta -- Joie.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Aaron, we are following and watching these extraordinary pictures as they still come in and as we continue to watch all the events, we want to bring our viewers back to where all of this started today. And we have additional pictures to give you some additional perspective of the story we are telling you this afternoon. First up, we go back to 8:48, this morning, that is Eastern.

The crash of the first hijacked airliners hit the north tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, in New York. You see the gaping hole and you see the black smoke that billowed from the tower. And this, actually you are looking at the picture of the second airliner that crashed into the second tower, the south tower as well.

Now we want to move you over and show you some exclusive CNN pictures, still pictures of the second crash as it happened. You see the plane bearing in on the south tower of the Trade Center. This is United Airlines Flight 175. It was a Boeing 767 scheduled from Boston to Las Angeles. 65 people on board and you see what happened, just sheered right into the South Tower: horrible crash, massive burst of flames. This crash occurred at 4 minutes after 9:00 this morning. Again that is New York time.

Now move ahead to 10:3, 10:29 actually. The North Tower had collapsed already. This is the South Tower you can see collapsing into the streets of lower Manhattan, just falling away. We know that, as you see it there, just falling away, just falling out of the sky, falling into pieces all over lower Manhattan.

And so you can understand the tremendous amount of ash just dumped on lower Manhattan today. Roughly 50,000 people worked in the towers in the center area on a daily basis. And then, of course, there are additional tens of thousands of tourists who would come to the towers, who wanted to see the tremendous vantage point you would have from the top of the tower.

New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has told us he does believe that there was a horrendous loss of life there, but he doesn't even want to guess how many people have died in New York today.

Here now, we want to give you the eyewitness accounts of the people who saw some of what happened.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard the sound of a jet. I assumed it was like a Navy Jet or something like that just flying by. Sometimes they will fly very low, near the World Trade Center.

I heard a large explosion. I thought it was a sonic boom. When I heard the explosion, I looked up. What I saw was, I saw red and I actually saw debris start to fall down. I was so close to the building I couldn't run away from the building, so I actually had to run toward it.

If you know the World Financial Center, it's got a ribbed design, so you actually have a two-by-two space where you can actually sneak in the building and hide. Myself and one other man were there. We had our bookbags over our heads. Debris was falling down about the size of this. All portions of the building were falling down.

That went on for about 30 or 40 seconds. That for me was the worst part of this whole experience, you know, because I feared for my life, my own life at that time.

After that stopped, I walked out, myself, I didn't see anybody in the plaza, so nobody who was hurt was in the plaza at that point. I walked to my building in the World Financial Center. I see that my colleagues, evacuating the building, were downstairs.

Now on the west side of the World Financial Center, which is right on the Hudson River, there's an outdoor plaza. OK? You can look over the World Financial Center and see the World Trade Center.

We were looking back at the building in flames. This is about -- this was probably 5 after 9:00, 10 after 9:00, and we see a second commercial jet flying extremely low, actually collide into the south tower of the building.

At that point, we decided just to get out of there. People were just going crazy at that point, evacuating.

We started to walk north and ultimately got up to here. During our walk, we saw the South Tower collapse to the ground decimated, and then later it was very amazing to see the North Tower standing there by itself after years and years and years of seeing them together. And then all of a sudden the North Tower just collapsed upon itself and just fell to the ground.

There was a cloud of dust that covered all of downtown Manhattan, Battery Park and everything. Phenomenal. I've never seen anything like it.


CHEN: The eyewitness description of the horrible scene in New York City this morning. And in the midst of all of that, in the midst of that terrible tragedy, there was further chaos down in Washington.

9:45 this morning, an airliner crashing into the Pentagon. The plane, which was American Airlines Flight 77, which was scheduled from Washington's Dulles airport out to Los Angeles, the Boeing 757 hit the Army side of this huge fortress that is the Pentagon. The Pentagon, of course, is not just a symbol of the nation's military might today, but today is a command center amidst all that has happened.

