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September 11 one year on Tuesday, 10 September, 2002, 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK
The investigations

Experts answered your questions about the progress of the many investigations into the 11 September attacks.

To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:

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  • Click here to read the transcript


    How are scientists faring in their painstaking efforts to identify all the victims - often from tiny fragments and using revolutionary DNA testing methods?

    In the hunt for the terrorist networks responsible for the attacks, how much do the intelligence services know?

    How effective are the anti-terrorism measures being adopted in the United States and throughout the west?

    Your put your questions to our guests, ABC News military and security analyst John Hillen, BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner and a forensic science expert, Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky, Professor of Forensic Science, John Jay College of Criminal Justice


    Transcript


    Newshost:

    Hello, I'm Peter Gould and welcome to this BBC News Interactive forum from Ground Zero in New York.

    Tomorrow the United States will be marking the first anniversary of September 11th. Today we're going to be looking at the continuing investigation into the terrorist attacks.

    The BBC security correspondent, Frank Gardner is here to answer your questions. But first we're going to be discussing the extraordinary operation that is still going on to identify the people who died at the World Trade Center here in New York.

    We're joined by Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky, who is professor of forensic science at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, here in New York, who is an authority on the use of DNA profiling.
    Newshost:

    Dr Kobilinsky, can I start by asking you first all, we've had a number of e-mails asking about the operation to identify the dead - realistically how many people do you think we will be able to identify?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    At the site, we know that there were 2,801 people that were killed in addition about 147 people on the plane. There are many body parts. The kind of trauma that these people were exposed to was rather extraordinary. So this is a very job in identifying people. But we do have this wonderful DNA technology that has helped. Frankly, I don't think we'll be able to identify all the people. But I would guess that about two-thirds of the total will be identified.


    Newshost:

    We have an e-mail from Maurice Kelly in Ireland who says: My friend lost her husband in the Towers. He's not been formally identified yet and she's been told it could take years. I thought DNA made identification much easier.

    What is the problem if we can't identify everyone?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    The problem is that the kind of DNA technology that's used for identification, for example, in criminalistics, will work provided that you have enough DNA in good quality. The problem here is that a great deal of time has elapsed and the DNA has deteriorated over time so the regular procedures for using DNA can no longer work. We have to use a more advanced procedure and it's very time consuming, very laborious, very expensive and it will take much longer. Remember, that there are well over 20,000 body parts here and every single piece has to be identified. That's a gargantuan task.


    Newshost:

    Just talking to the people at the office of the Medical Examiner here in New York. They say that they really are pushing at the limits of the technology here to identify the dead. Can you see the science improving as a result of the investigation here?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    Well there's no question that the kind of technique that is typically used by the Medical Examiner's office - the state of the art technique is a wonderful procedure but unfortunately, as I said, as the DNA degrades that procedure can no longer yield any kind of results. So we have to use a different kind of technology - mitochondrial DNA - that works with objects like hair and bone and it far better. But even that eventually will fail and so we really need a better technology - what is referred to as "snip" technology, which is really state of the art, it really hasn't been fully explored and eventually it will turn out to be the procedure that may be required to identify the bulk of the remains.


    Newshost:

    As you were saying, nearly 20,000 parts from bodies recovered from the site behind us. The Medical Examiner's office is saying that everything they have is going to be preserved in the hope that the science will actually improve in the coming years and more identifications will be possible. Again, from your knowledge of the state of the science at the moment, is that likely?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    I think it makes sense. All of these body parts can be preserved. We know a great deal about how to preserve biological material, especially DNA, and it clear that the new technology is here and will be improved. I believe that they are absolutely correct that they will be able to tie the bulk of the samples - certainly not all - but it will be the new technology that will do it, not the one that we are more familiar with in criminalistics.


    Newshost:

    A question now from Kobi in Wales who wants to know: What's been the most difficult part of this investigation - the technical side or the emotional impact on the people involved?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    It's very hard to separate the two. People that work in the Medical Examiner's office are very professional and unfortunately they're used to working with death, with body parts and with people that die for whatever criminal reasons. So the emotional part certainly is there. But I think here the real issue is the technical aspect and the fact is that there's an awful lot of samples and even with the laboratories around the country that are helping the Medical Examiner's office here, it's a huge burden and it's technically very hard.


    Newshost:

    A question from Hanif Ramen in the UK who says: How come the intelligence services found a passport belonging to one of the so-called terrorists when everything else on the plane melted due to the intensity of the heat?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    That's a good question. The answer is, that object was thrown as the plane hit the building and there was this major explosion and the heat was incredible - it reached 2000 degrees Fahrenheit. But this object was thrown in the explosion and it landed quite a few blocks away from the actual site.


