Guest: Fran Townsend, James Woolsey, Skip Brandon, Larry Johnson
ANNOUNCER: DEBORAH NORVILLE TONIGHT will not be seen tonight, so that we can bring you a special edition of HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, “The 12 Missed Chances That Could Have Prevented 9/11.”
It was the worst act of terrorism in American history, horrifying attacks that seemed to come from nowhere. And yet, the perpetrators did not strike without warning.
JAMES PAVITT, DEPUTY DIR., CIA OPERATIONS: We knew it was coming at us.
ANNOUNCER: Now, nearly three years later, the undetected clues emerge, missed opportunities that could have saved 3,000 lives.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: We never penetrated the 9/11 plot overseas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: So why did the world‘s best counterterrorism agencies neglect to recognize the intelligence, infiltrate the enemy, uncover the plot, and ultimately fail to protect our nation on such a massive scale?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: All the king‘s horses and all the king‘s men in CIA could not corroborate what turned out to be true.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a special edition of HARDBALL. What could have stopped 9/11? NBC News senior investigative correspondent Lisa Myers joins Chris Matthews for an extraordinary analysis of why America was caught off guard—policies that went unchecked, problems that weren‘t corrected, and procedures that were overlooked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: They defeated every defense that we had in place, every single one of them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, “The 12 Missed Chances That Could Have Prevented 9/11.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAVITT: We did all we knew how to do, and we failed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: “The 12 Missed Chances That Could Have Prevented 9/11.”
MATTHEWS: Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of HARDBALL. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Tomorrow‘s release of the 9/11 commission report will paint the most complete picture we‘ve ever seen of the events that led to that terrible day in the fall of 2001. The nearly two-year probe will conclude that there were many missed chances, clues that went undetected and crucial pieces of intelligence that America‘s counterterrorism investigators simply failed to share with one another.
Among those missed chances, the failure of the checkpoint security system to keep the hijackers off the planes. NBC News has obtained this surveillance footage from Washington‘s Dulles Airport on the morning of September 11. It‘s the most vivid look the world has ever seen of the hijackers in action, carrying out their plot. As you see here, the surveillance video shows that the hijackers set off alarms repeatedly, but quickly were cleared to proceed to their flight.
NBC News senior investigative reporter Lisa Myers obtained the video, part of her extraordinary in-depth look at those missed opportunities. And tonight she joins us with her special report—Lisa.
LISA MYERS, NBC NEWS CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Chris, we decided to take a step back and forget the politics that always surrounds these kind of investigations. We decided to look simply at the facts. What we found are 12 key pieces of the puzzle that, sadly, were not assembled in time to stop the hijackers and just might have made a difference. Here are the first seven.
MYERS (voice-over): That day, it seemed like the attacks came from out of the blue.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no!
MYERS: Sudden, horrible...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get inside a building!
MYERS: ... without warning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A second airplane, a 727, just rammed into the building! Where do I go? Do I go home?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s the worst disaster in history.
MYERS: But almost three years later, the picture has changed dramatically. Two investigations have concluded that the attacks, while shocking, were not completely unforeseeable, and the trail of missed clues and missed opportunities to stop some of the hijackers, disrupt the plot, or perhaps save 3,000 lives stretches across continents.
JAMES PAVITT, DEPUTY DIR., CIA OPERATIONS: We sounded an alarm. We knew the threat was lethal, unambiguous, and we knew it was coming at us. We put our hearts and our souls into disrupting and preventing those attacks. We did all we knew how to do, and we failed.
MYERS: The 9/11 commission‘s final report acknowledges that the nation‘s counterterrorism warriors tried to defend America from attack, with some successes. But the cold truth is that their legacy will be failure on a massive scale.
The first missed opportunity, infiltrating the enemy. As early as 1996, Osama bin Laden makes clear his intentions, issuing a 60-page fatwa declaring war against the, quote, “American enemy.” He‘s training more than 10,000 foreign fighters at his camps in Afghanistan, even readying young children as the next wave. Despite the constant stream of freshmen recruits, schools in Afghanistan and terror tactics, the CIA fails to infiltrate al Qaeda‘s top ranks.
GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: We ran over 70 sources and sub-sources, 25 of them operated inside of Afghanistan. However, we never penetrated the 9/11 plot overseas.
MYERS: In the fall of 1999, bin Laden and his aides begin secretly planning the 9/11 attacks. Soon al Qaeda‘s top operatives converge on Kuala Lumpur. The Malaysia meeting. January, 2000, two suicide operatives hand-picked by bin Laden, Saudis‘s Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar, arrive in Malaysia for the 9/11 planning meeting. This is the first time any of the hijackers appear on the radar of American intelligence. The CIA successfully tracks al Mihdhar to the meeting. As he and his al Qaeda conspirators convene inside this safe house, local spies keep watch outside. But the CIA fails to bug the building and loses bin Laden‘s hand-picked terrorists altogether when they leave Kuala Lumpur for Thailand.
