Guest: Slade Gorton, Jamie Gorelick, Sen. Richard Shelby, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Kristen Breitweiser, Anonymous
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight: The final report from the commission investigating the September 11 attacks says the government did nothing to disturb the deadly terror plot and recommends a drastic intelligence overhaul. We‘ll hear from two of the commissioners. Plus, reaction from Capitol Hill and the anonymous CIA officer who tracked Osama bin Laden and now says America is losing the war on terror. And just days before the Democratic convention, it‘s a dead heat in the presidential race.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. It‘s a day that family members of 9/11 victims have been waiting for. After 20 months of reviewing over two million documents and interviewing over 1,200 government officials, the 9/11 commission released its final report. The commission cited nine specific points of vulnerability that might have disrupted the plot, but sidestepped the issue of whether 9/11 could have been prevented. The commission also recommended the creation of a new national intelligence center to be run by a national intelligence director who could hire and fire top intelligence officials, including the CIA director.
9/11 commissioner James Thompson sounded a serious warning if the recommendations weren‘t enacted soon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES THOMPSON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: If there is nothing better, they need to be enacted and enacted speedily because if something bad happens while these recommendations are sitting there, the American people will quickly fix political responsibility for failure, and that responsibility may last for generations. And they will be entitled to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Former deputy attorney general Jamie Gorelick and former senator Slade Gorton are both 9/11 commissioners.
Jamie, do you believe that, that Unless Congress acts, they could be blamed for what comes next?
JAMIE GORELICK, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Pretty strong language.
SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER: Totally true. This is going to be a very fixed responsibility. It‘s not like many of these other thing, when Congress can delay and you don‘t have this much money for education as you might have, or something of that sort. If Congress delays and if there‘s another attack in the United States, there‘s going to be no place to hide.
GORELICK: Look, we found facts here...
MATTHEWS: Right. The commission did not say that 9/11 could have been prevented, did you?
GORELICK: We did not.
MATTHEWS: Well, then how can you say that this new bureaucratic solution will prevent future one?
GORELICK: We found real serious problems, all right? We did not—we did not speculate as to whether it could have been prevented. You can look at these findings yourself and determine that. But we found problems, and we offered solutions to the problems we found.
MATTHEWS: Would the unification of our intelligence community under one head who reports to the president have prevented 9/11?
GORTON: We can‘t say that for certain. But what we can say is that more people would have known more of these incidents that we talk about here that get lost in the stovepipes. And the chances of preventing 9/11 would have been greater.
GORELICK: Do you think if the president of the United States had
known about Moussaoui, had known about people trying to fly, learning how
fly planes, if he‘d known that the two terrorists were in the United
States, do you think if the FAA had known to put on the no-fly list the
people who were on the terrorist list—I mean, all of those connections -
· if you look at that list, you have to believe that we would have been better galvanized or that bin Laden would have called it off.
Now, have we reached the conclusion that 9/11 would not have happened? No. But for sure, if you can put people together much more cohesively, you have a better chance of being safe (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
MATTHEWS: If we had a CIA director who had a good sense of smell, a really good spy, a really good politician at the helm, would they have told the president what they knew already? Because we knew that George Tenet knew that there was a guy trying to get flying lessons out of Minnesota and his name was Moussaoui. Why dent he tell president about that? He knew that.
GORELICK: Well, he—whether he—he didn‘t make anything of it himself because he didn‘t have the other pieces, all right?
MATTHEWS: Would a better spook have done that? This is weird. Why would be people—why would people be trying to be get flying lesson in 747s when they can‘t fly a Piper Cub? Something‘s up. I‘m going to find out what it is. Wouldn‘t a really good spook have done that?
GORELICK: We think that this is a piece of evidence that should have rocketed up both at the CIA and at the FBI. It didn‘t even make it...
MATTHEWS: In other words, if you get a really good guy...
GORTON: The more shocking part of it, Chris...
GORTON: ... is that the discovery of Moussaoui was made by the FBI.
At this particular case...
GORTON: ... the CIA director knew it. They head of the FBI didn‘t even know it.
GORTON: They didn‘t even report it up...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about...
GORTON: ... to the top of the FBI.
MATTHEWS: ... personnel because you—you‘re both Washington experts. Jamie, I‘ve known you for years. Senator, I‘ve respected you. The simple question is, doesn‘t it come down to having a really good person at the top, somebody like Joe Califano, somebody like J. Edgar Hoover, somebody like Wild Bill Donovan, someone who‘s really good for esprit de corps, for kicking butt and for having a sense of smell?
MATTHEWS: And all the structural change in the world is not going to give those qualities to the top person.
GORELICK: Necessary but not sufficient. There is no reason for good people to have to struggle against a bad system. There‘s absolutely no reason for it. And the fact of the matter is that the CIA didn‘t know what was inside the FBI, and the FBI didn‘t know even what it had. Nobody was communicating with the FAA. There is—there was no quarterback. There was no quarterback, and we need a quarterback.
GORTON: Chris, when we were here before—you know, one of the most shocking things in these hearings was that the man in charge of the security for the FAA, when he was asked, When did you learn about this list that the State Department had suspected terrorists, he said, Yesterday. He said, Yesterday. It had been in existence for years. The right hand—not only did the right hand not know what the left hand was doing, two fingers didn‘t know what they were doing!
