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Congressional Report on September 11 Released

Aired July 24, 2003 - 20:28   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The long-awaited congressional report on the security lapses before September 11 is out today. Investigators found no obvious tip that everyone missed. There were, however, plenty of missed opportunities to detect or disrupt the plot. There are also questions -- a lot of questions -- because portions of the report are being kept from the public.
Republican Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama is the former chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence. He joins us from Washington tonight, along with a Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon.

Welcome, gentlemen. Good to have both of you with us tonight.


ZAHN: Senators, we're going to start off by reading a short excerpt from this report.

And it starts like this: "The important point is that the intelligence community, for a variety of reasons, did not bring together and fully appreciate a range of information that could have greatly enhanced its chance of uncovering and preventing Usama bin Laden's plan to attack these United States on September 11, 2001."

Senator Wyden, could the attacks of September 11 have been prevented?

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: Well, clearly, had they even looked in their own files, certainly, in my view, you might have been able to unravel this. We'll never know.

But as the line from the movie goes, what we've got here is a failure to communicate. The critical information didn't get around. At a time when our intelligence people should have been mobilizing, unfortunately, some of them seem to have hit the snooze button.

ZAHN: Do you agree with that assessment, Senator Shelby, that some seem to have hit the snooze button?

SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: I believe a lot of people were not communicating. And I believe that, if all the evidence that we've compiled -- some in the open -- some is still classified -- had been in a central point, where it could be collected together, analyzed and disseminated, there's a chance that we may have prevented the attacks of September 11. And, remember, we're looking at it postmortem, so to speak. ZAHN: And why, Senator Shelby, do you think that the dots were not connected?

SHELBY: I think a lot of reasons: culture, different cultures between the FBI, the CIA and the other intelligence agencies.

Just, basically, there was no central place for them to share all their information and act on it. That is one of the failings, the failure of communication, the failure to talk, and, also, sometimes the failure to act on what was bits and pieces of information that I believe, if put together, should have led them to more leads.

ZAHN: Let's, Senator Wyden, talk specifically about how the report details how the CIA was on to two of the eventual hijackers, and yet the FBI wasn't even aware they were in this country. How can that be?

WYDEN: Well, I think that's what we're asking ourselves, given the fact we spend billions and billions of dollars for our intelligence people to be on just this sort of information.

Paula, there are an awful lot of troubling questions tonight. You look, for example, at some of the redacted material. I will tell you that I think there is a need for classification. Those documents ought to be classified when you're talking about national security. But, sometimes, I think this is done more to protect somebody's political backside. So there are a lot of questions tonight, certainty, why some of those key tips, particularly in Southern California, weren't followed up on.

And I will tell you that I'm going to make a big push, as a member of the Intelligence Committee, to deal with this overclassifying of government documents. Let's classify the documents when it protects national security. But it ought to not be done when it's to protect somebody's political backside.

ZAHN: Well, let's ask your colleague, Senator Shelby, about that.

Whose political backside do you think is being protected here? We've learned a fair amount about some of the information about the Saudis and what some would allege to have been a good deal of involvement in events leading up to what happened on 9/11. Whose political backside is being protected here, the Saudis, the Bush administration, whose?

SHELBY: Well, I don't believe the Bush administration has any culpability in the events, in my judgment, leading up to the September 11. A lot of this had gone on a long time. And, remember, President Bush had only been in office for six or seven or eight months when these events happened.

But I do agree with Senator Wyden that too much is classified. A lot of things are classified for the wrong reason. And we should, again, look at these 28 pages that have been redacted. My judgment is that probably 90 percent or more could be declassified and it wouldn't hurt national security one bit.

ZAHN: And, Senator Wyden, you say you're not going to give up on this. What are the chances that any of this ever will become declassified and become public?

WYDEN: Well, we're going to stay at it.

And I'll tell you tonight, I'm exceptionally concerned about this kid-glove treatment of the Saudis. I have felt for a long time that that's been the policy of our government. We are going to continue to dig into these issues. And sunshine, in my view, is the best disinfectant. And I'm going to push hard to try to change the system of overclassifying these documents, restrict it to national security.

And the fact that a former chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Shelby, is supportive of it indicates that we can get bipartisan support for change.

ZAHN: Senator Shelby, you get the last word.

Given the breakdown in communications between the CIA and FBI, can you tell the American public with any degree of confidence that those problems have been worked out and they're in any better shape when it comes to those kind of communications breakdowns?

