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Kean, Hamilton Press Conference

Aired April 14, 2004 - 16:13   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: I'm told that Tom Kean, the chairman of the commission, talking to reporters now. Let's listen.

THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: We heard all witnesses agree that we are far better off now that the wall is down. And we heard testimony and support of key provisions of the Patriot Act.

We heard from the former counterterrorist center director that the problem with terrorism is far bigger than the CIA can address. He told us, and I'm quoting him now, "The only way to address terrorism is to deal with the issues that create terrorism, to resolve them where possible and, where that is not possible, to ensure there is an alternative to violence."

And that's a mission, obviously, for the broader United States government.

Congressman Hamilton?

LEE HAMILTON, VICE CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: We're beginning to look to the future, and I'll just make a few comments about that with respect to the hearings we've completed. We heard from the representatives of four organizations about trying to integrate domestic and foreign intelligence on terrorism, to provide analysis and warning.

Indeed, one of the themes throughout hearings, I think, centers around this word "integrate," and how you have to integrate the amount of data that we receive.

The director of the Terrorist Threat Integration Center told us, while significant progress has been made, we are not yet optimally configured to deal with the terrorist threat.

We want to make recommendations that will optimize information sharing and integration.

This afternoon, we heard from Director Mueller about reforms that are underway at the FBI. The commission, I think, believes that he is moving in the right direction and has made much progress. We are cheering him on.

The key question for us is whether he can succeed with the very difficult mission that he has set out, and we have not come to a judgment with respect to that.

We had, as you heard, a dialogue with Director Tenet on the structure of the intelligence community and found that he was open to ideas on reform. We may share some common ground with him, and we will want to have further discussions with him about his thoughts.

Our sense is that the commission supports reform of the intelligence community, but we have come to no judgment about the nature of reform that we will recommend. We're open to your questions.

QUESTION: Governor, the president last night said he doesn't think that the August 6th briefing was anything more than an historical account.

I don't think it is, and I think I've talked to some of your fellow commissioners who don't think it was a historical account. What do you think about that briefing?

KEAN: Well, that's a question that will I guess finally be answered in our report. We've requested not only that briefing but one more PDB, by the way, and we hope that will be released by the White House soon, involving the Clinton years.

But I think more interesting to me honestly, although it's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) reflected in your question, is what goes into making up these PDBs?

And as we've now gotten to talk to people who give the information that goes on to the president, I think there's a real question in my mind and I think of several other commissioners as to whether the president's getting decent information, as to whether the president's getting the kind of thing the president needs to make the kind of decisions that the president every day has to make. One of the questions that's arisen in my mind is are the intelligence agencies, have they really been serving two presidents properly? Or has there been a real lack of proper information as these presidents had to make decisions?

QUESTION: In your mind, yes or no, do you think that briefing which you've read and heard a lot about is historical, yes or no?

KEAN: Of course, it's a historic document. There's no question about it. But there's a lot of information in there. The briefing mentions airlines -- three years old, four years old. But there's a lot of information in there that had you read it, I think you would be somewhat concerned.

QUESTION: I'm wondering what you make of the revelation today that George Tenet didn't brief the information on the Moussaoui case to the principals meeting on September 4th. And I'm also wondering just in general what challenges do you think you're going to face in terms of seeing your recommendations be put into action rather than just end up on the bureaucratic shelf?

KEAN: Taking the second one first, one of the reasons that we are having public hearings, one of the reasons that our commissioners have been encouraged, actually, to go on shows and to talk about our work is so that we can bring the public along.

Previous commissions have done their work often in quiet, in secret or what have you. And then they've issued a report. The report's often in the newspapers for about a week, then it's disappeared, then it ends up on a shelf. And if you want it find it, you go to a library somewhere.

We're working too hard to have that happen, and we think our work is too important to have that happen. So we're trying to bring the public along. We're trying to let people understand what we're trying to do. And we believe, therefore, that out of a logical result of our work, out of a logical result of finding the story of 9/11, we come up with suggestions and recommendations that will make this country better and safer, that we're going to have the public with us.

And we hope in having the public with us, that we also have a number of members of Congress who have been interested in some of these subjects for a long time, and in some cases some Congressmen have been frustrated in their efforts to reform in some of these areas. So that's the long answer to your question. The first question was?

QUESTION: What do you think of that George Tenet didn't brief the Moussaoui information to the principals meeting?

KEAN: That whole question of who got the Moussaoui -- the head of the FBI, it was discovered by the FBI, and it never got up to the head of the FBI. I mean, this is one of the prime examples of the kind of stovepiping and problems that we're talking about in the intelligence agencies.

This Moussaoui information did not get up to the area and to the level of the people that should have been dealing with it. And if it had, maybe there would have been some action taken and things could have been taken. But what you're saying is an example of the kind of problems that we see in the intelligence agencies that we hope are now being cured.

