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America's New War: Director of FBI and Attorney General Give Press Conference After Touring Pennsylvania Crash Site

Aired September 20, 2001 - 12:56   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: The Attorney General John Ashcroft toured the Pennsylvania plane crash site today, and he is now meeting with reporters, so we'll take you there.

JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... for your briefing, which was comprehensive. And, frankly, it's a real credit to the individuals who have been working here. I'm grateful.

I had chance of meeting with Major Zapinka (ph) of the Pennsylvania State Police. He and those individuals with him have been serving admirably, and I'm delighted that his service to Pennsylvania and to Governor Ridge is so thorough.

General Fisher (ph), thank you. I spent eight years as a state attorney general and I know that in times like these the complete focus and attention of an attorney general can mean a lot, and I'm grateful to you.

It is impossible to stand in a field in Pennsylvania, at the site of heroic devotion and activity, without thinking of the words of Abraham Lincoln, who spoke 140 years ago at Gettysburg. He put it this way: "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

In the midst of this tragedy is a testimony of the American spirit, of individuals who bravely and courageously were willing to endure additional risks and pay an ultimate price so that others would be more secure. That's the heroic tradition of law enforcement and public service in the United States of America.

And I simply cannot pass at this site without reflecting on the fact that it became a part of the conduct and life of so many individuals who were heroic at this site, and it should be a testimony and inspiration to every American everywhere to understand that public safety is everybody's business and it's our opportunity to do those things that preserve our liberty and the integrity of what it means to enjoy the freedoms we call America.

This tragedy which befell the United States of America on September the 11th was an act of war by others seeking to disrupt the kind of freedom and liberty that we enjoy in the United States of America. We have been intently examining all the evidence to develop a complete understanding not only of the responsible parties and organizations so that they can be appropriately dealt with and punished, but also developing a better understanding of what we can do to make sure that we disrupt, interrupt, stop, thwart, curtail the risk of further events like those events of Tuesday, September 11.

That is the responsibility that we labor incessantly on, and we will leave no stone unturned to make sure that we do what we can to minimize the risk of reoccurrence. We have to give thanks for the many state and local law enforcement officials who are working with the 4,000 FBI agents who are part of examination teams; the 3,000 support workers who support them; the assigned individuals from the U.S. Marshals Service who joined the FBI; individuals from the United States Border Patrol. We met this morning with ATF workers from the Treasury Department of the United States.

This investigation and effort is the largest criminal investigation ever launched, the most comprehensive devotion of resources. And we will develop a better understanding. We will identify the parties responsible and we will provide a basis for punishing parties and organizations whose mission it was to disrupt America's life of freedom and liberty, and that is a firm commitment.

At the very heart of the investigation is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the world's premiere law enforcement agency. And I had the privilege of talking to those who were sifting through the evidence here, who talked about evidence found a distance from the site, who described searching for evidence on hands and knees, picking up all of the pieces so that we could piece together an understanding which will provide the basis for justice and response by the United States of America against those who perpetrated the crime and those that harbored them, who gave them aid and assistance and supported them.

At the heart of that investigation is the director of the FBI who has coordinated these efforts of the FBI as the leading agency in this investigation, and I'm pleased to be able to invite him to make remarks at this time.

Bob Mueller is an individual whose service in law enforcement is over the course of many decades, having served as the U.S. attorney in Boston, U.S. attorney in San Francisco, the chief of the Criminal Division of the FBI in Washington, D.C., a staff attorney, assistant U.S. attorney working homicides in Washington, D.C., and now as the director of the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.



I only, at the outset, can acknowledge or state that every FBI agent, every FBI employee, acknowledges, respects and has the utmost admiration for the heroic efforts of the passengers on Flight 93, and I think our admiration and our respect for those passengers is shared by just about everybody in the country. The FBI has the initial jurisdiction for investigating incidents such as this. We are but one of so many law enforcement agencies who come together at times like this and other such times and work together hand-in-hand to bring those responsible to justice and it is thus here. And I want to spend just a moment to talk about the support that the bureau, ATF, Red Cross have provided to this effort here.

In particular I want to mention that the agents tell me that there's been a huge outpouring of support from the communities here in Somerset County and throughout Pennsylvania, and for that support we thank you from the depth of our hearts.

Others have helped and should be acknowledged: The Pennsylvania State Police, Colonel Hicks (ph), Major Sapinca (ph) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency were here moments after this happened and have worked hand-in-hand with the FBI, ATF and the other federal agencies. I want to just mention in conclusion the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

To walk the line and see the agents, you expect in a circumstance like this -- it's a crime scene and you expect agents to be sifting through the rubble in order to determine whether there's evidence there that could be used in a prosecution down the road in order to bring these individuals to justice -- but to see the Red Cross, the many volunteers of the Red Cross, to see the volunteers from the Salvation Army and all the others from the community, you were here at this site as a testimony, as a statement as to how not only at this site, but across the country, all persons are coming together.

All persons who believe that this is an abhorrent act are coming together to try to bring these individuals to justice. And all of us together will succeed in bringing the individuals responsible for this to justice.

Now, I think probably the attorney general and I would be happy to entertain some questions.

QUESTION: Could you give us the status on the black boxes?

MUELLER: Yes, I'll be happy to. There were two recorders found at the Pentagon site, the flight data recorder and the voice recorder, and unfortunately we're unable to obtain anything off the voice recorder because it was so badly burned in that crash.

We've recovered the flight data recorder here, as well as the voice recorder, and we and the NTSB are in the process of transcribing and in certain cases translating the dialogue, what little dialogue there is on that voice recorder.

I will say, we do not have the voice recorders from the World Trade Center or the flight data recorders.

Anybody else?

QUESTION: Can you tell us how many material witnesses have been arrested at this point? And was the gentleman in the Chicago area yesterdays one of them?

MUELLER: There have been a number of material witness warrants issues, and I cannot give you the specific number.

QUESTION: If translations are required off the cockpit voice recorder (inaudible) assume then that hijackers were on that...

MUELLER: I can't go into the details any more. I will tell you that it will take some time because we are analyzing very carefully what is heard on that voice data recorder.

QUESTION: Do you have a high level of confidence that you have accurately identified the hijackers?

MUELLER: I know I said at the outset that I had a high level of confidence on the identities of the hijackers. We have several hijackers whose identities were those of the names on the manifests. We have several others that are still in question. So the investigation is ongoing and I am not certain as to several of the others.

QUESTION: Can you tell me, or do you know, the information on that cockpit voice recorder from this airline, flight 93, does it support what a number of the cellular phone calls from passengers have indicated about the passengers (inaudible)?

MUELLER: It would be premature to discuss what's on that until the analysis is done.


MUELLER: I think both of us here, both the attorney general and I and the attorney general of Pennsylvania have indicated we believe those passengers on this jet were absolute heroes and their actions during this flight were heroic.

Thank you.

BROWN: The director of the FBI and the attorney general in Pennsylvania today having toured the crash site about 80 miles south of Pittsburgh, where united 93 went down. Pretty stingy with details on the investigation. They did say they have the black box, the two black boxes that play the audio recordings. They are processing that, doing some translation on that. As I heard, at least they didn't indicate they had a lot of information on that tape, but they are working on it.



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