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The 9/11 Commissioners: A Chris Matthews Special

Read the transcript to Friday's show.

Guests: Jamie Gorelick, Richard Ben-Veniste, Slade Gorton, Tim Roemer, Fred Fielding


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were beaten.  We were really beaten by these guys.  And 3,000 people died. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Those entrusted with protecting you, failed you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Was it your understanding that the NORAD pilots who were circling over...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The FBI indicates patterns of suspicious activity in the United States...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Let me read you some of the actual chatter...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... anything about the idea of taking a commercial airliner and using it as a missile.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The real business of this commission is to learn the lessons and to find ways to fix those dysfunctions.


ANNOUNCER:  Now, here‘s Chris Matthews.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening. September 11, 2001, is the iconic moment of the early 21st century.  The people killed that day, the heroism shown, the leadership and the strength of this country since are now part of our national legacy.  On the eve of the third anniversary of September 11, we‘ve gathered together members of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States.  The commissioners who have investigated and chronicled the most catastrophic attack on our country.

Thanks to their hard work, the people of this country have more information about their government, more awareness about the threats to our country, and more insight into how to stop another attack of this power. 

The culmination of their work, “The 9/11 Commission Report” has become a national best-seller and our session here tonight offers the unique opportunity for the commissioners themselves to give voice to their body of work and also answer lingering questions. 

The panel of 10 commissioners was evenly divided among Republicans and Democrats.  Fred Fielding served as White House counsel to Presidents Nixon and Reagan. 

Jamie Gorelick was deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, she currently serves on the Central Intelligence Agency‘s National Security Advisory Panel.

Richard Ben-Veniste was chief of the Watergate Task Force.

And Slade Gorton was a Republican senator from the state of the Washington.

And Tim Roemer, whom I interviewed earlier, was a Democratic Congressman from Indiana and a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Lady and gentlemen, I have a tough question but a blunt one.  Did any of you or all of you come across cases where we could have foiled this plot?  Jamie first.

JAMIE GORELICK, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Yes.  We identified a number of instances that could have helped us foil this plot.  We would have had to have had luck.  But if we had indeed followed the terrorists who we had in our grasp in Kuala Lumpur effectively, we might have foiled this plot.  And there are a number of examples that we give in our report of that.

MATTHEWS:  Those were the two hijackers who came to the United States after being in that meeting.


MATTHEWS:  Tell me how we could have caught them.

Well, for one thing, if the CIA had done a proper handoff from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok, we could have.  If the CIA had told the FBI that these individuals were heading toward the United States, had visas to enter the United States.  If the FBI had effectively traced them and found them in the United States, and that‘s just one example.

MATTHEWS:  Fred, those two hijackers whom we were tracing to the United States when that meeting of al Qaeda in Kuala Lumpur, they were living with a CIA—or rather, an FBI asset, right?

FRED FIELDING, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Right.  That‘s what we...

MATTHEWS:  Did he notice they were up to something?

FIELDING:  That depends on the version you read.  That he apparently didn‘t notice that they were doing something that unusual and that whole story, it has been chronicled, pretty detailed, because that was something we had to look at very carefully.

MATTHEWS:  Do you all agree, Richard and Senator, do you all agree that those two people coming into this country who became part of the attack, part of the 19 who attacked us on 9/11, could have been traced by the FBI, the CIA working more effectively together?

SLADE GORTON, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Well, there‘s no question about that.  But you‘re still playing the “what if” game.  And, you know...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s the question here?

GORTON:  You change any particular factor and everything thereafter is different.  Yes, if the CIA had done its job to perfection, if it had passed off to the FBI in the right fashion, we might have...

MATTHEWS:  Should they have?

GORTON:  I think in many respects, we think they should have.  But these were human errors.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Were they less than we should expect of public officials?  Was it a failure to do their job or just are we setting the bar too high for what they should have been able to catch?

GORTON:  That‘s a very hard question.

MATTHEWS:  Richard, where do you stand on this?  Were these two guys, who killed over 3,000 people in New York and the many hundreds in Washington, could we have caught them ahead of time and stopped this plot?

RICHARD BEN-VENTISTE, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Well, we certainly could have put their photographs on television.  We knew they were here.  We knew that they were extremely bad people.  And had we simply taken the step of flashing their photographs on television, like “America‘s Most Wanted,” would they have proceeded to try to hijack planes on September 11?  Would that have backed off what we know was a pretty conservative group of people, in terms of their operational conservativism, when they were confronted?

