Guest: Mindy Kleinberg, Kristen Breitweiser, Dan Senor, Steve Pomerantz
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: We‘re right back now. We‘re not going to recess. We‘re going to carry through here with Howard Fineman and other guests. We‘re going to have a special edition of HARDBALL at 12:30.
But, before we get to the special edition, Howard, what was the big news today?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: The big news today was the Clinton administration indirectly confirming through Janet Reno that they probably had an assassination attempt in the works against Osama bin Laden. That‘s been discussed before.
It‘s not news, except for the fact that Janet Reno, with her sort of very elliptical statement there, more or less confirmed it. That‘s important politically, because most of the rest of the testimony from Louis Freeh, the FBI director during Clinton‘s years, and Janet Reno, attorney general during that time, was a an administration that was looking at terrorism basically as a law enforcement matter, that was bitterly divided, that didn‘t have the money, that didn‘t always seek the money.
MATTHEWS: That didn‘t have the stomach for it either. Right.
FINEMAN: That was encumbered by the law, that didn‘t have the stomach for it.
So the one thing they can say against that whole history is, well, to hint around at the fact that they may have put out an order, some kind of order to have Osama assassinated, although the CIA apparently doesn‘t view whatever the president did say in that light.
MATTHEWS: Well, that will make the front page tomorrow, that the United States had an assassination plot against bin Laden under the Clinton administration.
FINEMAN: If in fact that‘s what it was. If in fact that‘s what it was.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s be clear. When asked—she asked if she could—she didn‘t know how to proceed at one point when asked whether she had approved an assassination of bin Laden.
FINEMAN: The reason for that is that those kind of presidential directives are secret. They‘re top secret. They‘re not to be discussed in public, exactly what it says is at issue, because my understanding is, the CIA said that whatever President Clinton did order them to do stopped short of a flat-out assassination attempt.
Again, the reason it‘s important politically is people are, for political reasons, comparing the Bush presidency and the Clinton presidency. The Bushies‘ knock on Clintons is that he was too timid, too encumbered by law, and not on top of things in that way.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the other big development, the decision by both Freeh, Louis Freeh, and Janet Reno to oppose any separation of intelligence from criminal investigations by the FBI. They want to keep that agency intact. The J. Edgar Hoover agency, they want to keep it.
FINEMAN: Even though I think it‘s a consensus on the commission that the FBI had serious problems. Tom Kean, the chairman of the commission, said, referring to a report that was issued by the staff today, I read this, said Kean, as an indictment of the FBI.
FINEMAN: And many other members said the one thing that Richard Clarke and Condi Rice agreed on is that the FBI was a problem, that Louis Freeh was stout in his defense of the FBI, which he ran for eight years, despite the withering attacks from others.
And Janet Reno, interestingly, also, I thought was quite critical of Freeh‘s leadership of the FBI, saying he didn‘t insist on more money from me. He didn‘t break down the barriers. So you could see the bureaucratic fissures between the FBI and Justice during the time Bill Clinton was president.
One other point, Chris, and it is important. After 1998, when the Monica Lewinsky investigation was under way, basically, Bill Clinton was shut out from dealing with the FBI. They wanted to have nothing to do with him. And he frankly wanted to have nothing do with them.
MATTHEWS: Because they were investigating him at the same time on Monica.
FINEMAN: They were investigating him at the same time.
MATTHEWS: They had—they had Monica Lewinsky wired with Linda Tripp.
FINEMAN: It was the FBI agents that did that.
MATTHEWS: So Louis Freeh was investigating the president of the United States for misbehavior in the White House, etcetera, etcetera.
MATTHEWS: Possible perjury charges. At the same time, he was supposed to be working with the president in antiterrorism.
And Louis Freeh said, I never briefed the president on anything the entire eight years I was there. You can be sure that, after ‘98, ironically, as the terrorism threats increased, the president of the United States was basically blocked out from dealing with the FBI. And that‘s in retrospect a tragic mistake.
MATTHEWS: So, as Louis Freeh looks at his worksheet some mornings, and says, what do I do today, Monica and the president or bin Laden?
FINEMAN: Yes. But he was also I thought quite the bureaucrat in saying, there wasn‘t enough money.
FINEMAN: There wasn‘t congressional authority, etcetera.
MATTHEWS: The third big news, after the assassination role that we may have played with regard to bin Laden, attempted assassination or planned assassination, No. 2, the fact that they were all fighting to keep the FBI the way J. Edgar Hoover created it.
The third point, an admission by Freeh today, no airplane plan, nothing to plan against kamikazes.
And this was, again, Ben-Veniste‘s line of argument. If—and others
· if there were questions—if there had been war-gaming of such a scenario in 1996 to protect the Atlanta Olympics, which there was—they actually thought about the possibility of planes being used as missiles—if there were other warnings, if there were other things out there along those kind, why wasn‘t NORAD, the North American defense umbrella, reoriented to protect cities?
Why weren‘t there more proactive actions taken on that? And you didn‘t get a good answer from Freeh or indeed Janet Reno.
MATTHEWS: The American people watching this program today, those who have been attentive for the last several hours, are trying to figure out in their own minds, what do they tell their spouse when he comes home or she comes home. Who did it? Who blew it?
And I guess I want to ask you that assessment of—we‘ve heard from Condi Rice. We‘ve heard from Richard Clarke from the NSC, the expert on counterterrorism, sort of blamed the Bush administration. Condi Rice defended the Bush administration. Louis Freeh came on today and blamed Congress for not giving him enough money.
Then—then Janet Reno came on and she blamed Louis Freeh for not using it properly.
FINEMAN: Right. Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: Is that where we are?
MATTHEWS: Is that the lay of the game here?
FINEMAN: That‘s where we are.
And I think the answer is that the Clinton administration deserves blame for not using of the president of the United States, one of the great communicators of all time in Bill Clinton, to raise the level of concern in the United States, to turn up the heat, to explain why the war on terrorism that they saw behind the scenes was already under way should be brought to the attention of the American people.
That was Bill Clinton‘s big failure, because you can‘t get Congress to move, you can‘t get the bureaucracy to move unless the American people are on notice and at battle stations themselves. That was Bill Clinton‘s big failure.
And that was a mistake, no question about it.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about...
FINEMAN: And George Bush, for his part, his administration clearly, because of the behind-the—ironically, because of the behind-the-scenes attention of the Clinton people, the Bush people came in and said, whatever the Clinton people were doing, we don‘t want to have anything to do with. And they put terrorism on the back-burner for months at a time.
MATTHEWS: To recap again, so we keep track of our partridge and pear tree, because everything does add up here, first of all, we learned today that the United States may have had a hand—it looks like Janet Reno didn‘t want to say so—in an assassination plot under the Clinton administration, that the administration of both—Janet speaking for the Clinton administration and herself, Louis Freeh speaking for himself as former FBI director, do not want to see that agency divided between intelligence-gathering domestically and in criminal enforcement.
What else do we know? We know that the FBI, no one had a plan for protection against air attack, kamikaze against the U.S. Capitol or anything in the United States. Nothing like that happened.
MATTHEWS: And we know there‘s an ongoing dispute whether the FBI had enough money and didn‘t use it properly or didn‘t have enough money and people to do the job.
However, you have to wonder whether Janet Reno was making sense today when she said, you should have reprogrammed. And I asked you, during a break, I said, how do you reprogram a guy who works in mail fraud to be a Farsi-speaking, Arab-looking guy who could pass muster...
FINEMAN: You can‘t.
MATTHEWS: ... if he tried to infiltrate?
FINEMAN: You can‘t.
And there‘s an additional question of the Clinton administration, perhaps rightly, but, in retrospect, tragically, being a little too concerned with legal process and not with getting the bad guys, one—which is why it‘s important that Janet Reno basically endorsed the Patriot Act here today.
