21. September 2002
Excerpt of the testimony hearing with Eleanor Hill, staff director of an inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks, before a joint Congressional committee (Full contents have been published by the New York Times as transcribed by the Federal News Service Inc.):
SEN. SHELBY: Mrs. Hill, I would like to go back to the FBI and the analytical component we were talking about earlier -- MS. HILL: Right, right.
SEN. SHELBY: -- or lack thereof. In your investigation regarding the analytical ability of the FBI, do you know if the FBI prior to September the 11th ever did an analysis of terrorist tactics? That is, terrorist tactics with the possible use of airplanes as weapons?
MS. HILL: I don‘t believe so. We -- as I think -- SEN. SHELBY: You‘re saying no -- MS. HILL: As the statement says, we haven‘t found any analysis of the use of aircraft as weapons in the community, as far as I know, including the FBI.
SEN. SHELBY: In the community -- you are talking about the intelligence community -- MS. HILL: Yeah, but we would include -- SEN. SHELBY: Not just the FBI?
MS. HILL: Right. I think it‘s safe to say the FBI also.
SEN. SHELBY: Now, in your statement -- I believe it‘s on page 28 -- not without reading it all -- and I‘ll quote some of it. It says, „In April 2000, the intelligence community obtained information regarding an alleged bin Laden threat to hijack a 747. The source was a walk-in to the FBI‘s Newark office, claiming that he had been to a training camp in Pakistan, where he learned hijacking techniques and received arms training. He also stated that he was supposed to meet five or six other individuals in the U.S. who would participate in the plot.“ And I‘ll read further: „They were instructed to use all necessary force to take over the plane, because there would be pilots among the hijacking team. The plan was to fly the plane to Afghanistan, and if they could not make it there they would blow up the plane.“ This is part of your report -- is that right?
MS. HILL: Right.
SEN. SHELBY: Now, were they -- I believe there was another report, August 2001, according to page 28 of your report, „In August of 2001, the intelligence community obtained information regarding a plot to either bomb the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi from an airplane, or crash an airplane into it. The intelligence community learned that two people who were reportedly acting on instructions from bin Laden met in October 2000 to discuss this plot.“
And then we go back and you‘ve touched on this, I believe. I know we‘ve had hearings on it. About the Philippine ‚95 situation.
MS. HILL: Right.
SEN. SHELBY: Where there was information that they could use airplanes as weapons and so forth.
MS. HILL: Right, correct.
SEN. SHELBY: In the light of part of your statement I just referred to , you‘re saying that they‘re -- according to your investigation, there was not any analysis of these terrorist tactics in the intelligence community, regarding the -- MS. HILL: There was no -- there was no analysis of the likelihood of the use of airplanes as weapons as a terrorist tactic.
SEN. SHELBY: I wonder why not.
MS. HILL: I would hypothesize that what -- I mean when we we‘ve asked questions of people. It‘s a resource issue. People say they were overwhelmed. The other thing, and I mentioned this earlier, I don‘t think anyone had pulled as we did, I mean the reason, the way we got this information is by going to the agencies and saying we want everything you have on the use of aircraft as weapons. So we have then pulled out of this huge amount of data they have and come up with enough to show that there was this trend and this theme going through some of the reporting.
SEN. SHELBY: This was not on September 11th something new or shouldn‘t have been something new. This was stuff that had been out there at least since ‚95, before then, and I believe you talked about the Paris incident where the French -- MS. HILL: The Eiffel Tower.
SEN. SHELBY: Oh, yeah, the Eiffel Tower deal, the Philippine deal, these reporting that you listed.
So when people come up and they say, „Gosh, we were shocked that they would use weapons, use airplanes as weapons, and we didn‘t do any analysis of that in the community,“ are you kind of shocked or surprised?
MS. HILL: Well, it was there. I mean, the information was there.
SEN. SHELBY: The information was there if they had it analyzed as far as the potential tactics of the hijackers, is that right?