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about another case that I‘ve heard about.  I was on 16th Street that morning of the attack, right near the White House, at a funeral for someone at St. John‘s.  A block or two away, the head of the CIA, George Tenet, was having breakfast with the former Senate chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, David Boren, now the president of the University of Oklahoma.  And when they heard about the attack, George Tenet, the CIA director‘s response was, I hope it‘s not that guy who is taking flying lesson.  Now how did the CIA director know about Moussaoui and the president didn‘t know about it?  Let‘s start with how he knew—


GORELICK:  Well, he knew because the FBI agents who had Moussaoui in their control were trying desperately to break through bureaucracy to get a search going of his—of Moussaoui‘s computer.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Had they have done that, would we have foiled the plot?

GORELICK:  I think there would have been a very good chance because you could have traced that back to bin Laden.  So when we finally found out what was in his computer, it was a gold mine.

MATTHEWS:  This guy is still in custody, Mr. Moussaoui, he has been on trial, I suppose, in Virginia.  He was picked up because he was seeking flying lessons in an extraordinary capacity.  He was trying to fly big planes and he didn‘t have that kind of background, right?

FIELDING:  That‘s right.  And this is also a good example of “what if, what if.” Because if there had been more time, and this thing had progressed, it might have foiled the plot.  We don‘t know even if they‘ve accelerated the plot because of Moussaoui...

MATTHEWS:  Would a smart detective, a really good spook, have let him continue on, watched him, and caught him in the act ahead of time so we could stopped this thing, or is that asking too much?

GORTON:  I think it was pretty licked.  I think if they had decided to watch him, the rest of the plot, it almost certainly would have gone on.  If that had been six months earlier, perhaps that is the case...

MATTHEWS:  He would have been on that Pennsylvania flight.

GORTON:  But here‘s the situation.  You‘re right about George Tenet.  George Tenet may have known it.  He didn‘t do anything about it.  He didn‘t tell the president about it.  And ironically, the acting head of the FBI didn‘t know it at all.

GORELICK:  But you know, that‘s not ironic.  That‘s—you know, people have said, well, you 9/11 Commission have mostly looked at structural issues.  Well, we did look at a lot of structural issues.  And one of those structural issues is why did this not rocket up through FBI when the CIA, who happened to find out about it, because the FBI agents on the ground were looking for help, had it in his hands on...


MATTHEWS:  Richard, these are very common sense answers you‘ve given me.  First of all, we had two of the 19 who participated in the hijacking of 9/11.  We were trailing them.  We trailed them from Kuala Lumpur all the way around the world to the United States.  We knew they were here.  An FBI agent was living with them, he didn‘t know what was going on.  So that‘s a failure to communicate between FBI and CIA. 

We know about this case involving the FBI where they picked up a guy who is asking for strange pilot lessons, to fly a huge plane and never flown anything like it.  So we see these examples of where there was evidence of something to come.  But if we were something less than God, I guess I want to ask all of you, if people were simply doing their jobs as we expect, a GS-15, or whatever, to be doing his or her job, is it reasonable to say they blew it or that if they had done some super work, they would have caught these guys?  Do you have a response to that?

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, with respect to Moussaoui, that, in my mind, Chris, was the most telling example of failure to take advantage of something that fell into our...

MATTHEWS:  They should have known this guy was up to something big.

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, they clearly—they identified him as a jihadist terrorist—potential terrorist learns to fly.  On the other side of the equation, the FAA, which did nothing extraordinary on September 11, where it allowed essentially five people, at least five who were stopped for secondary inspection getting on the plane, to get on those planes with four-inch knives.

Now, had we alerted the FAA and NORAD to the potential that what was found in Arizona by, again, prescient FBI agents who were looking outside the box, if they had looked at what was called “An Islamic Terrorist Learns to Fly,” these people could have been alerted.  Nobody anticipated when they told us that a terrorist, that a hijacker could fly the plane.  But we knew that just such instruction was taking place on our own turf.


MATTHEWS:  And we knew just to put them together—Senator, I want to put them together.  You‘re telling us that we had evidence of people, these Islamic people trying to learn how to fly big planes against a backdrop of a warning that al Qaeda wanted to attack within the United States, and against warnings about hijackings.

GORTON:  That‘s right.

GORELICK:  The fact is that the people on the ground who had Moussaoui had no idea about...

MATTHEWS:  How he fit in the puzzle...

GORELICK:  No, none.  The word had not gone out.

MATTHEWS:  This is the classic guy trying to figure out what an elephant is when he‘s blind.

FIELDING:  Four guys touching the elephant.

MATTHEWS:  Four guys touching the elephant.  They don‘t know it is an elephant.


GORTON:  We had, in each of these agencies, some very good people who did use their imaginations.  And that holds true on the FAA.  On the day of 9/11 itself, there were people who went outside of the box.  They did things they weren‘t ordered to do.  The structures didn‘t work.  The information didn‘t get through to the people who needed it.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re learning a lot here.  I want to thank you all.