MATTHEWS: It‘s very important politically, because that has become a topic of great attack by the Democrats running for president.
FINEMAN: Exactly. But one small exception. She supported it from top to bottom, which is, in retrospect, an admission that they should have been doing more on this level.
MATTHEWS: Except for the—except for the new kinds of searches that are justified.
FINEMAN: Right. Exactly.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you what else we have to deal with. We have to deal with the fact that the FBI didn‘t do its job. A lot of conversation this morning when Louis Freeh was on the stand talking about the fact that the Phoenix office had spotted very strange activity, but agreed were topics of investigation, interesting to investigate, in other words, foreign nationals, Middle Eastern people coming to the country to get flight instruction on how to get ahold of—how to control a flight once the plane was in flight, the same kind of phenomenon we saw with Moussaoui in Minneapolis.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a look at that part right now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BOB KERREY, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Why did we let their soldiers into the United States? Because that‘s what the al Qaeda men were, they were soldiers. They were part of an Islamic army called the jihad to come into the United States. Why did we let them into the United States? Why didn‘t President Clinton and/or President Bush issue an order to change the FISA procedures and other orders to INS, etcetera, to make sure that their soldiers couldn‘t get into America? Why did we let them in?
LOUIS FREEH, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Well, again, I think part of my answer is that we weren‘t fighting a real war. We hadn‘t declared war on these enemies in the manner that you suggest that would have prevented entry had we taken war measures and put the country and its intelligence and law enforcement agencies on a war footing.
The Joint Intelligence Committee, in one of their reports—I think I excerpted the conclusion in my statement—said that neither administration put its intelligence agencies or law enforcement agencies on a war footing.
A war footing means we seal borders. A war footing means we detain people that we‘re suspicious of. A war footing means that we have statutes like the Patriot Act, although with time set provisions, give us new powers. We weren‘t doing that.
Now, whether there was a political will for it or not, I guess we could debate that. But the fact of the matter is we didn‘t do it and we were using grand jury subpoenas and arrest warrants to fight an enemy that was using missiles and suicide boats to attack our warships.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FINEMAN: Well, a couple points there. It‘s up to the president to help create the political will. And I‘m saying Bill Clinton, by all accounts, by everybody‘s estimation, is one of the great political communicators of all time. In retrospect, he clearly should have done more and spent more of his political capital, especially when dealing with a guy like Louis Freeh, who is a street cop by mentality.
FINEMAN: And the whole FBI was still under Louis Freeh and the mentality of, let‘s catch the guy after he commits the crime.
FINEMAN: And he was great at that. He was a great street cop. So Bill Clinton needed to do it publicly and he needed to do it privately with Freeh. But he was not able to deal with the FBI because he had his own special problems with it, especially after ‘98.
MATTHEWS: What we really needed was something out of that movie, that Tom Cruise movie, “Minority Report.” We needed the ability to forecast crime...
FINEMAN: The Department of Precrime, yes.
MATTHEWS: ... and stop people before they commit crimes.
But I thought it was interesting, during the course of the testimony -
· we‘ll be showing the tape when we pull it up later on, but there was a very interesting point when the first guy, in all the discussion about how we could have prevented 9/11, somebody had an answer. Louis Freeh today said, if we had people infiltrating al Qaeda, if we had friends of those who hung around with them, who could talk to them in Arabic, could hang out with them and have a common background, and be trusted by them, somebody could have picked up that tip and somebody could have blown the whistle on them. But that‘s the only way to do it, really.
Let‘s go right now to HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster, who is in the hearing room of 9/11 Commission up on Capitol Hill. He joins us right now.
David, what‘s the smell like in there?
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris I‘m going to argue a little bit with my good friend Howard Fineman and say the big news today is not what either Louis Freeh or Janet Reno said, but really what this commission said today in the staff report that you mentioned.
And that is that the FBI was in even worse shape than anybody could have possibly imagined. It was woefully unprepared both as far as technology, equipment and resources to deal with counterterrorism. The staff report is simply stinging in its indictment of the FBI. It points out that, on 9/11, for example, 6 percent of the FBI resources was involved in counterterrorism.
And you add the fact that the resources weren‘t involved in counterterrorism with long-standing problems that the FBI had as far as internal communications, sharing information, dealing with some of the complex legal regimes that they had to get over as far as some of the information collection and also information analysis.
You put all of that together, at least the 9/11 Commission is saying that the FBI was simply in awful shape as far as dealing with counterterrorism, even if they had gotten more information about 9/11 and what was going to take place.
FINEMAN: Yes, well, that‘s why Tom Kean, that‘s why Tom Kean said, as
· in questioning, he said, as I read the staff report, it‘s an indictment of the FBI. I mean, that was said in open court. And David is right.
I mean, everything from information collection—for example, they say here, prior to 9/11, the FBI did not have an adequate ability to know what it knew. And Janet Reno confirmed that.
MATTHEWS: She jumped on them from the top.
FINEMAN: She jumped on them from the top and said, that‘s exactly right and, every time we asked the FBI for information, they would discover something else in a drawer somewhere. So it was discussed publicly.
MATTHEWS: Is that your sense, David, sitting in that room and watching these proceedings for the last several hours, three or four hours, that the bad guy here is going to be Louis Freeh, that the FBI is going to be the one taking the heat here?
SHUSTER: Well, the bad guy is certainly going to be Louis Freeh, to a certain extent.
But, as Janet Reno pointed out, he inherited a huge number of problems, including massive computer problems that they had in the early 1990s that were just a disaster. They had already cost the FBI hundreds of millions of dollars, as far as trying to upgrade their computer systems. They had to do it all over again. So at least Janet Reno is cutting Louis Freeh a little slack as far as dealing with some of these institutional problems that the FBI has head for decades.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but that won‘t work politically.
SHUSTER: That won‘t work politically.
MATTHEWS: You know the old expression, it‘s the poor workman who blames his tools.
But, Chris, the other thing I want to point out, that there‘s certainly a buzz in the hearing room, not so much over Attorney General Reno or former FBI Director Louis Freeh. There‘s great anticipation, at least in the hearing room among the junkies, for the testimony of the acting FBI director, Thomas Pickard. He was the one who briefed John Ashcroft as far as the resources that the FBI wanted to have in the summer and fall of 2001.
He‘s the one who, according to a staff report, had already told John Ashcroft the day before September 11, we want more resources. Ashcroft said, no. The reason that‘s significant is because John Ashcroft has told the committee that terrorism was a top priority. There was no higher priority than fighting terrorism.
And so you‘re going to see a huge contradiction this afternoon between Thomas Pickard and then the testimony of John Ashcroft, whose spokesman is already out there trying to claim that, no, John Ashcroft did make counterterrorism a top priority at the Justice Department.
MATTHEWS: Well, contradictions are what we‘re looking for today, David, because we want to find out where the truth is. And it usually lies somewhere in an argument.
Anyway, David Shuster on Capitol Hill, thanks for joining us.
MATTHEWS: We‘re going to remind you that our coverage of President Bush‘s news conference tonight begins tonight at 7:00 Eastern with a special 90-minute edition of HARDBALL. Big night tonight for the president.
Coming up, Steve Pomerantz, a former deputy director of the FBI, on why the bureau missed warning signs in the months just before 9/11.
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.
Here‘s an exchange between commissioner Slade Gorton and former Attorney General Janet Reno about whether the United States law protected bin Laden from assassination.
Let‘s take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SLADE GORTON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: When Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States, did he have a position, in your view, of the law that protected him from assassination under the anti-assassination provisions of our laws and regulations?