Now there was a fourth crash, which occurred today in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. United Airlines Flight 93 was bound from Newark, New Jersey out to San Francisco. There were 45 people onboard. Authorities say there were no survivors.

In all there were four crashes, 266 passengers and crew, and then of course we still have no idea how many people may have died on the ground in the course of all these catastrophes.

Joining us now from Dallas, Texas is Jeffrey Beatty. He's a counterterrorism expert who has done work on the first World Trade Center attack. That was back in 1993. As well he's done some work for the Pentagon.

Of course, there is going to be a lot of trying to read through all of this, Mr. Beatty. Is there something that you have seen in the events of today that you see as perhaps a symbol of what group might be involved or some other hallmark of terrorism here?

JEFFREY BEATTY, PRESIDENT, TOTAL SECURITY INTERNATIONAL: Well, I think it's a little too early to speculate on what group might be involved. If you remember back to the Oklahoma City bombing everybody rushed to judgment, to think it was perhaps overseas-based terrorism. Now while all the indicators are going in that direction it would probably be prudent to just focus on the rescue efforts today and also to ask ourselves, how did this happen, and kind of break down the operation. And show people that this was a very low tech but high concept operation on the part of the terrorist. CHEN: Well, describe that for us. What do you mean by that, high concept?

BEATTY: What I mean by that is Americans tend to rely on high- tech. We look to high-tech to solve most of our problems. Terrorists don't have high-tech at their disposal to the degree that a government such as the United States has. But unfortunately they have a lot of time. And operations such as this may have been years in the making. We don't know yet how this operation was able to go forward. But let's just break down the steps. I took a few notes on it. At some point we all recognize that there was some intelligence failure that, you know, we've got to do better. We have done good in the past. We've improved our ability to defeat terrorism, but we're not perfect yet, and this is example of that to be sure.

But then what happened was, the question is, how did these people get some sort of weapon on to an airplane? I'm sure the FAA and the Department of Transportation and all the airports from which these aircraft were launched this morning will be taking a really hard look at that. And I'm sure we will see some changes in the future

CHEN: Not an airplane, Mr. Beatty. I mean, four aircraft and in different locations.

BEATTY: Exactly. This is a highly sophisticated approach, you know, but it's not the first time we have seen that. We have seen foreign groups destroy two embassies within moments of each other a couple of years ago on the continent of Africa. So we know that our opponent is capable of this type of operation, and he demonstrated it today in our homeland. The interesting thing here, Joie, you didn't need to bring across hundreds of pound of explosives across a border some place to commandeer an airplane. Why did they choose these airplanes? They picked these wide-body airplanes - the fact that the World Trade Center was prepared to sustain a hit from a 707 was not a well-kept secret. They picked airplanes that were bigger than that. Also they picked airplanes that took off from the east coast, headed to the west coast, that were big airplanes full of fuel. They weren't interested in killing people on the airplanes. The airplane themselves became the bomb. And so they didn't need to bring explosives into the country.

We don't know yet whether it was knifes or handguns or whatever. But the next question in the step is we break down the operational acts on this attack is, how did these people get weapons on to the aircraft? And then from there, to continue it, the question is asked: what about a cockpit incursion? How is it that they were able to get into the cockpits of the aircraft, take over the controls? And as we know and have heard in the past that there are transponder codes that pilots can send if an aircraft is hijacked. From what I understand, we didn't get some of that yet, so we have to assume that the cockpits were burst into rather quickly.

And I heard Judy Woodruff and others, earlier infer, and I join them in drawing the same inference. That it's highly doubtful that the pilots of these aircraft, the United Airlines pilots and the American Airline pilots were at the controls of these aircraft when they impacted their targets. So we have got to assume and infer that people capable of flying the aircraft - and remember these aircraft are on duty all over the world -- these perpetrators no doubt rehearsed this operation, rehearsed breaking into the cockpit and other locations. But they were probably piloted to the target by people capable of flying a military or a jet aircraft.

