Does Congress still have faith in the FBI? And should there be an independent commission to investigate 9/11? These are the questions for the Republican leader in the senate, Trent Lott.
And we'll debate the prospects for that independent commission with the two top members of the House intelligence committee, Congressman Porter Goss, Republican of Florida, and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California.
Gloria Borger will be here, and I'll have a final word on what Memorial Day really means. But first, terrorism warnings on Face the Nation.
ANNOUNCER: Face the Nation, with Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer. And now from CBS News in Washington, Bob Schieffer.
SCHIEFFER: Good morning again, and a happy Memorial Day weekend to everybody. We start this morning in Pascagoula, Mississippi, the home of the senate Republican leader Trent Lott. Senator Lott, welcome to you this morning.
SEN. TRENT LOTT, Minority Leader, R-MS: Thank you, Bob, glad to be with you.
SCHIEFFER: I want to begin -- I want to begin this morning, senator, with a memo. This is the now-famous memo, a 13-page letter, actually, that the FBI agent in Minneapolis, Colleen Rowley, wrote to the FBI director and to the heads of both the Senate and the House Intelligence Committees this week. And she lays a pretty strong case out about how the FBI sort of bottled up information about Zacharias Moussaoui, the hijacker that the FBI agents arrested.
It's just unbelievable, some of the things that she lists in this letter. She says, basically, that FBI officials in Washington just refused to listen to the agents in Minneapolis. She concludes that they shaded facts, they glossed over facts, and understated and misstated facts to avoid, she says, apparently, embarrassment to the FBI. Let me just -- I gave this memo, as you well know, to you before the broadcast.
I want to just put up on the screen, here, some of the quotes from this, then we get your reaction to them. The first quote here. She says that, "key FBI headquarters personnel, whose job it was to assist and coordinate with field division agents on terrorism investigations continued almost inexplicably to throw up roadblocks and undermine Minneapolis's, by now, desperate efforts," as she characterizes them," to obtain a search warrant."
And, of course, the search warrant they wanted was to go in and search the computer of Zacharias Moussaoui. Now, you've had a chance to read this memo this morning. What's your general reaction to it?
LOTT: Well, it's a serious criticism, and it cannot be ignored. That's why I think it's appropriate that FBI director Mueller has asked the Justice Department to look into the criticism in the memorandum. I also think it's appropriate that he is moving forward with some serious reorganizations of the FBI.
I don't want to go down the trail of -- you know, it's very easy to say, "Well, this was a serious intelligence failure." That's obvious, we know that. I think the FBI needs some serious review and reorganization. We did pay it past the Patriot Act, which provides for the CIA and the FBI to be able to talk to each other.
How ridiculous, that they were not able to, in many instances, even under the law, communicate with each other. We've got to do something about what led to the events of September 11. I don't think it does a lot of good to weld too long on whose fault is it? What should we have done?
Although you need to review that, and I have no problem with that, what we need to do is take action to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future. And the FBI has got to be a part of that review and reorganization.
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me also put something else on the screen, because she suggests that, when she first heard the FBI director say that the FBI had no advance warning, FBI agents in Minneapolis tried to contact, and did contact, the headquarters here in Washington to tell them about the investigation into Moussaoui.
I quote again from the memo, if we can put this on the screen. She says that they not only did not take that back, she heard the FBI's assistant director state basically the same warning after the FBI -- after the people in Minneapolis had told them that what they were saying was not correct, in their view.
So let's put this quote up on the screen now. She says, "We face the sad realization that the remarks indicated someone, possibly with your approval," she means the FBI director,"had decided to circle the wagons at FBI headquarters in an apparent effort to protect the FBI from embarrassment, and the relevant FBI officials from scrutiny."
Now that sounds like, she doesn't call it that, that sounds like cover up.
LOTT: Well, I'm sure you're going to discuss this with Congressman Porter Goss and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
I suspect that there is another side of that story.
Do remember that FBI Director Mueller came on the job the week before September 11. And he's having to, you know, try to figure out what needs to be done and review the problems of the past.
But, I mean, I don't deny these are serious criticisms that have got to be checked into. If they circled the wagons and if their goal is to protect FBI, instead of finding out how they can do a better job and what laws are needed, if any, to give them the authority to do a better job, even, you know, more sophisticated computer equipment, more money to do their job, we need to know all that.
GLORIA BORGER, U.S. News & World Report: Senator, do you still have confidence in the FBI Director, Mueller?