Stay with us, we‘re going to come back with a lot more of this MSNBC living history event.


MATTHEWS:  What is al Qaeda?  How do we fight it?  How do we win?  MSNBC‘s living history event with the 9/11 commissioners returns after this.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the 9/11 commissioners.

One of the disturbing things that comes into my mind all the time—and to many of you, I‘m sure; we‘ve spent so much time on this --  is could it happen again?  Something very much like it?

I asked Tim Roemer, the former Congressman from Indiana who sat with you as a commissioner—he couldn‘t be here today—about a weird case that occurred this June.  It was a Northwest Airlines flight.  And a number of Syrian people from Syria, something like 17 of them, began to behave in a fashion that looked very much like there was a hijacking underway.

Let‘s listen to Congressman Roemer.


TIM ROEMER, 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  We don‘t have the doomsayers and the people out there in the CIA analytical positions saying, “OK, they did this five years ago or two weeks ago.  What are they going to do next?”  Tom Clancy predicted planes as missiles in 1995 in a novel.  The CRS open sources predicted that you could have a plane going to Langley or the FBI in 1999 as a retaliation for the missile strikes in 1998.

Yet, we did not have people doing that in analytical positions at the CIA.  We need to be thinking about what they‘re going to do next.


MATTHEWS:  Well, one of the things they did next—he didn‘t get to it in that cut—was that this June, as you all know, about this strange case where the 17 Syrians began to get out of their seats at the wrong time, disobeyed the orders of the flight crew, were scaring the hell out of the passengers.  The passengers were frozen in their seats, did nothing.

This seems to me a bad trial run of hell coming back.  Any thoughts on this, Richard?

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, clearly, a pilot who learns that there are passengers on the plane who were not obeying the instruction of the flight crew will ordinarily take that plane down immediately, land in the nearest available place where they will be met by Federal agents.  If they‘re not available, certainly local law enforcement agents will take control of the situation.

As long as that cockpit is not breached and the pilot is in control of the plane, you‘re OK.  I don‘t understand all the facts there.  It sounds like they did not follow procedures.

MATTHEW:  Well, they were apparently up and about in a way that may be just ignorance working here.

GORTON:  It‘s been very unsettling to flight crews.  I‘ve had several flight attendants on other flights, on other airlines, speak to me about that one and about the lack of response.

Yes, the pilot should have landed that plane.  There‘s no question about it.  If we learned anything from 9/11, we should have learned that.

But the airlines...

MATTHEWS:  Put the plane on the ground before they penetrate the cockpit?

GORTON:  But airlines say that have been told they‘ll be fined if they try to take out of line—no, by the FAA—if they take more than two, you know, Arab-looking kind of people for some kind of check.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not talking about...

GORTON:  Now...

MATTHEWS:  ... we‘re talking about behavior in flight.  Let‘s nail it down here.  We‘re talking about if any group of people jumped out of their seats and started doing all this crazy stuff against the orders of the flight crew—now, this group of people turned out to be musicians, it seems.  But how do we know however much other deep history is going on here?  We don‘t know.

Let me ask you...

FIELDING:  Now, the—also, the worst thing about that, if I believe it was correct, is that afterward they found that some of these people had Visas that had expired...

MATTHEWS:  Which nobody checked at the gate.

FIELDING:  ... which nobody checked.  And here again, that‘s part of the problem.

MATTHEWS:  Quick question.  As a guy who flies a lot and sees pilots

go to the bathroom a lot—and all they do, the flight attendants put that

·         they put the food cart in the way.  That wouldn‘t stop anybody.  I see it all the time.  Doors open to cockpits.  Pilots going to the bathroom.  All that the flight attendant does is put that thing in the way.

Is that supposed to stop a professional killer?

FIELDING:  I wouldn‘t think it would.

MATTHEWS:  Well, does anybody think this process is working?

GORELICK:  The measures that we‘ve taken are good measures, but they‘re not enough.  I mean, most of the restrooms back up on to the cockpit.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  As long as the pilot doesn‘t have his own Johnny-on-the-Spot up front, he‘s going to come out to take—to go to the bathroom, right?

GORELICK:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the—I know it sounds so infantile, but isn‘t that the vulnerability—you‘re laughing, Richard—but isn‘t that when pilots have to leave the cockpit?  When they do, that door opens.

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, you know, the 9/11 hijackers gamed us.  They studied the procedures, and they recognized that the most vulnerable point in the flight was just after takeoff when that cockpit door opened.  Well, presumably, that has changed now, and there are other steps in place.

