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America's New War: Tracking the Terrorists

Aired September 21, 2001 - 20:30   ET


ANNOUNCER: THE POINT: "Tracking the Terrorists."


JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The director of the FBI has launched the largest investigation in the history of the United States, probably in the history of the world.


ANNOUNCER: They're sifting through thousands of tips and seeking scores of people. Tonight, where we stand at the end of another long week.

Plus, stealing names to hide to real faces. The other victims of identity theft.


ROBERT MUELLER, DIRECTOR, FBI: We have several hijackers whose identities were those of the names on the manifest. We have several others that are still in question.


ANNOUNCER: And following bin Laden's money: the many paths where terrorists' dollars can flow, and hide.

THE POINT: "Tracking the Terrorists." Now from Washington, Greta Van Susteren.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST: The investigators are going all-out and they're getting tons of help from people like you. The FBI has received 134,000 tips and potential leads. Agents say some have been productive and are helping them pursue associates of the hijackers. At least 230 people are being sought for questioning. Today, FBI agents detained 25 people on potential immigration violations. Six search warrants, four federal and two state, were executed in the northern Kentucky area.

No doubt about it, this investigation is "big."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ASHCROFT: The director of the FBI, Bob Mueller, who is with us here today, has launched the largest investigation in the history of the United States, probably in the history of the world, to develop an understanding of how this act of war and terror was carried out, and to identify the network of individuals responsible for it so the United States can respond to those individuals.


VAN SUSTEREN: Investigators want to get their cross-hairs on Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization, Al Qaeda.

CNN national correspondent Mike Boettcher joins me from Atlanta with the latest -- Mike.

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Greta, Al Qaeda, the organization, has been repeated over and over and over again the name. Even though the name is familiar now, we really don't know how it works. It doesn't have a capital, it's not its own nation with borders. So tonight, we will begin the process of trying to explain exactly what Al Qaeda is.

For example, using terrorism experts, intelligence analysts, and also other people very familiar with the operation, we will for the first time try to diagram Al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda operates more as a corporate holding company, except its business is terror and war. Osama bin Laden is its chairman, the emir-general. Below bin Laden is Al Qaeda's governing council, known as the Majlis al Shura, which is composed of 20 to 30 members. The two top members of the Majlis al Shura are, according to intelligence sources, Ayman Zawahiri, bin Laden's likely successor, and Mohammed Atef.

Zawahiri is Egypt's most wanted man, accused of leading an Egyptian terror group known as Al Jihad. Atef is a military commander.

Below the governing Al Shura, Al Qaeda divides into four departments: religious, which issues bin Laden's fatwahs, or religious edicts. For example, calling for holy wars. Department two is media, which puts out a weekly newspaper called "Newscast" and promotional videotapes. The next department is finance. The fourth, military, now which along with the media committee -- and we'll show it to you here -- which along with the media committee, according to sources, bypasses the governing Majlis al Shura and receives direct communication with bin Laden.

Let's take a closer look at the military department now. The military committee is led by Mohammed Atef, the No. 3 man in Al Qaeda's hierarchy, and is itself divided into three departments: external military, internal military and terrorist operations.

The external military group runs Al Qaeda operations in more conventional theaters of war outside Afghanistan, in Kashmir, Bosnia and Chechnya, for example. The internal military section overseas Al Qaeda's war effort inside Afghanistan. For example, it commands what is known as the 055 Brigade, which is helping Afghanistan's Taliban government fight rebel groups inside the country.

The important committee in terms of running a terrorist attack like September 11th, the September 11th assaults in New York and Washington, intelligence sources tell us, is the terrorist operations committee. Our sources believe the hierarchy of this department is organized at the top leadership level the same way it is organized on the ground, with cells operating, planning attacks on their various targets around the world.

There is a surveillance group responsible for intelligence on intended targets, a supply cell making sure there is enough money, equipment and other logistical needs to carry out an operation, and finally an execution group. It actually plans and carries out the operations.

And there are four important points that our sources say should be emphasized about the Al Qaeda structure. It is highly compartmentalized. Information known by one committee isn't known by another.

It has multinational membership with specialized skills: Egyptians, Saudis, Algerians and Yemenis, to name a few. Members are hand-picked, especially in the military committee. You don't just join. You are asked to join.