JANET RENO, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have not opined on that, and I would have to look at all the facts at the time of the fatwa to know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s another moment there that comes later in that comment by the attorney general where she very clearly is asked the question whether she had approved a decision by the U.S. government to pursue an assassination attempt on bin Laden.
And she paused rather dramatically, Howard, and she said: I think we have to talk about whether that‘s been declassified or not.
FINEMAN: That was a very dramatic moment.
There has been some discussion of whether former President Clinton approved an order to assassinate bin Laden late in the president‘s administration. But officials haven‘t discussed it publicly, certainly not under oath and on the record in front of a public hearing.
What she was implying there, I think, is, indeed, that there was such an order, such a directive approved. We‘ll find out. But, again, it‘s a very important thing, because, in the context of the Clinton years, if the accusation—a lot of the questioning is about divided bureaucracy, not enough money, overly legalistic approach, law enforcement approach.
FINEMAN: This is the one answer that the Clinton people can give that they knew that a war was under way.
MATTHEWS: And a lot of liberals out there in the country are still queasy about the idea of the United States ever approving assassination plots—a lot of Americans, I should say.
Steve Pomerantz is a former director of the FBI who worked under Louis Freeh.
This morning, I thought it was interesting that Louis Freeh actually gave us—we have a tape here of what he said. It was fascinating. He talked about how this thing could have worked out well for the United States. He talked about the fact, if we had agents in a position that were trusted, that 9/11 could have been—if the FBI had had an actual human person who was in contact with the 19 hijackers, let‘s take a look at how we might have won this fight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FREEH: When agents are off the streets—this is my bias perhaps as a street agent—they‘re not making informants, they‘re not developing sources.
September 11th, had we had the right sources overseas or in the United States, could have been prevented. We did not have those sources. We did not have that telephone call. We didn‘t have that e- mail intercept that could have done the job. You get that by having sources and you get sources by good investigations. You also prevent terrorism in that regard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Steve Pomerantz, you know your business. What would have happened? Could we have done it?
STEVE POMERANTZ, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF COUNTERTERRORISM: It‘s hypothetically possible.
But underlying it all is the premise that you‘re aggressively collecting intelligence. You‘re aggressively out in whatever your target community is with agents on the street, as Louis said. And I have to tell you, I was chief of counterterrorism at the FBI in the mid-1980s. I go back a long way in this program.
And I can tell you that, in those years, we were not aggressively doing that. Yes, we were on organized crime. And that‘s why we were very successful on organized crime.
MATTHEWS: But we had people in the Communist Party. They used to laugh that most of the people in the Communist Party, so many were agents.
POMERANTZ: Right. Or the Ku Klux Klan.
MATTHEWS: You had guys everywhere.
MATTHEWS: With the mob, you probably had people all over the place, too.
MATTHEWS: You had Donnie Brascos and people like that around, not that he ever existed. Oh, actually, he did exist.
But let me ask you about—can you tell us, in a declassified way, have we consistently had people involved in these Mideast groups that are out to get us? Have we had people in there?
POMERANTZ: No. The answer is no.
And let me tell you why the answer is no, because it was not—the political climate that existed in this country in those years in terms of collecting domestic intelligence information...
POMERANTZ: Infiltrating support structure, going after those who funded and who recruited...
POMERANTZ: ... and who propagandized on behalf of these groups was simply not possible for the FBI. We‘re looking at all this...
MATTHEWS: It‘s amazing.
POMERANTZ: ... in a post-9/11...
MATTHEWS: And I bet you, pre-9-11...
MATTHEWS: ... all the liberals would have bashed the very idea of infiltrating church groups, mosque groups.
MATTHEWS: They would say, how can you go into religious groups and ask those kind of questions.
Let me ask you about those two fellows that were in the phone book.
POMERANTZ: Yes, sure.
MATTHEWS: Two of the 19 hijackers who killed themselves to kill our people were in the phone book. Is that an embarrassing factoid there, that they were in our own phone books?
POMERANTZ: Sure, it‘s an embarrassing factoid.
Now, whether it fundamentally would—fundamentally would have led to a chain of events that could have prevented 9/11, we can only speculate. But is that in isolation an embarrassing thing? Of course it was.
MATTHEWS: The American people are laughing in taverns all over America, if they‘re in the taverns.
POMERANTZ: Of course. Of course. Sure. Sure.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe we had them in the phone book?
OK, we‘ll be right back with Steve Pomerantz, a former deputy director of the FBI. He‘s going to stay with us when we come back. Howard is going to stay with us from “Newsweek.” And we‘re all going to go to Baghdad and talk to Dan Senor—Senor, rather. He‘s senior adviser to Paul Bremer over there.
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Dan Senor is the senior adviser to Paul Bremer. He‘s with the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
He joins us now live from Baghdad.
Mr. Senor, thank you for joining us.
How goes the struggles against the two elements that are resisting over there, first of all, the al-Sadr group, Muqtada al-Sadr group, the Shia in the south? How is that going?
DAN SENOR, COALITION PROVISIONAL AUTHORITY: It‘s progressing.
We have retained control of a number of the cities that Sadr‘s militia had taken over. We‘re making it clear that the rule of law must prevail in Iraq. We‘re making it clear that illegal militias must be disbanded. We‘re making it clear that government properties have to be returned. In Fallujah, representatives of the Governing Council right now are in discussions with Fallujah leaders. They‘re reaching out. They‘re trying to get safe passage in and out of Fallujah so individuals can attend to the wounded and the dead and provide essential supplies from the Iraqi government.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about al-Sadr. General Sanchez has issued an order to either capture or kill Mr. al-Sadr, Muqtada al-Sadr. What is to be accomplished by that? Is that a belief that, if you decapitate that Shiite radical, that the insurgency itself will end?
SENOR: Well, I think it speaks to a broader issue about the rule of law in Iraq, Chris.
Muqtada al-Sadr been issued an arrest warrant by an Iraqi investigative judge, who wants Sadr tried in an Iraqi court under Iraqi law. He wants him detained in an Iraqi detention facility. He wants him held by Iraqi police for a murder of a fellow Iraqi citizen, a brutal murder. And it is in coordination with those Iraqi legal authorities that we are addressing this issue. And I think that‘s what General Sanchez was speaking to.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the whole thing that America is caught up with back here. I‘m sure you know the sensitivity. And that‘s to hostage taking, a new form of warfare over there.
Give me your assessment of how these hostages—there‘s something like 40 foreign hostages, non-Americans now, being held over there now. What‘s the game they‘re playing, the brutal game that the insurgents are playing here?
SENOR: They‘re trying to break our will.
They have for some time been trying to isolate the American-led coalition here, and specifically us, the United States. They‘ve done so by attacking coalition partners. Several coalition partners have suffered casualties. They have done so by trying to shoot rockets at the hotels where reporters are saying, so try to cause hysteria among the Western press. They have done so by attacking NGOs. You will remember, last August...
SENOR: ... they attacked the United Nations. They‘ve attacked other international organizations.
And the most significantly, they have attacked Iraqis. Hundreds of Iraqi police have been killed, Iraqi political leaders. So every ally we have here, they‘re trying to attack and break their will. The good news, Chris, is, most have stood firm. Most are standing arm and arm with us, continuing to forge ahead, as we move to hand over sovereignty on June 30.
MATTHEWS: How do we protect our friends? It‘s a bigger question, I guess. My son called me last night, e-mailed me, and said, what are we doing to protect our friends over there? Because, if we retreat to these compounds at night, these safe zones, are we sort of leaving those people exposed who like us?
SENOR: Well, I would say that the coalition forces, you know, well over 140,000 of them are spread throughout the country and are visible. But Iraqi security forces are really on the front lines.
You know, there have been a lot of reporting about—there have—hello?
MATTHEWS: OK, I‘m still here.
