14 September 2001
(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 BRIEFING BY ATTORNEY GENERAL JOHN ASHCROFT AND FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION DIRECTOR ROBERT MUELLER
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 act.
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 (OFF-MIKE) 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 following.
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 operations? 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 (OFF-MIKE) 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 hijackers.
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)