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DOJ Officials Brief Sept. 20 on Terrorism Investigation

DOJ Officials Brief Sept. 20 on Terrorism Investigation

Voice recorder found from hijacked airliner at Pennsylvania crash site. Federal authorities are analyzing the flight data and voice recorders from the hijacked airliner that crashed in a rural Pennsylvania site, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller told reporters September 20. Source: Washington File (EUR401), U.S. Department of State, Washington D.C., September 20, 2001.

Speaking at the scene of the United Flight 93 crash, Mueller said that the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) "are in the process of transcribing and, in certain cases, translating the dialogue, what little dialogue there is, on that voice recorder."

Forty-five people were killed in the crash of Flight 93, the fourth hijacked airliner to crash on September 11, but the only one that did not slam into a building, killing other civilians. In the aftermath of the crash, relatives of several passengers on board Flight 93 say that the passengers phoned them from the airliner, and reported that a counterattack against the hijackers was about to unfold. It has been widely theorized that passengers aborted the hijackers' plan to take more lives by crashing the plane into a civilian target.

Speaking for U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Pennsylvania's Attorney General Mike Fisher, Mueller said, "We believe those passengers on this jet were absolute heroes and their actions during this flight were heroic."

The flight data recorders found in Pennsylvania could provide the only record of what happened aboard the hijacked airliners. Those recovered from American Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., were too damaged in the collision to yield any data. Neither recorder has been found in the mountain of rubble in New York City where two airliners crashed into the World Trade Center.

The FBI is seeking almost 200 people as either suspects or potential witnesses in the September 11 terrorist attacks. A few arrests have been made, according to news reports, but Ashcroft would not specify how many.

Ashcroft called the endeavor the largest criminal investigation ever launched, which aims to find those guilty of the four hijackings, but to also develop "a better understanding of what we can do to make sure that we disrupt, interrupt, stop, thwart, curtail the risk of further events."

Following is an excerpt of the Department of Justice transcript: (begin transcript)

Attorney General Remarks and FBI Director Robert Mueller, Pennsylvania Crash Site, September 20, 2001.

Attroney General Ashcroft...

It is impossible to stand in a field in Pennsylvania at the site of heroic devotion and activity without thinking of the words of Abraham Lincoln, who spoke 140 years ago at Gettysburg. He put it this way, "The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here."

In the midst of this tragedy is a testimony of the American spirit, of individuals who bravely and courageously were willing to endure additional risks and pay an ultimate price so that others would be more secure. That's the heroic tradition of law enforcement and public service in the United States of America, and I simply cannot pass at this site without reflecting on the fact that it became a part of the conduct and life of so many individuals who were heroic at this site. And it should be a testimony and inspiration to every American everywhere, to understand that public safety is everybody's business, and it's our opportunity to do those things that preserve our liberty and the integrity of what it means to enjoy the freedoms we call America.

This tragedy which befell the United States of America on September the 11th was an act of war by others seeking to disrupt the kind of freedom and liberty that we enjoy in the United States of America. We have been intently examining all the evidence to develop a complete understanding not only of the responsible parties and organizations so that they can be appropriately dealt with and punished, but also developing a better understanding of what we can do to make sure that we disrupt, interrupt, stop, thwart, curtail the risk of further events like those events of Tuesday, September the 11th. That is the responsibility that we labor incessantly on, and we will leave no stone unturned to make sure that we do what we can to minimize the risk of reoccurrence.

We have to give thanks for the many state and local law enforcement officials who are working with the 4,000 FBI agents who are part of examination teams, the 3,000 support workers who support them, the assigned individuals from the U.S. Marshal Service who have joined the FBI, individuals from the United States Border Patrol. We met this morning with ATF workers from the Treasury Department of the United States.

This investigation and effort is the largest criminal investigation ever launched, more comprehensive devotion of resources. And we will develop a better understanding. We will identify the parties responsible. And we will provide a basis for punishing parties and organizations whose mission it was to disrupt America's life of freedom and liberty. And that is a firm commitment.

At the very heart of the investigation is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the world's premier law enforcement agency. I had the privilege of talking to those who are sifting through the evidence here, the site, who described searching for evidence on hands and knees, picking up all of the pieces so that we could piece together an understanding which will provide the basis for justice and response by the United States of America against those who perpetrated the crime and those that harbored them, who gave them aid and assistance and supported them.