Anyway, thank you very much. We would love to get you back on the show, Dan Senor, who is the top aide to Paul Bremer over there of the coalition authority.
Up next, two women who lost their husbands in the attacks of 9/11 will respond to today‘s testimony. They were watching intently today as Janet Reno and Louis Freeh testified, as we were. Let‘s all talk about it when they come back and we come back.
You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s special coverage of the 9/11 hearings today.
Kristen Breitweiser and Mindy Kleinberg both lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and sat in on the morning‘s hearing.
Let me start with Kristen.
Your views have been pretty precise here about the knowledge the FBI seemed to have about these guys taking flight lessons in Florida after the fact. Tell me what you think you learned today with regard to that. Why did we know after the fact what we couldn‘t do anything about before the fact?
KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW: Obviously, I think some questions were raised about why they didn‘t preempt some of the hijackers, why they didn‘t visit the flight schools prior to 9/11, when we had, obviously, the Phoenix memo, when we had testimony in open court in New York in the spring 2001.
And I believe what Mr. Freeh said was that it was just too onerous of a task to do. Nevertheless, we‘ve spoken to the FBI and we were told by Michael Rolince, who was in charge of counterterrorism, that they were able to assimilate, descend upon the flight schools hours after the attacks on 9/11, because they were simply lucky.
Obviously, for the families, we would have hoped that they would have been lucky prior to 9/11, they would have descended upon these flight schools, found these Middle Eastern men, or at the very least, told the American public, including the pilots of the planes, that these Middle Eastern men had the capacity to fly planes. That‘s a very important point to be understood, because the pilots would not have acquiesced on the morning of 9/11. They would have fought back.
MATTHEWS: Mindy, what did you think this morning Louis Freeh‘s testimony, especially—I‘m going to ask you the question. Weren‘t you shocked that he never talked to the president in all the years he was FBI director? He never once called up the president, said, Mr. President, we‘ve got a problem here, we need more focus on terrorism, anything like that?
MINDY KLEINBERG, 9/11 WIDOW: Yes.
KLEINBERG: You know what?
I think it points out something that the commission really needs to take note of, because it seem that there is no communication and still no communication between the director of the FBI and the president or the National Security Council. And you know what? That‘s something that we can‘t keep continuing to miss.
MATTHEWS: What did you make of Louis Freeh saying there was no plan to deal with what Richard Ben-Veniste referred to as kamikaze attacks by planes with the intent to blow up billings, no planning to defend the United States against such, despite the fact that we had planning back in ‘96 for the Olympics for something like that?
KLEINBERG: Well, you know what? It‘s another interesting thing.
I can‘t find really too much that we did in a defensive posture, you know, against al Qaeda and the threats at home. And I can‘t understand it, because it is clear from today‘s hearing and from last week‘s hearings that there has been a history replete of incidences where they wanted to attack within the United States.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the argument about money.
Kristen, you‘ve become something of an expert here. Do you buy Louis Freeh‘s argument that he never had enough people? He asked for 1,895 to staff his agency. That‘s almost 2,000 people. And he got 76 instead. What do you make of that defense?
BREITWEISER: You know, Chris, obviously there were funding issues.
And I hope the commission resolves those issues.
But, really, what I would have liked to have found out is, when they were talking about the capacities of the information technology, of the computer abilities, I would have really liked a specific question as to the JTTFs and the bin Laden unit at the FBI, the CTC, which was the FBI in conjunction with the CIA, the DIA, the NSA. I would have liked to have some questions fielded as to their abilities.
And, frankly, I thought the answer was very broad. And I think that really I understand the agents, the field agents in the field offices across the country were ill-equipped. But I would have liked to have known about those specialized units that I think got funneled a lot of the money and the DARPA-type technology. I would have liked a question about that from the commission. And they didn‘t seem to ask it today.
MATTHEWS: You know, you make this one argument, a penetrating argument. And you keep making the point that, in the hours after—the hours after the 9/11 catastrophe that cost your husbands—all your husbands‘ lives—that we were so good in the FBI, the FBI was so good at targeting that flight school down in Florida. Have you ever figured out how they went to that like a magnet and yet they couldn‘t do anything beforehand?
I mean, we‘ve asked the director of the FBI and the FBI itself. And, like I said, they told us that they simply got lucky. Nevertheless, there are newspaper clippings that state that they descended upon those flight schools within hours of the attacks, that they were in rural Maine with video of them at ATM machines, that they had visited places that the hijackers actually were at.
MATTHEWS: It was almost like that movie, that Eddie Murphy movie, where they had pictures of Mohamed Atta going to get some money at an ATM.
BREITWEISER: That‘s exactly it.
MATTHEWS: They got him at a Wal-Mart. They got him checking into the airport. They got like his whole day on film. How did they do it?
BREITWEISER: Within hours, Chris. All at the same time, they‘re arguing that they didn‘t have computer technology and the capability to send mug shots.
We were told by the FBI that they were able to do that because they had the mug shots up and they got a call-in tip. But, unfortunately, the mug shots were not up until two days later. And according to the FBI‘s own testimony, they didn‘t have the computer capacity to even e-mail those mug shots. So, really, I don‘t buy the story.
I think the FBI was tailing these men. We know that they took practice flights across the country. And I would like more questioning along those lines as to how it was possible that this was carried out with the FBI not knowing about it. How is it possible the FBI was at the World Trade Center two weeks prior to 9/11 doing surveillance?
BREITWEISER: You know, these questions need to be answered.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mindy, a couple points.
First of all, what did you think of Janet Reno today, Mindy?
KLEINBERG: You know what? I don‘t know whether it was that I didn‘t really like the commissioners‘ questions. I didn‘t feel that we got enough substantive out of this.
Were you stunned—and certainly Howard and I—Howard Fineman and I were watching this together. We were taken aback—let‘s put it by the—that almost the glaring—it was almost like we were listening to a mike we weren‘t supposed to be listening to, where Janet Reno admitted that something hadn‘t been declassified with regard to someone seeking her permission to assassinate bin Laden.
Did that amaze you, that Bill Clinton‘s administration was involved, apparently—I think you can use common sense here—in an assassination attempt against the man who caused this whole hell to happen on 9/11?
KLEINBERG: Well, you know, I don‘t know whether—I can‘t say that I was shocked and I don‘t know whether that‘s...
MATTHEWS: Would you have approved of an assassination attempt?
KLEINBERG: You know what? Listen, now, that‘s something that you‘re looking at in 20/20 hindsight. You know what? I think the Clinton...
MATTHEWS: What‘s wrong with that?
KLEINBERG: Well, wait. I think the Clinton administration did—where they failed was to make us aware as a nation the danger of bin Laden, because then I think you would have had the nation‘s will to go after him militarily.
And if we understood that the sleeper cells were here and what was at risk, I think then none of us would have had a problem that there was an assassination attempt at him.
MATTHEWS: Well, I guess I‘m being argumentative here, but what‘s wrong with getting rid of bin Laden before he did it?
KLEIN: Well, no, I don‘t have a problem with that.
You know, and looking at this today, I would think that a lot of people would be really glad to hear that that assassination attempt was out there. But what I‘m saying is that we did not know prior to 9/11. And we didn‘t even know in the 2000 election what a risk we were under. And that‘s a mistake.
MATTHEWS: Let me go—let me go back to—let me go back to back to Kristen.
You know, we‘ve been really getting up to date on this. Thanks to the hearings, we got a look at that presidential decision memorandum from August 6 that he got on the ranch five weeks before the horror hit. What did you think when they finally released that Saturday night? I thought that was suspect, just as a journalist. I always wonder why anybody dumps something out at 6:00 Saturday night, except they want to avoid most of the front pages of the newspaper.