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s try to get back to my simplest premise. Let‘s not—let‘s try to stop something like this from happening again, something broadly like this, a transportation system, an airline, a subway in New York, for example, which is coming up, the Democratic—Republican convention. How would a newly structured intelligence community be able to handle the following: information that people were trying to get flying lessons from different sources, the Arizona—the Phoenix report, the Moussaoui situation, information that you had two guys coming from Kuala Lumpur where they were meeting in a terrorist operation, almost like a Mob meeting, and they had—one of them had gotten in the country under a legal visa, the other information—how would a top, crack, well-structured intelligence community put those points together, connect the dots and prevent another 9/11, Senator?
GORTON: All of those bits of information would have gone to one place, which they do not—which they do not do now. They all would have gone to one place. Whether or not the analysts, the head guy who got all of this, would immediately put them all together, we can‘t say. That is partly having a good person. But the opportunity would have been there. And more important than that, these are still pretty fragmentary bits of information. The guy at the top of this new national counterterrorism center would say, Hey, we‘ve got all these things, but here‘s what we don‘t know. CIA, find this out. FBI, find this out.
GORTON: Immigration authorities, look for this. Look for these guys when they come across—when they come across the border.
MATTHEWS: Should this top person be a spy or a politician?
GORELICK: It should be a professional.
MATTHEWS: Or should it just be a public servant, like Tom Kean or one of you?
GORELICK: It could be—it could be any...
MATTHEWS: Is that enough, or do you need a professional spy at the top of this organization to work?
GORTON: The—the head of the...
MATTHEWS: Why are you hesitating to name a spy...
GORTON: The head of the CIA should be someone who is steeped in all of this and has had a career in it. The guy up on the top doesn‘t necessarily have to be that. He has—he or she...
GORELICK: Thank you.
GORTON: ... has to be someone intelligent enough to put facts together, to create...
MATTHEWS: Right. But you can...
GORTON: ... to see what a pattern...
MATTHEWS: ... imagine being president. All senators can imagine being president, Senator. If you‘re the president, you wake up in the middle of the night and say, Dammit! What the hell is Pakistan up to? They are getting awful pushy over there. They‘re looking—you call the guy up, or the woman up, and say in the middle of the night, What is going on in Islamabad? What are they doing over there. Tell me. That person should be able to say to the president of the United States at that moment not, I‘m going to check on that, but, Here‘s what I hear. Here‘s what I‘m smelling over there. Doesn‘t that mean the person has to be a spook, a really good spy?
GORTON: No. He has to say, Here‘s what I know. Here‘s what my agencies have to know. What more do you want to know, Mr. President, and I‘ll see to it that...
MATTHEWS: But don‘t you have to...
GORTON: ... advise the president?
GORELICK: Look, I agree that the person ought to have really good instincts.
GORELICK: But the people who come up in spy-land are not necessarily equipped in all the other ways. The purpose of this center...
MATTHEWS: You mean in dealing with cabinet members and dealing with the president.
GORELICK: Dealing with the president, dealing—you have to deal with all the tools...
GORELICK: ... of our national security. You have to deal with the military.
GORELICK: You have to deal with...
MATTHEWS: I just want, if it hits again...
GORELICK: ... academics.
MATTHEWS: ... we have somebody smart enough to come on television and tell us what they know and impress me with the fact, as a citizen, that they had a good sense of the dangers facing America in a particular way that could have prevented this or did prevent it and tell me that they‘re on the job. And I don‘t want another layer or bureaucracy, where the guy says, Well, they talked to everybody...
GORELICK: It could be a really great cop. It has to be...
MATTHEWS: A really good cop.
GORELICK: ... someone—it could be somebody who really understands the international picture. I mean, I wouldn‘t limit it. My problem is, I would not limit it to the professional spy, but it has to be somebody who likes facts, who wants...
MATTHEWS: Good sense of curiosity.
GORELICK: Yes. Yes.
GORTON: And good judgment.
GORTON: And good judgment.
MATTHEWS: OK, you still need a president at the very top who does have a sense of curiosity to pick up on this stuff.
GORELICK: I think so.
GORTON: Yes. That‘s right. Absolutely.
MATTHEWS: So it‘s partially his job to be the best intelligence officer of the country, right?
GORTON: Yes. But remember...
GORELICK: You have to ask him...
MATTHEWS: ... he‘s got lots of other jobs, too, and you want somebody who spends his whole time on...
MATTHEWS: This is getting to be one of the big ones, isn‘t it.
GORELICK: Oh, yes.
MATTHEWS: Agriculture‘s there, other things are thee, but I think protecting the country against another one...
We‘re coming right back with two of the commissioners, Senator Slade Gorton and Jamie Gorelick, former attorney—who were you, top of...
GORELICK: Deputy attorney general.
MATTHEWS: ... deputy attorney general.
MATTHEWS: With more reaction from Capitol Hill also coming from Senators Joe Lieberman and Richard Shelby. And the widow of one of the victims of 9/11 -- she‘s also going to join us.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: We‘re back with 9/11 commissioners Jamie Gorelick and Slade Gorton.