But you‘re right.  There are vulnerabilities, but there are—there‘s a much greater heightened sense of security now.  And is it perfect?  No, it‘s not.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I want to come back and ask you a very personal question.  For all the thousands—tens of thousands of people watching now who fly a lot—or fly at all—should they be trained in what to do to stop a hijacking?

You‘re watching the 9/11 commissioners on MSNBC, a living history event.  We‘ll be right back.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with this extraordinary session with the 9/11 commissioners.  I don‘t know who (UNINTELLIGIBLE) here because it is a sort of an advisory.  Should the president of the United States at some point go on television or put a manual together to tell us what to do if we‘re struck with similar circumstances from hijackers threatening us -- ?

FIELDING:  Well, there are a lot of things that a president could do.  There are a lot of things the government could do.  But there‘s a lot of common sense things people should be doing.  I think to a certain extent, today, if somebody saw a person walk into a shopping mall with a heavy coat in the middle of the summer, they probably would contact somebody. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t they do that on this flight we talked about, this Northwest flight this (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?  Why did they sit frozen in their seats?  Isn‘t that our greatest fear, Senator, that we will sit frozen (UNINTELLIGIBLE) horror. 

GORTON:  I don‘t think so.  And I‘m not at all sure we should try to give instructions to people on airplanes.  I think it‘s vitally important that the crew be fully trained and I think in this particular case, the crew probably did not do the right thing.  But remember, in this case, there were 17...

MATTHEWS:  But if the passengers had acted there wouldn‘t have been a hijacking.  If every person in their seats jumped up out of their seats, raced up, pulled their belts off, strangled these guys to death, used their shoes to bash their brains in, they could have stopped them.


GORTON:  But in this case—in this case...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m talking about 9/11. 

BEN-VENISTE:  You‘re talking about 9/11.  On 9/11, we didn‘t know until the fourth plane.  We didn‘t know...

MATTHEW:  What the plan was. 

BEN-VENISTE:  That hijackers were going to crash planes into buildings and take over flying the planes.  Now, passengers know that.  I don‘t think there needs to be a primer.  We know what to do.  Those passengers on Flight 93 knew what to do. 

MATTHEWS:  What would you do? 

BEN-VENISTE:  I would have done just what they did on Flight 93. 

I hope I would have had the courage to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Race the cockpit?

BEN-VENISTE:  Absolutely.  There are not going to be any more hijackings to Cuba.  Let me tell you, pal.

MATTHEWS:  Because we‘ll think the worst.

BEN-VENISTE:  That‘s right and look what the passengers did with Richard Reid.  They were smart enough to figure out some bozo...

MATTHEWS:  He was the guy with the smoking shoe.

BEN-VENISTE:  Some bozo trying to light his shoes was not going to get away with it. 


FIELDING:  You know, there used to be a problem on airplanes, too.  The flight attendants on what they call the common understanding, I think it was.  The flight attendants were instructed, if there was a hijacking taking place, keep everybody calm, do everything that the hijackers said because all they wanted to do was land the plane and get some money.

MATTHEWS:  What, have they changed that?  They get new instructions?

FIELDING:  Oh, absolutely.  You bet they have. 

MATTHEWS:  What are they?

GORTON:  Absolutely.  That now we expect the hijacking to be a hijacking like 9/11.  And for example, let‘s say one took place on a plane now but the cockpit door was locked and they couldn‘t get in.  The hijackers are going to have a knife, if they‘ve got it, at the throat of a flight attendant.  The pilot is told, don‘t open that door.  Land it anyway.  Land it anyway because it‘s going to be worse if you open the door. 

GORELICK:  But to your larger point, I think, I think the American people are alerted.  And I think we have had any number of complaints, pieces of information flowing into the FBI, in fact, the bigger problem is that they are drowning in tips and information. 

The critical question is, how do we as citizens help defend our country?  What are the best things for us to do?  You don‘t want people jumping out of their seats to strangle someone who is behaving oddly.  You could just be strangling an innocent person.  So you know, in Israel, this is more, unfortunately, common than it is here.  And there‘s a level of alertness and an understanding that there are things that the average citizen needs to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I once sat in a movie theater in Israel and there was a cute girl next to me with an Uzi.  She‘s in the army, yes, but that will scare a terrorist.


MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the 9/11 commission with some practical advice but more importantly some more analysis of the threat we still face.



THOMAS KEAN, CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION:  We were beaten.  We were really beaten by these guys.  And 3,000 people died. 

RICHARD CLARKE, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER:  Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. 

JOHN LEHMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  The real business of this commission is to learn the lessons and to find the ways to fix those dysfunctions. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with 9/11 Commissioners Fred Fielding, Jamie Gorelick, Richard Ben-Veniste and forward Senator Slade Gorton. 