At this point, the CIA knows al Mihdhar has a valid visa to enter the U.S., but it fails to inform the FBI or to place the terrorist on a U.S. government watch list.
TIMOTHY ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: 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 of Michigan and not alerting anybody that they‘re on their way.
JAMIE GORELICK, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: You knew that Mihdhar had a U.S. visa. And so my question is, why, at that point, was he not put on the tip-off watch list?
COFER BLACK, FORMER DIR. CIA COUNTERTERRORISM: Well, I would say that the—that particular case should have been. In fact, I would say that there were multiple opportunities where we could have watch-listed.
MYERS (on camera): On January 15, 2000, al Mihdhar and al Hazmi flew to Los Angeles, the first two 9/11 hijackers to enter the country for the mission. It would be 19 months before the CIA warns the FBI that the two terrorists might be here.
(voice-over): The phone calls. Halfway around the globe in Yemen, the super-secret National Security Agency is monitoring this house around the clock. Inside, a so-called al Qaeda switchboard, which receives calls from bin Laden and relays messages to his operatives around the world. It is run by this man, Samir al Hada (ph), Khalid al Mihdhar‘s brother-in-law.
Investigators tell NBC News that in early 2000, days after the two hijackers settle into this San Diego apartment, al Mihdhar gets the first of what would be a dozen calls from the switchboard in Yemen. The NSA intercepts the calls, knows they are to someone named Khalid, but fails to detect the crucial fact that this known terrorist facility is calling someone inside the United States. NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the U.S. that the switchboard was calling but didn‘t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.
ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS TERRORISM ANALYST: It‘s a failure to recognize how important Yemen is to the al Qaeda network.
MYERS: The final call from Yemen to the hijackers came only weeks before 9/11.
The walk-in. In April 2000, Niaz Khan (ph), a down-and-out Pakistani from Britain who‘d arrived days earlier at New York‘s JFK Airport, tells the FBI an incredible story.
NIAZ KHAN: I‘ve been to Pakistan. I know about this hijacking.
Something going on.
MYERS: Khan says he was recruited by al Qaeda, trained in Pakistan to hijack planes and sent to the U.S., where he was supposed to meet five or six people, some of them pilots, for an undisclosed terror mission. But once in the U.S., Khan got cold feet.
KHAN: I told them before the 9/11, about more than a year, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) any happens and there‘s something be hijacking an American -- an America airline.
MYERS: The FBI confirms Khan passed two polygraphs. Still, FBI headquarters didn‘t believe him and sent him home to London.
(on camera): You show up. You say you‘ve been trained by al Qaeda to hijack an airplane. And they let you go.
KHAN: Yes. They believe me, but maybe not seriously.
MYERS (voice-over): The FBI insists it investigated Khan‘s story thoroughly, but acknowledges it did not share his information with the CIA, nor take Khan up on his offer to return to Pakistan with investigators to try to find the terrorist training site.
(on camera): And you think you could have found the house where you were trained?
KHAN: Maybe that time of year, 50/50 maybe. At least I can do some help.
MYERS (voice-over): Four years later, U.S. intelligence has concluded Khan was credible.
CRESSEY: That‘s part of the systematic failure of the bureau to seriously deal with the al Qaeda threat inside the United States before 9/11.
MYERS: In June, 2000, ringleader Mohammed Atta enters the U.S. and enrolls in flight school in Florida. Back in Afghanistan, the preparations for 9/11 pick up pace. In this rarely seen al Qaeda-produced videotape, terrorists who would later hijack three of the four doomed planes gather in an Afghanistan hideout. On the wall behind them, a crudely drawn targeting map of the United States adorned with a cartoon image of a bomb.
The sighting. In the fall of 2000, in the mountains of Afghanistan, an unmanned Predator spy drone flies over known al Qaeda training camps and captures extraordinary pictures, including a tall figure in flowing white robes. The CIA believed then and now it was Osama bin Laden. The pictures are fed live to the CIA and are the best real-time information U.S. intelligence ever had on bin Laden‘s whereabouts.
STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST: This was the equivalent of having bin Laden in the crosshairs.
MYERS: But the U.S. is not prepared. There are no military assets in place to even attempt to strike bin Laden.
GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST: We should have had strike forces prepared to go in and react to this intelligence. Certainly, Cruise missiles, either air or sea-launched, very, very accurate, could have gone in and hit those targets.
MYERS: In the following months, from the safety of Afghanistan, bin Laden personally manages the 9/11 plot. By the summer of 2001, investigators say the word spreads through the jihadist community of an imminent attack on the U.S. At one of his camps, bin Laden urges trainees to pray for success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs.