But it did admit that the president of the United States got a bit of a tip. It wasn‘t an historic document, as Condoleezza Rice said it was under oath. It was in fact contained—had some new information that, whether appropriate or not, they had picked up the fact that the FBI had people under surveillance in downtown New York, looking, taking pictures. They were Yemeni nationals taking pictures of public buildings down there in the vicinity of the World Trade Center.
It turned out that those people were actually not involved in any plot. They were tourists. That information apparently triggered the CIA to tell the president there were people acting suspiciously in a way consistent with hijackings and other terrorism. So the system was percolating up, factoids, little bits of information relevant to this case, in fact, ironically, at the very spot where the hell occurred in downtown New York.
What do you think went wrong? Do you think the president had his feet up on the desk and he was sort of relaxing, he didn‘t listen to this stuff? Do you feel that it was given to him in a big pile of paper and he didn‘t actually focus on, or there wasn‘t a real in-person emphatic briefing: Mr. President, this is something you have got to take a look at? What‘s your sense of it?
BREITWEISER: Listen, I think that if they had evidence of what they did from August 6 until September 10, it would have been brought forth by Condoleezza Rice.
I think the mere lack of proof of what they did, the meetings, the
minutes of the meetings, the e-mails, the—all of that. There would be
proof of that. Because there is no proof, that raises a suspicion that
very little was done. I think, however
MATTHEWS: You don‘t even know that Condi Rice was in the room with the president.
BREITWEISER: That‘s right.
MATTHEWS: We don‘t even know if he read it. He says he has read it.
But we have no evidence of anybody in real time knowing he did that.
BREITWEISER: Two things, though, Chris. Two things.
No. 1, Tenet said on the morning of 9/11, I hope this has nothing to do with that guy taking flight lessons.
BREITWEISER: He was referring to Moussaoui. So we knew Tenet knew something, which means they were talking.
Another thing that Tenet said, according to “Bush At War,” was that, days after the attacks on 9/11, there were concerns that there was going to be a repeat attack. And Tenet says in the book, the chatter is elevated, like it was after July 4, when it dissipated, and then like it was right before the 11th. Now, we‘ve been told that the chatter dropped off.
I think some of the commissioners themselves said that the chatter dropped off before the 11th. But according to Tenet in “Bush at War,” the chatter was very high before the 11th. Maybe that explains why certain Pentagon officials canceled their flight plans for the 11th. Maybe that explains why the World Trade Center was under heightened alert in the two weeks prior to the 11th. We are not going to know. And unless this commission asks those questions, we will never know.
MATTHEWS: We‘ll come back. We‘ve got more questions for Mindy and we‘ll have more questions for Kristen.
We‘ll be right back. You‘re watching a special edition of HARDBALL on
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with Kristen Breitweiser and Mindy Kleinberg, who have both lost their husbands in the September 11 attacks.
Let‘s go through a couple of things that were interesting this morning. One is the obvious blame game that is going on here, Mindy and Kristen. That‘s between, as we saw, the intramurals here within the Justice Department today. We saw Janet Reno basically landing pretty hard on Louis Freeh, Louis Freeh landing pretty hard on Congress for not giving him enough money.
Your reaction to that, Kristen?
BREITWEISER: You know, obviously, I think that everyone needs to stop the blame game, because one of the statements that was in the staff statement a while ago was that everybody is at fault, so, therefore, no one is at fault. That‘s not giving us anything to work with.
We need to fix these problems. And unless someone or the people own up and say, maybe I have a scintilla of self-doubt, it doesn‘t give the commission anything to work with. And, certainly, the families want to know that people are being held accountable. We want to know that these people are holding jobs in a responsible fashion, so that something like 9/11 is not repeated.
More than anything, we need recommendations, solid recommendations. And the commission needs to have information of areas that need improvement, areas where failures occurred. If everyone says, hey, it wasn‘t my fault or I couldn‘t have done it, we did everything we could possibly do, the commission has nothing to work with.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mindy right now.
We don‘t live in a fascist or a communist country, where the government holds all the power. There are limits on what our government can do at any given time. And one of the concerns we have as Americans is civil liberties. And you can‘t have FBI agents festering in churches or mosques or synagogues every week listening to all the talk, every time there‘s a sermon, writing down what the guy said or the woman said in that church service.
Do you recognize—I know it‘s hard, but do you recognize there are actual constraints that are moral that prevent our government from being a fascistic kind of government that just says, damn it, we want—rubber-hosing people to get information out of them?
KLEINBERG: Yes. You know what? Listen, and I absolutely do. And I think that was a concern of a lot of citizens when the Patriot Act went into effect.
But I think that, you know what? If you use common sense when you put these things into place, that, you know, there‘s a valid way to use them. You know what? There was a threat. A group of people declared war on the United States. So you know what? This was not—if you profiled this group of people who had declared war on us, that‘s different than just regular profiling. And I think that the people in government who are making these decisions need to be able to use that kind of common sense. And...
MATTHEWS: But how do you know the difference if you‘re an agent, an FBI agent? Put yourselves in their shoes.
MATTHEWS: Some kid in his 20s comes over to this country to get flight lessons. Well, that may be a rich kid or some guy who wants to actually be a commercial pilot someday. And then there‘s another guy that comes over here who wants to learns how to hijack. How do you, on the ground, decide that matter when it matters?
KLEINBERG: Well, listen, I hope they have a better answer than I would, because this is what they‘re trained to do. I hope they would be able to use their investigative skills to be able to cull out the information that they need to determine that. But I think...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to Kristen with this question.
Several months back here, a year or so ago, they were bashing in the headquarters of an Islamic organization, a religious organization down in Virginia, I believe. And the defense of that organization was, you‘re interfering with our religious practices. You know, you never know. A lot of church—the IRA used to have people over in this country that were raising money for them in so-called religious affairs, or bars, or whatever the hell it was.
How do you decide when an organization is just political, whether it‘s just religious or cultural and when it‘s dangerous?
BREITWEISER: I think when you have evidence that it‘s dangerous.
You have Moussaoui in August getting picked up at a flight school that a gentleman named Murad trained at. Now, Murad was in the New York hearings in the testimony by the FBI agents talking about blowing up the planes over the Pacific or, in the alternative, flying a plane into CIA headquarters. That same school was attended by Moussaoui in August.
If I‘m an FBI agent and I‘m sitting listening to testimony in New York City about this gentleman, Murad, wanting to fly planes into CIA headquarters, and he attended this flight school, and we know that the FBI investigated that flight school in ‘99, we know that it has a history of other hijackers—or terrorists attending it, and then we find out in August that Moussaoui is at that very same flight school, is receiving wire transfers in excess of $10,000 from terrorist organizations, I think that you‘re allowed to cross the line there.
And I would question why, when you have the French government alerting our FBI and saying, we have information that this gentleman, Moussaoui, has terrorist ties, why we did not get a FISA warrant, because, if we got they FISA warrant...
BREITWEISER: ... we would have unearthed some parts of the plot.
MATTHEWS: You‘re great. You know so much about this, Kristen. Please come back again on our program. We need you back here, and you Mindy as well, and the other wives who lost their husbands. Thank you very much once again, Kristen Breitweiser and Mindy Kleinberg.
We‘re coming right back with more on this special edition of HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.
We‘re joining a live news conference right now in Wisconsin given by the Witmer family. One of their daughters was killed in Iraq. And now they‘re asking the military to take their two other daughters out of harm‘s way and lets them stay in the states.
Here it is.
(INTERRUPTED FOR LIVE EVENT)
MATTHEWS: We‘re going right now to Norah O‘Donnell, NBC correspondent at the White House, who is going to tell us—Norah, why don‘t you talk about the president‘s press conference tonight?
NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, that‘s right, Chris.
As you know, the president holding a prime-time news conference tonight, 8:30, from here at the White House. It is only his third prime-time press conference ever as president. It‘s the first of this year. And just the timing of it is significant.