At the heart of that investigation is the director of the FBI, who has coordinated these efforts of the FBI as the leading agency in this investigation. And I'm pleased to be able to invite him to make remarks at this time. Bob Mueller is an individual whose service in law enforcement is over the course of many decades, having served as a U.S. attorney in Boston, U.S. attorney in San Francisco, the chief of the Criminal Division of the FBI in Washington, D.C., a staff attorney, assistant U.S. attorney working homicides in Washington, D.C., and now as the director of the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Mr. Mueller: I only at the outset can acknowledge the -- or state that every FBI agent, every FBI employee acknowledges, respects and has the utmost admiration for the heroic efforts of the passengers on Flight 93.

And I think our admiration, our respect for those passengers is shared by just about everybody in the country.

The FBI has the initial jurisdiction for investigating incidents such as this. But we are but one of so many law enforcement agencies who come together at times like this, and other such times, and work together hand in hand to bring those responsible to justice. And it is thus here.

And I want to spend just a moment to talk about the support that the Bureau, ATF, Red Cross have provided to this effort here. In particular, I want to mention -- agents tell me that there's been a huge outpouring of support from the communities here in Somerset County and throughout Pennsylvania. And for that support, we thank you from the depth of our hearts.

Others have helped and should be acknowledged. Pennsylvania State Police, Colonel Hicks (sp), Major Zapinka (sp), and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency were here moments after this happened and have worked hand in hand with the FBI, ATF, and the other federal agencies.

I want to just mention, in conclusion, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army. To walk the line and see the agents you expect in a circumstance like this, it's a crime scene and you expect agents to be sifting through the rubble in order to determine whether there's evidence there that can be used in prosecution down the road in order to bring these individuals to justice. But to see the Red Cross, the many volunteers of the Red Cross, to see the volunteers from the Salvation Army, and all the others from the community who are here at this site, is a testimony -- is a statement as to how, not only at this site, but across the country, all persons are coming together -- all persons who believe that this is an abhorrent act are coming together to try to bring these individuals to justice. And all of this together will succeed in bringing the individuals responsible for this to justice.

Now, I think probably the Attorney General and I would be happy to entertain some questions.

Q: Can you give us the status on the black boxes that were found --

Mr. Mueller: We have -- yes, I'd be happy to. There were two recorders found at the Pentagon site -- the flight data recorder and the voice recorder. And unfortunately, we're unable to obtain anything off the voice recorder because it was so badly burned in that crash.

We recovered the flight data recorder here as well as the voice recorder, and we and the NTSB are in the process of transcribing and, in certain cases, translating the dialogue, what little dialogue there is on that voice recorder.

Q: (Off mike.)

Mr. Mueller: I will say we do not have the voice recorders from the World Trade Center or the flight data recorders.

Anybody else?

Q: Can you tell us -- Mr. Mueller: Yes, sir?

Q: -- how many material witnesses have been arrested at this point? And was the gentleman in the Chicago area yesterday one of them?

Mr. Mueller: There have been a number of material witness warrants issued, and I cannot give you the specific number.

Q: If translations are required off the cockpit voice recorder, one could assume, then, that the hijackers were on that?

Mr. Mueller: I can't go into the details any more. But I will tell you that we are -- it will take some time because we are analyzing very carefully what is heard on that voice data recorder.

Yes, ma'am?

Q: Do you still have a high level of confidence that you can accurately identify the hijackers?

Mr. Mueller: I know I said at the outset that I had a high level of confidence on the identities of the hijackers. We have several hijackers whose identities were those of the names on the manifests. We have several others that are still in question. So it's -- the investigation is ongoing, and I am not certain as to several of the others.

Q: Can you tell me, or do you know, the information on that cockpit voice recorder from this airline, Flight 93, does it support what a number of the cellular phone calls from passengers have indicated about the passengers on board -- (off mike)?

Mr. Mueller: It would be premature to discuss what's on that until the analysis is done.

Staff: We have time for one more question.

Q: Do you agree with -- (inaudible) -- passengers on Flight 93 did attempt to wrest control of the jet in the air?

Mr. Mueller: I think both of us here and -- both the attorney general and I and the attorney general of Pennsylvania have indicated we believe those passengers on this jet were absolute heroes and their actions during this flight were heroic.

General Ashcroft --

Staff: Thank you.

Q: General Ashcroft, about the possibility of further attacks, there have been some reports mentioning the 22nd -- (off mike) --

Attorney General Ashcroft: I think it's important for Americans to understand this was a complex attack, coordinated, and that it's very possible that there are others who would seek to disrupt the liberty in the same way. The president has indicated and, I think, provided a formula, which is important, that we should go to work and we should live our lives, but we should do it with a heightened awareness of a vulnerability that we have.

Thank you.

(end transcript)


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).