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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Thomas Pickard, Cofer Black Testify Before 9/11 Commission
Aired April 13, 2004 - 14:08 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Straight to the 9/11 investigation now, the commission, the live hearing. We're going to listen in, as Thomas Pickard starts to address the commission.
THOMAS PICKARD, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: He told a number of people about his thoughts. Some months later, for this and probably other reasons, life became too difficult for him, and he took his life.
No one knows the torment this event must have given him to take this tragic step. Those of us who were in the FBI at the time are no exception. No one knows how deeply many employees of the FBI are troubled by the haunting events leading up to that day.
In my view, the tragedy of 9/11 clearly demonstrates the high costs for the collective failure of the U.S. government to penetrate the inner workings of al Qaeda or to deal with terrorism, as it was then, as it is now, a war against the United States, intended to inflict as many American casualties as possible.
For many complex reasons we did not develop the necessary intelligence, either through our own resources or through foreign resources, to sufficiently understand and react to their planning, communications, control and capacity to do us harm.
I was the acting director of the FBI in the summer of 2001. The intelligence and the experience I had available to me at the time were what I acted upon.
As I recall, during the period January to September 2001, the FBI received over 1,000 threats. Many of these threats had great specificity and others were very general in nature.
All were taken seriously, but the volume was daunting.
The increase in the chatter was by far the most serious, but it was also the most difficult to deal with. There was no specificity as to what, where and when. We knew the who, but only that it was al Qaeda.
I had regular conversations with the director of CIA and his deputy and the attorney general and his deputy about the threats we were receiving and to learn if there was anything more that would help us understand the fragmentary information we had.
The only news I received was that the chatter subsided in August 2001.
Further, I personally spoke, both collectively and individually, with each of the special agents in charge of the FBI's 56 field offices and with the assistant directors at FBI headquarters about what we knew and what we should be doing. Most of what I heard pointed overseas.
For example, at the recommendation of the assistant director of New York and the head of counterterrorism, I removed the agents from Yemen due to the threat level and the chatter.
During the summer, we continued to pursue our investigations of the bombing of the African embassies and the USS Cole. These were not just investigations to bring people responsible to justice, but they were also giving us valuable intelligence on al Qaeda. These investigations did more than advance the prosecution of these matters; they provided some of the best intelligence the U.S. government possessed about al Qaeda.
Many of those arrested and brought back to the United States started to cooperate with the FBI. They provided us not only information about the bombings, but also became valuable resources in identifying al Qaeda members to U.S. intelligence. They gave us unique insights into al Qaeda's command and control.
We also exploited their pocket letter, cell phones, calling cards, credit cards and hotel registrations for links to other members. The agents were tireless in pursuing these bits and pieces of information. The New York office of the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District of New York had become very knowledgeable and adept at exploiting these investigations.
The FBI also had Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act coverage on individuals in the United States, which has recently been discussed. This too gave us links to other possible members of al Qaeda. These investigations and coverages were the direct result of FBI investigations, as well as coming from the United States and foreign intelligence communities.
None of what we knew or learned pointed to what was about to happen on 9/11. To the contrary, all of these steps were not enough given what we had learned about the 19 hijackers since September 11th. The plot was hatched probably in Afghanistan, it was honed in Germany and was financed in the Middle East. Each of the hijackers were selected to ensure that he could come and go into the United States without attracting attention, not a difficult thing to do with our open and overwhelmed borders.
They did not receive support knowingly from anyone in the United States, nor did they contact known al Qaeda sympathizers in the United States. They utilized publicly accessible Internet connections, prepaid calling cards to communicate and to escape detection by U.S. authorities.
These 19 acted flawlessly in their planning and execution. They successfully exploited every weakness from our borders to our cockpit doors.
The members of al Qaeda are a formidable enemy. I have personally met with Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack.
He is poised, articulate, well educated. He speaks English with a British accent as well as six other languages. He has degrees in chemistry and electrical engineering. And in 1995 he utilized a laptop computer with an encryption program on it.
I have also led two separate teams overseas to return Eyad Mahmoud Ismail Najim, who drove the van into the World Trade Center in 1993, and Wala Khan (ph), who was part of the Manila Air plot, back to the United States to stand trial.
Both were fairly well-educated, poised young men dedicated to a jihad in America. I've used the word "enemy" to describe them because that's what they are. They are dedicated terrorists willing to even commit suicide for their beliefs.
The camps in Afghanistan and elsewhere were graduating thousands like them who are educated, committed and even computer savvy. Al Qaeda was turning out five times more graduates from their camps than the CIA and the FBI were graduating from their training schools.
I could only utilize handcuffs on them. President Bush and the U.S. military gave them something more effective -- bombs, bullets and bayonets.
Over the last week, I have interacted again with the men and women of the FBI. Director Mueller and his staff have a formidable challenge in preventing the next act of terrorism.
Al Qaeda has to just get it right once, but the FBI will have to get it right every time.
I'd like to briefly touch on the issue of the walls. And I think it's summarized best by one of the New York agents who I knew. And his quote was, "Create enough walls and you build a maze."
It hampered greatly our efforts to utilize the FISA process to penetrate these cells. And I would recommend to this commission that they add courts and judges outside Washington, D.C., to speed up the FISA process to help and make sure this works much more effectively.
Dick Clarke before this commission stated that if he had known about these two individuals -- al-Mihdhar and al-Hamzi -- he would have put them on "America's Most Wanted."
If we knew what we knew now about them, I agree. And I could have called John Walsh, and he would have run a special about them.
However, on September 10th, all we knew was that they were to be put on the visa watch list and we should attempt to locate them.
The FBI did not know whether they had departed the United States, and we certainly had no information -- none -- that they were here to carry out an act of terrorism.
In closing, I have met with or spoken by telephone to a number of FBI employees and some who have moved on from the FBI. Many have asked me to tell the families of the victims that each day the FBI family suffers with you the memory of 9/11.
I am now prepared to answer your questions and later the family's questions, after this hearing. I've made arrangements with the FBI to utilize those services after this meeting, not directly, but later.
I have not made myself available to the media or anyone else prior to the meeting with this commission because I believe you have a solemn, non-political responsibility to find out what happened on September 11th, and to provide recommendations to protect America in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Mr. Pickard.
Mr. Black, sir?
COFER BLACK, FORMER DIRECTOR OF DCI'S COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: Good afternoon. My name is Cofer Black. From 1999 until 2002, I was the director of the DCI's Counterterrorism Center. We call my old unit CTC. It was in that capacity that I am here today to testify. I promise to try and be brief in my opening remarks so we can get to your questions.
I am here today to tell you and the American people what we did, what we tried to do, and where we fell short in order to help this commission and the nation understand what happened and encourage the kind of discussion that will help us avoid a similar tragedy in the future.
And believe me, our enemies are still out there plotting to attack us and our allies in the war on terrorism. These attacks could take the form of spectaculars, like 9/11, or could be smaller, but still effective operations that are easier to mount, like what happened in Madrid.
I'm not here to testify as part of a political process, or to create another political firestorm over some perceived allegation of negligence or inattention or error by somebody else. Too often in this election year, the effort you are engaged in has revolved around what people in this country perceive as partisan issues.
I do not want to engage in an exercise that reflects that kind of unproductive exchange.
Frankly, what mattered to me and the men and women I led in the Counterterrorist Center did not depend on the flavor of the administration, but rather was driven by what we thought needed to get done and our attempt to protect American citizens, property and interests. In order to understand the threats that emerged during 2001, and our response to those threats, I want to briefly provide some context. A lot of this activity is highly classified, so I will provide an overview.
I want to begin by describing our overall strategy. We've been systematically attempting to counter the terrorist threat since William Casey established CTC in 1986. Over the following 15 years, we saw the nature of that threat evolve. Our approach to dealing with the threat has also evolved.
By the time that I arrived in the summer of 1999, CTC was ready to take the next step in its evolution, to embark on a new, more offensive strategy to deal with the terrorist problem.
Our plan had a number of elements.
First, because terrorism is a global problem, we needed to build a global coalition to work with us to fight the threat. We set out to engage with every liaison service worldwide that was willing to work with us. In some cases we needed to build up the capabilities of those services, and we did.
Second, we worked to actively engage those services that have regional or semi-global capacity.
Most importantly, we worked to develop our own operations to advance U.S. counterterrorism objectives by penetrating terrorist safe havens and collecting intelligence that would both inform policy and enable our own operations.
Although this was our global strategy, the single issue that overwhelmingly occupied our attention was Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The plan we developed to deal with al Qaeda involved disrupting OBL operations. This depended heavily on developing sources of both human and technical intelligence that could give us insights into his plans at the tactical level. This is easy to say but hard to accomplish.