CHEN: Do you think - I have to interrupt to you ask. Do you think that perhaps in looking at the possibility of terror threats -- I mean, certainly terror threats have come to the country in the past. And I'm wondering if you think perhaps, we were thinking too high a concept. We thought of something more elaborate and perhaps intelligence should have been focused on this kind of low-tech approach. I suppose hindsight is 20/20, but.

BEATTY: I think there is a lot of good in what you are pointing out, Joie. We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. You know, we cannot just focus all our energies on weapons of mass destruction, chemical, biological et cetera. We have all been talking about that and hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent on that in recent years. But this didn't use any weapon of mass destruction and I'm afraid that the casualty tally could approach five figures. And that means that we've got to be able to beat these people not only high tech, but we've got to be high concept. That means we have got to work harder in planning than we have up to this point. And I know we will.

And if I could say a word about the people at the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. We have had the privilege in my company to work to support both organizations. We have trained every security officer at both locations.

They new what they were up against. They knew they were icons, American icons that were likely to be targeted. Excuse me, it's been an emotional day plus it's a little hot out here. Likely to be targeted. And they did their best but they were only one part of a system as we have just outlined. You know, Doug (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the director of Life, Safety and Security for the World Trade Center, probably one of the premier security people in our country -- Doug was always afraid of a scenario where there was a mass casualty incident at the World Trade Center and hundreds of emergency vehicles would rush to the scene.

They don't have the ability to check all those vehicles to make sure that they don't pose a threat. So we're yet to determine -- we've heard reports of secondary explosions after the aircraft impacted -- whether in fact there wasn't something else at the base of the tower in fact were the coup de gras to bring them to the ground.

CHEN: We appreciate all of your insight. Unfortunately we are going to have to leave. There are still further developments on this story. Jeffrey Beatty's company is involved in counterterrorism information, and he joins us this afternoon from Dallas. Now let's go back to New York for the latest information there and Aaron Brown.

BROWN: Joie, thank you. A couple of things. Unfortunately we have to leave. Still further developments on story. Company involved in counter terrorism information and he joined us this afternoon from Dallas. Let's go back to new York and Aaron brown.

Couple of things. President is en route back to Washington. President started day in Sarasota, Florida went to Shreveport military base. Then went to Nebraska where strategic air command is located and making way back to Washington. We are told president will address nation at some point tonight. We do not know at what time. Of course we will carry that live as well. We are getting report a second building in complex of trade center. Again you have two towers but a number of support building around that another of those buildings reported a bit ago on building seven problems in building five and that may be collapsing as well. At least there is a fire there.

There are enormous -- there are enormous logistical problems. We looked down at what is Eighth Avenue behind us. Normally at this time of the day packed with cars, rush-hour people trying to get out of city. It is empty. The city, or at least this part of the city, Manhattan, is shut down. Thousands of people who are trying to get home, trying to get to the suburbs, trying to get to Long Island or New Jersey, particularly.

That's where those trains, what are called the PATH trains, come from New Jersey to the Trade Center. All of them stranded here.

CNN's Richard Roth is on the streets of new York talking to some of people who I suspect are wondering when they will get home -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: People you would have seen in locations you were examining. Many thousands of them are here right now on the west side of Manhattan trying to escape New York. New York City is sending them to ferries that are taking them to New Jersey. New York city bridges we are told are open for pedestrians. The tunnels for trains to take the thousands here, were closed. Many of these people stunned, shocked. Silence. You've never heard so many New Yorkers so quiet in your life. Many of them just have to look over their shoulders to see what they have escaped as these two towers were leveled.

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called it one of the most heinous acts in United States history. He says, he fears that the death toll may be more than New York can bare. He asks all New Yorkers to say a prayer. He said a rescue effort was beginning. But as we are told by one official with the New York, New Jersey Port Authority, there is so much jet fuel, furniture paper, everything still going on up in smoke, he didn't want to send in his people to begin any type of detailed rescue efforts. There are reports of some people alive, many dead down there, scores of -- hundreds of emergency vehicles with sirens roaring down Manhattan's west side here to the scene carrying federal security people, all kinds. Mayor Rudy Giuliani said that there are more than 1, 000 people taken to what's known as Liberty State Park, the walking wounded, he called them.

