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Could America Have Expected Such An Attack

Aired September 12, 2001 - 07:15   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm going to leave you now and turn my attention to former General Wesley Clark, who joins us from Little Rock, Arkansas this morning. Good morning, sir. Can you hear me?


ZAHN: Sir, yesterday you expressed, I think it would be fair to say, some anger that the U.S. was apparently caught off guard by these attacks. Do you stand by that?

CLARK: Well, we've known for a long time that there were groups that were planning actions against the United States. We believed that we had good intelligence on this. We've broken up a number of previous efforts. But in the intelligence business, of course, you never know what you don't know.

And it's clear that we weren't successful in this case. And I think across the American armed forces as we, over the years we've sharpened our techniques to protect ourselves. We've been involved in certain actions against terrorist groups. I think there's a sense of not only anger but resolve today to tend to our losses and to move ahead as, in direction with the national command authority, with our president and to do everything we can do to take this campaign back to those who brought it to America.

ZAHN: All right, General, if you would, please stand by. We understand a news conference is getting under way at Bellevue Hospital, one of the many area hospitals where victims have been transported.


QUESTION: Do you have figures of how many people who were trapped in the rubble have been brought here?

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: I don't have any accurate -- I don't have any accurate figures to give you. We do know that we at Bellevue have gotten over 225 patients, I believe, since this all started yesterday morning. And as I mentioned before, a lot of those were seen, treated and released to go home. But I don't have what was actually dropped out of that.

QUESTION: All right, have you guys gotten any kind of word from the scene, any kind of like people are going to be coming your way, any kind of hope at all?

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: We are in close contact with OEM, the fire department, EMS, and they would contact us through our emergency department and let us know what potentials would be coming in. So we're fully prepared and we're fully in contact with the city.

QUESTION: Are the numbers that you gave us different than the numbers or are they inclusive of the numbers that were released earlier from St. Vincent?

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: Sir, our numbers are exclusive to Bellevue Hospital.


QUESTION: So the numbers you gave us are only people who are here?


QUESTION: They don't include...

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: Yes, that is correct. The numbers that I reported to you are what has arrived here at Bellevue.

QUESTION: So we can include the other ones in in our total when we want to do this area?


QUESTION: The second question, what's going on with your morgue? How is it being used?

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: Well, let me answer that question. Our mortuary is working with the chief medical examiner's office.

QUESTION: Hold on a second.

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: Our mortuary is in close contact and is working with the chief medical examiner's office. During disasters like this, we do as much as we can to clear out all of the morgues to make room for the deceased and the victims.

But those specific questions concerning numbers of deceased need to be addressed to the chief medical examiner.

QUESTION: But your facility, your morgue is not being used as a primary morgue at this point, is that correct?

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: The chief medical examiner is the primary receiving station for the deceased and we are secondary. We're working with them, as well as all the other ATAT facilities that have mortuaries. And if it gets to the point where they need to go to the voluntary mortuaries, I'm going to hazard a guess and say that they would do that, as well. But that's a question that needs to be addressed to the chief medical examiner.

QUESTION: One quick follow-up, then.

Aside from the one gentleman who died here, a firefighter, I believe, is there anyone else who's been put into the morgue from the disaster?

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: There are a number of bodies that have been recovered by the chief medical examiner that have been brought to the chief medical examiner's office and mortuary.

QUESTION: Here at Bellevue.

UNIDENTIFIED BELLEVUE OFFICIAL: Not here at Bellevue, but at 30th Street and First Avenue.

QUESTION: Is there anyone in intensive or critical care here?

ROBERT KESSLER (ph): We have seven patients went to the operating room yesterday. One of them is still in very, very critical condition. We have the rest of them would still be considered in critical condition, but they are improving.

QUESTION: With what types of injuries?

QUESTION: Yes, what types of injuries?

KESSLER: Really a variety of things -- head trauma. It's all blunt related trauma, head trauma, broken bones, broken legs, broken arms, crush injuries, those sort of things. OK.


KESSLER: What was that again?

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) critical condition?

KESSLER: Well, there are seven that would be considered in critical condition, but one of those patients in very extremely critical condition. The other ones are in critical condition, but they are improving. The one patient is having a very difficult time.

QUESTION: Are there any children among the injured?

KESSLER: I believe all of the children have been discharged. We did have children yesterday, but I think they all have been discharged. They were seen, they were evaluated and there were no serious injuries among the children.

QUESTION: Thank you.

KESSLER: Robert Kessler, assistant director, emergency services.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ZAHN: All right, you have just been listening to some of the officials from Bellevue Hospital describing the nature of some of the injuries sustained in the World Trade Center crashes yesterday and in one of the more chilling reminders of what the city witnessed, some graphic information on how the morgues are being set up to handle the number of deceased.