In the U.S., between May and July 2001, the NSA, which eavesdrops on communications around the world, reports 33 messages that suggest a possibly imminent terrorist attack, according to a congressional investigation. In May, an intelligence report indicates al Qaeda operatives are planning to infiltrate the U.S. to carry out an attack using high explosives. In June, a CIA report says important bin Laden operatives are disappearing, others preparing for martyrdom.
ROEMER: We have people in Washington, CIA director and others, saying their hair was on fire. This is a spike in warning.
MYERS: The false documents. By June, 2001, all 19 hijackers have entered this country. They enter the U.S. a total of 33 times through 10 different airports. Despite previous claims by the FBI and CIA that all the hijackers were in the U.S. legally, the 9/11 commission finds that as many as 11 had doctored passports or told easily detectable lies on their visa applications and should not have been allowed into this country.
PHILIP ZELIKOW, EXEC. DIR., 9/11 COMMISSION: The 9/11 hijackers—included among them known al Qaeda operatives who could have been watch-listed—presented passports manipulated in a fraudulent manner, presented passports with suspicious indicators of extremism.
MYERS: Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaykh Mohammed was granted a visa to enter the U.S. weeks before the attacks, despite the fact that he‘d been indicted here for terrorism five years earlier and should not have been able to get a U.S. visa. Investigators do not believe he actually entered the country.
CRESSEY: It‘s probably the most graphic example of the inability to share information inside the federal government.
MYERS: The Phoenix memo. On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI counterterror agent Ken Williams sends headquarters this prophetic memo, warning of the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to U.S. flight schools. He lists an inordinate number of Muslim extremists training in Arizona flight schools and urges the FBI to canvas other cities. The FBI fails to act. The memo generates little interest and is dismissed as speculative.
LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: The point is, it was looked at there, it was analyzed. People took what they thought was the appropriate action at the time.
BOB KERREY, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: ... because I think had it gotten into the works at the—up to the highest possible level, at the very least, 19 guys wouldn‘t have gotten onto these airplanes with room to spare.
MYERS: On August 6, President Bush receives an intelligence briefing he requested on the possibility of al Qaeda attacking inside this country. titled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.,” the Presidential Daily Briefing includes intelligence on various al Qaeda plots against the U.S., including one in 1998, in which bin Laden wanted to hijack a plane to gain the release of an extremist radical sheikh. However, the CIA says in the memo, “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting.”
JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: All the king‘s horses and all the king‘s men in CIA could not corroborate what turned out to be true.
EMERSON: If this is the way the intelligence filters up, we have a serious problem because none of the important details ever filtered up to the president.
MYERS: The Moussaoui arrest. August 16, 2001. The FBI arrests suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, training at a flight school in Minnesota.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: ... as the FBI was communicating it that day to the CIA, and within the FBI, referred to Moussaoui as “suspected airline suicide attacker,” planning to fly a commercial airliner in the United States of America—suspected suicide attacker.
MYERS: Yet FBI agents are denied a warrant to search Moussaoui‘s computer and other belongings. A frustrated supervisor sounds a stunning warning to headquarters.
BEN-VENISTE: August 27, the FBI supervisor in Minneapolis, trying to get the attention of those in headquarters at FBI, said he was trying to make sure that Moussaoui, and I quote, “did not take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center.”
MYERS: Information on Moussaoui‘s arrest never makes its way up the FBI chain of command. When did acting director Tom Pickard finally hear of Moussaoui‘s arrest?
THOMAS PICKARD, ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: That was about 3:00 o‘clock on September 11.
MYERS: At the CIA, the Moussaoui arrest is treated more urgently. Still, when director George Tenet is informed later that month, the briefing is benignly titled, “Islamic extremist learns to fly.” Why didn‘t Tenet immediately alert the president?
GEORGE TENET, CIA DIRECTOR: I didn‘t see the president. I was not in briefings with him during this time.
MYERS: Investigators would eventually search Moussaoui‘s belongings -
· after 9/11. They connected him to al Qaeda and to planners of the 9/11 plot.
CRESSEY: The Moussaoui episode is one of the top three examples of where we might have been able to stop 9/11.
MATTHEWS: Ahead, five more missed chances from the final, fateful weeks before 9/11, when the search for suspects came closer than investigators ever knew. Plus, failures in the last lines of defense, as seen in this videotape obtained just tonight from surveillance cameras at Dulles Airport, shot while the hijackers pass through security.
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL. We‘re joined once again by NBC News senior investigative reporter Lisa Myers and her extraordinary look at the events leading up to 9/11. Lisa, as your story continues, we‘ll see that the many missed chances that might have made a difference keep on coming right up until the moment of the attack.
MYERS: That‘s right. There were critical moments and missed opportunities right up to the very end, when the hijackers came up against the last lines of defense. We pick up the story in late August, 2001, when the FBI finally is told two terrorists may already be in the country.
