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America Under Attack: As Many as 800 Die in Pentagon Attack

Aired September 12, 2001 - 08:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now, we're going to go to Bob Franken, who joins us from the Pentagon.

Bob, there were reports this morning that sources were telling CNN that they believe as many as 800 people may have died in the crash yesterday -- the attack on the Pentagon.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that was one local fire chief. The Pentagon officials, in fact, say that that figure is probably way higher than it's going to be, but they acknowledge that it could be in the hundreds.

As a matter of fact, they have already recovered some bodies. We haven't been told how many. Police say that they are blocking one roadway around here, because a temporary mortuary has been set up there.

We are told that even with the fires still smoldering, some search teams went in overnight -- that there are search dogs who are here. They are going to determine when they can go in again.

Of course, there have been flames that have erupted sporadically, and that has slowed things down.

Now, it is shortly after 8:00 in the morning in Washington, and at 8:00, part of the Pentagon opened up for work. It was very important for the defense secretary that he show the world that this building, in spite of the catastrophe that occurred yesterday -- in spite of that, that the Pentagon would be up for business.

But only about half of it could be opened, because there were concerns that the structural damage that might have occurred in the other parts of the building would make things too difficult and too dangerous for the other people. But at 8:00, the Pentagon opened up.

It was very important, officials said, that the press office be opened, so reporters could locate there. CNN has a team there, where we, of course, cover what's going on out here. And what's going on out here is the search -- the very grim search to find out just how many people became victims of this terrorist act -- Paula.

ZAHN: Bob, is there any new information about the flight that went down outside of Pittsburgh, and what the ultimate target was supposed to have been?

FRANKEN: Well, it's more speculation than information. There was some talk early on, according to briefings that were held for congressional leaders, according to Capitol Hill sources, some talk that the target was Camp David. But that's really given short (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

There is other belief, though, that either the White House or more likely the U.S. Capitol was going to be a target. What they don't know is why the plane did not, in fact, continue. That's one of the mysteries that's going to have to be sorted out. And of course, there's so many; that is just one.

ZAHN: All right, Bob, one last question for you before we move on. Secretary of State Powell was on the air with me a short while ago and seemed to indicate that he was upset. That might not be the right word, but that Orrin Hatch is saying that U.S. intelligence actually intercepted communication between some of Osama bin Laden supporters discussing the attacks.

How sensitive of an issue is that there this morning?

FRANKEN: Well, there, of course, is going to be a reappraisal as things go on. Another way to put that will be second-guessing -- people are going to look back and say, why didn't we act on X information or Y information? And apparently, there were indicators out there.

We have talked to newspaper editors -- we being CNN -- around the world about the warnings that had been issued. Of course, there have been so many warnings over time by various terrorist organizations that sometimes it's difficult for intelligence officials to figure out which ones are real. And, of course, they sadly now realize this one was very tragically real.

ZAHN: The secretary of state made it quite clear, though, that he will never talk to us about this intercepted material.

FRANKEN: Well, you have...

ZAHN: Do you expect that to change?

FRANKEN: You have a situation where the intercepted material is done by the National Security Agency. That is a hypersensitive intelligence organization. As a matter of fact, it has tried to enforce a couple of times when there has been reporting about its activities -- tried to enforce criminal prosecution for doing that very thing.

So it probably will never be directly divulged by a member of government. But these things do have a way of becoming publicly known, particularly since there is bound to be such a heated debate over what should have happened.

ZAHN: All right, Bob, I wasn't able to catch the last part of what you had to say. But I wonder: Do you think the Pentagon folks there are concerned that with folks that have the stature of Senator Orrin Hatch talking about these intercepted communications, that there will be more political fallout?

FRANKEN: Well, there is bound to be political fallout. But, of course, it's too early for that right now. The nation is caught up in the tragedy and in the immediate work that has to be done in the aftermath of that.

I should point out also, that there is probably a very, very heightened alert today to make sure that somehow there is not some second-day effort to try and further, further plunge the United States into despair.

But as this goes on, there are going to be any number of debates about what should have happened, what could have happened to possibly avoid this -- debates that are going to be viewed by some as second- guessing and by others as a real cry to change, not only the way that our intelligence apparatus works, but the way that our communication and travel systems work.

ZAHN: All right, Bob Franken, thanks so much for that update.

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