Channeling and capturing OBL: This required us to know where OBL was, to develop capture teams and find a way to have these two streams of activities intersect at a specific time, all from a distance.
Psychological operations: Psychological operations are always hard to conduct and hard to measure, but we were trying to drive OBL to areas that might be easier for us to operate in, at the same time that we are disrupting his operations. One of our goals was to convince the Taliban that Osama bin Laden was a liability.
OBL's lieutenants: al Qaeda is not a one-person show. At the same time we were pursuing OBL, we were also working to develop intelligence on his chief lieutenants in order to conduct operations against them. Technical operations: In order to improve our intelligence collection, we were working with a variety of partners outside of CTC to develop innovative approaches to dealing with a denied area like Afghanistan.
We continued to refine our approach throughout 2000 and into 2001, pushing forward with those initiatives that seemed to have promise.
But this was a hard and a long-term effort. There were no quick fixes short of invading Afghanistan, and that was determined not to be an option prior to 9/11.
Let me also set straight the record on the Predator. We were interested in a UAV program to improve our operations in Afghanistan as far back as 1999.
While I had to live within my financial resources, CTC was interested in and pushed to develop Predator capabilities. I was convinced that we needed these capabilities and would be able to put them to good use.
That said, wanting something does not translate into having it ready to deploy. There were very serious debates over how to proceed and I object to any notion that CTC, that I, either did not want to develop the capability or that we tried to kill it.
2001 started out with many distinct terrorist threats that required our attention. Again, this is a highly classified area. I'll attempt to summarize what I can tell you.
CTC was continuing to work with the FBI on the USS Cole attack, working to follow through on a major multi-country takedown of terrorist cells in Southeast Asia, responding to a hostage situation in Ecuador, dealing with another hostage crisis in the Philippines. Overshadowing all this was the rising volume of threat reporting.
By the summer of 2001, we were seeing an increased amount of so- called chatter alluding to a massive terrorist strike.
We were receiving this intelligence not only from our own sources, but also from the liaison. Human intelligence was providing the same kinds of insights. Disruption efforts and detentions were also corroborating our concerns about a coming attack.
None of this, unfortunately, specified method, time or place.
Where we had clues, it looked like planning was under way for an attack in the Middle East or Europe. At the same time, we were working on two tracks: to go after al Qaeda and to disrupt the terrorist attacks.
In going after the organization, we were doing several things simultaneously.
First we had to penetrate the threat. To do this, we needed to penetrate both the al Qaeda safe haven in Afghanistan and the organization itself to collect enhanced human and technical intelligence on its activities and to understand it well enough to conduct offensive operations against it.
Second, we had to look for opportunities to take down al Qaeda cells. With the intelligence we collected, we worked to create plans to disrupt or degrade al Qaeda.
Make no mistake: This was a hard mission with a low probability for success in the near term.
Finally, we were developing new capabilities to enable us to penetrate and take down the organization. These ranged from Predator to developing new approaches for going after the Afghan safe haven, by working with groups within the country and with any cooperative service in neighboring countries.
A number of these initiatives were also included in the so-called December 2000 blue sky memo and in follow-on discussions in the CSG process that had been previously discussed by others and in your staff statements.
In order to disrupt, we approached almost two dozen cooperative services to go after Osama bin Laden-related targets worldwide. At best we were hoping to delay any attack to buy ourselves more time to find out what was planned. We were looking for every opportunity to go on the offensive against al Qaeda.
Where we did not have enough information, we warned. We produced CIA and community analysis that examined the heightened threat situation. Your staff's statement this morning ran into titles of a number of these documents.
More broadly, I also want to emphasize that CTC and the intelligence community produced significant strategic analysis that examined the growing threat from the international jihadist networks and al Qaeda. I believe that the record shows that the U.S. government understood the nature of the threat. This understanding was the result of a range of products we produced or contributed to, including: personal interaction via participation in the Counterterrorism Security Group; periodic stand-back assessments on OBL and Sunni extremist-related topics; contributing to the annual "Patterns of Global Terrorism"; and outside the executive branch, activities such as the DCI's worldwide threat briefings; support for the Bremer commission on terrorism; and briefings for the HPSCI Terrorism Subcommittee.
But ultimately, we were not able to stop what happened on 9/11 despite our actions and our warnings.
I promised to be brief, so I'll close with a final thought.
What I have been largely talking about is what the Counterterrorism Center can and has done, but ultimately what we at the agency do is deal with the symptoms of terrorism at a tactical level. As long as there are people who are not happy with their lot in life, as long as the United States is perceived to somehow be the cause of this unhappiness, there will be terrorism.
No matter how many plots we uncover and disrupt, no matter how many terrorist organizations we degrade or destroy, another individual or group will rise to take their place.
Mr. Chairman, we need to remind the American public of this reality.
Those like the families who have lived through the horrors of 9/11 will never forget. But I fear sometimes, that the rest of the country is losing sight of the long and hard way ahead.
At the more strategic level, the only way to address terrorism is to deal with the issues that create terrorism, to resolve them where possible, and where that's not possible to ensure that there is an alternative to violence. And that is not something that the Counterterrorism Center or CIA can do. That is a mission for the broader United States government.
Prior to this hearing, I contacted former Counterterrorism Center colleagues at our headquarters here in Virginia and those that are overseas and now in harm's way. I asked them the question, "What am I going to tell these people? It should not be my words alone, but it should be ours."
And hauntingly, all of my CTC friends, independently, said exactly the same thing. They used the same words and they said them in the same order: "We are profoundly sorry. We did all we could. We did our best." And they said make them understand how few we were and what we had to deal with.
The shortage of money and people seriously hurt our operations and analysis.
In CTC, we heard our director's call. I've heard some people say this country wasn't at war. I want to tell you, Mr. Chairman, the Counterterrorism Center was at war. We conducted ourselves at war. And that's the way it is.
We did the best we could under the law and with the resources provided and under our defined rules of engagement.
Appreciating this, I want to say it's my honor to take full responsibility for the Counterterrorism Center, for those men and women that served this country so well. I'm proud to do it.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here, for the opportunity to speak on behalf of all those who served in CTC. I want to thank you for the opportunity to support what even I am beginning to realize is the important work of this commission.
KEAN: Thank you, Ambassador.
Secretary Lehman? JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you.
And welcome, Mr. Pickard, Mr. Black. The reason you're both here and the reason your testimony carries special weight with us is that both of you are career professionals and both of you are seen as role models in your particular professional field. And your prepared statements reflect that.
And please understand that the questions I am posing to you have nothing to do with the blame game or finger-pointing.
Our high responsibility is to draw the right lessons and to make real, achievable recommendations for change.
So that's what we need to find out.
Now let's start with the presidential daily briefing that was just released at our request over the weekend. To me, the most significant sentence in that PDB is that after summarizing the history of the reporting from '98 forward essentially of growing alarm and threat in the intelligence community, the summary to the president was, quote, "We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting such as bin Laden wanting to hijack U.S. aircraft, et cetera."
Well, the more sensational threat reporting was right. Why didn't the combined intelligence community -- why weren't they able to corroborate something as essential as that?
BLACK: Sir, looking at the PDB article, I would like to reflect upon the time of that. Clearly, this was a period of heightened threat. We had a global collection network out. We were receiving significant amounts of intelligence. It certainly was spiking. And all the indications that we had were clearly pointing at the Saudi Arabia Peninsula, Saudi Arabia to a less extent, Israel and Europe. So the focus, the tactical focus of the threat was certainly in that area.
The strategic piece is that by Osama bin Laden's own words stated he has a war against the United States. He wishes to strike the United States. In fact, he declared that American civilians should be considered as combatants.
I think that PDB piece is basically a placemarker that is a reminder to the principals that read these materials that, whereas the tactical intelligence is pointing to locations overseas, that it is good to be mindful of what his ultimate objective is: that it is to strike hard against the United States. And I think that's essentially the balance between the two, sir.
LEHMAN: Thank you.
In the last paragraph, the presumably FBI sources report and tell the president that there are some 70 full field investigations going on.
We previously had testimony from Mr. Berger that, in response to queries to the FBI on al Qaeda, the response was, "We got it covered."
There have been reports and we'll hear from that later -- hear from him later on -- that Attorney General Ashcroft, when querying about the terrorist threat, the FBI response was essentially, "We've got it covered."
This PDB has the same tone. "We're doing 70 field investigations on suspected al Qaeda personnel in the United States. We've got it covered."
And our understanding is that this was, to put it nicely, a bit of an exaggeration, because 70 full field investigations have the aura of being a major, massive, going to battle stations, where in fact it really referred to every single individual that was under investigation.