Let me ask you about—you‘ve all sat for all those months in this incredibly responsible position from both parties with a lot of political moxie behind all of you.  Do you ever wake up in they middle of the night and say, damn it, I still don‘t get this one part of this thing?  I have a mystery I‘m carrying in my head rent-free.  Anybody?  Richard?


MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  Fred, you first.

FIELDING:  Yes, I‘ve got one that has always bother think me.  Why Mohamed Atta went to Portland the day before. 

MATTHEWS:  Portland, Maine.

FIELDING:  Portland, Maine, to come back down into Boston.  He put the whole plot in jeopardy.  And he almost missed the plane, as it turned out.  And it just didn‘t make any sense. 

MATTHEWS:  You think he should have naturally just started at Logan. 

FIELDING:  Well, I just don‘t understand what he wanted to do in Portland the day before. 


MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t the first explanation was that they thought that Portland, Maine, wasn‘t as good at checking passengers getting on?


GORELICK:  Well, that was put out.  There were a number of myths that we dispatched in our report.  And that was one of them.  The explanation that...

MATTHEWS:  Are you mystified by that decision? 

GORELICK:  It seems to me not crazy for him to say, I didn‘t want to put eight or nine different young Arab males wandering around Logan.  And, therefore, I thought, if I started elsewhere, I could just—I might not get as much attention. 

But I will tell you if you ask me about the—to me, it is still an open question whether the people who were in the United States who helped the hijackers were witting or unwitting.  And that is not only a mystery, but it is actually a really important one that we figure out.  And it‘s not that we didn‘t ask the questions.  It‘s that when you get the answers, you still don‘t know. 


MATTHEWS:  Are people working on those questions among the investigative agencies? 

GORELICK:  I think that the investigative agencies have run the leads that they had on that to ground and still come with unsatisfactory answers. 

I mean, you don‘t know whether the people who helped really had no inkling of who they were helping or if they were put in a position, purposely put in a position that they could preserve their deniability. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator?

GORTON:  I‘m going to go at it a little bit differently. 

Every time I read our own chapter one, I hope it will come out differently, and especially with respect to Flight 93, because there was so many things, first, the immense courage of almost certainly protecting something from hitting the Capitol.  But the hijacker pilot on Flight 93 almost didn‘t do it.  His girlfriend in Germany almost talked him out of it.  He was the very last one.  He was the last one who engaged in it.  Somebody totally failed in the FAA to call all the planes and say, watch out for this kind of thing.

But one United Airlines employee did and got to Flight 93 just before the hijacking, and the pilot didn‘t quite understand it.  It‘s just by the tiniest of margins that we missed totally frustrating that hijacking.  And it is just—it is so frustrating, because we came so close.  It is agonizing.  Those are magnificent heroes, but they almost saved everything. 

MATTHEWS:  Was Moussaoui supposed to be that pilot? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Only if the one who was on the plane dropped out. 


GORELICK:  ... had dropped out.


FIELDING:  They were watching him and they were worried about him. 

GORTON:  Yes. 


GORTON:  Probably the fifth guy on that one was the one that very smart agent in Orlando kept from coming into the country at all. 

MATTHEWS:  What were your questions unanswered right now? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, my question really pertains to why we couldn‘t have done more after Moussaoui was arrested to take precautions at the airports, to send out an advisory that had some teeth in it, to warn pilots here, Islamic militant learn to fly, to harden the doors or at least to be cognizant of the potential for hijackings and to bump up, to ratchet up the security at the gates, so that people with four-inch knives would not be allowed on to the planes, so that they would check carry-on luggage of individuals who were stopped for secondary screening, but still got on the plane with mace and with knives and with box cutters. 

MATTHEWS:  So we know—I read your report, those parts where you talk about these hijackers having those weapons, mace, knives.  Did they ever have a bomb? 


MATTHEWS:  Or was that


MATTHEWS:  They just—what about the knives?  How did they get them on? 

GORTON:  They walked on. 

FIELDING:  They were legal. 


BEN-VENISTE:  Four-inch knives. 

GORTON:  Four-inch knives were legal. 

FIELDING:  You know the knife, the Leatherman knives that open up? 


FIELDING:  That‘s what they had.  And they had the shaft.  It‘s a sturdy knife.  But it was legal. 

BEN-VENISTE:  A sturdy knife, but it was legal only because...

FIELDING:  The blade. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Only because they didn‘t ratchet up the security and say, OK, no more knives on the plane. 

GORELICK:  We had methodologies for protecting our airports, for hardening security that were in place if the security level had been raised.  And that‘s what‘s so frustrating.  It is just like Slade said.  If we had understood that there was a threat to civil aviation, to our commercial aviation, there are steps we could have taken and we didn‘t. 