(voice-over): The search. On August 23, less than three weeks before the attack, the CIA finally tells the FBI that al Mihdhar and al Hazmi may be in the U.S. and puts them on most government watch lists. But investigators say the FBI conducts an inept investigation and fails to locate either hijacker, even though they had their names listed in the San Diego phone book and were living in this apartment. An FBI agent testifying incognito tells congressional investigators he wanted to go after al Mihdhar more aggressively but was shot down by headquarters, who said there was no criminal case.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wrote on August 29, 2001, “Whatever has happened to this, some day someone will die. And wall or not, the public will not understand why we were not more effective.
MYERS: Another agent laments there were never enough FBI agents to follow all the al Qaeda leads.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There were also the kinds of misses that happen when people, even very competent, dedicated people, are simply overwhelmed.
MYERS (on camera): It‘s become urban legend that the 9/11 hijackers kept to themselves and shied away from other extremists. But 9/11 investigators now know that some of the hijackers met frequently with other U.S.-based Islamic extremists. In fact, the hijackers had contact with 14 people known to the FBI because of counterterror investigations prior to 9/11.
ELEANOR HILL, STAFF DIRECTOR, 9/11 COMMISSION: Rather than the hijackers being invisible to the FBI, they were, in fact, right in the middle of the FBI‘s counterterrorism coverage. And yet, the FBI didn‘t detect them.
MYERS: Case in point. Two of the hijackers were living in San Diego with an undercover informant for the FBI.
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: There was nothing in their interaction that would give any indication that these two were in the United States to commit a terrorist act.
MYERS: The watch lists. Even though al Hazmi and al Mihdhar were put on the State Department watch list in late August, they were not put on the FAA‘s no-fly list that. Would have kept them from boarding flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon. Why weren‘t they banned from flying? Because the FAA only put terrorists on the no-fly list who were known to be interested in hijacking planes.
SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Merely being a suspected terrorist doesn‘t get you on that no-fly list?
CLAUDIO MANNO, ASST. ADMIN. FOR INTELLIGENCE, TSA: It can. It depends what group you‘re associated with and what other information there is.
MANNO: As an example...
GORTON: I find that to be an incredible answer.
MYERS: Airport security. The hijackers do trial runs to see what weapons they can get through airport security checkpoints. Their preparation pays off. FAA and industry guidelines banned passengers from carrying box cutters and knives with blades of four inches or longer. But blades of less than four inches were allowed, if screeners didn‘t consider them menacing.
RON MOTLEY, LAWYER FOR 9/11 FAMILIES: Nobody should be allowed on an airplane with a knife that has a blade that you cut wood with. Nobody should be allowed on an airplane with a box cutter.
MYERS: But the hijackers manage to sneak on box cutters, and investigators say they almost certainly used knives like this. This Leatherman utility knife was discovered in the wreckage of the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.
September 11, Dulles Airport. At 7:18 AM, two hijackers approach the security checkpoints. They are Majed Moqed and Khalid al Mihdhar. Both set off the alarm and are directed to a second magnetometer. Moqed fails again and is wanded by hand. Both are allowed to proceed to their flight. At 7:35 AM, it‘s pilot Hani Hanjour‘s turn. He breezes through without triggering any alarms. One minute later, Nawaf and Salem al Hazmi enter the same checkpoint. Salem sails through, but Nawaf sets off the alarm of the magnetometer not once, but twice, and is then wanded by hand before being cleared.
The 9/11 commission reviewed this tape, never before made public.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They counted on beating a weak system.
MYERS: One of the last lines of defense, the airport security system and the screeners, also failed that day.
MOTLEY: They were 0 for 19. Nineteen dangerous people got on four different airplanes, cut the throats of passengers and crew, and were able to take control of the airplane.
MYERS: Air defenses. September 11 was a brilliant day in the East. The first ominous sign at 8:24 AM, American flight 11 from Boston. A hijacker believed to be Mohammed Atta thinks he‘s talking to passengers, but keys the wrong microphone and speaks to FAA controllers instead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you‘ll be OK. We are returning to the airport. Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you‘ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
MYERS: At 8:37, the FAA finally informs the military of the hijacking. But by the time jets scramble, it‘s too late. At 8:46, the first plane hits. Audiotapes reveal that for the next crucial minutes, federal agencies that were supposed to protect the public were crippled by confusion, chaos and indecision.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, God, I don‘t know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s a decision somebody‘s going to have to make probably in the next 10 minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, everybody just left the room.
MYERS: The FAA repeatedly fails to alert the military‘s air defense system, NORAD, of the hijackings in a timely manner, eliminating any chance of intercepting some of the planes before they are crashed into buildings. Nine minutes‘ notice was the most the military got before any of the hijacked planes crashed. In one case, the FAA didn‘t tell the military at all.