    Newshost:

    I believe I'm right in saying that it's been possible to identify some of the bodies from the planes themselves because of these DNA techniques. So a very mixed picture in terms of the identifications.


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    Very mixed yes. I think that dental records have contributed a great deal, fingerprints have contributed a great. But as time goes on, you need DNA to do the identification.


    Newshost:

    We're talking obviously about the main task here in identifying the victims of this disaster. But I suppose there's a related issue in respect of Osama bin Laden. People want to know clearly is he alive or dead. Was he killed in some of attacks carried out by the Americans - can DNA help here?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    Indeed the answer's yes. What we need to do is collect DNA from his brothers - and you know he's got a lot of brothers - but we're only interested in the brothers are maternally related - that is those brothers that share the same mother because mitochondrial DNA is maternally inherited. We can look at the DNA from those siblings and compare it to his to see if indeed he is dead.

    As you know there was a missile strike in Afghanistan - a Drone fired a missile killing a number of people and there was an investigation. Hearing no results tells me that he was not among those who were killed. But the chances are he is out there and eventually DNA will prove that we've got him.


    Newshost:

    And you suspect that this operation is going on quietly behind the scenes to try to identify possibly his remains?


    Dr Lawrence Kobilinsky:

    There's no question about it that any evidence that they can gather now will be helpful later when they have a question body.


    Newshost:

    Larry Kobilinsky thank you very much indeed for joining us. I'm going to turn now to the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner. Frank, a lot of questions about the state of the investigation into these terrorist attacks. Just bring us up to speed if you can. How much more do we know now, 12 months on, compared with September 11th last year?


    Frank Gardner:

    Well obviously a lot more and in fact if anything the investigation has gathered speed in the last few days and weeks. We now know pretty clearly how this whole plot was put together. It was an international plot. It was first conceived probably in 1999. There was a sort of terror summit, as it were, in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000. It was very carefully, meticulously planned with cells in different countries - specifically, Hamburg was a very obvious one. These plotters went to Afghanistan to receive training, to receive encouragement, to talk through their plans with al-Qaeda leaders, who said yes, that sounds good - come back to us, refine it. They were very sophisticated.

    For example, Mohammed Atta, who has now emerged as very much the ring leader and senior planner. He was the lead hijacker who crashed into the building just a few yards away. When he went to the United States for flight training, he communicated with another plotter in Hamburg pretending that he was talking to his girlfriend. He would use code words, such as the faculty of the arts is looking good - that was a code word for one of the targets. So they know a lot more now. The problem is that a lot of the al-Qaeda suspects are still at large - a lot of the senior leaders have not been caught. Since they've lost their Afghan bases, they don't know where they are, that's the problem.


    Newshost:

    Only yesterday we had a new tape coming to light via al-Jazeera, the TV station in the Middle East. Are we learning more things virtually every day?


    Frank Gardner:

    Well we are and it's very interesting that al-Qaeda actually chose al-Jazeera. Al-Jazeera is the premier Arab satellite channel for television in the Middle East. Al-Qaeda chose them - they actually invited their chief investigative reporter to come and meet two of the senior plotters in Karachi. They blindfolded him, took him down an alley and then took the blindfold off and there were two people - two of the most wanted suspects - men with $25 million bounties on their heads. Specifically Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is thought to be the operations chief in al-Qaeda now and Ramzi Binalshibh, who the reporter believes could well become the next bin Laden.

    These two men, nobody knew where they were until then. They revealed to al-Jazeera a lot of details of how they actually planned this. I think the important point here is that this should hopefully finally put to rest this myth that is enjoyed in much of the Middle East that this was all an Israeli plot to make America go to war with the Arabs - it wasn't it was an al-Qaeda plot. That will hopefully lay to rest once and for all the myth.


    Newshost:

    At this point, let's bring in our other guest, John Hillen from the American television network ABC news, who is an analyst on military and security matters. John we have a question here from Matthew in the UK, who wants to know how likely is it that other terrorist groups will pick up on the techniques used by al-Qaeda. Do you think that the 9/11 attacks could have opened people's minds to what's possible with everyday things in the hands of terrorists?


    John Hillen:

    We do know that these terrorist cells are what we might call learning organisations. The Secretary of Defence, Donal Rumsfeld, has said that the terrorists will go to school both on their actions on 9/11 and the actions the US and the allied coalition are taking against them since.