GORTON:  Right.  Even then. 

GORELICK:  Even then.

MATTHEWS:  What about guns?  Was there any gun in use? 



MATTHEWS:  Are you sure? 



MATTHEWS:  No bombs.  Just the knives.  And how did they use the mace. 

Do we know?


GORELICK:  We ran that to ground.

BEN-VENISTE:  They used the mace by protecting the area around the cockpit once they took control of it. 

GORTON:  They put all the passengers in the back end of the airplane and kept them there that way. 


MATTHEWS:  Any other mysteries? 

FIELDING:  Well, the other thing is that people didn‘t realize. 

Everybody talks about the people talking on cell phones.  If you stop and think about it, cell phones don‘t work that high.  It‘s only when they came lower.  They were actually using the air phones on the plane. 


MATTHEWS:  The ones on the planes.


BEN-VENISTE:  I agree with Jamie.  The unanswered question and one that is troublesome is that you have inserted into this country with documents that we now know could have been detected as fraudulent individuals who had very little, if any language facility in many cases. 

GORELICK:  They wouldn‘t have sent them here without knowing that could you protect them, that you could get them housing.  And that‘s the frightening part, because we need to know and have an assessment of the enemy within, because, otherwise, everyone is suspect and yet no one is. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe it‘s possible that they could have carried this out by keeping it completely secret from anyone else in the country? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Not with the personnel they had, because they were, in many respects, unable to take care of themselves. 


MATTHEWS:  How many people would have had to know about it besides the 19? 


GORTON:  Well, no, that‘s a different question.  That‘s a different question.



GORTON:  The people who sucked them and helped out didn‘t need to know what they were going to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Did they? 


MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that, Richard?

BEN-VENISTE:  They didn‘t need to.


GORTON:  They just needed to know that these were people


MATTHEWS:  So it‘s possible that this was a completely keep secret. 




MATTHEWS:  Do you all believe it was a completely kept secret by the 19? 

GORELICK:  You just asked me what the mystery is to me.  To me, I don‘t know the answer to that question.  It is possible, as Slade said, that the plan was to get these guys in and make them self-sufficient and let them function and do their work and get out of here and crash the plane.

It is also possible that there was a network of people set up to help them.  And we can identify who the people were.  And we can identify what the help was.  We don‘t know what they knew.  And that‘s the problem. 

FIELDING:  I mean, logic tells you that you don‘t send people in who can‘t speak the language and expect them to survive in that environment for a period of time.  They didn‘t just come in and do it the next afternoon.  But, by the same token, we‘ve run to ground and had investigators run to ground.  And there‘s no definite link.  But it‘s the mystery. 


MATTHEWS:  How many of the 19 knew what the whole plan was, it was suicidal? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Of course, we don‘t know. 

GORTON:  Every pilot, certainly.

MATTHEWS:  All the pilots knew it. 


GORTON:  Well, probably the No. 2 persons. 


GORELICK:  It‘s quite possible that the muscle hijackers knew in the end. 

MATTHEWS:  That they were going down.



MATTHEWS:  Let me ask about these guys.  Now, this is anthropological.  These guys who did come into the country, the smarter ones, the leaders, they did mix in with the country.  They went out to girly shows.  They drank.  They had a good time. 


GORTON:  They shaved off their beards.

FIELDING:  Urban myth, a lot of it. 

MATTHEWS:  How so? 

FIELDING:  Because they didn‘t.  They melded.  They blended in.  All those stories came out right after 9/11. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, that is what Chris is saying, that they were smart enough...


MATTHEWS:  Well, did they integrate themselves at all with American society?  Did they get to know anybody? 


MATTHEWS:  Or did they just remain completely isolated?


BEN-VENISTE:  Only within that community. 

GORTON:  Only within the Muslim community.

GORELICK:  And that‘s the thing.  They stayed within the Muslim community. 

MATTHEWS:  The reason I asked that is sympathy.  They didn‘t develop any sympathy for our country in the weeks leading to this hell.  They just got more and more cold-hearted.

FIELDING:  The guy who we have in custody now, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is a graduate of an American college. 


We are completely objectified to them.  They view us, every civilian, who has done them more harm and many of us who have tried to help them are soldiers who have died for Muslims and their families.  They view us as the enemy to be killed.  And we are completely objectified to them. 

MATTHEWS:  Zero sympathy for us.


GORELICK:  That is correct.


MATTHEWS:  You make them sound like


MATTHEWS:  ... from another planet. 

GORELICK:  No.  They are—they are angry.  They have an ideology which makes us less than human to them.  And that is really dangerous.  And one of the reasons that we have been so clear that it is so critical to separate out those really fanatical people from the right-thinking people in the Muslim community is because if that population of people who don‘t view us as human and don‘t view us as having any right to live grow substantially, that‘s a huge danger. 