KERREY: I think headquarters blew it. I mean, there was no information delivered to the military that a plane was coming into Washington, D.C. And thank God the passengers on 93 took the plane over.
MYERS: NORAD had problems, too.
GEN. RALPH EBERHART, COMMANDER, NORAD: We only knowledge had 14 airplanes on alert, seven alert sites.
MYERS: When F-16s did manage to scramble, some went the wrong direction, out to sea. Pilots weren‘t even told it was hijacked planes they were looking for. So when one pilot saw the Pentagon in flames, he instantly blamed the Russians. Quote, “I‘m thinking cruise missile from the sea. I thought the bastards snuck one by us.”
But it was a newer, more nimble enemy who snuck one by us. How al Qaeda could pull off such a devastating sneak attack comes into focus now with three years of hindsight in investigation. Clues that leap out in retrospect were much harder to recognize in the pre-9/11 world.
KERREY: You look at the details of what these 19 men did on September 11, they defeated every defense that we had in place, every single one of them. And there is no other word that you can put on it other than they defeated us.
THOMAS KEAN, 9/11 COMMISSION CHAIR: Would you expect them to be prepared for this totally ingenious evil attack and the way it was performed? No. But should they have been more ready for something coming? Yes.
MYERS: The 9/11 commission report shows the mistakes that were made at the highest and lowest levels of government and across party lines. The commission does not explicitly blame any individual or administration, but anyone reading the narrative will conclude that both the Clinton and Bush administrations bear some responsibility, as does Congress and the intelligence community. When it comes to 9/11, Chris, neither party has earned the political high ground.
MATTHEWS: Ten members of the commission, five Republicans, five Democrats—how‘d they agree?
MYERS: Well, they decided that this was an extraordinary moment in the country‘s history. They both had part of—five Republicans, five interest (ph), all had partisan interests, but they decided that they had to get something done. The only way they would fix things is to speak with a single voice. So they decided they would come out united. They wanted to get something changed before the next terror attack, which they believe is coming very soon.
MATTHEWS: What a great report. Lisa Myers, thank you very much.
MYERS: Thank you.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, reaction from the White House, the CIA and the FBI. Plus: Have the problems that led to 9/11 been fixed?
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.
Today, on the eve of the release of the 9/11 Commission‘s final report, Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton briefed National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales on the panel‘s findings.
Frances Townsend is the homeland security adviser to President Bush and she previously served as deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism.
Fran, thanks for joining us.
It was an odd day on 9/11, beside all the over. The CIA director, George Tenet, had a hunch as he was having breakfast at the Saint Regis Hotel, that this might have had something to do with this guy Moussaoui, who was picked up in Minnesota. The president had no clue to that.
Why was the CIA director sort of on point and had a sense of what had happened, and the president said, that‘s one bad pilot. Why was the president so uninformed about what the CIA director seemed to know?
FRAN TOWNSEND, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Lisa‘s report, frankly, makes a very compelling case for many of the policies that we‘ve been pursuing for the last three years.
The fact is, the president was poorly served by a system that, over the course of a decade, had decayed and had been weakened. We didn‘t have the right laws in place. We have a Patriot Act now. We didn‘t have the ability to integrate and assimilate information very well. And, as you‘ve heard in Lisa‘s report, the agencies didn‘t communicate very well with each other in sharing information. We do that better now.
Can we make more improvements? Absolutely. But this president has put in place the Terrorist Threat Integration Center. We have a terrorist screening center to do kinds of watch list thing that you‘re talking about. There‘s a number of things that we—based on what we‘ve learned from the tragic—tragedy of September 11, that we‘ve tried to fix.
MATTHEWS: If someone were today from that part of the world involved in that kind of terrorism, potential enemies, if they were to do something like seek training on how to fly a big plane without learning how to take off with it, something peculiar like that, how would that be flagged today, after 9/11?
TOWNSEND: If they were trying to take peculiar lessons here in this country, the fact is the FBI now is a terror prevention organization, and that prevention is based on specific intelligence.
TOWNSEND: They work with state and local law enforcement better. They not only share information from them, but they seek to get information from them. And that sort of suspicious behavior, we rely on those we‘ve developed relationships with in this country, flight instruction providers, those who sell and have explosives and provide them for commercial use.
We have a whole panoply of relationships now. And we look to those people to queue our efforts.
MATTHEWS: Suppose someone was trying to learn how to drive a subway out in Canarsie or somewhere in Brooklyn, so that they could ram it into Madison Square Garden during the Republican Convention? Is somebody on watch for that kind of strange training being sought, where a person who is clearly going to put some dynamite or whatever on that train and take it where we all know is going to be one of the real problem areas of security, the two political conventions? Are we ready for that?
TOWNSEND: There are a number of measures we take against all kinds of threats, whether it‘s rail, truck, road, aviation, seaports.