And important decisions are always delivered in person to decrease the chance that messages are being intercepted.

It appears that this certainly was the case in those September 11th attacks.

Now, this is the vertical integration, as it's called, of Al Qaeda. There is actually another organizational chart, the horizontal chart that organizes all of the various terrorist groups around the world that operate under the Al Qaeda umbrella.

As we develop more information, we will put together that chart, Greta, and describe how that works. And I promise, I promise there will not be a pop quiz, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, my thanks to Mike Boettcher in Atlanta. And of course, you're hearing the background here. I'm at the roof of CNN. There are sirens, one of the hazards of working out in the street.


Well, one of the problems in tracking the terrorists is putting names with faces. Imagine sitting at home watching TV and hearing authorities say you are one of the hijackers and you are dead. It happened, and we're going to go to break. When we come back, we'll tell you about it. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAN SUSTEREN: It isn't easy to track terrorists. Sometimes there are mistakes. Here's CNN's Susan Candiotti to tell you all about it.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An airport security photo in Portland, Maine the day of the attacks. State and federal law enforcement sources say the man on the right is Mohamed Atta, believed to have piloted one of the 767s into the World Trade Center. Shown with him in the photo, authorities say, is one of his accomplices, identified by the FBI as Abdul Aziz Alomari. The day after the attack, FBI agents scour Abdul Alomari's rented Vero Beach, Florida home, cleared out about a week before. They also search Alomari's neighbor's house and others nearby, all Saudi Arabian Airlines pilots who recently trained at a flight academy in Vero Beach.

In Saudi Arabia, this man watches the horror of the World Trade Center attack unfolding, then hears his name mentioned as a suspected terrorist, and sees a picture of himself provided by a law enforcement source to CNN.

ABDUL RAHMAN ALOMARI, SAUDI ARABIAN AIRLINES: It was painful for me, for my family, for my kids in school. My pictures were all over the world

CANDIOTTI: Alomari calls a fellow pilot still in Florida, who at that exact moment was talking with the FBI. An agent got on the line.

ALOMARI: They asked me who I am. I said, you know, I am Alomari, Abdul Rahman. And to their surprise, they said, I mean, you should be dead. I said, well, I'm here back home with my kids.

CANDIOTTI: Alomari says he and the suspected hijacker have different middle names. After meeting with the FBI in Saudi Arabia, he says the Bureau apologized. Alomari says, and the FBI now admits, the middle names, a common tribal distinction in Saudi Arabia, apparently caused the confusion.

Another name on the FBI suspect list is Waleed Alshehri. He was named by the FBI as one of the hijackers aboard American Airlines 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. His U.S. flight school issued a news release saying he, too, is alive overseas, and has also been cleared by the FBI.

Since then, the FBI has internally changed the name of its list of suspects to what's called "un-subs," or "unknown subjects."

MUELLER: We have several hijackers whose identities were those of the names on the manifest. 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.

CANDIOTTI: Law enforcement sources suggest the identities of at least some of the 19 people on the Justice Department's original list might have been stolen, perhaps knowing the commercial pilots' names would easily clear any watch list for entry to the U.S.

LEE WEAVERS, TERRORISM EXPERT: It is likely that authorities across the world now will start looking at the way in which they regulate travel and see to ensure bona fide identification papers.

CANDIOTTI: Were the terrorists using fake passports? The FBI this week arrested Nabil al-Marabh, named on a watch list issued after the September 11th attacks. Inside his apartment, the FBI says in court documents it found a fraudulent passport and other documents.

(on camera): And in Virginia, law enforcement sources say, Virginia identification cards have been issued in the names of three of the five suspected hijackers from the Pentagon crash. What's intriguing, sources say, is that they were applied for and received after the terrorist attacks.

(voice-over): Law enforcement agencies have also traced four of the hijackers drivers' licenses, some of them duplicates, to this Florida motor vehicle office. The address on one license was this laundromat. Investigators are looking into whether stolen identities were used to rent a series of apartments and homes throughout Florida.

Does any of this provide a link to Osama bin Laden for law enforcement? Maybe, because according to bin laden's Al Qaeda operating manual, presented as evidence at the embassy bombings trial, quote, "It is preferable to rent apartments using false names."