So it was an exaggeration which gave a wrong perception at a time when the threat that we now know was really much further along.
It seems a, kind of, backhanded, off-handed way to be telling the president of the United States of efforts that the bureau was doing.
Could you address that?
PICKARD: Mr. Lehman, you're correct with approximately 70 full field investigations. They focused on 70 individuals, give or take some.
But, first off, I did not have access to the PDB. I had never seen a PDB until September 11th. So the FBI did not get to vet the article.
I would find it a mischaracterization to say that anyone in the FBI said, "We've got them covered."
We only knew what we knew. The intelligence we had lead us to these 70 individuals and we worked on them as best we could.
As I said in my statement, it's a give-and-take between Cofer and myself back and forth as to picking up bits and pieces of information. Those 70 in the United States, they were partly a result of FBI investigations, but credit has to be given very greatly to the CIA for giving us the information and for the other members of the intelligence community that they provided us with information to direct us to look at these individuals.
Otherwise, we're operating in a vacuum where we don't know who to be on. We cannot, by any stretch, target any persons of a particular faith just because they belong to a faith. We're trying to identify people who are al Qaeda operatives who might give either some kind of support, whether it's financial or otherwise, to these individuals.
If I could elaborate on that for a minute, we know al Qaeda operatives in the United States, Hamas, Hezbollah. The Provisional IRA has operatives in the United States that we have investigations on. We have Russian intelligence officers, North Korean, Cuban intelligence officers within the United States. We have investigations on them, trying to identify with whatever means we have available, including FISA, what they're doing, and trying to catch them either in the act of espionage or prevent an act of terrorism.
As far as those 70 cases, two of them were indicted and convicted on the East Africa bombing, not for actions they took here in the United States, but for what actions they took outside the United States. But both of them were U.S. citizens.
We have another individual who was convicted of another criminal matter outside of terrorism.
We also determined that some of these individuals who foreign intelligence and CIA identified to us, they left the United States, and we made the hand-off to the CIA to, "Can you get with your foreign counterparts and watch these people? We think they are of interest, but they did not do anything here in the United States that would cause us alarm."
We had a number of them picked up on immigration charges, because they had extended their visas.
I could ask the FBI to provide you with a detailed listing. And I'd like to also caution that the number 70 is somewhat inaccurate.
I don't know how that got into the PDB that way, but the actual number is inaccurate and it's a classified number. I would not want Osama bin Laden to know how many we thought of his operatives were in the United States.
LEHMAN: But to take you up on your mention of the prohibitions on investigating religious institutions, the Levi restrictions and so forth, that...
PICKARD: Educational institutions too.
LEHMAN: So you were not able to target schools, mosques and other sanctuaries?
PICKARD: No, we were not.
LEHMAN: As you know, very shortly after the September 11th attack, some of the commercial databases like Axion, ICSO (ph), ChoicePoint, so forth were queried and nearly all of the 19 hijackers were very prominently covered, with addresses, credit cards, locations, et cetera. Why did not the FBI make use of those commercial databases before 9/11?
PICKARD: We were prohibited from utilizing a lot of those commercial databases by statutes and things like that. That was one of the benefits of the Patriot Act, as I understand it. I have not read the act, and I'm not an attorney, and don't want to start practicing. LEHMAN: Mr. Black, Mr. Clarke prominently and other -- in fact, numerous other witnesses have alluded to the fact that in their belief, the director of operations in CIA, going back to the traumas of the post-Watergate era, had a deeply entrenched culture opposed to covert operations and certainly opposed to targeting individuals like Osama bin Laden for killing, to the point where one of our witnesses, under oath, told us that one of your senior associates in the agency had said that he would resign rather than carrying out an order that would target Osama.
Since we've heard it from more than one witness, is there a cultural problem in our directorate of operations in CIA?
BLACK: I have no cultural problem whatsoever. Our mission is to engage with the -- close and engage with the enemy to produce intelligence. If you're talking about authorities, covert action authorities, I really do not want to go into that here. I'd be happy to do that in closed session.
Let me just underscore one point. We operate under the law. Covert action authorities are communicated in a thing called a memorandum of notification. You have lawyers in the National Security Council; you have lawyers in the Central Intelligence Agency. They have groups called lawyers' groups. May I never be in such a group.
And they hash over words. Words mean something in this country. And words are formed into Orders For Action. And the Central Intelligence Agency conducts itself according to those orders under the law. And if you want to know what we are to do, you have the appropriate clearances, you access and take a look at it.
That's how we follow our instructions. What is written down in these memorandums of notification are our orders to engage the target, and that's what we do, sir.
LEHMAN: Without going into any classified information, did you believe that you had the authority to go after Osama personally as opposed to in a capture operation?
BLACK: Again, I will try and meet your needs in this, but I would really prefer to do much of this in a closed session.
The constant theme from the first of these MONs in this series were very explicit and that the objective which was agreed to, everyone in the Central Intelligence Agency and all of our lawyers are unanimous, as reflected by the statements of the director of central intelligence and the deputy director of operations, it was capture was the objective.
LEHMAN: Thank you. That's a good answer.
It leads to another question, which is the division of responsibilities for covert action between the Defense Department and the CIA, the Title 10, Title 50 distinctions. From all of the testimony we've gathered and the evidence, this clearly was a point of disagreement and dysfunction, with fingers being pointed on each side at the other for not doing what they should be doing or not having the capabilities that they should have.
There have been proposals that are very active today that really recommended CIA not be in these operations -- these paramilitary operations -- that instead the Title 50 kinds of operations be given to the Special Operations Command with CIA participation, but there be a unified command that is tasked with that kind of responsibility. What do you think of that?
BLACK: I'm all -- as an American, I'm all for what works. I think the record of the Central Intelligence Agency responding after 9/11, having the plans, surging into Afghanistan, setting it up for the warriors to win that battle with low loss of life in a way that I think was highly efficient, as stated by the president of the United States, I think, is an example of where the two can work together effectively.
I personally believe they can work together far more effectively. Anything that you can do to cement this relationship so it's even closer, particularly with the U.S. Army's Special Forces and the Central Intelligence Agency, I personally believe that's our future.
In fact, in Afghanistan, when you see these personnel together, the civilians and the military are indistinguishable, and they all bring particular skills to the battlefield. So I think that's an area of great growth. And we have a lot of commonality. And it should be encouraged.
LEHMAN: Thank you.
I have one final question for both of you.
First, Mr. Pickard, we've spent a lot of time on the Cole, and you have addressed it very well, and all of the benefits that have come out of the several hundred agents that were sent over there and the intelligence yield, although it certainly didn't interfere with 9/11, but it certainly has expanded our understanding of al Qaeda since.
But we've also had very consistent testimony from very high sources that the fact that the bureau was not able to complete its investigation, or wanted to take so much time to meet all their evidentiary requirements -- that a final finding, in which they were prepared to stand by that al Qaeda did it, came so late that it was well past the Clinton administration and well into the Bush administration, by which time some people thought it was too stale to react.
And we're having a hard time reconciling where everybody immediately throughout the community the day after said, "It's Osama and it's al Qaeda who did it." Yet there was not a willingness to go on record and formally say that until months and months after the fact. Could you -- which many people have said was why we didn't retaliate and why we did not get any benefits from a deterrent attack of al Qaeda capabilities in Afghanistan.
Could you both comment on that?
First, Mr. Pickard.
PICKARD: Yes, I would like to comment on it. When the attacks happened in the African embassy bombings, I was actually in charge of the FBI that day because Director Freeh was out of town.
I dispatched our Washington field office, because our standard operating procedure was, if we didn't have any indication that a particular group was assigned to it, our Washington field office would be dispatched to any bombings in Europe, the Middle East or Africa.
For example, the Khobar Towers bombing, they were dispatched to that and became the office of origin on it.
When the Cole happened, we had learned a lot from the East Africa bombings, and as a result almost immediately we lit up that it's got to be al Qaeda.
In addition, after about three or four days there, the first agents on the scene, based upon the planning and preparation that they observed in their limited investigation to date, we were confident and we reported back to the attorney general that we firmly believed it was al Qaeda. But our caveat was we could not take that to a court of law and bring an indictment. We needed further investigation and things like that.
That's what happened in January. We were at the stage then, working with the Southern District of New York, that we could start to talk about specifically indicting al Qaeda for the USS Cole.
LEHMAN: Thank you.
BLACK: I think it's very important to be accurate in these things. You want to provide your customer with the best information you have. Professional instinct is good.
In the wake of the Cole, we were able to pretty quickly determine that al Qaeda-associated people were involved in this. And I think by January we made what we described as the intelligence case.
And the intelligence case, distinct from the law enforcement case -- CIA doing the intelligence case. And what we came up with, yes -- as I recall, yes, these are al Qaeda-associated people that conducted this operation.