Several hundred, 600 or so, in New York city hospitals. And the mayor said that there are 170 hospitals that are up and running, and other buildings are helping out for support. U.S. Jet fighters overhead circling, people craning their necks looking up in the sky. Everybody has a memory, everybody's got a story here. I personally saw Trade Tower No. 1 where CNN's New York Bureau used to be in the lobby 17, 18 years ago come tumbling down. And I was part of a stampede as people just raced for their lives as the smoke came closer and closer to all of us. That was after tower two came down. You couldn't even see what was left of it, if anything was standing, due to all of the smoke -- Aaron.

BROWN: Richard, just help orient me for a second. Tell me where you are in the city right now.

ROTH: We are on approximately 33rd Street on the west side of Manhattan. The Hudson River is just behind our camera position here. And it is an orderly departure here. I mean, you can see for yourself, people have left work early, they were ordered out. The city is on high alert, no flights. And people are headed to New Jersey. Many of them would be at the ferry at this time on a normal day. This is certainly not a very normal day in New York city.

BROWN: Certainly is not, Richard. Thank you. Every -- it is I don't know if remarkable is the right word. But it's worth noting again that in every picture we have seen from the scene, the people who had just experienced most the horrendous imaginable thing were remarkably orderly and calm as they left the area. I don't want to suggest for a second there wasn't any panic, there wasn't any screaming. These are human beings and human beings behave in a variety of ways. But in every picture we have seen, New Yorkers calmly if that's right word calmly left the scene, moved out on of the area. No reports of trouble at all, as firefighters and police personnel came down into the city. Hundreds of civilians started to move out. And they are still calmly moving out. We suspect there is some sense of shock as they try to figure out what has happened to their city, what has happened to their lives.

And perhaps most importantly, what has happened to their friends and their co-workers who may not have gotten out of those buildings today. One of the problems that the city is faced with, and as Richard alluded to, is moving people around. You have essentially a shutdown going on here. In some of the outlining areas city governments are trying to support the city as best they can. Tom Swozzi is the mayor of Glen Cove out on Long Island.

Mr. Mayor, can you hear me?

MAYOR TOM SWOZZI, GLEN COVE, NEW YORK: Yes, this is Tom Swozzi, mayor of the city of Glen Cove.

BROWN: Tom, tell us what Glen Cove is doing to support the efforts going on here in Manhattan?

SWOZZI: We have high-speed ferries that operate from Glen Cove to Pier 11, down by Wall Street. We have all ready evacuated about 1,200 people with the help of Fox Navigation from New York city out here back to the island. We are now working at request of Commissioner (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to try and bring emergency personnel, doctors, nurses back into Manhattan to try and help relieve some of these doctors and nurses that are going to start getting very exhausted at area hospitals down in the southern tip of Manhattan.

BROWN: A number of people should call or location they ought to go to, if they are medical personnel and can help in the effort down there where they can get on ferry and come on down?

SWOZZI: We would like them to come to northern end of Glen Cove road in Glen Cove to the parking lot across from the police station. We will take them by bus to the ferry terminal. If they want to call for information, they should call the ferry terminal at 609-3342. We are coordinating with Nassau county and Suffolk County emergency management offices as well. But right now we need to get emergency type personnel, doctors nurses EMTs. We know everybody wants to help, but we are not looking for just regular volunteers that mean well. And we appreciate their interest. We are looking for professionals that can go into Manhattan and be prepared to work.

BROWN: Tom, thank you for joining us and for your efforts today. I apologize for mispronouncing your name a moment ago. Thank you.

Judy in Washington.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We are in the Washington studio. among others I'm joined by former U.S. Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, former Army General Haig. You were of course Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan Administration and Mr. Secretary, you were in that post at a time of a national emergency, the assassination attempt on the life of President Reagan. What I specifically want to ask you about is, what is it like for the people on the inside, the heartbeat of government, when something horrific like this happens. Of course this is a very different situation. But what is it like when you have to react to something?