Jamie, let me ask you about the two people that got in the country. We were talking about that before. They were on the watch list, or they should have been. We know that one of them had a legal visa to get in the country, had come directly from the meeting of the terrorists in Kuala Lumper, the al Qaeda crowd over there, in Malaysia. Let me ask you about this thing. Why were they allowed to get in the country and not immediately nabbed? What‘s your feeling about this?
GORELICK: There wasn‘t an appropriate hand-off between the CIA and the FBI, and there wasn‘t watch-listing by the CIA, which had an obligation to tell the State Department.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the motive or the explanation for the failure to notify the internal domestic police force, the FBI, the people who should be looking for these people, by the outside, by the CIA people?
GORELICK: They just failed to do their jobs.
GORTON: They just didn‘t do their job.
MATTHEWS: I read in the footnotes that one of the CIA people—I don‘t know, they weren‘t identified by name—said they had notified the FBI. Then it turns out that they hadn‘t. Why would they say they had? It‘s very complicated.
GORELICK: It‘s a very long story. And for a long time, it was asserted that they had, and that was accepted. One of the many things that we‘ve done here is obliterate certain myths, and that was one of them.
MATTHEWS: Who paid for 9/11, Senator?
GORTON: Who paid for the 9/11 commission?
MATTHEWS: No, the terror, the attack on the United States.
MATTHEWS: Who paid for the airline tickets? Who paid for the food, whatever they needed, going out to the—the topless places they were going—who paid for all that stuff?
GORTON: Al Qaeda did. But it was a cheap operation, $400,000 or $500,000 paid for the—yes, paid for that entire operation, and nothing that the United States America did through any one of its intelligence agencies slowed it down or interrupted it...
GORELICK: That‘s a key finding.
GORTON: ... in any respect at all.
GORELICK: A key finding.
MATTHEWS: That‘s smart! Let me ask you a question because everybody likes to dismiss all our enemies, Hitler on down, as bad, therefore stupid. I think that‘s a big disconnect. How smart were they, the 9/11 people?
GORELICK: They were agile. They were well led. They had good training. They had good personnel.
MATTHEWS: No leaks?
GORELICK: They had operational security. Now, they weren‘t flawless, and we identify some flaws. But basically, we have an agile enemy that we need to defeat.
MATTHEWS: Are they able to adapt to our changes?
GORTON: Absolutely (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
MATTHEWS: We make five changes, bureaucratic changes. We watch our ports. We watch our trains, our subways. They‘re looking for another opportunity.
GORELICK: We saw them be...
MATTHEWS: Is this like water...
GORELICK: ... adaptable...
MATTHEWS: ... flowing into a ship that will find a hole?
GORTON: Not necessarily. Now, remember—remember, Chris, we aren‘t today exactly where we were at 9/11. It‘s pushing three years now since 9/11.
GORTON: There have been no more attacks in the United States. There have been plenty in other parts of the world.
GORTON: They‘ve gone for easier targets. So we have done some things right. But our great concern is we haven‘t done enough things right.
MATTHEWS: OK. OK. Thank you. Well said. Thank you very much, Senator Slade Gorton and Jamie Gorelick of the commission on 9/11.
Up next, Senate reaction to the 9/11 commission report with former Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Shelby and former vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. We‘re talking about the 9/11 commission‘s final report, which was released today. Democratic senator and former vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman introduced the legislation that created the commission. And as the former chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Republican senator Richard Shelby has been highly critical of the intelligence community for failing to disrupt the plot.
Senator Lieberman, are you satisfied with what you‘ve seen so far of the report?
SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I absolutely am, Chris. I mean, John McCain and I put in the initial legislation to create this commission to answer two questions: How could 9/11 have happened, and what can we do to try prevent anything like that from ever happening again in America? And this commission has presented with us with the most comprehensive answers to both of those questions that we‘ve seen yet, how did it happen, and some real tough, comprehensive proposals for how we can make sure it doesn‘t happen again. Now we got to get these passed in Congress.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s get to that point right away, Senator. Do you believe that the creation of a cabinet-level position overseeing all our intelligence services is a solution to the problem, or is it more of a problem?
LIEBERMAN: I personally think it‘s a solution to the problem. Look, the biggest problem we‘ve got now, and we‘ve seen it in all the commission says about some of the things that contributed to our inability to stop the September 11 attack from happening -- 15 different intelligence agencies, foreign and domestic. They don‘t work together. This proposal creates a national intelligence director, but not just a title. This position will have budget control over all of the intelligence agencies and have an effect on who gets appointed to run them. And that‘s going to mean they‘re all going to be working together. So I think it‘s a gutsy proposal.
MATTHEWS: So this top guy or woman will have the authority to hire and fire, to streamline, to change the programs, to basically boss—to be the boss of this intelligence network.
LIEBERMAN: Absolutely. Be the boss, make it work. And lookit, the danger—and this counts on a good person to do it. You don‘t want uniformity. You don‘t want me-too-ism. But you want all the different agencies putting all their information in one place. And this director‘ll make that happen.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s go to Senator Shelby. Do you agree that that is the solution...
SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R-AL), FORMER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE VICE CHAIR:
I think it...
MATTHEWS: ... maybe the main solution to our intelligence quandary?