LOTT: I do have confidence in FBI Director Mueller. He briefed the entire Senate last week. He went into great detail about what some of the problems are and recommendations or actions he's taking to change the way FBI operates. I can't go into that yet, because I don't think they've been made public.
But it's pretty hard to blame him for events from September 11 back. He just got there the week before, as I said. He's trying to take control of an agency that does need some changes. And I think he deserves an opportunity to do that.
BORGER: There are some who are proposing an independent commission to look into these issues. And you are opposing the establishment of an independent commission. Why?
LOTT: Well, as a matter of fact, I have supported commissions in the past. Quite often, when Congress can't do the job itself, we pass the buck up to somebody else.
But I've got some interesting information here. In the last six years, there have been something like six commissions that have studied security, involving some of our most respected people in defense and foreign policy areas, including former Senators Warren Rudman, Gary Hart, former Secretaries of Defense Brown and Aspen.
There was the Aspen-Brown Commission that was done in 1996 that had three specific findings that said we needed to do a better job in integrating the intelligence community, that they need to operate together, meaning FBI-CIA, create greater efficiency.
But another interesting one was a White House commission headed by Vice President Al Gore on aviation safety and security. And I took the time to go back and read that report. It was a very good report. It had specific recommendations of what we should do to improve aviation security, check passengers, check the screeners, do a better job of screening.
Look, we've got six commission reports in six years out there with some very good information. The problem is, quite often, good people do good work on commissions, they file a report, nobody reads it. Nobody acts on it.
Now, if you're going to pass around some blame for not having done a better job, how about the Congress? Should we not have done a better job in looking at these commission reports and trying to take actions where actions were needed, or maybe even ask questions about why a better job wasn't being done.
So, before we start another commission, let's at least review the six commission reports that have cost us millions of dollars in the last six years. One of them is entitled "The Intelligence Community and the 21st Century." And, by the way, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence published this public report in 1996.
The problems have been identified. Many of the solutions have been identified. We've got a very good-quality joint committee now, House and Senate Intelligence, headed by very respected senators, Bob Graham of Florida and Richard Shelby of Alabama, and Congresswoman Pelosi and Porter Goss of Florida.
They are set up now, been operating or working on it for three months. They can do the job of looking at what happened and then recommending, or either acting or recommending legislation that would help solve the problems.
SCHIEFFER: Senator, what about all these warnings that we're now getting? Every day seems to bring a more serious warning. Do you think there's a danger here that there are going to be so many warnings, people will no longer pay attention?
LOTT: There is a danger of that, Bob, but I have occasion, as one of the elected leaders, to get some of these threat assessments, and the president briefs the leaders, usually every other week or so, about some of the things that he's being told. And obviously, members of the Intelligence Committee get briefings. And there are serious threats out there. And you can't ignore them.
But there is a very fine line. If you don't caution people that there are threats out there, and we need to be doing more in our ports and airports and all across the country, and something happens, then, you know, you're to blame, for not giving sufficient warning.
LOTT: If you do it too much, though, too often, and cry wolf in effect, then people get to where they will say, well, you're overdoing it, and they start to ignore it.
So, we've got to find the balance, but the best policy is honesty. If there is a serious threat, we ought to notify at least law enforcement officials and airport or port authority officials, whatever, and sometimes even warn people in certain areas that there are these serious threats.
SCHIEFFER: Well, what do you say to the critics who say that some of these threats have been publicized in an effort to draw attention away from what may have been intelligence failures prior to 9/11?
LOTT: Well, you got a lot of Monday morning quarterbacks; a lot of critics saying don't do this, do that. I think that the thing for us to do is yes, let's review our intelligence apparatus. Let's take a look at the FBI, the CIA, the administration, the Congress, what did we not do? What should we have done?
But more than trying to be critical of putting people on notice or why something wasn't done, let's do what needs to be done.
I think the -- we're at war on terror. It's time for to us act. Quit trying to find a way to blame somebody or criticize somebody. Let's act together, regardless of party or region or philosophy, and do what's necessary to protect the American people.
That's one of the fundamental charges we have as members of Congress and the administration. We need to do a better job in that area.
SCHIEFFER: All right. I think that's a fine place to leave it. Senator Lott, thank you so much for joining us on this Memorial Day.
LOTT: Happy Memorial Day to you and to our men and women.
SCHIEFFER: All right. When we come back, we'll talk to the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee about all of this. In a minute.
SCHIEFFER: With us now in our studio, the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Porter Goss of Florida. Joining us from Napa Valley, California, the ranking Democrat, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
Chairman Goss, I want to go back to this memo that--this letter from this FBI agent in Minneapolis that I talked to Trent Lott about. You have read this entire letter of course. It was delivered to the committee.