ALEXANDER HAIG, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, I think most people, wait and look for direction. So, it's very important they have it. If they don't, they sometimes sit in shocked inaction. So you have to have that. And that's the critical aspect of moving through a crisis of this kind.

We have heard from President Bush now, at three different intervals today, when he was still in Florida, when he moved on to Louisiana and then a statement when he was in Nebraska. Now we know he's back to Washington. Let me ask you: he is coming to the Washington area. We don't know where he will go. Vice President Cheney at an undisclosed location. The Speaker of the House second in line to the presidency at an undisclosed location. I'm not asking to you tell us where they are, but what would it be like in one of these locations where they are essentially kept safe?

HAIG: Well all of these installations have been established for precisely this reason and that means that they are armed with communications, with living facilities and that is the situation. Now they don't exercise them all as regularly as I suppose we used to during the nuclear era. But they still exercise them and they are very, very efficient facilities.

WOODRUFF: You are saying they don't exercise because, presumably it is felt that the threat isn't as serious in the post-cold war world?

HAIG: Well government is tough and people are always responding to the crisis in the moment. Usually it is the first headlines and the daily press. So many times they don't get to go to those relocation sites as often as we would like. And I used to have to push that when I was in the National Security Council. .

WOODRUFF: The exercises where you would practice what you do in an emergency. But once they are at the site, are we talking about very spare surroundings, bare walls, canned foods? What are we talking about?

HAIG: It varies of course there is an airborne facility, we all know that there is an airborne facility for the president and that is Andrews Air Force Base. There are other facilities, some very close and some more distant which were anticipated might be required in a nuclear attack. .

WOODRUFF: What about the lines of communication? You mentioned, that was the first point you made that once they are at these locations there has to be communications, how up to date is that?

HAIG: Well it is kept pretty up to date. I know that for example the day that President Ronald Reagan was shot it was very clear to me that that command post, that command and control center had to be in the west basement of the White House. Or in one of these alternative emergency facilities, because they were equipped to do precisely that. Now since that time we have improved the state department communication facility. And the Pentagon is very well equipped in that regard. So there are three locations that you can run a crisis from that are known. But there are others. .

WOODRUFF: General Haig, what do you say to those Americans that are watching this horrific set of circumstances unfold on television before them and wondering, is America safe? is America safe? Do I feel safe getting on an airplane and flying somewhere? Am I safe to walk in a tall building in Manhattan, to walk into a federal building in Washington, D.C. anywhere. Whether it is touring the White House or the Capitol, what has today done to our sense of safety?

HAIG: The answer to your question, Judy, is obviously whatever will be done here before has not been adequate from the standpoint of your question. And that has been a product of a number of things. It's what I call the modern day rationalization of conflict situations. And the, what I call the development morally equivalence between the terrorist who is the perpetrator of the illegal act, where non-combatants, woman, child everyone are involved, and the defenders against those attacks are equated morally because of some perception of their lack of social justice on one side or the other. We are moralist here in this country and we do that. The simple facts are that national leadership has to establish that terrorism is an illegal act of such magnitude now that it overwhelms the issues of social justice which cause us to quibble, and retrain us at times when a crime of this nature has been executed. .

WOODRUFF: You are saying even over individual liberties in some instances.

HAIG: Well, sometimes yes. And that an unfortunate statement, as an advocate of those liberties. But yes sometimes. .

WOODRUFF: Former Secretary of State Alexander Hague, Army General Alexander Hague, thanks very much for being with us.

HAIG: Thank you, Judy. .

WOODRUFF: We just heard General Haig talking about terrorism and how much greater a presence it is in our lives then we had expected. We are told that tomorrow the Congress will convene at 10:00 in the morning. We are told they plan to pass resolutions or resolutions condemning terrorism and then, immediately adjourn. You are looking at a live picture of the United States Capital, the flag flying at half-staff there. Now that is the White House, that's next to the Executive Office Building. But the other picture we saw was a flag flying at half-staff near the United States Capitol Building.

Now back to Joie Chen in Atlanta.



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