SHELBY: I think it‘s a fundamental approach to a solution, but assuming we do all these recommendations, they‘ve got to work. And I agree with Senator Lieberman here that this is a big step. This is profound. But we‘ve heard recommendations in the past. Now‘s the time to do something about it. But it‘s going to take a powerful political push to make this happen, Chris. We got to have the president. We‘ve got to have the leadership of the House and the Senate, both parties, behind this. Otherwise, it will be a recommendation and language. We cannot afford that now.
MATTHEWS: Well, in an environment in which we‘re all worried about a second attack, what would be the opposition to this proposal?
SHELBY: Well, I...
MATTHEWS: Senator Shelby?
SHELBY: Well, I hope there‘s not deep opposition on the Hill or at the White House. But there will be opposition in the bureaucracies because this will affect a lot of people‘s turf. This will be a different way to do business. And we‘ve got powerful bureaucracies and they have powerful constituencies. Make no mistake about it. This would not be an automatic doing.
MATTHEWS: Let me to go Senator Lieberman. You live in Connecticut, and I guess all people in Connecticut have to go to New York a lot to get to different places. Are you worried about the transportation concourse on which this Republican Party is meeting this year, to choose to meet at the Madison Square Garden on top of the railroads going to the commuter spots around the city, around the state and other states, the big subway system that goes under the Madison Square Garden—are you worried about that as being too prize a target for the enemy?
LIEBERMAN: I am not, Chris. I‘ve got to tell you, Boston next week and New York at the end of August, I think, are going to be the two safest places on earth. There‘s a tremendous concentration of all sorts of law enforcement and prevention activities going on. And I don‘t want to ever come to a day when one of the great American political parties is frightened to hold its convention in a place it wants to hold it. These two conventions are going to happen, and no attacks are going to occur.
MATTHEWS: You know, I want to ask you, both of you, starting with Senator Lieberman, what were you surprised by? I, sitting here, was surprised—and I‘m not as privy to the inside intel as you are, Senators, but I was surprised in what apparently is the instrumental role played in 9/11 by the government of Iran, giving safe passage, letting people go through their country, the killers, without having their passports stamped. That seem to be an agency role, almost, in this affair. Were you surprised, Senator Lieberman, at the role played by Iran?
LIEBERMAN: That was some new information that‘s come out over the last, oh, week or so, about Iran‘s involvement. But the commission was clear to say that they—just as they‘ve said about Iraq, that there was no cooperative, collaborative, operational relationship between Iran and Iraq and al Qaeda, and certainly no evidence that either country was directly involved—I mean, no evidence doesn‘t mean they weren‘t, but no evidence—in the attacks of September 11.
The other piece of information that I hadn‘t heard before, and I‘ve been over a lot of the intelligence, was the statement that Iraq had offered safe haven to Osama bin Laden in 1998 or 1999. And I guess he turned it down because he was happy in Afghanistan.
MATTHEWS: That‘s funny because he offered to fight on the side of the Saudis against what looked to be an imminent attack by Iraq in 1991. Boy, that guy changes sides quick. Let me ask you, Senator Shelby, about this question of, What did you learn?
SHELBY: Well, I basically was not surprised at anything, but I think there was some clarity here. Let‘s go back to Iran. I think it was more of a—there were contacts there of some sort, basically, accommodation. This has gone on probably for a long time, safe passage. But as far as just deep conspiracy to plan the attacks and execute the attacks, I don‘t think that‘s what the commission found.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the role or not—role played or not played by the Clinton administration in not being in a position or in a mindset to nail bin Laden before they left office?
SHELBY: Well, I‘m privy to some information on this, and I can say this. I‘ve been to Sudan. And I was in Khartoum and met with some of the higher-ranking people with the Sudanese government. They told me personally—I had heard that before—that they actually offered up to the Clinton administration him, that is, Osama bin Laden, if he would—if they wanted him. And I think they were going in to try to take him. They thought it might be deemed an assassination if he resisted. I think that would have been the right thing to do. We now know it would have been the right thing to do. If he‘s offered up, take him, because a year later, a year or so later, they blew two of our embassies up.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Senator Shelby. Senator Lieberman, any cues or advice for John Edwards in debating Dick Cheney?
LIEBERMAN: Well, unlike 2000, there‘s now a Bush-Cheney record that John Edwards can go at, and he ought to do that. But then he ought to give the Kerry-Edwards positive vision for America‘s future. Ultimately, people want to have hope, not just feel negative toward the other side. And I think John will do that. I think he‘s very able.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much. We‘ll be back to you later. We want some more pointers as we go on toward that big night.
Up next, Kristen Breitweiser, who was widowed on 9/11 and pushed for the creation of the commission. We‘ll be with her and get her reaction to the final report. And later, the anonymous intelligence officer who headed a unit to track Osama bin Laden.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: This half-hour on HARDBALL, reaction to the 9/11 Commission‘s report Kristen Breitweiser, who lost her husband at the World Trade Center, plus, the anonymous CIA officer who warns us we haven‘t done enough to fight terrorism. And later, we‘ll preview the Democratic National Convention in Boston, now just four days away.
But, first, the latest headlines.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
The 9/11 Commission‘s work was the culmination of lobbying efforts by several victims‘ families, including Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband was killed in the World Trade Center.