CANDIOTTI: That same manual also advises that so-called "brothers" to adopt a sort of a non-Muslim appearance wherever they are living, something the neighbors of the suspects who were living in Florida say was quite common, that their neighbors, the alleged suspects, took on a very normal appearance, that they blended in, were unassuming -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Susan, two men with the same last name, Alomari. We have a terrorist and a nonterrorist. Do you have some news on the terrorist Alomari?

CANDIOTTI: That is correct. Tonight, law enforcement sources tell me that the suspected hijacker, Abdul Aziz Alomari, is now considered to have played a key role, a significant role in helping to carry out the attack. Now, quoting sources, they call it "a significant role." They say, among other things -- that is because they are continuing to gather evidence -- that he in particular was making more phone calls, more e-mails, made more contacts with other people, purchased airline tickets, for example. And that is one of the reasons they believe that he was a key coordinator of the attacks.

VAN SUSTEREN: But what's so peculiar is that before we were told that Mohamed Atta, who was on the American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston that went into the World Trade Center, that he was a ring leader. Is there any chance that that man may still be alive, that there was false identification used to perhaps disguise where he might be? CANDIOTTI: Well, at this point, the FBI is looking into all possibilities and not excluding any. That includes that. You might recall that Mohamed Atta's father has said that he has in fact spoken to his son after the attacks, but that Mohamed Atta has not surfaced as yet.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, CNN's Susan Candiotti, thanks for joining me tonight.

Tracking bin Laden's money pipeline and how it can be shut down, that's ahead on THE POINT after a quick break and our "MONEYLINE Update."


VAN SUSTEREN: They rented apartments, paid for flying schools, bought food and airline tickets. Did Osama bin Laden's money get into their pockets? Here is CNNfn's Allan Dodds Frank.


ALLAN DODDS FRANK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The money trail that links Osama bin Laden to the world begins here: in the dusty bazaars of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Sometimes it's cash, moving through underground networks that do not leave paper trails. The network is called the Hawala, a system based on trust and the spoken word that leaves no paper trails.

Other times, money moves through legitimate businesses, shell companies and banks, zipping around the globe in wire transfers through Western capitals and offshore money-laundering havens. The layers of secrecy make Osama bin Laden's network of funding a major challenge to investigators.

JIMMY GURULE, TREASURY UNDERSECRETARY: There are sovereignty issues. We simply can't go over to any foreign country, to any foreign bank, and demand that they do anything. Our first line of defense, our first efforts with respect to a foreign country and a foreign bank is cooperation.

FRANK: The United States promises extraordinary pressure on countries currently blacklisted for money laundering. Panama, the Cayman islands and two other havens just taken off the list have promised to open their records. But six other nations, including Indonesia and Egypt, have just been added.

There's another twist in the investigation: a possible scheme to profit by betting that certain airline and insurance stocks would be hurt by the September 11th attack. The picture is clouded, because before the big move in United Airline stock on September 6th and American Airlines on September 10th, the companies had issued earnings warnings.

Still, suspicions are raised by the high trading volumes and the lopsided ratios of option bets, called "puts," that stocks would decline in the future. JOHN NAJARIAN, PTI SECURITIES & FUTURES: You saw suspicious action in Citigroup, Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Bear Stearns, Boeing, American Airlines and United Airlines. So there was so much action out of the ordinary in these stocks that I suspect there was someone who had prior knowledge that this was going to happen.

FRANK: On Capitol Hill, officials cautioned about jumping to conclusions.

PAUL O'NEILL, TREASURY SECRETARY: These are very sophisticated things. You find in many cases that you've to go through 10 veils before you get to a real source. So this is tedious, complex work. Believe me, we are pursuing it.

FRANK: Unraveling the trades could provide critical clues to terrorist funding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The securities trading here is secondary to the basic question of did the activity have anything to do with the terrorism and were the people behind the trading at all associated with or knowledgeable about what was going to happen.

FRANK (on camera): Investigators say finding Osama bin Laden's money could be every bit as hard as finding him.

Allan Dodds Frank, CNN, New York.


VAN SUSTEREN: As you see, terrorism takes money. What can be done to choke off the supply?