Once again, city officials are not confirming the number of dead. In fact, no one knows, obviously, because the number of folks still trapped inside the rubble. Some encouraging news this morning, George Pataki just confirmed, as did one of our own reporters, Gary Tuchman, that two folks, a man in his '50s and no description on the other person, are alive in the rubble and rescue workers have every reason to believe they can get to them.

Right now we're going to continue my conversation with General Wesley Clark.

Sir, we were talking a little bit about your frustration with the fact that the United States seemed to be caught off guard yesterday. How can that be? There were a number of reports that an Arab newspaper that was based in London, the editor there was reporting that Osama bin Laden had been telegraphing this attack for some three weeks now. Now, we need to make it clear that Osama bin Laden denies it had any involvement with this attack. Can you please unscramble this for us this morning?

CLARK: Well, Osama bin Laden telegraphs a lot of moves. But it's, in the intelligence community there are literally dozens and dozens of hints and warnings and ambiguous statements. And so we're always searching for these but often there's not enough information to respond in a particular fashion and so one just stays alert.

And here was an action that in its scope, its coordination, the cunning with which it was pulled off, it's been unprecedented. It's something that our experts wouldn't have anticipated. It's a scenario that's out of a novel, as everybody has said, and it's going to change the way we view the total capabilities of the Osama bin Laden group.

We've known for a long time that he's got a very extensive network. It's in a dozen or more countries. He's trained literally thousands of people and has many more thousands he can draw on for one time missions as couriers. He's developed over a period of years a system of sleeper agents.

He plans operations over a long period of time. They're obviously rehearsed. They work. We know in the attack on the Cole, for example, that there was a previous effort which failed some months before the attack of October of 2000 did succeed.

And so we don't know how long this attack has been under way. But if we'd had indications, we certainly would have taken the measures that were necessary to protect the American people.

I think we've known since February of 1998 that Osama bin Laden has declared war, a holy war on the United States and all of our people, military and civilian and families and whether they're at home or abroad. And we didn't want to take this war to the American people and make it as public as Osama bin Laden has made it. Now it is war.

ZAHN: Sir, are you telling, are you telling me this morning, General, that there is no doubt in your mind that Osama bin Laden is connected to this given the sophistication of the operation?

CLARK: I think that the consensus expert, consensus opinion from all of us who have followed this is that Osama bin Laden probably is connected in some degree. But Osama bin Laden represents a complete terrorist network. He will have one or more state sponsors, countries that he's either based in or working in collusion with. There'll have been passport support, communications support.

Osama bin Laden doesn't own 757 and 767 jets, but somebody has had skill in flying those aircraft. They were recruited by this network. Perhaps they were recruited first and then given practice in flying aircraft by someone who had access to them. We don't know those details yet.

But what we do know is this was a very sophisticated terrorist act. It took a large network of planning, support, communications and coordination to pull it off. And so as we look at this, we're going back to look at those agencies, those individuals that we know that are involved in operations of that magnitude and his name is at the top of the list. He's a prime suspect despite the fact that he's denied involvement. That also is a characteristic operating method for Osama bin Laden. He doesn't want to admit involvement. He doesn't want to do anything more to make himself a target. Neither do, perhaps, some of these states who may have supported him.

ZAHN: I have heard a number of politicians actually increase the heat and their criticism of counterintelligence efforts. They say the government has put far too much emphasis on technical intelligence, not enough emphasis on human intelligence. Is there any explanation for how it is that four hijackings took place within a couple hour period?

CLARK: Well, we'll all be asking that, Paula. And it'll take several days or weeks, months, perhaps, to really sort through all of the causes and effects that were at work here.

We know, for example, that it is, we've had difficulty for years penetrating these terrorist groups. Many of them are family-based. They're people who grow up in certain areas. Their backgrounds are carefully vetted. They're screened. They're under observation continuously. So it's difficult to penetrate it.

We put restrictions on our own intelligence agencies in terms of who we can operate with. We've done that over the last few years. That makes it even tougher. Some of these agents that probably were involved in this may have been in the United States for years. And so they may eluded detection. We'll be asking all those questions and they'll be asked to the right people and the corrective policies, as best we can understand them, will be undertaken.

ZAHN: General...

CLARK: But everyone will feel that sense of outrage. There's no doubt about it.

ZAHN: General, I just need a real brief answer to this one. How vulnerable do, does the United States continue to be?

CLARK: We're vulnerable. We are vulnerable. And we don't know how vulnerable until we really understand how those people got on board and how they got their weapons and how they took over the aircraft. But we're vulnerable.

ZAHN: General Wesley Clark, thank you so much for your insights this morning.



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