The area that we felt we needed to explore more was proof that there was a clear command control relationship between the leadership of al Qaeda -- Osama bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, someone like that -- that we could actually track to these individuals that actually executed the attack.
Now, were I working for you, I would say, you know, "It looks pretty good that" -- pretty early on -- "this is al Qaeda, you know." Well, that's great. This is based primarily on the little information I have access to professional experience.
We collected more intelligence around the world. We went about it globally, comprehensively. You know, our confidence went up. But by January the intelligence case was pretty positive, but we were still looking for that positive link to Osama bin Laden command and control.
We actually did get that, I might point out, but that was something like a year, a year and a half later. So we could say absolutely this is proof positive of the intelligence case.
Indications early on? Yes. But separate and distinct from the law enforcement case which would be of such a quality that you could take into a U.S. court of law.
LEHMAN: Thank you both for your frankness.
KEAN: Congressman Roemer?
TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Welcome to both of you to the 9/11 commission.
You have both playfully insulted lawyers in the last 10 or 15 minutes. I'm not a lawyer. I don't care. You've got six lawyers following me in the questions. You might want to say something nice in the next 10 or 15 minutes. Just a little bit of advice to you for the next few minutes.
You two are certainly squarely in the hot seat. We have staff statements and the joint inquiry report that has roundly and deeply, systemically criticized the FBI and the CIA for their performances leading up to 9/11. They have cited problems in sharing communication, connecting the dots, over-classifying documents, and glitches and failures to protect the seams.
I have a question for both of you to just go at maybe one of the problems. I asked Director Freeh, Mr. Pickard, earlier about the active informant who had engaged two of the 19 hijackers. And he said, "quite frankly, the FBI should have done better." Let me give you a case and get your response from it.
You have said in your remarks that that was the most serious chatter, in the summer of 2001. When we have talked to some of the people that should have heard this serious chatter and your communication with them, leading into spring and summer, when a big event was going to happen, an experienced terrorism supervisor in the Washington office, six blocks from headquarters -- six blocks away -- says he was not aware of any heightened terrorist threat. His squad took no special action leading up to 9/11. A supervisor in the Miami field office, a special agent in charge, said, "this was inside-the-Beltway kind of thing," never heard of that chatter until after 9/11. What happened?
PICKARD: Your staff has put together some of the communications we sent out. I was concerned, making sure, that we were at maximum capacity, maximum effort on that. I personally had a conference call with all 56 SACs and all the assistant directors on July 19th just to make sure that -- I know some people don't read everything that comes out, but just to reinforce that, I had all 56 SACs.
I can't account for the SAC in Miami as to whether he was actually on the call, but whoever was in charge of the office that day was on that call, because I did not get on it until they were all on it. During that call, I reiterated the issue of the threat level and also to make sure they were at their maximum effort on that.
ROEMER: Do you recall your precise words that you recently told the 9/11 commission on that conversation? Your words to the 9/11 commission were evidence response teams ready. Evidence response -- that's reactive. That's not proactive, saying here's the threat. Here's what you need to do about it. You're saying if we get hit, have the evidence response teams ready. That's what you told the 9/11 commission staff.
PICKARD: I had a very brief conversation with them about that. I was surprised at the brevity of it.
ROEMER: Well, it sounds like it was pretty brief to the field offices, as well. Response, not active threat.
PICKARD: But I also had -- I spoke to each of the 56 SACs during the month of July, between July 9th and July 31st, each of them individually. I had them on the phone, secure conference call, with the assistant directors from Counterterrorism, Dale Watson; Counterintelligence, Neil Gallagher; and the assistant director of the Criminal Division, Reuben Garcia.
We discussed their performance, and in addition to that hour and a half discussion of their performance and their field office and their commitment to counterintelligence and counterterrorism efforts, we also discussed -- during that phone call -- the threat level.
I don't know why the SAC in Miami did not get it. I spoke to him...
ROEMER: Six blocks away.
PICKARD: ... on July 18th.
ROEMER: Your supervisor six blocks away didn't get it.
PICKARD: I spoke to the SACs. They should have been working that information down. So that...
ROEMER: Could you have done a better job, or are you just saying, "I don't know why they didn't hear it"? Did you task them again after the 19th?
PICKARD: I don't understand why they didn't hear it. I spoke to each of them individually, as I said, and in addition I had the communications out to them. I don't know what more I could have done. Some people, I don't understand whether they can't recall it or not. But if you talk to -- for example I know the staff, the New York office agents, they got it. They were always on top of it. And many of the other agents that I spoke to over the last week...
ROEMER: As you read in the staff statement, when we tasked out to the field if all those offices were on high alert and doing their maximum effort, I think we got nine out of 10 back saying they weren't at maximum effort, they weren't at war footing.
Mr. Black, let me ask you: Your folks did a very professional job following people into Kuala Lumpur -- to a meeting of known, suspected thugs, terrorists, murderers. Then, after the meeting of a couple days in Kuala Lumpur, they leave -- three of them leave -- and go to Bangkok. You failed to follow to follow those three people.
To me, that's like a sheriff in a local town finding some people on the border of Indiana that are suspected murderers, letting them go across the border in Michigan and not alerting anybody that they're on their way.
What happened? Where did we let down the guard here from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok that then let two of these hijackers into the United States?
BLACK: The activity covering these people in Kuala Lumpur was pretty comprehensive. We were concerned about their actions. We were able to conduct photography.
ROEMER: I said you did a good job...
BLACK: ... later, so that worked out pretty well.
What happened was that when the targets departed Kuala Lumpur and went to Bangkok, that the advisory information, the alert to the people down range in Bangkok did not arrive in time to put coverage upon the targets upon arrival. Got there late.
The targets went out into the community. And working with our friends locally, as a priority operational activity, we tried to find these people. So we were looking for them in the interim.
And there the next sign of life that we identified of these targets, unfortunately, was looking at, I think, airport departure cards, something like that, some physical evidence that they had departed. And then that information was reported, cable traffic, which is another part of the story.
ROEMER: So a couple months later, you find out that they've departed Bangkok and are in the United States. BLACK: That's correct. With looking, you know, with these things, having a good partnership with our friends, looking to try and find these people, we were able to find evidence of them.
Bangkok, I'm sure you've been there, it's a big town. We found evidence that they had departed. And this information was communicated. That took place in March. So they had come and they had gone, with us being able to know that, until we came up with the departure cards. And that was the status of it.
ROEMER: Mr. Pickard, what's important for me to try to understand, as well, is in your role at the number two position at the FBI and acting director, I'm interested in knowing what you were telling the highest government officials, briefing them about the threat leading into the spring and the summer of 2001. Did you ever have the opportunity to brief the president of the United States on counterterrorism issues?
PICKARD: No, I did not.
ROEMER: Did you ever ask to do that?
PICKARD: No, I did not.
ROEMER: Did you ever brief the vice president of the United States on counterterrorism?
PICKARD: Yes, I did.
ROEMER: How many times did you brief the vice president?
PICKARD: I recall one time that he came over to FBI headquarters on March 16. I believe he came another time, but I was not present. I did not personally do the briefing. Director Freeh and Assistant Director Watson did them.
ROEMER: And did you brief the vice president on an al Qaeda presence in the United States?
ROEMER: And what was his reaction?
PICKARD: He was surprised that al Qaeda was here in the United States, as was the attorney general. We told them we had coverage on them. And as I explained earlier, we also have Hamas, Hezbollah, many other terrorist groups. We also have intelligence agents from foreign countries here in the United States.
With the laws and regulations we have, we try to utilize anything we can to thwart their efforts. But if they haven't crossed a line, if they haven't done something illegal, we don't have an opportunity to do anything with them.
ROEMER: Did the vice president task you with any kind of undertaking to do something about the al Qaeda presence? PICKARD: Not that I recall.
ROEMER: He didn't ask you to arrest them? Didn't ask you to -- how...
PICKARD: The vice president didn't.
ROEMER: The vice president...
PICKARD: He had very few comments.
ROEMER: And are you sure that that was the vice president's reaction, according to what you said to the 9/11 commission staff?
PICKARD: I think you're referring to what the attorney general said.
ROEMER: No, I know what I'm going to ask you about what the attorney general said.
PICKARD: As I recall, the vice president at the end of the meeting had three points.
I recall the point about the computer systems at the FBI. I don't recall the other two.
ROEMER: So he did say two or three things to you.
ROEMER: Did he follow up with you in the spring and summer when the warning was getting bigger and bigger about the al Qaeda presence...
PICKARD: I believe he had another meeting with Director Freeh, but I was not at it.