Can I just get your general reaction to it, because it just seems astonishing to me some of the things that it reports as having taken place? Have you on the committee as yet determined that in fact that is what happened?
REP. PORTER GOSS, R-FL, Chm, Select Intelligence Cmte.: The joint committee is working on this matter now and, in fact, this young lady may be a witness, may be invited to be one of our panel. So this matter is in hand.
The fact that all of this got leaked out is indicative of actually that the hard work the joint committee is doing. There is a great deal of interviewing going on and a great deal of document collection.
What we've seen in this case is a mixture of fact and opinion. And it's very important that if our road to truth be based very much on the fact, and the opinion gets sorted out. But the opinion is troublesome, and I do think it does bear looking into.
From the director's point of view -- I'm glad he has taken action -- this is one perspective that this young lady has given that we have to look at very closely because of the seriousness of what she said.
But the other perspective of it is what other advice did the director get or those in charge in Washington get that may have ameliorated or colored the situation? And until we have all of those facts, I think it's a little bit wrong to rush to judgment.
SCHIEFFER: Well, one of the things -- and you're talking about the facts here. One of the things that appears to be factual is that the people in Minneapolis were continuously trying to get FBI headquarters in Washington to pay attention to this case where they had arrested this Zacarias Moussaoui. And apparently, they just were unable to do it, inexplicably.
GOSS: Well, I don't think there is any question that this is part of a bigger problem that is going to get a lot of looking at and is getting it, as a matter of fact. When I said we had thousands of documents, I mean it.
But all of the problems that come up, the one that troubled me the most was the one with the FISA application. Because that basically is hampering an investigative tool which we need very badly right now.
SCHIEFFER: And what you're talking about there is the attempt to get a search warrant to search Moussaoui's computer.
GOSS: Yes, the search warrant. That problem -- if the facts as stated in the letter are true, that people were reluctant -- there was a culture in Washington that said, "No, we don't want to rock the boat. We want to -- we're too worried about profiling, those kinds of things." We've got to know about that and figure out as a society how we are going to react.
SCHIEFFER: Wait a minute, did you say the reason the FBI may have turned down a request for a search warrant is they were worried about racial profiling?
GOSS: I don't know the answer to that. But I'm surely going to ask the question because it has been suggested.
SCHIEFFER: All right. Let me go to Congresswoman Pelosi, who is the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.
Congresswoman, I'm going to put up on the screen here, and I'll read it to you, one of the quotes from this letter that FBI Agent Rowley sent to FBI headquarters.
She says, and I'll quote, "Headquarters personnel never disclosed to the Minneapolis agents that the Phoenix division had only, approximately three weeks earlier, warned of Al Qaeda operatives in flight schools seeking flight training for terrorist purposes."
Now, we've heard about keeping this information separate, but that pretty much puts the finger on it. The FBI wasn't even telling other people in the FBI what they knew. How could that have happened?
REP. NANCY PELOSI. D-CA, Ranking member, Select Intelligence Cmte.: Well, we'll have to find out how it happened.
But I agree with my chairman, this is a subjective presentation. However accurate it may be, it draws conclusion about the Phoenix memo that may not be accurate to draw. So it's about, again, the words my chairman used, the facts.
It is appropriate that our joint inquiry take this information. It raises very serious questions. The FISA issue is a troubling one because, while the FISA may originally have been rejected, once there was additional information from French intelligence, it seems clear that that approval should have been given.
What information we would have obtained remains to be seen, but that's what the inquiry is about. Unfortunate, is that all of this is coming out in dribs and drabs and I hope that the public will, instead of reacting to it as one would if you accepted it as fact, is to say, "We've got to see it in perspective." It may all well be so. It may be quite an indictment on the FBI. But I think it remains to be seen.
SCHIEFFER: Well, this particular drib, if that's what you want to call it, is a 13-page letter which was given to both your chairman and the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee outlining these problems.
And as to the factual part of it, let me just read to you and put on the screen another quotation. When in a desperate eleventh hour measure to bypass the FBI headquarters roadblock, in other words, they were trying to get this information to the FBI headquarters, and they weren't having much luck.
The Minneapolis division undertook to directly notify the CIA's counter-terrorist center about Moussaoui. FBI headquarters then actually chastised the Minneapolis agents for making the direct notification without their approval. So they couldn't get through to the FBI headquarters, so they tried to tell the CIA about it and then the FBI reprimanded them for telling the CIA. That just doesn't make sense to me. Does it to you, Congresswoman?