With me here in Washington is Michael Zeldin, who used to head up the Justice Department's money-laundering section. OK, Michael, let's start at the very beginning. If we want to choke off his money supply, what's the first thing you do?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Get cooperation from governments to seize, freeze and confiscate money that can be identified.


ZELDIN: The key is identifying it.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, identify, all right. OK, identify: How are you going to identify the money?

ZELDIN: Well, you have to have entry points into the financial system. This is a needle in a haystack of needles that you're looking for. And so you need leads.

Here we've got a couple of good leads that were just led to in the preview. We've got the Chicago options board. We've got unique retrading in Frankfurt. We've got Japan trading in other options. That may give you an entry point into Europe where this money is likely held.

If this organization tracks the flow of drug organizations, the money men keep their money in solid investments, in Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, and other bank secrecy havens, and that's what we need to break.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So if you have those entry (UNINTELLIGIBLE), if you know where the money is, then is the next step then to go to each individual country and say: Look, the moneys in this country, we need information?

ZELDIN: Well, you have to know in some sense is the money in that country, and knowing that is hard. In the embassy bombing case, the Osama bin Laden and two co-defendants had 75 aliases in that indictment alone. So knowing what name is in is very difficult.

Banks and other financial institutions aren't under an obligation to really know their customers as a matter of positive law, and that's a problem.

VAN SUSTEREN: A problem or impossible?

ZELDIN: It's a problem. It's not impossible. If you can actually flip any of these money men, get them to talk and give you the name of an account from which a wife transfer was sent, then the trail begins to open up and you can follow the money, just as in Watergate, and you see each item moment by moment, name by name. Then you go to the cooperation and you get your freeze orders.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, now freeze -- you can either -- you can freeze money and can confiscate it. When can you freeze it and when can you confiscate it?

ZELDIN: It's essentially a probable cause showing that money in the account has some relationship to criminal activity, such that the government is going to make a claim of ownership over it. It's a funny, sort of legal theory, but if the law -- if the money is illegal, the government really has a right to own. And so they assert their ownership claim in it.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, what strikes me, though, Michael, is that when I see pictures of this country, I don't think of, you know, hugely sophisticated bank transactions. I'm a little bit suspicious a lot of it's cash. A lot of people who are in the illegal drug trade do cash. I mean, can you track down the cash? You can't -- I mean, that seems to be impossible, and I assume most of the transactions are in cash.

ZELDIN: Well, you have two separate things. In drug transactions, you've got cash being generated from the sale of narcotics on the streets of the United States. That has to be put into financial institutions. That's how you follow that cash.

Here, you have either two things, either domestic cash being raised in mosques or 501(c)3 foundations or other nefarious ways, or you have money being smuggled in. Can be smuggled in bulk cash, hidden in people's jackets or in compartments of equipment, or as the indicator said, there's a Hawala system, which is essentially a Western Union of chit for chit where the money is here to begin with and it never crosses an international border. So it's complicated to follow the money.

VAN SUSTEREN: So it doesn't get caught very easily.

ZELDIN: It doesn't -- it doesn't make an easy cut by customs as it comes in because there's no one there watching the border.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, now, I mean, assuming that we could even track down the money, when I start adding up the money in this terrorism -- they stayed in cheap hotels. They rented the cheapest cars. They did, I think, get first-class tickets, which are expensive.

But for all intents and purposes, this is not an expensive operation. And I heard that one prosecutor in the World Trade Center bombing, the earlier one, said it would cost only $10,000. So is the money investigation almost irrelevant.

ZELDIN: Well, the money is not irrelevant in this sense. Yes, in this case, you probably could have carried out this terrorist act for tens of thousands of dollars, not a lot of money. The question is where are these people being trained and how much money is being spent in Afghanistan or Sudan. We know bin Laden in Sudan, when he first moved operations there, bought a very expensive piece of property. They have to have equipment for training people and weapons. That is the money that, overseas, that is really the cache that you're looking for here.

The little chump-change money in the U.S. is not going to hurt this organization if it's found.

VAN SUSTEREN: So you strangle them the other way. Michael Zeldin...

ZELDIN: Strangle them from Europe.

VAN SUSTEREN: Michael Zeldin, thank you very much for joining me this evening.

I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. Be sure to join us over the weekend as we continue "Tracking the Terrorists." And up next, former FBI Director William Sessions joins Larry King.



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