ROEMER: In the spring or the summer?
PICKARD: In the spring. Director Freeh left -- retired from the FBI about June 22nd.
ROEMER: Well, I'd certainly like to follow up with you a bit more on that particular topic as you recollect those three items.
Did you brief the national security adviser to the president, Dr. Rice, on counterterrorism?
PICKARD: Shortly after Dr. Rice came in, Director Freeh and I went up and met with her and Steve Hadley, and briefed her on both counterintelligence and counterterrorism issues.
ROEMER: And how specific were you on counterterrorism issues? Did you generally brief her on counterterrorism? Was it specifically on al Qaeda and bin Laden?
PICKARD: It wasn't specifically on them. It was the whole counterintelligence and counterterrorism program at the FBI.
ROEMER: And this is in February 2001?
PICKARD: I believe it was January 26th.
ROEMER: January 26th is one of the meetings. I believe you also briefed her in February on Khobar Towers.
PICKARD: That's correct.
ROEMER: So you had two?
PICKARD: Yes. At least two.
ROEMER: And did bin Laden come up in the second briefing?
PICKARD: No, it didn't.
ROEMER: OK. You're sure.
PICKARD: Yes. It was specifically on Khobar Towers because we were running toward the end of the statute of limitations on it, which was June 25th.
Well, again, I'd like to talk to you about that in terms of your comments to the staff.
Did you brief the attorney general on terrorism?
PICKARD: Yes, I did.
ROEMER: And what -- how many times did you brief him on terrorism?
PICKARD: After Director Freeh left the FBI, the attorney general had me come in on June 22nd to meet with him and he appointed me as the acting director of the FBI.
And then on June 28th I had a meeting with the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, and I believe his chief of staff was in parts of that meeting as well as Assistant Director Garcia.
ROEMER: So what would you guess, Mr. Pickard? How many times did you brief...
PICKARD: At least three times.
ROEMER: Three times.
And what were the attorney general's priorities with respect to terrorism? Was it a top tier priority for the attorney general?
PICKARD: It was a top tier for the FBI. The attorney general on May 10th issued budget guidance for us and I did not see that as a top item on his agenda.
ROEMER: Did you take that to the attorney general that you were concerned that that was not a top item for him? And is this the $58 million that you're concerned about?
PICKARD: No, that was later. This was the budget guidance that came out on May 10th.
During the summer of 2001, the FBI submitted what I believe was our 2003 budget proposal. That proposal came back and the additional funds that we were looking for on counterterrorism were denied. I spoke to the attorney general briefly and asked him if I could appeal it and he told me, yes, I could; put it in writing. I had our finance and counterterrorism people put together an appeal of that decision. And then on September 12th, I read the denial of that appeal from the attorney general.
ROEMER: So you had a May 10th memo on the attorney general's priorities that you objected to.
And then you had a meeting in August where you personally appealed to the attorney general and received a letter from him saying no to the increases that you received on what date?
PICKARD: I received that on September 12th, that denial.
ROEMER: So what does this say about counterterrorism as a priority for the attorney general? Do you think it was not the priority that you hoped it would be, commensurate with the FBI's?
PICKARD: I only had the perspective to see it from my view of the FBI. I don't know all that the attorney general had to look at with the hundred thousand employees of the Department of Justice.
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chair.
KEAN: Just got a couple of questions.
During the summer of 2001, the Minneapolis office had Moussaoui detained and they were concerned that he might be part of a larger plot. Were you aware of his detention and aware of his...
PICKARD: No, I was not.
KEAN: Were you aware of those concerns any time before September 11th?
PICKARD: No, I was not.
KEAN: The New York office began searching for al Hazmi and al Mihdhar -- knew that they were in the country and were searching for them that same summer.
KEAN: Were you aware of that? PICKARD: No, I was not before September 11th.
KEAN: Do you think if those two matters from those different offices had been brought to your attention, do you think you might have thought a little differently about the plot, or whether there was a plot, or you might have acted differently based on those pieces of information?
PICKARD: I've thought long and hard about that, Governor, and it's a frightening thought to think that that could have been on my desk on September 10th and would I have done something differently or not. And I can't answer that.
I go back and forth on that constantly. It keeps me up at night, thinking, "If I had that information, would I have had the intuitiveness to recognize, to go to the president, to do something different."
KEAN: What bothers me is just the fact it didn't get to you. You know, that something in the FBI stopped those very two important pieces of information from different parts of the country from rising to the kind of level where you might have seen them and might have acted on them.
PICKARD: Governor, in defense of the employees there, they were getting -- one of the unit chiefs -- at least 100 pieces of information a day. They were getting fed from a fire hydrant and trying to sort through those things.
I spoke recently with the individual who is in charge of the Minneapolis office. I asked him, I said, "Why didn't you call me?" I said, "You know me, I send once a year out an e-mail out to all FBI employees, to tell them to come to me with any issue you have, whether it's investigative, administrative, your pay, or some other problem."
And I'd heard frequently from individuals who said, "I can't get a group one (ph) undercover operation through," or "I'm not getting my annual leave corrected," or whatever it might be. And my secretary used to kid me about it because she'd print it out each night and say, "Here's your homework, do it tonight and bring it back tomorrow morning," because I don't type.
Those things bothered me, but those employees working down in the Counterterrorism Division were working very hard. They were trying to do the best they could with the hundreds of pieces of information they could. And as we sit here with 20/20 hindsight, picking out three or four pieces of information, I think it's a disservice to them to recognize what pieces, in light of 9/11, were relevant.
KEAN: Hindsight is a word -- we've all got to be careful to look at the world as it was before 9/11.
Ambassador Black, using hindsight now, if we were able to recognize the kind of tragedy that was going to happen, what would you have done differently? What did we do wrong? BLACK: Well, I tell you, I would start from the standpoint that when I started this job in 1999, I thought there was a good chance I was going to be sitting right here in front of you. And I was mentally prepared for it all along.
The enemy we're up against is one that I've been operating against since the early '90s. I know these guys. I know what they want to do. I know how dedicated they are. And they were coming at us hard.
And, you know, we did all that we could at our level to engage these guys to try and produce the kinds of intelligence, produce the kinds of leads. And the men and women that did this, Governor, that serve this country in war, out front, did a fantastic job.
On the one side, you have catastrophic failure, more than 3,000 people dead. And no one is more bothered by this than us. But we engaged these targets. You'll never hear from us, oh, you know, we didn't get it. Oh, we got it all right. We knew what we were up against, we gave it all we had.
The big bottom line here, you know, people come up with these grand ideas for improvement, you know, big computers, whatever. The bottom line here, I've got to tell you -- and I'll take part of the blame on this, I kind of failed my people, despite doing everything I could. We didn't have enough people to do the job. And we didn't have enough money by magnitudes. And that could give you comparisons you like wouldn't believe. We used to talk about it at the Counterterrorism Center.
You know, this goes in the '90s. I mean, this has been so hard- wired. You know, by the time we get up to the recent past, and this train is on this track and this is where it's going. Hell, I don't even know if we ever could have got it off without some kind of catastrophe. I will tell you, you know, going back to the '90s, doing the terrorist target, the only way we ever got more money essentially, was we would spent ahead of the curve and run out.
And people talk about the millennium threat. I can remember, we were spending money on the millennium threat, went to the director. I said, "Mr. Tenet, we're spending money here. We are not going to make it to the end of the fiscal year. We're going to be three months short. We're going to have to stop. And, you know, we won't be able to operate. He signaled me aside, and he said, "Well, you know, do what's right for the country, blow it out." So we did.
We spent, you know, after the millennium threat was over, we spent our time trying to get the money to make up for that which we spent, or -- and I'm just not going to go into that kind of language I use, which is very graphic -- but, unfortunately, when Americans get killed it would translate into additional resources.
It was a constant track: Either you run out or people die. When people die, you get more money. And you know, it would have been better if we as a country had made the commitment to provide our counterterrorist warriors the resources and the numbers so they could do the best job they could.
But what I want to leave you with, I mean, that's all I want to leave you with: The people that did this are heroes and we didn't give them what they needed to fight and win. It's that simple. Thank you.
KEAN: Senator Gorton?
SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Pickard, you answered some of these questions at the beginning of Commissioner Lehman's testimony, but I want to press you a little bit further on it.
In the now famous presidential daily briefing of August 6th, 2001, after a statement that the CIA had not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, there is that single line: The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the United States that it considers bin Laden-related.
Now, you quite rightly said that wasn't your sentence. You didn't write it. No one from the FBI wrote it. It was written by someone from the CIA after a conversation, a telephone conversation...
PICKARD: That's correct.
GORTON: ... with someone at the FBI.