Kristen, I have to tell you, I‘ve been watching this thing, maybe not as well as you have. You have become, because of your tragedy, an expert. I didn‘t catch anything new in this report that we didn‘t catch during all those hearings. It was like, a secretary took this down, the transcriptions were made, and here they are producing them in cut-and-paste form. Where‘s the brains in this commission?
KRISTEN BREITWEISER, 9/11 WIDOW: I think, honestly, the brilliance in the commission is not drawing conclusions.
MATTHEWS: Is that brilliance?
BREITWEISER: And I know that comes as a surprise to you.
Because what it is going to do is, it is going to force the American public to engage in the dialogue and debate that is needed with national security and the national security apparatus as a whole. They‘re forcing the American people to read this report, draw their own conclusions. And I have to say, after reading the pages that I did...
MATTHEWS: Nobody is going to read this.
BREITWEISER: I think every American should read the footnotes. The footnotes alone...
MATTHEWS: What is in the footnotes that grabbed you?
BREITWEISER: Certainly, there‘s a lot of specifics in there. And in particular, there‘s one thing on page 502 of the report that discusses a situation with the CIA regarding al-Midhar and al-Hazmi in January 2000, the time of the millennium.
And we have a CIA desk officer being told to not share information with the FBI. And they then do not share the information with the FBI and that would explain the 18-month lag where FBI was kept in the dark that two of the 9/11 hijackers were here.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me read those quotes to you. It‘s very fine print here.
“An FBI agent detailed to the bin Laden unit the CIA attempt”—just a minute—oh, “detailed to the bin Laden unit. The CIA attempted to share this information with colleagues at FBI al Qaeda. A CIA desk officer instructed him not to send the cable with this information. Several hours later, the same desk officer drafted a cable distributed solely within the CIA alleging that the visa documents had been shared with the FBI.”
What‘s going on here? Why would somebody say it had been shared and it was never shared?
BREITWEISER: Listen, obviously, it was some sort of a judgment call made on behalf of CIA people to not bring FBI in the loop.
MATTHEWS: Or it could be—let me give you another interpretation of that footnote, that a person didn‘t do what they said they did, or that somebody else did.
BREITWEISER: Well, we have other evidence in the commission staff statements that indicate that FBI would be brought into the loop when CIA felt that they needed to be there.
You have to remember the environment that we were living in. FBI was broken down to criminal investigations and intelligence investigations. There was a reticence on behalf of CIA to invite FBI in, because they could bungle the case. In the staff statement, it says, perhaps it is possible that pre-9/11 FBI would not have been judged capable of conducting a surveillance operation.
So someone at CIA possibly made a judgment call. And that judgment call could have contributed to the FBI not getting in the loop, not being able to fuse their information about these guys in flight schools about the 70 ongoing field investigations that were going on in 2001.
MATTHEWS: You don‘t have any—your surmise is that possibly the CIA didn‘t want to share this information with the FBI because they wanted to follow up in their own way on what these guys were up to, these people with -- especially al-Midhar, who got in here with a visa, what he was up to?
They wanted, like you do—as I said the other night—as you see in crime stories, they let the guy have a little lead, a little slack, so they can catch him in the act.
BREITWEISER: Right, because the theory goes much like the tip-off program and much like the CIA did in Malaysia. They didn‘t bring them in. They watched them, and you know, investigative work. What happens when you do that is, you gain more information. You learn more about them. You get to see who they contact. And that‘s a judgment call.
MATTHEWS: How would the CIA have been able to get that information following up on al-Midhar coming in here once he was in the country. They don‘t have any authority to investigate inside the country.
BREITWEISER: CIA knew that he had a U.S. visa from Jeddah.
MATTHEWS: But how could they have pursued him and followed him and kept a tail on him inside this country, given their limited authority inside the United States?
BREITWEISER: They don‘t have limited authority. They could carry out investigative techniques.
MATTHEWS: In the United States?
BREITWEISER: In the United States. There are cites in here that indicate that the CIA had ongoing contacts. There‘s a reference in here in February citing CIA memos to Berger and Tenet. Surveillance continues.
BREITWEISER: So apparently CIA can. I always thought FBI was the domestic surveillance agency.
BREITWEISER: Nevertheless, FBI was having 70 open field investigations as of 9/11. Some of those investigations had contacts with people who knew the hijackers.
What if this information was shared 18 months before, when CIA had it? And why wasn‘t it shared and whose judgment call was that? That‘s what I think we need to know. And one place we could possibly find it is in the after-action report from the millennium. And I know that‘s a touchy subject.
MATTHEWS: Well, it is because it‘s what Sandy Berger was apparently looking at and took home with him, some of that material.
BREITWEISER: Right. Maybe it‘s in there. I don‘t know.
MATTHEWS: When he visited the Archives.
BREITWEISER: I don‘t know, but...
MATTHEWS: And you think he might have been trying to hide some evidence of a failure to follow up?
BREITWEISER: Clearly, I have no idea.
But what I‘m saying is, this is the kind of information that could have been in there. It could also be in the postmortem conducted by Richard Clarke in the days after 9/11, the 9/11 postmortem report, run off the CSG of the National Security Council.
MATTHEWS: Let me try to recap. Tell me where I‘m wrong.
