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Ashcroft Asks for Information on Hijackers

Aired September 14, 2001 - 14:43   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The Attorney General John Ashcroft is talking now about the investigation, and we'll pick that up here.


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: ... take this time to give you a report in regard to these matters.

Today the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a list of 19 individuals who have been identified as hijackers aboard the four airliners that crashed on Tuesday.

The FBI requests that anyone who may have information about these individuals -- even though these individuals are presumed to be dead, anyone with information about these individuals immediately contact and FBI field office or call the toll-free hotline. The toll-free hotline, as you know, is 1-866-483-5137, 1-866-483-5137.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also forwarded a list of more than 100 names to numerous law enforcement organizations. These are the names of individuals the FBI would like to talk to because we believe they may have information that could be helpful to the investigation.

The organizations that we have submitted these names to include the Federal Aviation Administration, the airlines, FBI field offices, about 18,000 police departments across America, the U.S. Border Patrol and the U.S. Customs Service.

Now the nature of this list is that it would be changing constantly as people are either removed from it or added to it.

But we believe that the individuals on the list may have information that could be helpful to us in our efforts.

I want to take this moment to extend our appreciation to state and local law enforcement organizations that have cooperated with this investigation, have acted responsibly and have been very helpful to us. Their dedication and swift action has been essential to the progress of the investigation.

I'm pleased now to call upon the director to give you some more information. ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: Before we answer questions, I thought I would fill you in on the extent of the investigation to date.

As of today, we have 4,000 FBI special agents who are working on the case in various offices around the country and on various aspects of the investigation, and we have 3,000 support employees also on the investigation. Twenty FBI legate offices are running down leads overseas and all 56 FBI offices around the country are engaged in the investigation. We have conference calls several times a day to make certain that everything is being coordinated appropriately.

To date, we have had more than 36,000 total leads. Of those, over 30,000 have come in off the Internet, 3,800 have been received on the FBI hotline, and another 2,400 have been generated through the various field offices.

Now, as you well know -- and it picked up -- we've conducted hundreds of interviews around the country. We served over 30 search warrants in various places. Hundreds of subpoenas have been issued. And we have, in the course of seizing some of -- executing some of those search warrants, we have seized computers, other documentary information that we are following up on.

One other point I'd make before we respond to questions, and that is that we have dispatched to -- sent to the major airports FBI agents -- teams of FBI agents to assist in quickly resolving any incidents that may come up when a passenger or passengers are attempting to board an aircraft or obtain a ticket and there's some question raised, so we can minimize the inconvenience to the person who may well be stopped and also swiftly resolve the issue.

And with that, I believe we're happy to take whatever questions you might have.

QUESTION: Director, have you obtained, under seal or otherwise, any fugitive from justice warrants or leveled any kind of charges against anyone?

MUELLER: Well, for under seal, I probably couldn't tell you.

But I can say that there have been no FBI arrests at this time. Any detentions that have occurred have been pursuant to immigration holds where an individual has been out of status.

QUESTION: On the people on the list of hijackers, have they been connected to organizations connected to bin Laden?

MUELLER: I can't get into the details of that.

QUESTION: Does it astonish you that they trained -- all their training came in the U.S., there were so many of them trained as pilots, and that they lived in the open, they weren't hiding their identities here? Does any of that astonish you or shock you?

MUELLER: Well, the tragedies, quite clearly, astonish and shock me and the country. The fact that there were a number of individuals that happened to have received training at flight schools here is news, quite obviously. If we had understood that to be the case, we would have -- perhaps one could have averted this.

But beyond that, I and, I think, everybody else is just astonished at the extent of the tragedy as a result of what happened last Tuesday.

QUESTION: Director, there were two people removed from a flight in, I guess, New York. And those two people's names appeared on a (OFF-MIKE). How were they able to board if their names were on...

MUELLER: Well, I can tell you that that was pursuant to a watch- list other than -- those names were on the watch-list for reasons not related to this investigation.

QUESTION: Mr. Mueller, on the list of the hijackers, two quick questions: One, as there are several shared last names, were many of them related to one another? And a second question is, Del Ray Beach and Hollywood, Florida seem to be very common residences. Do you know whether those were bases of operations for these men?

MUELLER: We are still -- while we have the names from the manifests and are still pursuing investigations of those names to try to document and absolutely be certain that the person who went down on the plane fits with the name on the manifest, the further association of the names we're still investigating.

QUESTION: And the Del Ray Beach...

MUELLER: All I can say is that there are a number of places in the country, without specifying any particular place, where we have conducted a number of interviews and executed several search warrants.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about a D.C. police all points bulletin being put out about a silver or gray minivan that may be carrying a chemical weapon?

MUELLER: I can't tell you anything about that.

QUESTION: What have you learned from the cockpit voice recorder and from the flight data recorder from the two planes?

MUELLER: They're currently over at the NTSB and I think the question should be directed to the NTSB on those at this instant.

QUESTION: They've referred us to you.

MUELLER: As of this moment, we have not learned or received anything off those recorders. Actually, I should say, we have not received anything off the voice data recorder. There is a -- that recorder which is other than the voice data recorder at the Pentagon that we picked up and we did receive information off that.

QUESTION: What did that tell you about that flight -- about it's path... MUELLER: I can't get into that now, sir.

QUESTION: What confidence do you have that the names on the list are actually the people who were on the plane, as opposed to aliases or stolen identities? Do you have a level of confidence there yet?

MUELLER: I think we have a fairly high level of confidence, but when we spoke to you yesterday, we had 18 individuals who we believed were the hijackers. We now have a 19th that our investigation has disclosed was probably one of the hijackers on that plane that left Dulles. And consequently, continuous investigation updates, our confidence, our level of confidence, degree of confidence in assuring that the person who actually was on the plane is associated with the name.

QUESTION: Have you identified any suspects who you believe are still at large in the United States who were the masterminds or leaders of this conspiracy?

MUELLER: I cannot get into the details of the investigation.

Suffice it to say, if we believe that there's somebody in the United States who was associated with this conspiracy and we had evidence upon which to base a charge, we would have and would level that charge.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about the immigration status of the 19? Were any of them out of legal status?

MUELLER: I believe we tried to provide some of those visa details on the listing that we provided to you, and say that some of them were out of status, yes. I'm not certain how many or which names or which individuals whose names appeared on the manifest and we believe to be a hijacker was out of status.

QUESTION: Is it common for the FBI to name a case agent in a big case? Have you guys done that for this one?

MUELLER: The investigation is being run by Tom Pickard (ph), out of headquarters here, with Dale Watson (ph) and numerous others, I would say, senior FBI agents assisting in various capacities.

QUESTION: And the name of the investigation, sir? Has the investigation been given a name and what is it?

MUELLER: Pentbomb...

BROWN: The FBI briefing goes on. There are a number of things we want to deal with there.



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