MATTHEWS:  How many are there, ballpark right now?  How many people like the 19 today in the world that would do the same thing without any reservation?

GORTON:  Oh, you would number those—certainly, you would number those in the thousands.  Osama bin Laden said, we are the worst civilization in the history of the world.  And he is obviously able to persuade a significant number of people.

BEN-VENISTE:  You can believe that without taking the lives of women and children.  What Jamie has said, the objectifying us or dehumanizing us...

MATTHEWS:  Right, as a species, almost. 

BEN-VENISTE:  That‘s the sine qua non


MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to come back and talk about Osama bin Laden when we come back.  Who is he?  How powerful is he?  Is he still essential to running al Qaeda? 

An MSNBC living history event continues.


MATTHEWS:  Is Osama bin Laden still essential to running al Qaeda?

We‘re coming right back with the 9/11 commissioners when MSNBC‘s living history event continues.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the 9/11 commissioners. 

Earlier, I asked the Commissioner Timothy Roemer, the former congressman from Indiana, why the commission decided as a group not to go after targeting any particular American official for failure to do his or her particular job. 


TIMOTHY ROEMER, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR NATIONAL POLICY:  The accountability goes directly to the president of the United States, in my opinion.  The president decides who should be fired.  And it wasn‘t up to our commission to name names, to put a head on a stake, and parade that around and says this person is more culpable than the other.  I think the American people know from Harry Truman that the buck stops in the White House.  And when 3,000 people died, some people should have lost their jobs. 


MATTHEWS:  Does everyone go along with that, that that was the decision, that the president is ultimately responsible to look for lower heads to bash? 

GORTON:  Well, remember, we are five Republican and five Democrats.  In our very first meeting, we talked about the fact that for our report to have force, it had to be unanimous.  And if we got into the blame game, it would have been almost impossible to do that.  And I think it would have been wrong in any event. 

Our history is an objective history.  We laid out what happened, what people knew, what documents there were.  We can trust the American people to read that document and make up their own minds as to whether or not given individuals were at fault and should have been disciplined. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, George Tenet, certainly, his head rolled almost simultaneously with your hearings, didn‘t he?

GORELICK:  Well, look, certainly, anyone in the executive branch can read it and can decide where the fault lines were within their domain.  And that goes all the way up, as Tim said, to the president. 

So if I‘m the head of the FBI, and I read that report, I know who did what.  And I know who didn‘t do their job and I know who I‘m going to trust.  So, from our point of view, we‘re not in charge of discipline.  But we were in charge of fact-finding.  And we did that unflinchingly. 

MATTHEWS:  Was there anyone who disagreed in the commission who thought you ought to go after individuals? 

FIELDING:  I think that the biggest proponents of us going after individuals, at least initially, were the families. 


FIELDING:  And the families said something interesting.  We had a little meeting with them before our final press conference.  And one of the spokespeople stood up and said that she had seriously wanted us to name names, and they had almost a litany of, you know, why aren‘t you naming names?  But she said, in hindsight, that she thought we had done it the right way. 

GORELICK:  And if you look, if you look, they did pivot.  Up until the very end, they were saying, you have to hold people accountable.  We want to know who did this.

MATTHEWS:  Those are the families of the victims. 

GORELICK:  Who did this to our families and who didn‘t do their job.  And, in the end, they saw the report and we spoke with them and we said, look, keep your eyes on the prize. 

The prize is changing this so this never happens to another family. 

And in that moment, they pivoted and started to look forward. 

GORTON:  And they are tremendous allies in trying to get Congress to do something. 

BEN-VENISTE:  You know, as the years go by, Harry Truman is looking better and better. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about Harry Truman today, the president of the United States.  When you went into the Oval Office as a commission, what was it like, Richard? 


MATTHEWS:  With the president and vice president being grilled by you guys. 

BEN-VENISTE:  I think the president made a very smart and judicious move at the beginning of the meeting by disavowing the attack that had been made by his attorney general on Jamie Gorelick, which was completely unsupported by any kind of evidence and was the kind of a stunt which clearly backfired. 

And he began by saying, I had no part in this and I have made my displeasure known to the Department of Justice.  So he started off on a pretty good note. 

MATTHEWS:  He treated you the way he talks about John Kerry.  I don‘t care what these other people say about you, but I think you‘re great, right?


MATTHEWS:  Did you feel completely exonerated at that point? 

No, seriously, what about meeting the president of the United States and the vice president as witnesses and possibly guilty people?  What was it like, Jamie, to grill these top people of our government? 