QUESTION: Do you think it was an oversight on Tenet's part to not brief that?

KEAN: I suspect the FBI didn't brief the CIA didn't brief the FBI on much. I think they were separate agencies, and they went their own ways. And one of the great problems we have, as you know, we've been dealing with in this commission leading up to 9/11 is the lack of the communication between those two agencies.

QUESTION: Governor Kean mentioned that we heard a lot of testimony about that it's good that the wall between intelligence collection and criminal prosecution has come down. That's probably inevitable given the nature of these witnesses.

Do you believe there were positive aspects to wall, and is the commission hearing from people who might believe that? KEAN: No, we haven't heard anything.

HAMILTON: I don't think we've heard anything with regard to support for the idea of the wall, given the environment that we now have in dealing with terrorism.

KEAN: And this thing started in the '80s, a build-up on a bunch of court decisions and added by a number of administrative rulings, right up until 9/11. I mean, that wall was right there through two administrations, and thank heavens it's down.

QUESTION: It's somewhat striking that when you had the four agencies -- CIA, Homeland Security, FBI and the new TTIC organization -- right there, they still can't do a comprehensive search of all the databases. And this is two and a half years after 9/11. How troubling is that? And is there anything that you're going to recommend, which might speed up the technology problems, which are still so obvious?

KEAN: I don't think I can pre-judge our recommendations, but it's pretty obvious that technology and the solution to the technology problems is part of it. If this country, above all others, with our leadership and technology, is not able to solve this one, then shame on us. I don't know...

HAMILTON: I think it's obviously going to be a center concern for the commission. And as I think the governor and I have said on previous occasions, what you really have here is a systems-management problem. And it is a systems-management problem of enormous proportions, because you get millions of bytes of data every few minutes under our system of collection; some of those bytes in English, some of them in a variety of foreign languages.

And intelligence does not work like a lot of people think; that is to say you get a single byte of information that reveals the plot. It doesn't work that way. What you do is you get 10, 15 or 100 bytes of information, and you've got to put them together before you understand that there's a plot under way.

So intelligence-gathering is an enormously difficult task. Systems management is a very big part of it.

And I think all of us are frustrated by the slowness of the comprehensive system that you referred to. And it will be a major interest to the commission.

KEAN: And if you think of these bits of information, some of them come in Pashtun, some of them come in Farsi, come in languages where we don't, frankly, yet have a lot of people who understand those languages, even working within these sensitive agencies.

QUESTION: After two days of these hearings, I just wonder if I could ask both of you kind of a general question.

What I seem to hear in many of the witnesses was a general sense of, yes, they were trying to reform, but -- and in various ways they all said that there are still massive holes or major holes in some way or another in our system.

How safe are we now?

HAMILTON: I think the best sentence on that was probably from Dr. Rice: We're safer, but not safe. And all of these witnesses emphasized the firm belief that they have about the nature of the threat and the seriousness of the threat.

I think your observation about "reform, but" is pretty good, because everybody speaks of reform. You remember Dr. Rice spoke of reform, but there wasn't anything in her statement to put specifics as to structural reform, at least that I was able to see. The president spoke of reform and being open to it, but no specific suggestions. And time and again, we had a plea for reform without much specificity to it.

Now, there are some exemptions to that. My recollection is George Tenet did try to make some very specific suggestions that I think were helpful.

But it's very easy to come out for reform. The task of the commission is going to be to put specificity to that, and that's going to be a major job.

KEAN: Yes. Director Mueller is obviously trying to do very specific reforms in the FBI.

But this is such an important judgment for the commission to make and for public and for the Congress to make.

You know, these agencies are the most important agencies in the war on terror, I think, more important than the Army, more important than anything else, because if we don't have the information, we will never prevent these events and we're never going to win this war. So nothing is more important.

So whether or not we can fix these agencies -- because they've been broken, no question about it -- whether we can fix these agencies and get them to work together and get them to share information, all of that is just absolutely vital in the national interest.

QUESTION: The staff statements were described by various commissioners to be an indictment of the FBI, in particular, but also an indictment of the CIA. Yet the questioning of the heads and former heads of those agencies seemed relatively tentative and restrained at times.

Was there a change in the disposition when it came to questioning witnesses versus the last set of hearings? Were people more worried about appear something partisan or argumentative?

KEAN: I don't think so. I think there were some good questions asked. Speaking for myself, I read the toughest part, toughest parts of the staff statement to the head of the CIA and then challenged him to answer them.

I don't think people were particularly easy on the -- or the FBI rather, excuse me, but the same kind of thing with the CIA.

I think we asked some tough questions today. I think the commissioners had done their homework and done their reading, And I think I learned a lot from the answers to their questions personally.