MS. HILL: Yeah. I mean, based on what we‘ve seen this was not a new idea as of September 11th.
SEN. SHELBY: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. GRAHAM: Senator Durbin.
SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D-IL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I apologize for not being here earlier, but I had a Judiciary Committee hearing, which ran in conflict with this hearing today. And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Shelby and our counterparts in the House for the time that we put into this effort and your leadership in bringing us to this moment.
I personally feel that we have identified some things of value in terms of shortcomings from the government‘s point of view prior to September 11th. We have identified a lack of communication among the intelligence agencies, and I‘m afraid that today, although there‘s been an improvement, there is still much room for improvement.
I have focused primarily on the issue of information technology and I have been chagrined and disappointed by the reports about the lack of coordination of the computer architecture of the federal government so that agencies, intelligence agencies can share information effectively. Governor Ridge referred to this as a force multiplier, and it would be, but it is not because of those shortcomings.
We have also considered the results of those shortcomings, and not the least of which was the example of the Phoenix memo, which should have been but was not brought to the attention of or analyzed by counter-terrorism forces. That memo might -- might have at least helped us to be better prepared for what occurred on September 11th, though I don‘t want to suggest that anyone saw this coming in its specifics, but it‘s certainly raised questions, which should have been pursued and were not.
I think recalling some of the testimony we received there was clearly a lack of follow-up at the FBI and a lack of involvement by the CIA.
The same thing holds true for the Moussaoui arrest and the disclosures that came out of the FBI afterwards, again evidencing a lack of coordination, a lack of sharing of vital information that could have had us better prepared to defend America.
Those two instances though I would like to bring to the attention of this joint inquiry have come to the public eye because of leaks, leaks by the administration, leaks from Capitol Hill of vital information. It strikes me as unwise and unfair for us to expect there to be a thorough investigation of what led up to September 11th based on the possibility of leaks coming from anywhere.
History has told us that it is far better to have a public hearing, a public investigation and the involvement of third parties when it comes to assigning blame and perhaps suggesting meaningful and painful reforms, but that has not been the case here. I think we are doing what we set out to do, to try to find ways to improve the workings of the intelligence community to avoid a future September 11th, but we will never be able to satisfy the needs and curiosity of the American people about whether their government did everything it could to protect them in closed hearings with occasional leaks. That is not going to serve the needs of America. (Applause.) I know that earlier today there was testimony of one of the widows of a victim of September 11th and I have met in my office with some of those same victims and the families in painful meetings. There is an anger and a sadness in the message that they bring to Congress, but there is certainly I think wisdom in what they‘ve suggested: Let us do our business here, let us try to find even within closed hearings ways to improve the intelligence committee and community, but let‘s not forget our primary obligation to the people of this country.
We do not serve the needs of an open society with closed hearings in relation to an attack on America virtually unprecedented in our history. It is time for us to acknowledge the obvious: We need a third party investigation, people that we can trust, who have no political animus, who are going to come to this as loyal Americans to try to help us be a safer nation.
I commend the staff. They have done heroic work and I know have worked long and hard to bring the report that we have today. And we should continue to meet our mandate as best we can, but let us not believe that this chapter has been closed in American history. We have merely addressed the forward with this investigation; now we must get into the substance and do it in a public way. That‘s not to diminish any of the efforts of my colleagues or anyone on this committee, but I think we owe it to the American people to give them more.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. GRAHAM: I would like to ask a question and then make a comment. The question has to do with the relationship between intelligence and effecting the operation of a governmental agency. You have five or more pages in which you outline the examples of the use of commercial aviation as a weapon of mass destruction. As I understand the history, generally the taking of an airplane by hijackers has been done for either a political or an economic purpose, that in light of that the standard protocol, what a crew is supposed to do if they are subjected to hijacking is to cooperate, to acquiesce, to try to get the airplane on the ground and then start the process of negotiating with the hijackers.
From your review, is that an accurate statement?
MS. HILL: Yes, I think that‘s correct, and that was traditionally the way you would deal with a hijacking.