GORELICK:  It wasn‘t a grilling.  It wasn‘t a conversation, but we were very respectful. 

We were in the Oval Office.  The president and vice president were sitting in front of the fireplace and we were gathered around in chairs and on the couches.  We asked the questions we needed to ask.  We got the answers that we thought we were due.  They were gracious.  There was no ventriloquism, none of the joking about Cheney would tell the president what to answer, none of that.

But it wasn‘t an inquisitorial session.  We felt it was historic,

because it was.  You had 10 ordinary citizens sitting with the president

and vice president of the United States for three hours talking about

facts, talking about events.  It was actually quite


MATTHEWS:  Most of you all are attorneys and you‘re used to interviewing coached witnesses.  Did you have a sense that they had been advised by counsel, that they had gone over this material before? 

GORELICK:  Oh, yes.

FIELDING:  Oh, of course.

BEN-VENISTE:  Of course.

GORTON:  Of course they went over it.


MATTHEWS:  OK, well, tell me about that.  How did you know they had worked together?

BEN-VENISTE:  It would have been malpractice for them not to have gone over it. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, do you believe the president and vice president had worked with each other about how they would approach this?

BEN-VENISTE:  I‘m sure they did.  And the president wanted to establish that he would do the talking and that some of the things that were being said about this tandem appearance on the late-night comedy shows had no merit.  But the president was candid.  He told us what he knew and he told us what he didn‘t know.  And I think that was important. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you have a sense that he remembered from original memory or with briefed memory, assisted memory?  Did he seem to be remembering things as they came back from his own memory or did he seemed to have worked on this material?

BEN-VENISTE:  You can‘t tell. 

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t?  You can‘t? 


BEN-VENISTE:  Once you can fake sincerity, you know


MATTHEWS:  I know.  I thought lawyers could tell if a person had been coached or worked on. 


FIELDING:  No, the flow of the questions—just, it was very candid.  It was very responsive.  We had unlimited time.  Everybody—nobody walked out of there feeling there was a question we hadn‘t asked. 


GORELICK:  Every once in a while


BEN-VENISTE:  And we had—it was informal to some respect.  And at one point, the president said to me, he said, Richard, has anyone ever won an argument with you? 

And I said, Mr. President, I have two daughters. 



MATTHEWS:  He was working you pretty well, wasn‘t he? 


GORELICK:  There was quite a bit of that, actually.  He was very intent on convincing us of his view. 


MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised that your scholarship about this tragedy of 9/11 has become avid reading material for people?  And this book is extremely well written.  It is anecdotal.  It‘s colorful.  It moves.  I read a lot.  We all read a lot.  This is an easy read. 

GORTON:  Well, I can sure say we‘re gratified by it. 

It is good.  We owe a lot of that to our staff.  The basic book was written by a very small group on our staff.  We went through it line by line three, four, five times.  We had serious discussions on some of the things that were said there.  But, generally speaking, it was the same group of staff, after we made a decision, that put it into words, so that it is consistent in style. 


FIELDING:  Yes, but, nonetheless, to have a book that was also maybe

edited, if not written by committee, it‘s a pretty good


GORTON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about being a politician.  You‘ve been elected.  You‘ve been appointed.  A lot of you have been appointed to major offices.  You were elected a couple times to the United States Senate. 

What was it like sitting with the president of the United States as an

elected Republican a number of times, the head of your party?  Did you feel

·         what did think about what he said to you?  Did you buy it politically? 

Or did you think here is a politician giving me a politician‘s response? 

GORTON:  First, all I can say, I was 18 years in the United States Senate and I never spent 10 consecutive minutes in the Oval Office during those 18 years.  So this three hours was as unique an experience for me as it was for the other people here. 

No, I feel one of the strengths of this president is that he does come across informally and responsive.  I didn‘t feel I was being gamed. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you feel at all that he had a sense of worry meeting you guys? 

GORELICK:  He was a little anxious at the beginning, because, in part, it was an odd situation and you had so much press interest.  And you could see him over the course of the time sort of warming to it and becoming less kind of stiff. 

MATTHEWS:  Afraid of it?

GORELICK:  Not afraid.  Just, I think, for all of us, it was an unknown.  And for him, it was a pivotal moment. 

GORTON:  It was a unique experience for him, too.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re out of time.  I can‘t believe we‘re out of time.  We could go on all night. 

I want to thank the 9/11 commissioners for joining us, you four especially, and Tim Roemer for talking to me earlier, and for joining us.

This has been an amazing night for the American people to watch and to get more and more of an insight from you.  And we‘re going to do everything I can.  Thanks to you, this country is going to really make an effort not to let this horror happen to us again. 

Thank you for watching.  This has been an MSNBC special night. 


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