And to give you a clue about how serious the issue is, the very first prime-time press conference the president gave was just one month after September 11. Then, last year, he gave a prime-time press conference, making the case to go to war with Iraq, and now explaining how the U.S. will move forward in Iraq at this very critical stage.
It‘s interesting. The president‘s advisers say he will begin tonight with a 12-minute speech in opening remarks. That is especially long for a press conference. In fact, 12 minutes, you could argue, is in fact just a presidential address in itself in prime-time.
And the president‘s adviser says he‘s going to use that time to reassure the American people that, even though it‘s been one of the deadliest months in Iraq since conflict began, some 70 coalition troops killed, most of them Americans, the president wants to reassure Americans that the cause is just and that America will continue and also reiterate the goal for the U.S. to hand over power to the Iraqis on June 30.
So that‘s part of the president‘s goal today—tonight, I should say. And, also, the White House does acknowledge that the president is likely to get questions tonight about the ongoing September 11 hearings. The president, of course, has been asked what did he know one month before the attacks in that presidential daily brief given to him on August 6, 2001.
And the president just yesterday again reiterating that he did not have any information that an attack was imminent. But you can expect that this White House is expected to receive more questions about that, the president directly to be asked about that again tonight.
What is noteworthy, of course, is that the White House appears to be shifting a little bit, the president indicating just yesterday that he is now willing to revamp and reform intelligence agencies. Those are his words. Of course, some members of the September 11 Commission, as well as members of a congressional committee that studied the 9/11 hearings, have each discussed the idea of setting up a separate domestic intelligence operation, like the MI5. And that‘s something the president has indicated he might be willing to take a look at.
So I imagine we‘ll hear more about that as well tonight—Chris.
MATTHEWS: We learned over the weekend, thanks to the memoranda that was released around 6:00 Saturday night, that the president was briefed about whatever dangers we were facing from al Qaeda five weeks before the attack of 9/11.
And there‘s also something in the paper, Norah, today about the possibility that the White House might identify the person who briefed the president, who wrote that memorandum. Is that likely to come up tonight, who briefed the president and what was it like? Was he sitting there at attention? Was it a piece of paper passed to him? Do we even know if he read it, that kind of thing?
O‘DONNELL: It‘s a key issue, Chris.
And the White House is saying today that they‘re in discussions about allowing members of the September 11 Commission to interview the person that briefed the president about that memo. So it is certainly under consideration. They‘re not ruling it out here at the White House, but certainly a very key issue about how much of that memo the president read, how much he took it in when he was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. So that‘s ongoing.
No final decision has been made at this point.
MATTHEWS: Do we know—maybe this is too prying to ask of a president or any correspondent, but do we know if anyone was in the room when he read the memo or anyone actually gave it to him verbally? Do we know that even occurred as an event on August 6?
O‘DONNELL: Well, there are pictures from that day, when the president
received his briefing. And we have actual still photos that were released
by the White House...
O‘DONNELL: ... that include, of course, the president‘s national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. It is—it is...
MATTHEWS: So she was there?
O‘DONNELL: It is traditionally the case that the president does—is briefed in person. And that‘s something that, of course, that the White House makes clear this president changed from when President Clinton, who did not always have a daily intelligence briefing from the director of central intelligence or the No. 2 or No. 3 or one of the top people at the CIA, that this president has made that a priority from day one.
MATTHEWS: Well, you know all the bad news, working at the White House, coming out of the war front. We of course lost a lot more people than we expected to, something like 3,500 wounded, 600 or 700 people killed, Americans.
Is there anything the president might have that‘s good news, that might be taken by the country as more than, let‘s stay the course?
O‘DONNELL: Well, I think this president has tried to make the case—and he did yesterday—that the situation is improving in Iraq. And, of course, that‘s difficult for perhaps swallow for many people, seeing that it has been the deadliest week, the deadliest month since conflict began in Iraq.
But they are trying to make the case that, because of the fragile cease-fire in Fallujah, that things perhaps could be turning around. Certainly, you‘ll see the president try and make that case, make the case once again, what they believe, that this is a very small group of ragtag evil elements that are thwarting process and peace in Iraq.
So we‘ll likely hear that from the president. But 12 minutes is an awfully long time for the president to have an opening statement. So you can once again expect to hear this president making the case, making the rationale for why we went to war in Iraq, why it‘s worth that large number of casualties, both those dead and both those wounded. This is a time for this president to do all of that.
His advise acknowledge, he needs to do all of that.
O‘DONNELL: The last thing they want is, of course, rising anxiety about this president‘s national security record, his foreign policy record, because that is, of course, one of his strengths as he heads into this reelection campaign.
MATTHEWS: Just a quick answer. Is there any part of the reason for the press conference tonight the fact that he has fallen behind by seven points in this weekend‘s “Newsweek” poll to John Kerry?
O‘DONNELL: The White House denies that. They say the president made this decision on Thursday to have this press conference.
But it‘s clear from our own reporting that there are Republicans here in Washington who have been wigging out, who have been calling this White House and saying—over last week, when the president, of course, was down in Crawford, Texas, and a lot of the violence was surging in Iraq, that called this White House and says, the president must do something. The president has to let the American people know that there‘s a way out, that there‘s a plan ahead.
And so that certainly was a factor in the consideration, but the White House saying that the poll number, that “Newsweek” poll number that showed him seven points behind John Kerry was not a factor, because the president made the decision to do this on Thursday—Chris.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, NBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell, who is at the White House.
Tonight, our coverage of President Bush‘s news conference begins tonight at 7:00 Eastern time with a special 90-minute edition of HARDBALL. The news conference itself begins at 8:30. And then we‘ll be on afterwards for complete coverage and analysis. And we‘ll be coming back at 11:00 tonight as well. Lots of HARDBALL tonight.
Back in a moment.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL. We‘re awaiting the testimony before the 9/11 Commission on Capitol Hill.
And I‘m joined right now again by “Newsweek”‘s Howard Fineman, who is an NBC News political analyst.
Howard, we have a staff report you‘ve got your hands on right now.
MATTHEWS: What‘s in it, because it‘s only released as of this moment?
FINEMAN: “Threats and Responses in 2001.” It goes through the whole
history. I would say the headline is probably, the acting attorney general
· excuse me, the acting head of the FBI, Thomas J. Pickard, was regularly briefing Attorney General Ashcroft on threats from al Qaeda. And it got so routine or so frequent that the attorney general, according to Pickard, said he didn‘t want to hear any more about it.
Pickard says, after two such briefings, the attorney general told him
· that is Pickard—he did not want to hear this information anymore.
Now, I know that the Justice Department went ballistic when they heard this was going to be in the memo. And so they, late in the game, yesterday, I think, inserted the following sentence: “The Justice Department has informed us that the attorney general and his former deputy and others don‘t recall any such statement.”
So, this goes to the question of just how on point, how much at battle stations John Ashcroft was.
MATTHEWS: That, by the way...
FINEMAN: And John Ashcroft is going to be coming up pretty soon to testify.
MATTHEWS: Years of being involved in politics teaches me that that wording is very important. They don‘t recall such a statement.
FINEMAN: Right, right.
MATTHEWS: In other words, when the regular briefings tailed off, after two of them...
MATTHEWS: ... and it was made clear by the attorney general that he didn‘t want to hear anymore from Tom Pickard, the head of the FBI...
FINEMAN: Didn‘t want to hear it.
MATTHEWS: ... but you don‘t actually issue a statement, I don‘t want any more briefings.
FINEMAN: And there are other important things in here. So...
MATTHEWS: So, in other words, he got rid of the guy without leaving the tracks of a clear-cut statement like a press release.