Now, our staff says this about that statement. The 70 full field investigations number was checked out by the joint inquiry and we looked at it, too. It was indeed a number the bureau used at the time. It was generously calculated to include all fund-raising investigations around the country that might have a connection with OBL.
It also counted each individual in an investigation as an individual full field investigation.
Now, was not Commissioner Lehman correct in saying, the normal recipient of a statement like would generally -- could easily take the interpretation, "We've got it covered"; that that's what that meant? That's one question.
The second question is, is this staff interpretation or investigation of what was meant by 70 full field investigations correct, as far as you're concerned?
And my third question would be, had you been writing it up, would you have been more modest and more limited than what you claimed for the FBI?
PICKARD: First off, to your issue of "Do we got it covered?" we could never say that.
GORTON: Well, I asked whether or not the recipient might well interpret the sentence that way? PICKARD: I would never -- especially with the experience I've had in counterintelligence and counterterrorism, you could never say you have it covered. You don't know what you don't know is the problem. You can only tell based upon the intelligence you have, you have an understanding of where they're coming from and things like that.
But I don't think anybody can say -- it's only as good as the intelligence you have. Just like 9/11. It was only as good as the intelligence we had, and we didn't have much.
GORTON: Second question is whether or not our staff characterization is correct.
PICKARD: I only learned about this when the PDB was released within the last couple of days. And when I was at FBI headquarters yesterday, I asked could they explain to me the 70 cases, which I had no recollection of ever hearing about as an aggregated number. And they gave me a rundown on the 70 approximately cases, and I have that that I could provide to your staff afterwards.
But I could give you some of the highlights that, as I said before, two of them were indicted and convicted on the East Africa bombing, one was indicted and convicted on another criminal case, six moved abroad and were passed off to the CIA, four were deported for immigration violations, two died through no fault of the CIA, but they might claim credit for them...
... 12 of the investigations were closed because the individuals did not have any connections with terrorism as we had initially suspected. That just gives you some kind of context.
GORTON: OK. That's 12 out of 70. Were a number of them simply fund-raising investigations?
KEAN: That's the last question, Senator.
PICKARD: I'm sorry, but I do not know that and the material they gave me yesterday does not expound on that. I'll be happy to ask Director Mueller.
GORTON: Would you have characterized it a little bit differently if you had been reporting directly to the White House as a part of that PDB?
PICKARD: I would not want anyone to think the statement that, "We've got it covered," or anything like that. We only know what we know. We don't know what al Qaeda is.
And the lack of penetration of al Qaeda -- as I said in my opening statement, we did not have great sources in al Qaeda. And that's evidenced by 9/11. We did not, as George Tenet said, steal the secret.
GORTON: Thank you.
KEAN: Governor Thompson?
JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Mr. Pickard, since its declassification last weekend you've, I assume, read the PDB of August 6th.
PICKARD: Yes, I have.
THOMPSON: On the first page it says, "al Qaeda members, including some who are U.S. citizens, have resided in or travelled to the U.S. for years and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks." But in fact, as we now know, the al Qaeda members who participated in September 11th didn't use any such support structure, is that correct?
But in fact, as we now know, the al Qaeda members who participated in September 11th didn't use any such support structures. Is that correct?
PICKARD: That's my understanding. I left the FBI in November, 2001. I don't know if any other information has been developed.
THOMPSON: Well, just to make sure the record is clear, you said in your prepared statement "they did not receive support knowingly from anyone in the United States nor did they contact known al Qaeda sympathizers in the United States." Is that correct?
PICKARD: That's correct.
THOMPSON: At the bottom of the second page it says, "We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a service in 1998" -- that's three years earlier -- "saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of the blind sheik and other U.S.-held extremists."
As we now know, the attack on September 11th was not for the purpose of hijacking a U.S. aircraft to gain the release of any terrorists. Is that correct?
PICKARD: That's correct.
THOMPSON: Do you know the circumstances of the conversations between the CIA operative who prepared this PDB and an operative of the FBI who supplied some of the information?
PICKARD: No, I do not.
THOMPSON: Do not.
The Cole: When did the FBI come to the conclusion that al Qaeda was responsible for the Cole -- not Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda?
PICKARD: I do not know. THOMPSON: Mr. Black?
BLACK: Sir, I recall that there was a report entitled "The Intelligence Case," and I believe that was in January -- the following January -- making the intelligence case that al Qaeda operatives were involved, as I referred to earlier, but that the intelligence case was still lacking in that, at least the CIA, at least, was unable to prove linkage between these al Qaeda operatives in Yemen and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.
THOMPSON: But the CIA knew during the course of the Clinton administration that al Qaeda operatives were involved in the Cole. Is that not right? Forget whether they could be linked to Osama bin Laden or not.
BLACK: Excuse me. I mean, I have to take this for the record. I just don't -- I just do not remember. What I do remember about this is the effort to collect intelligence that it produced the analysis that al Qaeda operatives were involved in this.
But the outstanding question, I recall, was that of command and control, which was resolved a substantial period later where we were able to prove even in the intelligence case, there was a direct link between Osama bin Laden and the Cole attack.
THOMPSON: Once it was proved, was there any discussion in the Bush administration about retaliating against al Qaeda or the Taliban for their attack on the Cole?
BLACK: I would not know if there was. I was not privy to that kind of discussion.
THOMPSON: You never heard that?
BLACK: I never heard that, sir.
THOMPSON: Mr. Pickard, did you ever hear that?
PICKARD: I never heard that, either.
THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Senator Kerrey?
BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Ambassador Black, are you familiar with a 1998 effort to change the overt policy of the United States toward Iraq -- at all?
BLACK: No, sir, I'm...
KERREY: ... the details of the Iraq Liberation Act.
BLACK: No, I only do terrorism. That's more than enough for me. Iraq is -- the way we're organized -- is something different. KERREY: Well, the reason I say it, it's on my list of regrets. I mean -- not that I did that. I led the effort. President Clinton signed the legislation on Halloween, 1998.
And, basically, what it did was it said our overt policy has to be the same as our covert policy. And one of the things that -- the reason I say that is I sort of regret, is that I didn't do the same with terrorism, because it seems to me that when you say, "We were doing all we could," that we were at "a state of war at the CTC," that the problem was, on the overt side, we weren't.
And I wonder if you've seen the Delenda plan or the Blue Sky plan or what Richard Clarke had in his 25 January memo, if you've seen those details, if you've given any thought to what would have happened if that had become the overt policy of the United States.
I preface that by saying I get angrier and angrier listening to Secretary Cohen and Secretary Albright and National Security Adviser Berger and Secretary Rumsfeld, leading up to a great confrontation with Dr. Rice, that they all had different reasons why they couldn't take military action. And they would posit what I thought was a straw man. We either had to have the Normandy invasion or it was cruise missiles, when there were all kinds of options. You've quite correctly described the exciting collaboration between the special ops forces...
BLACK: And it is exciting.
KERREY: Yes, it's very exciting. It was an alternative that was on the table. And I wonder if you've either seen the Delenda plan or the Blue Sky or what Clarke had in his 25 January memo. And if you have, if you support it and if you think that would have had been an impact if it had been implemented in 1998.
I read Director Pickard's statement. It's a shocking statement. Say al Qaeda was turning out five times more graduates in their camps than the FBI and CIA were graduating from their training schools.
And then I hear Secretary Rumsfeld's testimony saying, well, we're bombing dirt -- whatever it was. The targets weren't very damn good. But if we'd have denied them access to those camps starting in 1998 we would have had a tremendous impact, it seems to me, in our effort against al Qaeda.
BLACK: Well, if I could, I really think I should limit myself. I was an intelligence officer, not a policy-maker. Others make these kind of decisions.
KERREY: I was a policy-maker, not an intelligence officer, and that didn't stop me from getting in your space.
BLACK: OK. Well, it should stop me. First of all, I don't recall seeing the Delenda plan, but I do recall being a participant in originating the information for the Blue Sky memo. And we provided that to the National Security Council.
KERREY: Let me ask you another one on the overt side.
What if either, again, President Clinton or President Bush -- pick your poison, either one of them -- had said that al Qaeda's different than Hezbollah and al-Aqsa and Hamas, they're different, in that they've declared war on us, so al Qaeda members are a part of an Islamic army that are trying to get inside the United States? What if the overt policy had been to say, "We're going to deny them absolute access," and sent instructions to our consular office and our INS offices, and the FBI and everybody and they said, you know, "We've got to turn this thing out"?
Would, for example, the Phoenix memo, had a different impact?
KERREY: If the policy-makers -- again, pick your poison, either President Clinton or President Bush -- had said in the overt space, "We're at war with al Qaeda. I may not need a congressional declaration of war, that's too unpopular. But at the very least I'm going to say al Qaeda soldiers can't come into the United States of America"?