PELOSI: No, it doesn't make sense to me, either. As I say, I think that this is -- as I've said earlier, this is quite an indictment against the FBI. I do think though, that, as factual as it may prove to be, that it is part of the story, and all I'm trying to do is counsel that we not paint the FBI with a brush of not being on top of the situation.
We had a tragedy on September 11. There's no question about that. We want to find out in the most reasonable way possible how that happened, and to make sure it doesn't happen again. We have to improve communication between the FBI and the CIA that's for sure.
There's a culture -- there's a culture in the FBI that is more prosecutorial rather than preventive. As the CIA tries to prevent a tragedy from happening, the FBI's job largely is to prosecute a crime and therefore their interest in sharing information that might jeopardize a prosecution puts them in a different place. I'm not saying that's right. I'm just saying this is the appropriate matter of investigation for the joint committee.
SCHIEFFER: Let me just go to the chairman on that. What is your take on this? Do you think the FBI, in fact, is capable of tracking down and preventing terrorists? Or should that be the CIA's job?
GOSS: Well, in this country, there's no question that we do not allow intelligence -- and the Intelligence Committee does not have the power of arrest. In fact, doesn't even have a charter to operate in this country. So, we're going to have to rely on the FBI, and it's obvious there's going to have to be some reorganization and some cultural change and the new leader is taking that under advisement.
The question you've asked about getting out of channels in the Minnesota area may very well be one thing or it may be another thing. We have to look into that and I can think of a number of reasons why there could have been some grief about getting out of channels.
On the other hand, there's a problem here that we need to share with you and the media. When we have leaks in dribs and drabs, as my distinguished ranking member with whom I agree completely on this discussed, we have damage. It causes problems, and I need to caution that the Americans are going to get all the information that we can possibly give them.
But we do have to protect sources and methods, and one of the things that these leaks cause are people not to talk with us, and not to cooperate with us because they don't want their name known or they don't want to reveal things that could be sensitive. They might lose their job or whatever. Now I'm not talking about the FBI case.
SCHIEFFER: But there's nothing in here that has to do with sources.
GOSS: I'm not talking about that case. I'm talking about other things that have been leaked where there are sources. And then what happens is, we don't get information in the intelligence community. We don't get it brought to the investigative oversight committees, which actually do work very well.
And as a result, you can say that we had less information and therefore Americans are more at risk. So I would urge that until the joint investigation gets through its work, that we be a little restrained about leaking things in dribs and drabs. It's just a caution on behalf of the American people.
BORGER: Well very quickly to both of you then, why not also establish an independent commission separate from the intelligence committees to investigate this?
GOSS: I have no problem if, some day, somebody is going to establish an independent commission. I don't know what independent means in that case or how it will happen.
But do I know that the oversight committees work. We do our job on a bipartisan, bicameral basis. We have professional expertise. We know how to handle classified information, and we're well on our way with the job. And we're going to do our job anyway, and then we're going to hand off the pieces that need to be dealt with by Congress because we're going to need some new legislation, and we're going to probably have some changes and some debate about a lot of things in this country.
The United States Congress, the legislative branch is the place to go for that.
SCHIEFFER: All right. We have to end it right there.
GOSS: Thanks, Bob.
SCHIEFFER: We'll be back with a final word in just a minute.
SCHIEFFER: Finally today, we think of Memorial Day as the day we remember the soldiers who died in America's wars.
But this year, we remember as well those who did not wear the uniform: the heroes of 9/11, those passengers who forced down the hijacked airliner in Pennsylvania, the countless firemen, policemen, and rescue workers who led so many to safety from the twin towers and in the end lost their own lives.
As I reflect on what they did, the question I still cannot answer is, why did Osama bin Laden believe that attack would help his cause? Did he believe we would be frightened into submission? Did he believe we would admire him for killing innocent people? Did he believe we would admire those who committed suicide in order to kill the innocent?
Unfortunately, he misunderstood what it is we mark on Memorial Day, and any American could have told him. We don't ask our young people to commit suicide. And we prosecute those who kill the innocent.
No, those we honor on Memorial Day are those who lost their lives so others might live. Sometimes, they have worn the uniform, and sometimes they haven't. But theirs are the lives we celebrate.
Americans have always been willing to come to the rescue of each other, and we do not forget those who kept that promise even at the cost of their own lives. They are our heroes.
The heroes that people choose are what define them as a nation. Let others know, and may we never forget, that is the core of America's strength.
That's it for us, and we'll see you next week right here on Face the Nation.
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