FINEMAN: Yes. And I think that‘s very important. And it will be subject to questioning later this afternoon.
Also, according to the staff here and this memo, except for the New York field office, there was absolutely no sense of urgency or threat about an attack from al Qaeda in any of the FBI offices throughout the summer of 2001. So even though the president was being told that there were all these full-field investigations going on, when you go out, as the staff did, and talk to the various field offices, whether Miami or Los Angeles or whatever, the staff comes back and says, there was no sense of urgency or threat whatsoever.
And, also, they quote...
MATTHEWS: That gets to the president.
MATTHEWS: Because the president said a day ago that he was comforted by the fact that he was informed on August 6 at that briefing at the ranch that all the offices of the FBI were out working on this case of a possible action by al Qaeda.
FINEMAN: Well, but what the staff says, we found our in our...
MATTHEWS: So that was an inaccurate statement.
FINEMAN: What we found in our field office visits last fall, however, was that, except for New York, no one seemed to recall a heightened sense of threat from al Qaeda within the United States. So the field offices didn‘t know what the head of the FBI was telling the president was going on.
Another important fact, Condi Rice and her deputy both told the
staffers, both told the commission that they did not feel—that Condi
Rice said that she did not feel that the domestic threats were a part of
her brief, in other words, that her job description at the time, before
9/11, did not include domestic terrorism threats. And I think
MATTHEWS: OK, let me just show the shattering contradiction here.
MATTHEWS: What is in this staff report, which is only legally put out at this moment.
MATTHEWS: They haven‘t let us put it out, the 9/11 Commission.
You‘re saying that the FBI was not really on full alert regarding al Qaeda operations during the summer of...
FINEMAN: Well, according to the interviews that the staff of the
MATTHEWS: OK. Here‘s what the president was told on August 6 in his briefing at the ranch: “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the United States that it considers bin Laden-related. CIA and FBI are investigating a call to the United Arab Emirates” and all that.
So, the 70 field investigations going on is what the president is told is a fact five weeks before 9/11. And you‘re saying now, what the real investigation determines here, that nothing was really going on.
FINEMAN: Well, we have to be careful with the wording. Those 70 full-field investigations, the way it‘s worded in the PDB is “that bear on bin Laden” in some way. So all 70 weren‘t about that.
But, in any case, when these people studied it from the commission, they found that, except for the New York office, there was no sense of heightened threat, no sense of being on point, as the president would put it in hunting terms, about the threat of al Qaeda in the summer of 2001. So the president was being told, don‘t worry, chief, everything is under control. But, apparently, according to the staff, there was no sense of threat or urgency out in the FBI field offices, except for New York.
MATTHEWS: In terms of...
FINEMAN: And I think that‘s very important. And it relates to the fact that Condi Rice at the time, by her own testimony, did not consider domestic terrorism threats a part of her brief as national security adviser.
She still was viewing it as a move the chess pieces around the globe, matter of international global statecraft, when, in fact, the job had changed. What else does national security mean if it doesn‘t mean protecting the United States of America?
MATTHEWS: So, to recap, Condi Rice, who testified last week, is admitting that she didn‘t have an executive operations responsibility to oversee domestic security of the United States.
FINEMAN: Well, she‘s either admitting it or claiming it. She just said she didn‘t. She just didn‘t view her job that way.
MATTHEWS: And the FBI is giving the president a briefing on five weeks before 9/11, saying, don‘t worry, we‘ve got 70 full-field investigations which touch on bin Laden.
MATTHEWS: So the president can go to the public, as he did a day or two ago and say, I was comforted.
MATTHEWS: Now, is the president setting the FBI up for a fall? Is that what we‘re watching here and he‘s going to do it again tonight in his press conference?
FINEMAN: Well, he might say...
MATTHEWS: It sounds like it.
FINEMAN: I think he said he was comforted because he must have trusted that the number 70 meant that it was an all-points bulletin everywhere in the country, but not according to the staff here.
MATTHEWS: Before you assign blame, you have to carefully assign responsibility.
FINEMAN: Right. Right.
MATTHEWS: And what he‘s doing here is carefully assigning responsibility for the investigation of any al Qaeda threat to the FBI. It doesn‘t take a big jump to then go from there and saying they blew it.
FINEMAN: Yes, there‘s no question. There‘s further evidence in here about the Phoenix memo, in which the agent...
FINEMAN: Well, the Phoenix memo comes from an agent out in Phoenix saying, look, there are all these foreign nationals, basically, people who are worthy of investigation perhaps, who are wanting to take...
MATTHEWS: An investigative interest is the term, yes.
FINEMAN: Yes, investigative interest, who are wanting to take flight lessons.
And he sends in the memo saying, why don‘t we check and see who has visas, who are foreigners, basically, everywhere around the United States going to these flight schools? Let‘s do it.
MATTHEWS: Who said to do that?
FINEMAN: The agent. The agent suggested it.
MATTHEWS: ... this guy, he‘s a hero.
FINEMAN: Yes. It made its way to headquarters. But that idea never made its way either to the special al Qaeda investigations unit or to the special antiterrorism unit. Those people never heard the idea.
And there were questions probably raised about the legality of doing such a thing. But there‘s going to be an argument about it, argument about whether it would have taken some special court order or consideration to really look at those rosters of people enrolled in the flight schools. There‘s some people who might argue that it couldn‘t have been done.
MATTHEWS: I have got a question for you. And we don‘t know the answer. Did the agent, the special agent, in the field office in Phoenix who picked up, who did his job—he went beyond the info to what it meant.
FINEMAN: He was thinking outside the box, yes.
MATTHEWS: He may not have known that there was four squads who were tasked in New York to going after al Qaeda.
FINEMAN: He might possibly not have known. And this again runs through all the testimony, one hand not knowing what the other hand is doing.
MATTHEWS: We‘re learning a lot, and it ain‘t good. Anyway, Howard, stay with us.
When we come back, terrorism analyst Steve Emerson joins us, as our continuing coverage of the 9/11 hearings continues.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with NBC political analyst Howard Fineman of “Newsweek,” and also Steve Emerson joining us right now.
You‘re an expert on this, sir.
It seems to me, after hours of listening to this today, you‘ve heard sort of three defenses. Louis Freeh said, we didn‘t have the money, we didn‘t have the manpower. I asked for 2,000 or whatever. I got 76 people to work for me, way underfunded, way undermanned, underpersoned, I should say.
Secondly, a lack of focus. They were all over the place thinking about things, drugs, crime. They weren‘t thinking about terrorism before 9/11. And, third, the trickiest one—and you‘re an expert on this—this whole question of, sure, we can bash down the door like G-men and saying, all right, give me all the information here. You‘re going into religious services. You‘re going into community meetings, ethnic meetings, all these things that are involved, and we might have been able to get contact with the bad guys.
And there‘s all sorts of screens up saying, politically correct, don‘t do this, don‘t do this. How is that changed?
STEVE EMERSON, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST: Chris, the fear of God was instilled in every FBI agent that they could not shut down the charitable conduits, the religious covers that provided money to al Qaeda or Hamas.
And they were ready to do so back as early as 1996. Look at all the freezing of assets after 9/11, GRF, BIF, Holy Land Foundation. All the intelligence was gleaned back in ‘94, ‘95, ‘96. That means they just didn‘t have the political will or the mandate to do anything. They were afraid of being tarred with the brush of being anti...
EMERSON: Worse than being fired. They could actually be sued. And they didn‘t want to take that chance.
So, therefore, nobody would step out on the limb on this point. And that‘s what people don‘t really understand, is that it wasn‘t just a matter of putting more resources. He—look, Louis Freeh could have had 1,000 more FBI agents. It wouldn‘t have made a difference unless there was a command from the very top saying, I want to bust these groups in the United States that are raising money for jihad.