We‘ve actually put protective measures in place. And based on the relationships with those people who work in those areas every day, we try to develop relationships. You know, Chris, we got really criticized. People said, why did you come out and say that you think there‘s an increased terror threat?
TOWNSEND: The fact is because we need people to be alert.
There was a case in Alabama where a sanitation worker was just alert and came across a thing that looked like a suicide bombing vest. He called the local police department. They got with the FBI. They went out and they looked at it. Ultimately, it was determined to be some person‘s Halloween costume.
TOWNSEND: But the fact is, that‘s a good example of when you tell people you need their help and you tell them you need them to be alert and report suspicious activity, that enables us to go out and put more dots on the map, if you will.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s rerun the hell. Suppose tomorrow morning or the morning of one the political conventions that‘s coming up—big targets, we know that. What happens if a guy gets on the plane up in Portland, Maine, right now, same M.O., same route. How do stop him?
TOWNSEND: Well, the fact, he wouldn‘t get...
MATTHEWS: He couldn‘t have got through those metal detectors. They could have a different kind of weapon. Maybe that could have a garrote or some kind of piece of rope they‘re going to strangle stewardesses with or whatever. How would that person get stopped?
TOWNSEND: There‘s a bunch of ways.
It was interesting. In the section of the report with Lisa, you talked about the screeners being the last layer of the defense. They aren‘t the last layer anymore. Our screeners are better. They‘re better trained. And we‘ve got more of them. It‘s a professional work force. So there‘s less of a chance that that person would get through screening.
MATTHEWS: Certainly not with a knife.
TOWNSEND: If he got on the plane—that‘s right.
MATTHEWS: No knives.
TOWNSEND: That‘s right.
If he got on the plane, there are federal marshals randomly deployed. You‘ve got hardened cockpit doors. That same method of attack couldn‘t work today in this country.
MATTHEWS: You‘re confident?
TOWNSEND: I am confident.
MATTHEWS: What about other means of transportation? Let‘s go to subways in New York. You don‘t have to do metal detectors on the subway in New York.
TOWNSEND: Look, in fairness, we could go through each of the modes of transportation.
MATTHEWS: Right. I‘m thinking of the most obvious.
TOWNSEND: No, that‘s right, and we think of that, too.
And you know what? What we try to do is work with state and local authorities. We‘ve taken steps on each one. It‘s important that people remember that they have to get lucky once and we have to be right every single day.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right.
TOWNSEND: We are structured to try and do that. We are structured.
And we‘ve disrupted cells in Portland, Oregon; Buffalo, New York;
Northern Virginia. We‘ve disrupted cells inside this country. And so we work every day to try and make sure we‘re ahead of them.
MATTHEWS: OK, we‘re not the same country anymore.
TOWNSEND: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Fran Townsend, coming from the White House.
TOWNSEND: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, former CIA Director James Woolsey is going to here. And later, has the communications gap in our intelligence services been fixed? We‘ll talk to former officials from both the FBI and the CIA.
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL, where we‘re examining “The 12 Missed Chances That Could Have Prevented 9/11.”
James Woolsey served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from 1993 to 1995.
Do you sense, looking back over your term under the Clinton administration—although you‘re hardly a Clintonite—you‘re a public servant—that there was a low priority for catching these people?
JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: Well, I left in January of ‘95, and terrorism was certainly on the map, but not bin Laden that much. His fame took off in late ‘95 and then in ‘96.
I think that, just as a public citizen watching it since then, I‘d say that the country as a whole was asleep at the switch. In 2000, Chris, I was on a terrorism commission that was chaired by Jerry Bremer, who is just back from Iraq, bipartisan. We had unanimous recommendations, 25 recommendations, all I think pretty sound.
Senator Jon Kyl introduced legislation to support them. But, generally, they were completely ignored on Capitol Hill and completely ignored in the executive branch. All 25 in one way or another now have been adopted. And they‘re small, medium and large recommendations, from changing regulations, changing statutes and so forth.
The FAA was asleep at the switch. The Air Force was asleep at the switch. The CIA was asleep at the switch. The FBI was asleep at the switch. The country was asleep at the switch.
MATTHEWS: Do you think, in terms of the environment—and I‘ve been thinking a lot about this—that, when we won the Cold War, it was over. Let‘s put it that way. The Russians lost it in ‘89. And by ‘91, the failure of the Moscow coup made it official that there‘s not going to be a fight between us and the old Red Army.
MATTHEWS: Was there a sense of sort of like, God, that‘s over, let‘s take a break?
The phrase was, the Cold War is over. And what that meant was to sometimes budgeteers. You could cut intelligence a lot. We were closing down CIA stations all over the world. I not only liked, I revered Daniel Patrick Moynihan. I know he was a friend of yours, too.
MATTHEWS: My hero.