SHELBY: I believe the intelligence community is very much on alert, the 15 agencies, including the FBI, CIA. And they are moving in the right direction. They're not where they need to be yet. But I believe they want to change, that they have to change.

ZAHN: Senators Shelby and Wyden, good of both of you to join us.

SHELBY: Thank you.

WYDEN: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: Really appreciate your spending a little time with us this evening.

As you probably know, the September 11 report is some 800 pages long. However, the highlights have been leaking out all week long. And for those who lost a loved one on September 11, the pain has lasted nearly two years.

Joining me in Washington tonight is Bill Harvey, whose wife, Sara, worked in tower one of the World Trade Center.

Good evening.

And Marry Fetchet. Her 24-year-old son Brad was in tower two.

Nice to have both of you with us.


ZAHN: Mary, first of all, both of you got a briefing today. What was your reaction to what you heard?

MARY FETCHET, MOTHER OF WORLD TRADE CENTER VICTIM: Well, we were just surprised, really, that they were protecting some of these documents. We campaigned very hard for the independent commission to be established. And we expected them to turn this report over, so they could not duplicate their efforts.

ZAHN: Bill, what are you concerned are in those 28 pages or so?

BILL HARVEY, HUSBAND OF WORLD TRADE CENTER VICTIM: Paula, it's -- it's the biggest -- the biggest open secret in Washington is that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is behind those redacted pages.

And it just makes you really wonder about the foreign policy implications that this country has with Saudi Arabia. And I think that there were 3,000 people that were murdered. And I think that the foreign policy considerations are important. But I think that the victims of September 11 really deserve better than this. And we really have to get to the bottom of this.

ZAHN: And, Mary, I know this is a very complex and dense document. What else concerned you about what you heard today, from a family member's point of view?

FETCHET: Well, first of all, we had another meeting with Director Mueller this morning. And we found in that meeting that the FBI was really not investigating anything other than the terrorists.

And so we feel, to have a complete, objective perspective on what really happened on September 11, it's so extremely important to have the full picture. And, certainly, it begins with the intelligence agencies. But it also filters down into those other areas, the INS, NORAD, the FAA and so forth, that are going to be investigated as part of the independent commission.

ZAHN: Bill, as you come up on this horrible two-year marker of this tragedy, kind of describe to us where your head is right now. Are you feeling a sense of bitterness about how these signals were missed?


ZAHN: And, once again, we just heard what the senator said. This is all looking at this in retrospect. And no one is suggesting that you could have completely unraveled this plot, but that there were some clues missed.

HARVEY: No, I think that that's a very good point.

The scope of the independent commission, as Mary kind of alluded to, is very wide. And that speaks to the many pieces of the puzzle that was 9/11. And there were a lot of mistakes that day. And I think that it's very important that the commission is empowered by the executive branch. And that's -- the information that they've requested, I think it's very important that the executive branch gives it to them in a manner to which the commission should get it, in that there's not any conditions upon the commission, that it's given -- that the commission is given unfettered access to the information and that it's not given to them with the condition that only the chairman and vice chairman can see it, only the commissioners can see it, and the staff can't.

I think it's very important that everything is given to the commission. I don't know if that answers your question, Paula, but I think that that's where I am.

ZAHN: No, it does.

And, Mary, finally tonight, I know it's very important for you family members to be involved in this issue. I'm just wondering if, at times, the feelings are so raw, it just becomes unbearable to have to relive all of this?

FETCHET: Well, the families are really -- there is a wide spectrum in where the families are right now.

Many families are continuing to have a difficult time with recovery efforts and notification process continuing. But we need the truth. And I believe that our families, I believe our country deserves the truth. And we're speaking -- we're the voice of all those people that died. And they deserve to know what the failures were that day.

And I guess one of my concerns, too, is, there has been no accountability. There have been commissions established immediately after the Columbia, which was a devastating event. But this was an event that had 3,000 people that were murdered in the middle of Manhattan and elsewhere, at Washington, D.C., and so forth.

But I just feel that we deserve to know what happened that day. And I feel that our families want the answers. They want the truth. And we want our country to be safe.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate your sharing your stories with us this evening, Mary Fetchet, Bill Harvey. Best of luck to both of you and your families.

HARVEY: Thank you, Paula.

FETCHET: Thank you.


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