There wasn‘t such a command. So FBI agents on their own would take the initiative. And, therefore, most of them wouldn‘t do anything, because they were afraid of being cut off.
MATTHEWS: Suppose some agent who was really on fire had gotten to these 19 guys who killed everybody on 9/11 and started getting rough with them, you know, brought them in, rubber-hosed them, say, what the hell are you guys up to? I know what you‘re up to. You‘re up to something really bad. What is it?
EMERSON: Listen, there are some cases that have not been disclosed in terms of people that were interrogated in the years before 9/11 that were connected, or believed to be connected to al Qaeda. And when they were brought into the FBI or when FBI agents then tried to interrogate them, they called the ACLU. They called some of the Islamic—quote—
“advocacy groups,” which turned out to actually be fronts for some of the terrorist organizations, and they screamed bloody murder at the FBI.
The FBI backed off. They backed off because they were afraid of the backlash not only among the Muslims in the United States, but among the Muslim world...
MATTHEWS: So the same congressmen complaining and bitching today about how the CIA and the FBI didn‘t do their job would have been the first ones on the phone for the some religious group covering for them.
EMERSON: Absolutely. And it still goes on.
Look, 2 ½ years after 9/11, there are still issues right now where the FBI is constrained from investigating some of the radical Islamic groups because they use the cover of religious definition.
MATTHEWS: This is the kind of thing that we‘re learning. This 9/11 screen, everybody sits on this side of the screen and judges behavior on the other side of the screen, when, in fact, nobody has recalled the money situation. We didn‘t want to spend money. We were always trying to save money in the federal government. We were always trying to reduce the number of federal employees, right? That was a big call before 9/11.
The religious concerns, the civil liberty concerns, the ACLU concerns.
FINEMAN: In terms of civil liberties concerns, Louis Freeh mentioned it this morning as he was defending himself and the FBI.
In 1996, the Clinton administration apparently proposed some changes, some loosening of the requirements, so they could go after terrorists. And, according to Louis Freeh, two members of the commission in the House, who I take to have been Lee Hamilton and Tim Roemer...
MATTHEWS: The ones who could vote.
FINEMAN: The ones who could vote.
FINEMAN: According to Louis Freeh, according to Louis Freeh, voted to gut the bill.
MATTHEWS: You notice they didn‘t demur? Yes.
MATTHEWS: So the value system has shifted overnight. It‘s almost one of those Norman Mailer book where the cosmos shifts and the good guy becomes the bad guy, the bad guy becomes the good guy, and the old rules don‘t look so good.
FINEMAN: By the way, Jamie Gorelick, a member of the commission who had to recuse herself was writing the rules, I think, for many of the cases in the Justice Department through the ‘90s.
MATTHEWS: OK, great. Steve, it‘s great having you, as always, Steve Emerson, who knows what he‘s talking about, about terrorism.
When we come back, I‘ll be joined by Lester Holt, as MSNBC‘s special coverage of the 9/11 hearings continues.
LESTER HOLT, NBC ANCHOR: And welcome back, everyone, to our live coverage of today‘s 9/11 Commission hearings, as they investigation, from a law enforcement and intelligence perspective, what may have gone wrong leading up to the attacks of September 11, wrong in terms of missed signals that al Qaeda was in this country and actively plotting the attack on America.
Hello, again. I‘m Lester Holt, along with MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews in Washington. We‘re waiting to hear from Thomas Pickard, who was acting director of the FBI from June to August 2001, and Cofer Black, who was a director of the counterterrorism center of the CIA of. This morning, we heard from the director of the FBI, Louis Freeh and Janet Reno, attorney general for President Clinton.
Let me bring Chris back into the discussion.
And, Chris, already, the staff report that has come out in the last several minutes puts together a pretty interesting afternoon. Pickard, apparently, in this report says that he tried to brief and routinely brief John Ashcroft about terrorist threats and terror signs and was ultimately told, enough. This could be interesting.
MATTHEWS: Well, it is, especially since the Justice Department has denied this. John Ashcroft has very carefully denied, using sort of Washington language, saying, I made no such statement or I don‘t recall making any such statement.
Well, it‘s not about a statement. It‘s about sending a signal to an acting FBI director that you don‘t want to be bothered anymore, if this did in fact occur, with these terrorism briefings. It‘s not a question of whether you issued a statement or a press release, obviously. So we‘re getting that sort of scientific, defensive language out of Ashcroft. I don‘t think he‘ll be able to use that to withstand the questioning, though, because I think any smart member of that commission—and they‘re all smart—will simply say, did you or did you not signal to Mr. Pickard, the acting director of the FBI, that you didn‘t want any more of these briefings?
And he‘s going to then have to answer the question.
HOLT: And the other issue, of course, that was in this latest
commission staff report is the issue of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was
arrested a month earlier. This
HOLT: This is the man that reportedly was taking flight lessons, but wasn‘t interested in landing or taking off. They say, once again, there were no search warrants issued because of a dispute between the FBI leadership in this case and supervisors.
Are we getting closer to the proverbial smoking guns of strong evidence that this attack was about to take place?
MATTHEWS: No, we‘re not.
I mean, Kristen Breitweiser, the widow of one of the people who were killed, the men who were killed at the World Trade Center, I‘ve got to tell you, makes a very compelling, passionate argument that we could have done better. Be, you know, what we heard this morning, the only thing we heard this morning that would be sort of the street-level assessment of what would have needed to be done, we needed to have agents who basically were Arabic, spoke Arabic, came from the Middle East, were eminently trusted by the people who were involved in this cabal to blow up the World Trade Center and to attack the Pentagon.
We needed somebody who was trusted by them, who could have overheard them, who could have blown the whistle. We needed somebody so inside they were undetectable by our enemy. That would have been an incredible mole. And he said basically that‘s what would have been necessary.
But what we‘ve found out this morning in the conversation with Mr. Pomerantz, the former director, is, we don‘t have that many people that can do that. We don‘t have many people that can pass muster within the confines of that world of terrorism, who can actually fake it for a couple of months at a time and become sort of a Donnie Brasco with regard to the mob, someone who could really pass. We don‘t have anybody like that, or hardly anybody like that.
And part of the reason we haven‘t had people inside these terrorist organizations is that we‘ve been under an incredible scrutiny in this country in terms of civil liberties protection. Prior to 9/11, the focus was on political correctitude. Don‘t interfere with religious services. Don‘t intervene in any kind of cultural setting, any kind of ethnic setting. Don‘t place your people in a way that would jeopardize the civil liberties of those people. Many of them are American nationals.
And so, the standard we‘re applying right now is, looking backwards, why didn‘t we stop them? Why weren‘t we tough? The standard we applied before 9/11 is, make sure we protect everyone‘s civil liberties, we don‘t offend any ethnic group. And I especially think that‘s something we ought to put into our own souls and minds as we watch these hearings. We‘re talking after the fact about what people did before the fact.
And they can say there wasn‘t enough money because we were trying to save money before 9/11 in terms of federal employees. Everybody got rewards for cutting payroll. Well, in this case, we lost because we didn‘t have enough people, you could argue.
And, secondly, in terms of civil liberties, the focus of this country from the day we started America was civil liberties. In the case of catching the bad guys in this case, civil liberties look like a very expensive standard to meet in terms of stopping the bad guy.
HOLT: All right, Chris Matthews, I‘ll ask you to stand by.
And what‘s happening right now is the continuation of the reading of the latest staff statement from the commission, this one titled “Threats and Responses in 2001.” But we are awaiting Thomas Pickard, former acting FBI director. He held that job just from the middle of June until the weeks before the attacks of September. So we‘ll have his testimony very shortly.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House Inc., eMediaMillWorks, Inc.), ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.