If you look at the commission report that just came out today, one of the clear deficiencies was the failure to follow up on that guy that got in the country, al-Midhar, legitimate visa, got in the country. The CIA knew he was in the country, knew he had been at the terrorist meeting in Kuala Lumpur, knew he was trouble and knew the only reason he was coming in this country was trouble, didn‘t pursue him, didn‘t turn his name over to the FBI, left him loose in the country. Is that what happened?
BREITWEISER: I wouldn‘t say didn‘t pursue him, because that‘s up to debate. Nevertheless, kept FBI out of the loop until a judicious FBI employee found a link to it in August.
MATTHEWS: But he was never stopped for questioning. He was never in any way intimidated from his mission.
BREITWEISER: Who, al-Midhar?
BREITWEISER: Not that I know of.
MATTHEWS: Well, that‘s what the commission reported.
BREITWEISER: Listen, he was a clear al Qaeda operative. He attended a meeting in Malaysia and yet he got a U.S. visa, came into the country, then left the country in, I believe, June 2001 and came back in the country because he wasn‘t watch-listed.
MATTHEWS: What do you make of the fact that we went to war with Iraq subsequent to 9/11? And the president would have said this a million times, he did, that those two issues were connected. We had to be preemptive, etcetera, etcetera, after we‘d been attacked.
Does it bother you to know now that Iran had a much more instrumental role, in fact, had an instrumental role in 9/11 and Iraq apparently didn‘t? Why did we go to war with the wrong country?
BREITWEISER: I think that what‘s disappointing is that had this report been handed out a year ago, had we not gotten so much opposition from the White House getting this commission established, if it was established in the days after 9/11, like the Pearl Harbor commission was, perhaps this report would have been out in time so that we didn‘t to go Iraq, if in fact Iraq had no connection to 9/11, which is the understanding from this report.
And I think, really, we need to find the middle ground. You had the Clinton administration that was so gun-shy, that was so risk-adverse. And that‘s how al Qaeda grew and got strong. Meanwhile, you have the total opposite end of the spectrum, the Bush administration going out there and we went out to war on bad intelligence.
Yet what is the one constant? Lives are being lost and we‘re getting bad intelligence. And the intel community is a debacle. And why are those two thing happening? We need a total overhaul and we need to start finding the middle ground.
MATTHEWS: Did you see “Fahrenheit 9/11”?
BREITWEISER: I did.
MATTHEWS: What did you think when you saw those pictures of President Bush in the classroom, those seven minutes or so where he sat there after the first—the knowledge of the second attack? What was your emotion?
BREITWEISER: To this day, I don‘t understand it. I‘m on record very early questioning it. I don‘t understand where the Secret Service was. Those children who were in that room, everyone in that room, they were on live local television in Florida. The hijackers were in Florida.
His itinerary for that day was made public. Lives were at risk there.
Moreover, my husband, people like him, were under attack in New York City. It was after the second plane hit the building. I find it terribly disturbing that Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, the president, they were not in the loop. And we need to know next time that they will be in the loop, that there will be a clear fused synthesis of information so that we have more decisive action and lives are saved.
MATTHEWS: Do you think the president‘s impulses or reflexes were off that day, his inability to react quickly? As commander in chief, his job was to protect the country. He kept talking to those students for all those minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
BREITWEISER: I think that, if one could be so presumptuous as to say, I would have hoped to see more decisive action. I would have hoped to see a curiosity after you‘re learning of a second plane going into a tower.
I would have been interested just as a human being, what is going on here? You put aside the fact that you are the commander in chief of the United States of America and we were clearly under attack. I think that there should have been action. There should not have been a sitting at a table. There should not have even been time for a press conference. It should have been get on the phone with the war room. Get the jets up and let‘s see some action.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Kristen Breitweiser.
Coming up, the anonymous CIA office who ran the unit assigned to track Osama bin Laden and why he is warning that the West is losing the war on terror right now, nearly three years after 9/11.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, the anonymous CIA officer who says America is
still vulnerable to major terrorist attacks nearly three years after 9/11 -
· when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: The former head of the CIA unit assigned to track Osama bin Laden spent hours testifying before the 9/11 Commission. And he‘s recently written a book under the name “Anonymous,” which is entitled Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.” His previous book, “Through Our Enemies‘ Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam & the Future of America,” is widely considered one of the best resources on the al Qaeda leader. And because the author is still working as a senior U.S. intelligence official, we‘re protecting his identity in this interview.
Sir, let me ask you about the commission report. Does it have any value, this report?
ANONYMOUS, AUTHOR, “IMPERIAL HUBRIS”: Well, I think it does in the sense that they thoroughly examined the 9/11 attack.
I‘m just always skeptical of the answer to a dysfunctional bureaucracy being a bigger bureaucracy.
MATTHEWS: Boy, if that doesn‘t click with my thinking.
Ask me—or answer the question, what good would be putting another super numero on the top of an entire bureaucracy who would have no real authority to hire, fire, put together programming? He would simply be an intermediary between the president with no agency to run himself with a whole plethora of other agencies.
ANONYMOUS: Yes, sir. I think it would increase the ability of the intelligence community not to respond to tasking and to just wait out the incumbent.
MATTHEWS: Is it possible—well, let me ask you this. Who was the best CIA director ever? Who did the job...