SEN. GRAHAM: And I believe it was reflected in the way in which the first three planes that were hijacked on September 11th reacted. It was not until the information of the first three planes became known to the persons on the fourth plane that there was a resistance to the hijackers and as a result the plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
With the kind of intelligence information that there might be a shift in the way in which hijackers and aircraft interrelated, that is instead of taking the airplane for a political or economic purpose, that the plane itself might be converted into a weapon and used in the horrific manner that it was.
Was that information from the intelligence community transmitted to either the FAA or the commercial aviation industry so that it might affect the way in which they advise crews as to how to respond to a hijacking?
MS. HILL: I can‘t say that all that information was transmitted to the FAA. The FAA did get some of it, and we talk about their analysis of the threat to civil aviation. My own read on it is I don‘t think that to the extent the FAA got the information there was a real recognition that this was a serious threat. I mean, certainly you‘re correct. I mean, if they had changed their focus from hijacking for ransom or to take the plane and fly it somewhere else or hostages or whatever, if that had changed to the use of an aircraft as a weapon, you would have had to change the entire mindset and training that was given to the flight crews, for instance, and the security in the plane and everything, and that obviously did not happen because as of September 11th, you‘re absolutely correct, it didn‘t happen on September 11th until evidently the passengers in the fourth plane became aware of what was going on, but that was not, the flight crews up to that point I assume were following the standard protocol for dealing with a hijacking.
But that issue underscores the importance of someone recognizing in the community, the intelligence community that this was a serious threat and there was a stream of information there and that perhaps it was serious enough and the likelihood was serious enough that they needed to address not only disseminating it but telling policymakers in those other agencies that this was a threat they now had to be prepared to meet.
SEN. GRAHAM: One of my criticisms of the threats that are being issued to the general public, including the one within the last two weeks, is that what‘s lacking is the follow-on of what is the citizen who receives this information that they‘re living in a heightened threat environment supposed to do to protect themselves, their families, their communities. And here we have a case of where intelligence information was sent to a sophisticated industry, commercial aviation apparently without any direction as to how the industry should use the information and the consequence was they didn‘t use the information and that contributed to what happened on September 11th.
I‘d like to ask if we might pursue that issue, because I think it is a metaphor for the larger issue of how do you get intelligence from the theoretical to actually affecting the way people function and how they use that information to reduce their vulnerability to a particular threat.
SENATOR FEINSTEIN: I think Senator DeWine was before me, Mr. Chairman.
SEN. GRAHAM: Oh, I‘m sorry. Senator DeWine. I‘m sorry.
SEN. DEWINE: Mr. Chairman, I don‘t have any further questions. Thank you.
SEN. GRAHAM: Senator Feinstein?
SEN. FEINSTEIN: May I, Mr. Chairman?
MS. HILL: Yes, Senator.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: I wanted to kind of follow-up on where I was trying to go with this. The year 2001 was a very big year in the early spring with a lot of pieces of intelligence coming in. In reading your report, the year 1998 also appears to have been a very big year for all kinds of pieces. And I wanted to see if we couldn‘t go into some of those pieces a little bit more.
There contained on page 15 on your written statement you talk about the use of fronts for terrorist activities, talk about flying an aircraft loaded with explosives into an airport and detonating it. Al-Qaeda was trying to establish an operative cell within the United States. A bin Laden plot involving aircraft in New York and Washington. Recruiting a group of five to seven young men from the United States to travel to the Middle East for training. Reward money for assassinations of four top intelligence agency officers and on like that. And then, of course the war that was declared in the CIA.
MS. HILL: Right.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Can you go into any more detail on any of these individual pieces of intelligence and how they were used from an intelligence perspective to try to weave an intelligence web? Because it seems to me with this and then unfortunately in July of 2001 with the Phoenix memo and then in August with Moussaoui, and I don‘t know what was in his computer or in his possession, but I would suggest if you took those pieces and the other pieces one might be able to weave together a rather significant scheme.
Can you give us any more information?
