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14 September 2001

Transcript: Ashcroft Briefs on Terrorist Investigation Sept. 13

(Authorities estimate 18 hijackers seized four planes) (2810)
U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said September 13 that 18
hijackers conducted a multi-prong terrorist attack on the United
States September 11 supported by a "significant" number of associates.
Federal agents are pursuing more than 2,000 leads into the case,
"interviewing any number of people across the country," Ashcroft said
during a briefing with reporters. Some people have been detained due
to irregularities in their immigration status, he said.
Accompanied by the newly installed director of the Federal Bureau of
Investigation (FBI) Robert Mueller in the briefing, Ashcroft said
federal agents from the Departments of Justice and Treasury, the U.S.
Marshals Service, Border Patrol and U.S. Customs are all being called
in to enhance security at U.S. airports.
Ashcroft also said the Justice Department will work to speed the
delivery of benefits to survivors of police and rescue personnel
killed in the line of duty in the aftermath of the attacks.
At his afternoon briefing September 13, the Attorney General said that
the electronic flight data and voice recorder boxes of the hijacked
planes had not been found. That statement was overtaken by events
later in the day when the so-called "black boxes" were found at two of
the crash sites -- the U.S. Department of Defense headquarters, and
the Pennsylvania site where one of the hijacked planes crashed.
Telephone calls from passengers on that latter flight indicate that
they attempted to overwhelm the hijackers and thwart their plan.
Authorities hope the black boxes may provide information on the final
moments of the flight.
Electronic flight data recorders are designed to retain information on
the maneuvering, operating status and condition of planes. Voice
recorders are supposed to retain the final 30 minutes of conversation
in the cockpit.
Following is a transcript of the briefing:
(begin transcript)
Department of Justice
September 13, 2001
ASHCROFT: September the 11th, 2001, was a day of unspeakable violence
and outrage, but also a day of heroism and sacrifice. As endangered
men and women struggled to make their way out of burning, collapsing
buildings, firemen and policemen, emergency rescue personnel,
struggled to make their way into those structures. Many -- and we
don't know how many yet -- never made it out of the buildings.
Even as we continue to hold out hope that more of these brave
Americans will be found alive, it is my duty as attorney general to
begin to process the provision of relief to the families of public
safety officers who sacrificed so that others might survive the
attacks of September the 11th.
The Public Safety Officers Benefits Act of 1976 provides for
approximately $150,000 in benefits to the families of law enforcement
officers, firemen, emergency response squad members, ambulance crew
members who are killed in the line of duty. This morning, the
president of the United States, President George W. Bush, directed me
immediately to implement procedures to streamline application
processes and approval processes of claims for benefits under this
Pursuant to the president's directive, the Department of Justice this
morning has taken the following actions to expedite the delivery of
benefits to public safety officers' families.
First, the existing regulations under the Public Safety Officers
Benefits Act requires that officers' families and employing agencies
fill out individual forms certifying that the officer was killed in
the line of duty and that no disqualifying circumstances were present
and that the officer was, in fact, related to the family members
seeking the benefits. These regulations direct the Bureau of Justice
Assistance in the Justice Department to give substantial weight to
evidence presented by federal, state and local agencies and to resolve
in favor of payment any reasonable doubt concerning the circumstances
of the officer's permanent disability or death.
ASHCROFT: In view of the unprecedented loss of life and the
debilitating injuries to public safety officers, I have directed,
pursuant to the president's request, that this process be streamlined
in this case. I am directing the Office of Justice Programs to
exercise the full scope of its direction and its discretion under the
statute and regulations to accept applications, consider evidence
justifying claims and to process prompt payment of benefits.
In cases in which benefits are sought by survivors of officers killed
in the line of duty on September 11, I am directing that blanket
certifications from executives of public safety agencies be considered
as evidence of eligibility, without requiring further individualized
documentation. In addition, the family claim form will be abbreviated
and streamlined.
Secondly, the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs is
immediately making available additional resources to see that the
claims of fallen officers' families are processed as quickly as
possible. Staff are being brought to New York from a variety of other
settings to assist in case processing.