HAMILTON: I don't think the chairman and I have ever characterized the staff statements as an indictment. It's possible others have done that, but we have not.

Let me just say that I think our staff has done a superb job on these staff statements. They're the best single exposition, if you would, of the facts that I've seen. And very, very carefully done.

Now, as you heard George Tenet say, he has some disagreements. You can't write 12 single-spaced pages of this kind of history without eliciting some criticism and disagreements.

But my own sense is the staff has done a superb job. And they're a tremendously valuable resource for the members of the commission and for you, and, I think, for the public. And Tom and I have heard repeated praises from people in your business -- in the media business -- thanking us for the quality of those statements.

KEAN: I would second that. And by the way, I never ever would correct the vice chairman, but I'm afraid -- I'm afraid I did characterize one of those statements as an indictment.


QUESTION: Earlier today, House Judiciary Committee Chair James Sensenbrenner called for commissioner Jamie Gorelick to step down due to her conflict of interests in writing a memo that was revealed yesterday by John Ashcroft, in which she, quote, "revealed her actions in establishing the wall." Should she step down?

KEAN: Of course not. It's sort of a silly thing -- silly statement, I thought.

Commissioner Gorelick has followed the same rules that every other commissioner has had. She's recused herself from everything that had to do with any action she had. Many members of the commission have served in the government. That's why they're so good and they're so expert in doing their job. They already have knowledge of these areas.

She comes to the commission with a great deal of knowledge. But when it comes to any area she's worked in, she has recused herself from those areas. Those are the rules of the commission. That's what everybody has done, whether they're staff or commissioner.

She is in my mind, one of the finest members of the commission, one of the hardest-working members of the commission, and, by the way, one of the most non-partisan and bipartisan members of the commission. So people ought to stay out of our business.

HAMILTON: I strongly support what the governor said. QUESTION: If I could just follow up on that, I believe I heard you say, sir, earlier that the architecture of the wall was actually built in the 1980s.

Could you say a little bit more about -- and perhaps Congressman Hamilton, you might check in as well -- a little bit more about the origins of the wall, and whether -- perhaps you might like to make an assessment of the attorney general's statement, that this memo formed the basic architecture for the wall.

HAMILTON: The memorandum, the statement that the attorney general declassified and submitted to us, we had not seen before the attorney general appeared. And it is our understanding that a set of rules evolved during the 1980s in which you had this very sharp distinction between intelligence for law enforcement purposes and intelligence for national security purposes. And everybody accepted that. There was no terrorist threat at the time. And you were dealing with a very different world than we have today.

In the 1980s then, that wall was developed. The document that was showed to us by the attorney general was produced after the experience of the Ames case. And Attorney General Reno issued her 95 guidelines, which are now commonly referred to as the wall.

It was ratified in writing by the Bush administration Justice Department in August of 2001. And it was not dismantled until 2002, after the passage of the Patriot Act. So that's kind of the background of that particular memorandum.

QUESTION: Given that, how would you characterize the attorney general's decision to declassify it and ambush you with it at a hearing?

KEAN: We're not about to get in a fight with the attorney general, and we hope he's not about to get in a fight with us. Our job is to -- hey, look, our job is to find the facts to the best of our ability, not to get involved in politics, not to get involved in personalities, to try and rise above a lot of what goes on in this town.

And we're going to try and do it. And I think all 10 of us believe that way.

What the vice chairman and have I just said is supported by 10 commissioners; five of them Republicans and five of them Democrats. And we're going to go ahead, we're going to try to do the best job possible, and if we see missiles incoming from the right or left, we're going to go ahead and do our job.

QUESTION: Another issue somewhat related to the question of the wall is CIA and domestic abuses in the past. Are you concerned with an MI-5-type operation or with some sorts of reforms that those situations could develop in some form or another again?

HAMILTON: Well, I think the question is one that we have on our minds about MI-5. MI-5, of course, refers to the British domestic intelligence operation.

From my point of view, it's terribly important that whatever system you have for the collection of domestic intelligence, that it be done by an agency that has respect for the rule of law. And that's one argument, at least, for keeping domestic intelligence in the FBI.

I don't want to try to prejudge our final conclusion here, but whatever our final conclusion is, I think it'll put pretty heavy emphasis on the organization respecting the rule of law.

The FBI has its faults. And many of those have come out over the period of the last couple of days. But I do think it has, as an organization generally in a very tough business -- law enforcement and counterterrorism -- been peopled by persons who had great respect for the rule of law.

KEAN: I think we're going to be very aware in any of our recommendations on trying to make sure that civil liberties are protected. We're a democracy. And a democracy has wide swings. There's no question that the FBI, particularly under the later days of Hoover, did some things that people can't countenance and historically we condemn them.

There's no question the CIA did some things, particularly in Central America that we as Americans did not know about and when we found out about them did not support.