BLACK: Well, I think, Senator, say from the early '90s, if we had engaged this with a warrior ethos, we would not be in this situation today.
KERREY: Let me ask you one last question: How in God's name did this thing happen?
I've got to tell you, I hear battle stations and everything we're doing, and at our airports we were at ease. We were stacked arms. We were not prepared for a hijacking. And you may say, "Well, we didn't know all the conspiracy" -- a hijacking surprised us. That's what Betty Ong said, when we heard her voice, that the government and the FAA -- none of us were prepared for even a simple hijacking.
How in God's name did that happen?
BLACK: Am I meant to answer that, sir?
KERREY: Yes. If you can. If can't fine. I mean, I'm not sure I could.
BLACK: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is that I don't know, but what I will say is that, from my perspective, that's why we tend to be a group of pretty paranoid people who don't get to sleep much.
When you know, basically, that if they get by you, then it's going to be a challenge for this country to respond. We've been living that with a lot of years of our lives, and that's the way it is for us. And that's the way it has been until, you know, the current situation we're in where the resources and rules of engagement and what we need are there.
KERREY: I quoted you earlier, Mr. Ambassador, saying that -- I loved what you said. "Here's what we did, here's what we tried and here's what we have failed to get done." And I put myself in that camp.
BLACK: We could use some help. We could have used some help, Senator.
KERREY: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Gorelick?
JAMIE GORELICK, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I don't want either of you to think that my questions are in any way trying to blame people who tried really hard, and who quite evidently feel very bad about the things that didn't get done or things that weren't executed perfectly. But it's our job to understand the efficacy of the things our government tried to do to protect the American people.
Let me start, Mr. Black, with one follow-up question to you. Our staff statement talks about the CIA's zone defense as opposed to man- to-man to use the current basketball analogy.
After al Hazmi and al Mihdhar were followed by you out of the Kuala Lumpur meeting and you lost them in Bangkok, it's our understanding that you knew that Mihdhar had a U.S. visa.
And so, my question is: Why, at that point, was he not put on the TIPOFF watch list?
BLACK: Well, I would say that that particular case -- he should have been. Should have been and, unfortunately, ma'am, very often you'll find my answer is going back to primarily influence by not enough people and not enough resources.
You've got these people racing around, playing essentially professional racquetball in trying to keep up with all of these facts.
In fact, I would say that there were multiple opportunities where we could have watch listed.
GORELICK: Yes, I just gave you one.
BLACK: There was one. But, I mean, it goes back to in the UAE, when we first came up with copies of the passport and the picture.
And I would just like to say that having spoken to some of the people involved with this, you know, they truly believe that this information was passed to the FBI way back in January of '01. And, you know, they thought they had done it, and they acted as if they did.
GORELICK: Quite apart from the FBI. I wanted to take the FBI -- I purposely asked this question to take the FBI out of the equation.
What we saw, quite frankly, was a geographical focus that once these guys, these operatives got out of a particular geography they disappeared. And back home here, we didn't effectuate the handoff.
And so I do want to move on, but it's my understanding that we had an opportunity then -- and we had others -- to put these two operatives, whom we had identified, on the TIPOFF watch list as early as early 2000. Is that right?
BLACK: Yes, ma'am, it is.
GORELICK: Now, Mr. Pickard, I want to return to the questions that my now-absent colleague Mr. Roemer was asking you about, the communications with the field.
And you indicated that in this period of high threat in July you had -- as part of your annual performance review you talked with the SACs, among other things, about terrorism. And you also indicated that you had a conference call on July 19th in which you discussed, again, a number of other things, but mentioned the terrorist threat.
And so we are trying to understand what the nature of that conversation was and how it was received.
PICKARD: The July 19th?
GORELICK: Yes. I think the way you answered Commissioner Roemer -- I don't want to put words in your mouth -- was that, "Well, you know, these guys, people who were receiving this information have so much coming into them that really sifting what is important is difficult."
I want to drill down on the Minneapolis example, because you indicated that you called the SAC and you said, "Why didn't you pick up the phone and call me?"
What the people who were working on the Moussaoui case told us was that they were desperate to get the attention of headquarters. This is after your two conversations with the SACs -- desperate. And they went to the SAC, and they said, "Would you please call Mike Rollins, the International Terrorism Section chief in headquarters?" and the SAC wouldn't do it.
So this is not an issue of sifting. This is an issue of disconnect, I think, between the headquarters and the field. And I would like you, if you can, to square up that behavior with the conversations you think you had with him.
PICKARD: On July 19th, I had all 56 SACs on the phone and I discussed four topics.
First off, I discussed with them "Back to Basics"; it was a program that I had instituted with the Inspection Division based upon the problems the FBI had with the Timothy McVeigh documents to make sure that the employers of the FBI understood how pieces of evidence were to be handled, how they were to get into our files and make sure we did not have a recurrence of the Timothy McVeigh.
The second thing I talked to them about was our new director, Director Robert Mueller. I told them that I had a conversation with him, that he was enthusiastic about the job. The employers of the FBI were looking for, "Who's the new leader? Who's going to take us into the 21st century?"
And there was quite a bit of excitement in the interim between Director Freeh and Director Mueller as to, "Who's going to be our new boss?" Everybody wants to know who they work for and things like that.
So I talked to him about my conversation with Director Mueller and his enthusiasm for the job.
The next topic I had talked about was there was concern expressed by the SACs to me. They felt I should be getting out in front of the media talking about the good things about the FBI and things like that.
I told them I was not going to do that. I wanted them to get back to putting the "I" back in FBI for investigations, and that would increase our presence and increase our stature and things like that.
And then, finally, I told them about the threat level. I told them about that the chatter was still at a high level. I didn't have any further information about the chatter level. But I expected that at any time we could have a terrorist incident and they would be responding somewhere in the world wherever it might be.
They pulled the records yesterday. The conversation lasted approximately 35 minutes. I've given you a two-minute synopsis of that. I can't recall with a lot more specificity what happened there.
I don't understand why -- but I think if, I could talk to you. On the afternoon of September 11th, we had reports all over the map. We had situations where we thought that the Department of State had been bombed. We thought bombs were going off. We thought the Sears Tower was evacuated, and things like that.
I called all 56 SACs again, first off, to get an evaluation of where we stood, what was happening, where we needed resources deployed to, what we could do and what we could also get back to the director so that if he had meetings with the president and he had a number of conversations and meetings with the president that day -- Director Mueller -- I wanted to have the best information we had.
I also asked him at this time, "Is there anything in our files, anybody who came into our offices, anybody, anything that in light of what happened this morning, September 11th, that we need to know about, that we need to capitalize on to see whether we can prevent any future plots?" At that time we were worried that, "Is al Qaeda going to do something else tomorrow? What is going to be the next thing we're going to get hit with?"
When I asked that, immediately I was told about the Minneapolis arrest of Moussaoui. That was about 3 o'clock on September 11th.
Later that day I found out about the Phoenix memo. And then a couple of days later, the agents in New York, when we started identifying the hijackers, they called in and said, "We were looking for Mihdhar and al Nuazi (ph). We didn't realize that they were involved in a plot."
GORELICK: May I have one follow-up question, please?
KEAN: Very brief.
GORELICK: Very brief.
KEAN: We're running a little late.
GORELICK: I'm sorry. But I was silent all morning.
When you found out that Director Tenet had been briefed in August about an Islamic extremist learning to fly, which was your case, and he knew about it in August and you didn't until after September 11th, how do you feel about that?
And how did you feel about the efficacy of the conversations you had with your subordinates in July?
PICKARD: I was very disappointed that something that would go up to the DCI, that I wouldn't hear about.
But that was because we had a joint terrorism task force in Minneapolis. The officer from the CIA who was working on that task force pushed that up through their chain. The FBI did not push it up.
GORELICK: Thank you.
PICKARD: I also had a conversation with Director Tenet, and he did not bring it up to me, though, either on August 27th.
GORELICK: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Fielding?
FRED FIELDING, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ambassador Black, you said earlier that it's important to you to be accurate with your customers. And surely the most important customer for intelligence information would be the president of the United States. And we've had this dialogue today about the PDB of August. And I'm curious, what steps do you have in place or that are taken to make sure of the accuracy of information that your people receive from outside of the CIA?
BLACK: There's an elaborate vetting process. Information is received, raw intelligence is received, it comes into personnel that review it, that do the analysis function.
And there are those that write articles for numerous publications including the PDB. This particular employee, who is home based in the Directorate of Intelligence, was serving in the Counterterrorism Center.
So the raw reports are received. We attempt to estimate the needs of our customer and write products that meet their needs.