Second, a separate computer database is being established to expedite
and monitor the case processing. Third, lawyers from the Office of
Justice Programs are immediately reviewing all cases from New York to
make sure that those cases move as quickly as possible.
The Office of Justice Programs, fourth, staffmembers are being sent to
New York to assist with family contacts and the assembly of claim
packages, including the gathering of pertinent records.
ASHCROFT: The Office of Justice program representatives will be
available on site, if requested, to pre-certify claim packages, in
terms of the completeness of those packages. These representatives
will also work with the Treasury Department to expedite the payments
to families once claims are approved. The provision of benefits is an
insufficient but a necessary response on behalf of the American people
to the unknown number of individuals who fought fires, law enforcement
officers and medical rescue personnel who died answering the call of
their fellow citizens on September the 11th.
It is President Bush's and my hope that the actions that we have taken
today will provide a measure of relief to the husbands and wives and
children that have been left behind. I know that it is the nation's
hope that this assistance will stand as a gesture of the inexpressible
gratitude that so many Americans feel, as well as a small tribute to
the honor of the sacrifice of those who were willing to lose their
lives so that others might be saved.
Additionally today, I announced with the Treasury Department a step
that has been taken to provide additional security at airports across
the country. As airports re-open and as travel is resumed, there will
be substantially increased security presence -- a substantially
increased security presence on the ground at designated security
checkpoints throughout the country.
ASHCROFT: The departments of Justice and Treasury have deployed
hundreds of U.S. marshals -- individuals from the U.S. Marshal
Service, U.S. Border Patrol and U.S. Customs officials, as part of a
broad effort by federal law enforcement authorities to provide a
larger police presence at airports, in addition to the heightened
security procedures already put into effect. We will take all
precautions necessary to protect American travelers.
Finally, our nation calls on us in times like this to be at our best.
If we are to prevail in difficult times like this, we must be at our
best. Since Tuesday, the Justice Department has received reports of
violence and threats of violence against Arab-Americans and other
Americans of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent.
We must not descend to the level of those who perpetrated Tuesday's
violence by targeting individuals based on race, religion or national
origin. Such reports of violence and threats are in direct opposition
to the very principles and laws for which the United States of America
stands, and such reports of violence and threats of violence will not
be tolerated.
I now have a few updates with regard to the ongoing investigation.
Legal attaches of the FBI around the world are receiving enormous
cooperation from law enforcement authorities in the host countries
that are cooperating with us to assist us in following up on leads.
ASHCROFT: We have also received numerous offers of help from other
countries if we need those elements of assistance, and we are grateful
for the assistance that has been offered and the assistance that has
been rendered.
With regard to federal law enforcement personnel casualties, there is
an FBI agent assigned to the New York field office who remains
missing. Three U.S. marshals who are assigned to the Southern District
of New York sustained minor injuries. We are also in the process of
collecting information nationwide regarding the loss of life and
casualties among law enforcement personnel. As of this morning, the
FBI's leads hotline has received 2055 phone calls. Some of these leads
have been helpful to the investigation. The web site which was opened
virtually immediately after the crisis has received more than 22,700
suggested tips. The FBI is working thousands and thousands of leads.
As of this moment, none of the black boxes have been recovered yet.
However, we believe retrieval of the black box at the Somerset County
location is the most feasible in the short term.
Last but not least, the total number of hijackers, to our best
estimate and our best knowledge given the information at this time, on
the four planes that crashed was at least 18. Unless contradicted by
evidence, which we wouldn't anticipate, two planes had five hijackers
and two other planes had four hijackers each.
ASHCROFT: The director of the FBI, Mr. Mueller is here with me and we
would be pleased to respond to your questions.
QUESTION: About the hijackers, were they ticketed passengers? If not,
do you know how they got on the planes?
FBI DIRECTOR ROBERT MUELLER: Yes, they were ticketed passengers.
QUESTION: General Ashcroft, are you convinced based on the evidence in
Florida and Boston and elsewhere that Laden was the leader in the
ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to identify or comment on persons
ultimately responsible at this time.
QUESTION: How many people at this point are contained around the
country? And why are these potential accomplices, Mr. Director, of
such concern to the bureau?