But the reaction to that was in some ways an overreaction, and we did some things to the FBI and almost ruined the CIA trying to make sure that would never happen again.

Now we're trying to find a balance. We're trying to rebuild the CIA so it can meet our domestic needs and our foreign intelligence needs and rebuild the FBI in light of 9/11 and do that protecting civil liberties. And that's one of the things we very much have in mind.

QUESTION: Director Tenet said that it will take five years before the clandestine service, the NSA, the analysis community are to the point where they should be. What do you all make of that? And is that good enough.

KEAN: Well, I sort of asked him that question, because it scares me a little bit. I recognize you have to rebuild those agencies, particularly the CIA. I mean, look what it takes.

You've got to go into some of the best places in this country, hire the best young men and women. Then you've got to train them. Then you've got to teach them the language. Then you've got to put them in a country or in an area. You can't do it overnight.

So I understand that it's going to take him five years. It scares me a bit that we dismantled the CIA to the point that it now takes five years to rebuild it. But I don't think there's a short solution to doing the things that that agency has to do to be the kind of CIA we all want it to be. HAMILTON: I was personally kind of discouraged with that statement. This is not a new problem. We've been talking about the difficulty of developing human intelligence for 10 or 15 years.

I was on the Intelligence Committee for a number of years. This was a very common topic of conversation back then; we didn't have enough human intelligence. We didn't have enough people that spoke all of these esoteric languages.

And so when I hear a statement like, "Well, it's going to take us another five years," I ask myself, "Well, where have we been for the last 10 or 15, when this problem was very apparent and has been?"

So I'm deeply concerned about this. Everybody agrees now you got to have more linguists and you've got to have more human intelligence. But our record at developing human intelligence is not encouraging, I think, even though I think the intent is very good, and I'm fully supportive of it.

Putting a spy into a cell and getting information is as tough an intelligence target as there is. The cells by definition are very small, very secretive, many of them family-connected persons. It's very, very difficult to penetrate one of those cells. Easy to say. Obviously, something we have to try to do. But I don't know that we've got the knack of doing it yet. We've got a long way to go.

Now, you can get a lot of human intelligence within being inside the cell, but the ideal, of course, is to try to get inside the cell.

QUESTION: I was wondering if you guys could discuss any outstanding document requests you might have with either the Bush or Clinton administration.

KEAN: Document requests? Well, there is, as I said today, we have one presidential daily briefing that we've requested from the Clinton years that we hope to get. It's the only other one, by the way, requested of the PDB areas.

We've got how many of the Clinton documents is it?

HAMILTON: Fifty-seven.

KEAN: Fifty-seven Clinton documents that are still being cleared. We have not heard that we'll have a problem with those. We hope we won't, and we'd hope to hear in the next week or 10 days about those.

And I think that's -- is that the only document request we have pending? I don't know where Philip is.

Are there other document requests? No? That's about it. So we're reaching...

(UNKNOWN): (OFF-MIKE) more that are still pending, but most of the document requests have been completed (ph).

KEAN: Yes, we're reaching really the tail end of that, which is a relief.

QUESTION: Could you just generally characterize the Clinton PDB that you guys were interested in?

KEAN: December of...


KEAN: December of 1998. And it deals with our subject. And we asked for it at the same time we asked for the declassification of the Bush PDB.

WOODRUFF: We are listening to Tom Kean, the chairman, and Lee Hamilton, the co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission.

Very quickly, what we've heard them say, several important points, No. 1, frustrated that CIA Director George Tenet told them it's going to take five years to reform the CIA to get human intelligence to the point where it should be. Second of all, we heard Tom Kean say that this commission, he is going to be very wary about doing anything to undermine civil liberties in the United States as they consider whether the United States needs a domestic intelligence gathering agency.

No. 3, Tom Kean slapped down in effect James Sensenbrenner, the Republican congressman who today called for Jamie Gorelick, the former deputy attorney general, to step down from the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean saying that what Sensenbrenner is calling for is silly. He said, people ought to stay out of our business. He said Jamie Gorelick has recused herself whenever information has come up that has been relevant to the work that they did in the administration.

And finally, we heard Tom Kean say that these agency they're looking against today, the CIA and the FBI, are the most important in the war on terror. And he said, if they don't get the information we need, we are not going to be able to prevent future terror attacks.

Again, that sums up today's hearing by the 9/11 Commission. And I would just say, finally, in the last few minutes, we've learned that the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, has agreed to extend the combat tours of as many as 20,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines now in Iraq for three months in order to meet a request for more troops; 20,000 troops will be staying longer than they had been told earlier by the Bush administration.

Much more on that as the hours move on and CNN's coverage continues.

But, for right now, we're going to turn you over to an abbreviated edition of "CROSSFIRE."

I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington.


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