FIELDING: But what do you do to check the accuracy of information that comes from outside of your own ambit?
BLACK: Questions are asked. I believe -- I have not spoken to the author of this particular piece -- but I understand that this officer was in contact with the FBI in this instance. I think the assumption would be that the FBI would have confidence in the information that it provided.
FIELDING: I just have one more technical question for you.
BLACK: Yes, sir.
FIELDING: CTC -- is it part of CIA or is it part of DCI?
BLACK: Sir, it's called the Counterterrorism Center.
BLACK: And as the former director of the Counterterrorism Center, I reported to the director of central intelligence, but also to the deputy director for operations on a dotted line, as well as a dotted line to the deputy director of intelligence.
It's one of these unfortunate jobs where you have lots of bosses and you get lots of advice.
FIELDING: OK. I understand.
Now, you've also spoken about resources very eloquently -- lack of resource, I guess. If you didn't have enough resources, did you ask Director Tenet to allocate or reallocate funds from lower priorities?
BLACK: Yes, he was aware of our resource needs, and he did --we were the first among equals of all his highest priorities -- he did shift resources to us. In fact, when I arrived in the Counterterrorism Center believe that we'd had a plus-up of approximately 100 personnel. We regularly discussed this. We were the recipient of significant support in comparison to the type of support that he was able to provide to other units.
My point here being is that the director of central intelligence did a heroic job with what was available and certainly in comparison to the other competing interests.
My point here is that I think, as we've discussed today, is that this is a very large, formidable target, that we needed to devote more resources to it than the base of the Central Intelligence Agency had.
FIELDING: I understand that this isn't your final decision, but from where you're sitting...
FIELDING: ... is the problem in the intelligence community, is the problem in the OMB, or is the problem in Congress, as far as limited funding?
BLACK: I think, from my perspective, it would be all of the above and probably more.
FIELDING: Mr. Pickard, at the time that now Director Mueller took over from you and you were the acting director, did you brief him?
PICKARD: During the summer of 2001, I called Director Mueller, first off to congratulate him on being appointed the director and offering my support and told him I'd serve in whatever capacity he wanted me to. I also advised him that I would be retiring by the end of the year. I asked him for what kind of briefings he would want, because he was going to not report until September and as has been reported in the press, he was having some surgery.
He asked that I not brief him on any kind of classified material because he did not feel he would be able to securely maintain it that summer. When he reported in on September 4th, and was sworn in by the attorney general, that whole week, I had set up a series of briefings on classified information for him, and also emergency procedures, everything from in the event of nuclear war to how to call out the hostage rescue teams and other things like that, that the director I felt needed to know as soon as possible upon his arrival.
FIELDING: I see the red light is on, but just, may I ask you, is there a written record of the briefings, or are there written agendas or things like that, that you could supply to the commission and its staff for studying to see what you covered?
PICKARD: I did not participate in those briefings with the director. The assistant directors of each of the divisions, counterintelligence and counterterrorism, did those briefings. And I will ask the FBI to see if they can find those briefings.
FIELDING: And just as an aside, I noted that you were the sixth deputy director in eight years, and then you left at the end of that.
PICKARD: I'm proud to say I held the record. I lasted two years.
FIELDING: Thank you, sir.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Final questions will be by Commissioner Ben-Veniste.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: Good afternoon, gentlemen.
Mr. Pickard, on January 21st of this year you met with our staff. Is that correct?
PICKARD: That's correct.
BEN-VENISTE: And according to our staff report, you told them that in June 2001, you met with Attorney General Ashcroft and he told you that you would be the acting FBI director.
PICKARD: That's correct.
BEN-VENISTE: You had some seven or eight meetings with the attorney general?
PICKARD: Somewhere in that number. I have the exact number, but I don't know the total.
BEN-VENISTE: And according to the statement that our staff took from you, you said that you would start each meeting discussing either counterterrorism or counterintelligence. At the same time the threat level was going up and was very high. Mr. Watson had come to you and said that the CIA was very concerned that there would be an attack. You said that you told the attorney general this fact repeatedly in these meetings. Is that correct?
PICKARD: I told him at least on two occasions.
BEN-VENISTE: And you told the staff according to this statement that Mr. Ashcroft told you that he did not want to hear about this anymore. Is that correct?
PICKARD: That is correct.
BEN-VENISTE: Let me ask you about this PDB. You never vetted the PDB. You never saw the PDB. You never knew that it was going to be produced. Correct?
PICKARD: That's correct.
BEN-VENISTE: And it would appear that the author or the individual at CIA who edited this PDB by entitling the PDB "Bin Laden determined to strike in the United States" wanted to get the president's attention because most of the threat reporting seemed to be that the heightened alert reflected the potential for a threat overseas.
And that this was perhaps the same syndrome as the white van in the sniper case that we saw, where everybody's looking in one direction for one thing, but not looking in the other direction where something might occur.
Condoleezza Rice said that when she saw this PDB, it was certainly not reassuring. And quite clearly we know, whether the information was right, wrong, or in the middle somewhere, this author was prescient. The attack came in the United States.
Now my question to you, sir, is that if you had the information that the president of the United States was requesting what information the FBI had up to that moment about the potentiality for a strike by bin Laden in the United States, would you not have pulsed the FBI to determine from every FBI agent in this country what information they had at that moment that might indicate the possibility of a terrorist attack here.
PICKARD: Yes, I would have.
BEN-VENISTE: And you learned on September 11th, three things, if I understand your testimony. Number one, you learned about Moussaoui.
BEN-VENISTE: Number two, you learned about the Phoenix memo. Number three, you learned about two of the hijackers who were in the United States, who the FBI was looking for. Had you learned that information soon after August the 6th, was there not a possibility that you could have utilized that information, connected the information, put it together with what you already knew and taken some action?
PICKARD: I don't know. Moussaoui was arrested on August 15th. The information about the other two hijackers came to the FBI's attention, I believe, August 23rd, and later on on August 27th.
To bring these three diverse pieces of information together, absent the afternoon of September 11th, I don't know, with all of the information the FBI collects, whether we would have had the ability to hone in specifically on those three items.
BEN-VENISTE: Certainly if you knew that the president of the United States was asking...
PICKARD: I was not informed that the president was asking.
BEN-VENISTE: I understand that, sir. But if you had known, would you not have -- I think you've answered my question -- you would have pulsed the FBI.
Let me ask you this. Did the president or the attorney general of the United States ever ask to meet with you following August 6th?
PICKARD: No. There was a policy that I was not to go to the White House unless the attorney general or the deputy attorney general or someone from the Department of Justice, either I had informed them or they went with me, and that was as a result of the Travelgate scandal where the FBI asked for information...
BEN-VENISTE: The request never came.
And finally with request with -- Mr. Black -- to the kill or capture answer that you gave earlier to Secretary Lehman: Are you confident that you saw all of the instructions signed by President Clinton as of late 1998 before you took up your duties at the CT center in mid-1999?
PICKARD: All of the memorandums of notification...
PICKARD: ... were retained by our lawyers. And I did have access to them.
BEN-VENISTE: Are you confident that you saw all of them, because, sir, you are mistaken with respect to your answer.
PICKARD: Well -- well, I don't know the universe of what -- I don't know what, necessarily, all the ones. I know the ones that were made available to me -- put it that way.
BEN-VENISTE: The problem was that the one that we are referring to here was not made available to us until very recently. It was in the Clinton archived materials and was held very closely.
PICKARD: Yes. I don't know what you're referring to, so I would have to see it to confirm that I was aware of it. So I don't know, sir.
KEAN: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We appreciate your government service and your attendance here and your help with our commission today. Thank you very much.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: We've been listening to two key figures in the period before 9/11. Thomas Pickard was the acting attorney general or the acting -- I'm sorry. The acting head of the FBI. Cofer Black was the head of counterterrorism at the CIA.
Both men, as several members of the 9/11 Commission put it, in the hot seat at a very difficult time when threats were -- terror threat information was spiking. Information was coming in that should, if put together, as several commission members have pointed out, have appointed to something that the United States government could have and some say should have reacted to in ways that it did not.
Perhaps the most news-making information we heard is that from the staff members of the 9/11 Commission who say that Thomas Pickard, in his capacity as the acting head of the FBI, told them that even after he briefed the attorney general, the new attorney general, John Ashcroft, told him about incidents of counterterrorism concerns, told him about -- talked to him about terror threats he was told by the attorney general, quote, "that he did not want to hear this information anymore."
The Attorney General John Ashcroft is coming up in just a moment. He will be the next witness before the 9/11 Commission. There's no doubt that the commission members will want to ask him about that. We will take a very short break. Our live coverage of these 9/11 Commission hearings continues.
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