WOOLSEY: But even he said, you know, well, the Cold War is over. We can close down the CIA, don‘t need the secrecy business anymore.
MATTHEWS: Yes, he was not big on secrecy.
Let me ask you about this headline, the presidential briefing of August 6, 2001, right a month before.
MATTHEWS: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” And I‘ve kidded around here, because it‘s so horrible. Things can get a little gallows humor here.
If that had been on the front page of “The New York Post,” we would have acted. How come we didn‘t act when it was in a memo to the president?
WOOLSEY: People often pay a lot more attention to what‘s in the press than they do in what‘s in intelligence briefings. First of all, most intelligence is not a clear indication something is going to happen.
MATTHEWS: But that headline...
WOOLSEY: It tends to be a judgment.
MATTHEWS: “Determined” means they‘re coming.
WOOLSEY: Yes. But coming how, where and when?
A lot of people, including George Tenet, were more alert in some general sense. But the rubber never met the road. The people, like the wonderful FBI agents in Minneapolis and in Arizona who had gut feels and suspicions about something like suicide hijackers, what they were suspicious of never got through to the same people who were briefing people like Tenet, that there was something coming. Those two things were never put together within the bureaucracy.
MATTHEWS: In every good cops and robbers movie, they usually give a guy a little lead. They know who‘s doing it, but they let them keep it up for a while. They keep an eye on them, so they can catch them.
Is that possibly what we were doing to those two people that should have been on the watch list coming into the country before 9/11 that we let get by?
WOOLSEY: I think that would give us too much credit. I think that was the biggest CIA mistake pre-9/11, was not putting al-Midhar and al-Hamzi on the watch list.
Much of the rest of what went wrong—and planning, for example, took
place in the United States and in Germany. Those aren‘t places where the
CIA spies. We would probably have had a better chance of picking something
else if they had been plotting all this in, say, Syria. But a lot of
institution may bad mistakes. The CIA made
MATTHEWS: Why did George Tenet have a hunch that it had something to do with Moussaoui up in Minnesota when we got hit on 9/11 -- he‘s having breakfast—and the president didn‘t have a clue?
MATTHEWS: It seems to me that‘s a case of where the president and the CIA director weren‘t on the same wavelength.
WOOLSEY: Well, maybe. But you have lots of hunches when you spend
full-time on this job. And George had apparently a very good
MATTHEWS: I like guys with hunches.
WOOLSEY: Yes. Yes. Sometimes, you need to go with your gut feeling.
MATTHEWS: And that‘s why I‘m worried about this new layering. Are you afraid that, in putting in a new superintelligence man on top of all the other intelligence directors, you won‘t get the sense of the road, what‘s happening out there?
WOOLSEY: That‘s a potential disadvantage, having a layer of bureaucracy that stifles creativity, because you want your intelligence officers to try new things and different things.
The problem is that the intelligence community has grown so much since 1947, when the position of director of central intelligence was created, that it‘s difficult, maybe not impossible, but it‘s impossible to do both jobs, running the CIA and managing the community. So I generally kind of, you know, 60/40 tilt toward establishing a new...
MATTHEWS: A new superhead.
WOOLSEY: But I sure as heck don‘t want it to be called a czar. I don‘t think 500 years of stupidity and rigidity followed by the victory of bolshevism is a good model for American intelligence.
MATTHEWS: Well, Mr. Secretary will have to do, then.
Thank you very much, James Woolsey, former DCI.
Up next, former FBI counterterrorism director Skip Brandon and former CIA officer Larry Johnson on who‘s more responsible for failing to prevent 9/11. We‘re going to have an interagency battle coming up here on HARDBALL.
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with a special edition of HARDBALL.
Skip Brandon serves as—served as deputy assistant director for international counterterrorism for the FBI. And Larry Johnson is a former CIA officer. He also served as deputy director in the State Department‘s Office of Counterterrorism.
Skip, who‘s more responsible for this failure of 9/11, if there‘s a particular agency? Is it CIA or FBI?
SKIP BRANDON, FORMER ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR OF COUNTERTERRORISM: It was a failure all the way around, Chris. I don‘t think there‘s one more than the other. But it was a failure.
LARRY JOHNSON, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: They had the information.
Here‘s what‘s so frustrating, Chris. FBI had critical pieces, as did CIA, as Lisa‘s report pointed out. They didn‘t bring it together. They didn‘t assemble the pieces. And here‘s what‘s scary. Today, that problem still exists.
I can tell you firsthand from an experience a friend of mine had overseas three weeks ago. CIA and military are meeting. FBI walks into the room. CIA person stands up and says, we‘re not having this meeting if they‘re there. Now, how can...
MATTHEWS: That still goes on?
JOHNSON: It still goes on.
MATTHEWS: This service rivalry?