MS. HILL: I can‘t. I don‘t think I can give you more information on the actual report because, as I mentioned at the outset, the language that we have in this statement is what has been declassified. So to venture beyond that language, that is the language that the declassification group basically signed off on as suitable for public release. I can‘t go into much more detail about the language of the report.
We did go on some of these to the FBI and asked them what they did with some of this information or what happened to it when the report came in, if they got it, and I can tell you some of them, and we‘ve given them a whole list, and some we still have not gotten responses. They are still trying to find out what they did or locate the record. Others they have found. For instance, I think you mentioned the 1998 information concerning a bin Laden plot involving aircraft in New York and Washington. The FBI, I can tell you, did receive that information and they worked actually with local law enforcement to try to verify the report, but they were not able to corroborate the report and took no further action is what we have been told.
In September ‚98 we had one where we did get a response from the FBI. This was the one about that they obtained information that bin Laden‘s next operation could involve flying an aircraft loaded with explosives into a U.S. airport and detonating it. We asked the FBI if they got that information and what did they do with it. They did receive the information and they also worked with another agency, government agency to try to verify the information. The source of the information said that another individual had advanced knowledge of some of bin Laden‘s operations and had given him the information about bin Laden‘s attack or this report. The FBI tells us that they tried to work with other agencies and did verify portions of this account, but they were not able to locate the individual who reportedly had the advanced knowledge. And after September 11th they actually went back to this report and tried to locate that individual again and were unable to do so.
So what we tried to do when we got these reports that we felt were significant was we tried -- particularly the ones, there were many in 1998 involving domestic U.S. attacks and on those we went back to the FBI, as I said, and have asked them, „Did you get the report, what did you do to verify it or did you take any action,“ and they have come back to us on some of them. Some of them, there are a number of them, they are still trying to go through their records and come up with an answer as to whether they got it and if so what they did with it.
But those two are examples of the type of thing we‘re getting from them.
SEN. FEINSTEIN: Thank you.
Mr. Chairman, just one quick comment, if I might. I think this report becomes kind of a basic primer on 9/11. I‘m sure more will be filled in as time goes on, but I find it a very valuable document in establishing a chronology of what was known, when it was known, the fragmentary messages that come through here and my hope is as these hearings go on and particularly when we get to the Phoenix memo and the Moussaoui case that we might be able to ask some questions and I don‘t know in public session if we will about if there had been a FISA warrant on Moussaoui and the information made available, whether that would have been substantial enough to really ring a very strong bell.
But I wanted to thank the staff and Ms. Hill and also thank the victims who were here today. It‘s very special and I hope you know that we really do care and that you really do have our sympathy and our determination to get at the heart of it.
SEN. SHELBY: Mr. Chairman, what‘s the schedule for the rest of the week?
SEN. GRAHAM: Ms. Hill, do you want to review tomorrow?
MS. HILL: I believe tomorrow we are going to have a public hearing in this room beginning at 10:00 and there will be two panels of users of intelligence products from the intelligence community and those users will be senior government officials over several administrations. I believe tomorrow we will have Mr. Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, Mr. Armitage, the deputy secretary of state, Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisory, Tony Lake, former National Security Advisory, and Sandy Berger, former National Security Advisor.
SEN. SHELBY.: Will we start at 10:00?
MS. HILL: 10:00.
SEN. GRAHAM: We‘ll start at 10:00 and assuming that the stars line up properly and we can accomplish this, our goal would be to complete the first panel, which will be Mr. Wolfowitz and Mr. Armitage, in approximately three hours, have a break and then return at 2:30 and have the second panel run approximately another -- I‘m corrected. The second panel is going to start at 2:00 so that we can try to finish at approximately 5:00 with both panels.
MS. HILL: That‘s correct.
SEN. GRAHAM: Are we at a point, Ms. Hill, we can comment on Friday yet?
MS. HILL: I think we‘re still engaged in ongoing discussions on Friday.
SEN. GRAHAM: Okay, thank you.
The hearing is adjourned.