ANONYMOUS: Mr. Casey.
ANONYMOUS: William Casey.
MATTHEWS: Bill Casey. What made Bill Casey a great spook? Why was he good at the business you‘re in?
ANONYMOUS: He believed in his people and he waged a very aggressive operational slate against the Soviet Union.
MATTHEWS: If you‘re the president of the United States, the commander in chief, you want to have instant knowledge. Sometimes, you want to have long-term knowledge. You want to know if the guy has got a sense of smell that you can call up in the middle of the night and say, I‘ve been worried about Yemen. What the hell is going on there? I‘ve been worried about the Pakistanis. They‘re getting a little anxious lately. What is going on there?
Who was the best at that, Casey?
ANONYMOUS: I think Mr. Casey was the best by far, at least in my career, Mr. Matthews.
MATTHEWS: What good would it be to have somebody sitting next to the president at a Cabinet meeting who had to call up the people who had a good sense of smell and hope that they called up the right person? Wouldn‘t the president be better off talking directly to the chief spy?
ANONYMOUS: That‘s my opinion, sir. But other people will decide that. But I certainly don‘t think you could have done better than Mr. Casey or a man of his caliber.
MATTHEWS: So could it be the problem of 9/11, if it could have been solved, was the absence of a person with a good nose?
ANONYMOUS: Well, to be fair, Mr. Tenet had an early appreciation for the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. I just don‘t think he made the community work to its optimal efficiency.
He is sitting having breakfast at the Saint Regis Hotel the morning of 9/11. He says to the person he‘s having breakfast with, the head of the University of Oklahoma, the former senator from Oklahoma, he said to him, I hope it is not that guy they picked up for flying lessons in Minnesota. So his nose told him that the people who were killing our people that morning were connected to the person who did something very unusual.
I know cops always say, notice anything unusual? How about a guy who can barely speak English wanting to fly 747s once he‘s in the air? So his nose was working. Why didn‘t he act on that before?
ANONYMOUS: Oh, I think it is very difficult, sir. You have to be very—you have to be a very decisive leader in the position of being the director of central intelligence. And my impression always was that Mr. Tenet was very good for morale. I was never quite sure he was ready to drive all the components of the intelligence community as they needed to be driven.
MATTHEWS: Is he too much of a Hill staffer, like I used to be, working on Capitol Hill, wanting to please the boss, not willing to really shake things up, and that‘s the reason he went along with the war with Iraq, by the way?
ANONYMOUS: I‘m not any expert on Iraq, sir, but I know there were times when I certainly could have used him to intervene with another government agency to do what they were supposed to do. And it never got done.
MATTHEWS: He was afraid of offending the president‘s ideological soul buddies?
ANONYMOUS: I can‘t—this is under both administrations, primarily the last.
ANONYMOUS: I can‘t be in someone else‘s mind. All I know is, there were very specific needs for addressing systemic problems that were raised to his level and which were never taken care of.
MATTHEWS: Why didn‘t we catch bin Laden after he first took a shot at us? It usually only takes one bank robbery attempt to put the guy on the FBI most-wanted list. Why didn‘t we have him on the most-wanted list and why didn‘t we catch him with all the firepower and surveillance equipment we have, including satellite?
ANONYMOUS: There‘s very few people in the senior intelligence community leadership that are willing to take chances, sir.
We always are worried about what will happen if we do something, if we make a mistake. In my experience, no one ever asks, what‘s the best thing to do to protect Americans? The opportunities we had to either capture Osama bin Laden or provide information to the military were always decided on things other than protecting Americans.
MATTHEWS: Was Bill Clinton‘s fear of attacking bin Laden, killing him, taking him out, as they like to say now, was that fear based on the fact he could not build a criminal case against him that would stand up in U.S. courts?
ANONYMOUS: Sir, I‘m not sure it is fair to attribute all this to elected officials of either party. It is within the intelligence community, sir. They‘re very risk-averse.
MATTHEWS: I see.
ANONYMOUS: And they‘re always more afraid of what “The New York Post” will say or “The Washington Times” or Oprah Winfrey or any other...
MATTHEWS: Well, you‘ve listed a couple of conservative organs and a very liberal one. So is the president afraid—or is the agency afraid of liberal criticism from “The New York Times” or conservative criticism from “The Washington Times”?
ANONYMOUS: I think it is a kind of a catholic fear of any kind of criticism.
MATTHEWS: Of everybody.
MATTHEWS: Lowercase Catholic.
ANONYMOUS: Yes, sir.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this. Knowing what you know, why are we failing to win the war against terror?
ANONYMOUS: Well, the primary reason is, we didn‘t take the opportunities that were given to us or were acquired by the brave men and women of the American clandestine service overseas. Those occasions were multiple. And on each occasion, the intelligence was talked down.
MATTHEWS: OK, list the impediments to us following up on the intel, the assets we have. Why, given what you say we had, did we not act? What were the impediments? List them. Is it political correctitude, failure to offend a Third World country, failure to offend liberal opinion-makers in this country? Give me the list.
ANONYMOUS: First of all, there‘s a fear of anything tainted by the thought of assassination.
ANONYMOUS: If he got killed in the operation, they were very worried that they would be accused of assassination.