MUELLER: I can't give you a specific number. What has happened, as I
indicated yesterday, that as the result of following up leads, we're
interviewing a number of people, and in the course of doing those
interviews, we find that a number of the individuals, when asked for
identification and the like, are out of status. And when we find
somebody out of status, we, quite obviously, bring in the INS and they
are detained, and that is the policies and procedures we are
QUESTION: And they are of concern to you regarding the investigation?
MUELLER: Some may be of concern to us and some may not after we
interview them.
QUESTION: What sort of indication do you have of other operations
being aborted; other plane hijackings, perhaps other terrorist
ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to make comments about any other items at
this time.
QUESTION: Do you have any determination about where the plane crashed
in Somerset might have been?
ASHCROFT: I just...
QUESTION: Have you found any determination about where the plane
crashed in Somerset County, what part it might have been in, and what
happened to cause that plane to crash where it did?
ASHCROFT: I think it's fair to say that we're unable to comment on
that. QUESTION: How many...
QUESTION: ... are you looking at? How many hijackers and associates do
you have?
ASHCROFT: Well, obviously, I've just announced that there are 18
hijackers. The number of associates is significant, but I don't think
it would be appropriate for me to try and attach a specific number. We
are continuing to develop an understanding of all the associates that
these individuals had.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the associates are in the country or do
you have a
ASHCROFT: First of all, if we knew exactly where associates were, it
would make our work easier. But we are interested in finding
associates and making inquiry of them.
QUESTION: What can you tell us about flight training that any of the
hijackers had received? Did they receive any training here in the
United States?
ASHCROFT: It is our belief and the evidence indicates that flight
training was received in the United States and that their capacity to
operate the aircraft was substantial.
It's very clear that these orchestrated coordinated assaults on our
country were well-conducted and conducted in a technically proficient
way. It is not that easy to land these kinds of aircraft at very
specific locations with accuracy or to direct them with the kind of
accuracy, which was deadly in this case.
QUESTION: There were some reports that at least one of the passengers
on the flight from Newark kept the air phone off the hook as this was
going on, as they were preparing to take the plane back from the
hijackers. Were law enforcement officials or FAA people able to listen
in on some of what was going on?
ASHCROFT: I'm not prepared to make a comment on that at this time.
QUESTION: General, which flights have...
QUESTION: ... hijackers have you identified, and what can you tell us
about who they are, where they came from, and how they (OFF-MIKE)
ASHCROFT: I think you might be able to say which flights had which
numbers on it?
MUELLER: On the American Airlines, number 11, flight out of Boston,
going to LA, there were five, we believe. Our preliminary
investigation indicates that five of the passengers were involved in
the hijacking on that plane. United Airlines 175, also out of Boston
to LA, our preliminary investigation indicates that there were five
hijackers on that plane.
On United Airlines 93, Newark to San Francisco, four hijackers. And
American Airlines 77, Dulles to Los Angeles, four hijackers. That is
our preliminary. The results of our preliminary investigation, the
investigation is continuing. That is our best view at this time as to
the numbers and the planes they were on.
QUESTION: Could you clarify for us, please, on what you've been able
to verify and document concerning the flight path of the 77 into the
Pentagon? Did it go over Washington, D.C., first?
MUELLER: I really can't comment on what we have with regard to that
particular flight.
QUESTION: The national origin of some if not all of the hijackers,
what can you say at this point about the national origin?
MUELLER: I'm not prepared to comment on that.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about the warrants? Can you tell us how many
warrants and tell us what cities, what states?
MUELLER: No, I can tell you that throughout the country, and not
necessarily in a particular region, but throughout the country, when
we received leads, we have followed those leads. We are interviewing
any number of people across the country. The number of FBI offices
that are directly involved in the investigation has expanded.
MUELLER: And they are interviewing witnesses, they are where
necessary, obtaining search warrants, obtaining grand jury subpoenas
and whatever is necessary to obtain the evidence to identify the --
more particularly, identify the particular hijackers, and anyone
associated with them.
QUESTION: Are they believed to be U.S. citizens?
MUELLER: I'm not going to comment on anything with regard to the
QUESTION: How many were already on the terrorist watch list?
MUELLER: Can't answer that question either.
QUESTION: Any suicide notes? Have you found suicide notes?
STAFF: Thank you.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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