JOHNSON: Yes. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Well, what happens when the president calls up his top guy, if there‘s a new top guy, sort of the uberboss? Jim Woolsey doesn‘t like czar. How about uberboss? An overboss, we know what that would mean. And he says, well, anything I should know?
When I was working for Tip O‘Neill, he always said in the morning at 8:00 in the morning, anything I need to know, anything you smell out there? And he says, well, I have got to go call the other guys to see if they smell anything, because I‘m not of course on the ground. Isn‘t that a problem?
BRANDON: Well, it could be a problem. But the thing is, he has got to get—he or she has to get pretty close to the ground very, very fast. This just has to happen.
MATTHEWS: Like the example I gave of George Tenet knowing—thinking that morning, as he‘s having breakfast and hearing about the collisions in New York, the hell in New York breaking loose, he‘s going, I hope it didn‘t have anything to do with that guy getting flight training out in Minnesota. You need a guy like that, whose nose goes immediately to it when the president says there‘s something up.
JOHNSON: It‘s the obligation, particularly out at CIA, for both the analyst side and the operations side to pass information up. As an analyst who worked specific issues related to terrorism, I knew what were the warning flags. I would tell my branch chiefs, because my attitude was, I‘ve got to make sure the president knows, so he can never say, I didn‘t know.
MATTHEWS: Can you pulse an agency? I learned that term a couple months ago here. Can you say—suppose the president says, I‘m reading all these reports. I want you to tell me back in two hours. I want you to call me back and tell me where we‘re at right now.
MATTHEWS: Is there something going on out there? Can you pulse an agency well now?
JOHNSON: Yes, absolutely. You can do that.
MATTHEWS: What about when the president gets a warning like “Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S.” and it doesn‘t mean much? How can a dramatic headline like that not mean much?
BRANDON: I think that‘s a failure of leadership all the way around. Somebody has to go back and say, Mr. President, read this again. We‘re serious.
JOHNSON: Now, Chris, as someone who wrote pieces like that, you don‘t get a more alarming piece from a CIA analyst than that.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I said before—you didn‘t hear me—if that read on the cover of “The New York Post,” everybody in New York would be saying, my God, what‘s this about?
That should have elicited something from the White House, maybe not the president, at least Condoleezza Rice, saying, OK, I want CIA in here. What does this mean? What are you talking about? Let‘s go over this. And that didn‘t happen.
MATTHEWS: Skip, big question. Take a minute. Could we stop them if they tried almost the same thing again, maybe a few variations? Are we prepared to stop a big terrorist operation?
BRANDON: Chris, I think we‘re a lot closer. Are we fully prepared? No. The pieces are still not in place. And, as Larry said, there are still institutional problems and problems between the agencies, but we‘re a lot closer today.
MATTHEWS: On our main transportation systems?
BRANDON: Yes. I think we are. We‘re still not completely ready, but we‘re close.
MATTHEWS: I‘m talking flight. I‘m talking trains. I‘m talking subways.
JOHNSON: A hijacking like 9/11, I doubt if that could happen today. The problem that‘s really a vulnerability is four or five people coming on board with different components for a bomb and building that on board. We don‘t have an effective defense for that yet.
MATTHEWS: Here‘s a great American question. This wouldn‘t be asked in old Spain or old Russia. But are we too free a country to really be secure, too many ethnic groups, too many people coming in the country, too many people that might be a problem and you can‘t be discriminatory, and just too many people, too much—too much stuff going on, too much movement, too many people coming in every day all around the world?
BRANDON: In one sense, we may be. It breaks everybody‘s heart to hear that and to say that. In one sense, we may be.
But, in fact, we can build the systems if we can get over being totally worried about always being politically correct. We can build the systems to be free and still stop this.
Listen, our greatest strength, our greatest defense is our freedom and our civil liberties. If we protect those and uphold those, and if people would just be alert—because, as we saw with 9/11, it wasn‘t a case that the information wasn‘t there. The pieces were there. They just weren‘t shared. And today, we‘re still not sharing. We need to start working and playing well together.
MATTHEWS: Are people willing to accept the level of security we have now, where you have to go through two or three times sometimes, where you get the four S‘s on your plane ticket and you‘ve got to go back and go through the shoe check?
MATTHEWS: Are we going to take that for a long time, do you think?
BRANDON: We have to. Will we? We did for a year and a half after 9/11. And now you start to hear things saying, we‘re not going to do it that way anymore.
MATTHEWS: Well, I think we‘re going to be taking it for a long time, a lot of shoe-taking-off for years to come.
MATTHEWS: Skip Brandon, Larry Johnson.
We‘re coming right back with more on this special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Tomorrow on HARDBALL, we‘ll get an in-depth look at the 9/11 report itself with two of the 9/11 commissioners, plus, that anonymous CIA officer who wrote the new book “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.” That‘s going to be fascinating, to see how he disguises himself.
Right now, it‘s time for “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.”
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