The second one was, of course, the occasion when they had a chance to shoot at him in the desert. And they were afraid to kill an Arab prince who happened to have lunch with him.
ANONYMOUS: Which, you know, the world is lousy with Arab princes.
MATTHEWS: All right.
But why did we assassinate Yamamoto in World War II as head of the navy, of the Japanese navy? We seemed to have done that with impunity. Why not this guy? He is a lot less admirable—literally—admirable than Yamamoto was.
ANONYMOUS: Yes, sir. You would have to ask them the question.
Again, it comes down to the fact that the first consideration is not protecting Americans.
MATTHEWS: Well, I find this amazing. Can you bottom-line this, sir? I know you want us to buy the book. And that‘s fair enough. Let‘s buy the book, “Imperial Hubris.” But what is the bottom line here? Why are we not winning?
ANONYMOUS: We‘re not winning because we continue to misidentify the enemy.
America has never had an opponent who has been more clear on why he is fighting us, what he intends to do, and then follows up by doing it. He is motivated by religion. He is not, as we continually say, a criminal or a gangster.
ANONYMOUS: He has no intention of destroying our way of life or our liberties or our freedom. He has focused the Muslim world on about six specific U.S. policies which are universally disliked in the Muslim world, whether or not the same proportion of Muslims support bin Laden.
MATTHEWS: Well, why does the president continue to blame—say that the motive for this hell that hit us in 2001 is some sort of, I don‘t know, some culture clash, when in fact, it is an attack on the United States for some specific policies, keeping troops in Saudi Arabia, backing Israel, all these policies which we clearly accept in this country?
Some of them I think we could drop, like the Saudi—putting all the soldiers in their holy land. But why doesn‘t the president clearly state the reasons they‘re fighting us? Why does he keep mucking it up with the evil ones and they don‘t like our way of life and all? What good does that do?
ANONYMOUS: Well, it hasn‘t done any good, sir, in the sense that no political leader in this country over the last 15 years has been willing to engage on the issue of policies.
ANONYMOUS: Americans have a hard time believing that they‘re perceived as anything else than kind and benign.
MATTHEWS: Oh, come on. Well, let me tell you something. Sitting here, I know there are a lot of our policies which are changeable, correctable and probably wrongheaded, like putting all those troops in Saudi Arabia in a way that was a sacrilege to the people of the country. Why did we do that?
ANONYMOUS: We needed—on a short-term basis. I thought we probably believed we weren‘t going to be there 10 years. But now we‘re in the unfortunate position of occupying the first most holy place in Islam in Arabia.
ANONYMOUS: The second most holy in Iraq and the third most holy in the Israelis‘ hold in Jerusalem.
MATTHEWS: I know.
Well, a lot of that is intolerable on their side and fixable on our side. Some of it isn‘t fixable.
Anyway, thank you very much, Mr. Anonymous. I know you‘re not Joe Klein, but good luck with the book.
ANONYMOUS: Thank you kindly.
MATTHEWS: Thanks for coming on. “Imperial Hubris” is the name of the book.
Up next, with four days to go, we‘ll get a preview of the Democratic Convention in Boston.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: With just four little days left until the Democratic Convention in Boston, the latest NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows that Bush-Cheney has a small lead over Kerry-Edwards, 44 over 40. That‘s a four-point lead, with Nader down there at two points.
I‘m join by HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster, who is in Boston with the latest.
David, the big question is, what is the mood out there? Is this being four points behind going to scare everybody?
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC ELECTION CORRESPONDENT: Chris, no.
The Kerry campaign is very confident in the sense that where Kerry is soft right now is among the Democratic base. That‘s why Kerry, for example, today was in Detroit talking to African-Americans. They‘re doing very well with independents, according to the Kerry campaign, beating Bush by 18. What they need here in Boston is to firm up the base, get them a little bit more enthusiastic.
But, Chris, I want to give you a sneak preview what you‘re working with tomorrow.
Max, go ahead and pull out a little bit.
This is here your actor set, Chris, here at Faneuil Hall. We‘ve got Tim Cote (ph) still adjusting some of the lights, the final technical checks. It is a beautiful, beautiful site, Chris. You‘re going to have a great time starting tomorrow night.
Faneuil Hall, of course, a crucial meeting place for those who planned the Revolution. And the Democrats, Chris, trying to come up with their own revolution, making John Kerry the first Northeastern Democrat in 44 years to take the White House, the last, of course, being John F. Kennedy—
MATTHEWS: Is the weather better in Washington?
SHUSTER: Chris, it is cool at night, which, for your purposes, is going to be great.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, David Shuster, sitting where I‘m going to be sitting.
We‘ll be up in Boston tomorrow, by the way. And on Sunday, join NBC‘s Tom Brokaw and myself for a special presentation, “Picking Our Presidents:
The Greatest Moments.” Tom and I look back on the highlights and low points in America‘s rich history of political conventions. And starting Monday, we‘ll have gavel-to-gavel coverage, old-time coverage of the convention, beginning at 6:00 every night.
And each night, join Joe Scarborough and Ron Reagan for convention after hours from midnight to 2:00 a.m. Joe and Ron will have great guests each night and they will also take your phone calls.
Right now, it‘s time for the “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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