    So I think it very much they will learn from both what went right in their minds and what went wrong on 9/11 and they will also learn how to avoid the kind of retribution that has been enacted against them since the US, Britain and other allies launched attacks on the al-Qaeda in Afghanistan on October 7th. So everything from financing to logistics, to military operations and planning - they will definitely learn and they will try to change their methods and use ones that they think might be more successful.


    Newshost:

    We've an e-mail from Otis in the USA who wants to know: Why is the US Bush administration opposed to an intensive and public investigation of 9/11?

    Do you think the administration is going to be more or less obliged to produce some more of its evidence now - if it's proposing going into Iraq, for example?


    John Hillen:

    I think so. In fact Congress has put into legislation an independent bipartisan commission to more fully investigate what we might term the intelligence factors of 9/11. But there are several reasons, and I think valid ones, to the administration's position. No 1 is that an investigation could expose on-going sources or even techniques that are being used right now that are garnering very useful intelligence against on-going terrorist activity. And the other is that it might become more of a political witch-hunt than a constructive exercise to make our intelligence systems a bit better in predicting this sort of threat.


    Newshost:

    Another issue that people have picked up on is what appears to be the lack of co-operation between the different intelligence agencies here in the United States. Have lessons been learnt? Are there going to be changes in the future?


    John Hillen:

    Lessons have been learnt. America, unlike Britain, does not agency like an MI5 that has both domestic and foreign intelligence capabilities and responsibilities. In fact our intelligence agencies, both the FBI for domestic purposes and the CIA for foreign purposes, are essentially creations of World War II and even the period a little bit before World War II in terms of the FBI. So they still separate in many ways the world into what we now know is an artificial bifurcation with one agency looking outwards and one agency looking inwards and that needs to be fixed. Right now it's fixed temporarily through a series of liaison and joint counter-terrorism cells. But ultimately there needs to be fundamental organisational change here to bring those two groups together.


    Newshost:

    Frank, you might like to pick up on this question from Finlay in India who says: We all know that many of bin Laden's men are in Pakistan. What plans have been made to deal with that threat - both to the United States and the whole world?

    Again it's this idea that the terrorist threat is quite diffuse and crosses borders.


    Frank Gardner:

    It is. What actually happened here was that when the Taleban and al-Qaeda lost the military battle in Afghanistan. They were driven out very quickly. The immediate place for them to flee to was Pakistan. They fled across the mountains, thousands re-grouped there. What we're now seeing is that they are starting to filter back into Afghanistan itself which is very worrying because the central government in Kabul doesn't have much authority outside the capital. So there are groups now of al-Qaeda in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

    Specifically to answer your question, Pakistan has taken quite a lot of measures. Pervez Musharraf has been very tough on the militants. There have wide scale arrests. One of the most notorious was an operation, together with the FBI in March of this year in Faisalabad in Pakistan where they captured, after quite a severe gun battle, a man called Abu-Zubaydah, who at the time was the operations chief for al-Qaeda and he's been doing a lot of talking.

    The problem is Karachi. Karachi has 12 million people. It's an absolute labyrinth of back streets. If the al-Jazeera report is anything to go by, it's quite obvious that al-Qaeda's senior operatives are still hiding in Karachi. It's very difficult for the authorities there to go in and get them.


    Newshost:

    We've an e-mail from Orlando in the UK, John, you might like to pick up on this, who says: On a recent trip to New York, I was appalled by the relative absence of security. A couple of overweight national guardsmen who seemed keener to pose in their uniforms than to check passengers.

    He goes on to list a number of instances where he believes security is still fairly lax - surprisingly perhaps in the light of what happened here behind us. Do you think more needs to be done to try, for example with airline flights, to clamp down on people who might be trying to get things onto planes?


    John Hillen:

    This is a very difficult balancing act for a county like the United States, which of course prides itself on the openness of its society. If more security measures are taken then civil libertarians on both sides of the political spectrum get upset and if less security measures are taken, then those who are more security minded get upset. So it's an on-going debate - it's an evolving debate and no one side will frankly ever be satisfied.

    But what does need to happen is we need to think about the security threats of the future rather than those of the past for instance. So I think that we need to spend a lot more time worrying about container shipping and other entries into the United States like that rather than a tactic that has already been used which is the airline hijacking.

    Right now I think the security of airports has greatly increased. But we always want to be careful, as in conventional military operations in counter-terrorism, not to fight the last war. So we need to look ahead. We need to look at what the vulnerabilities of the US and her allies are and then plan against those. That won't always be so obvious to the casual observer what we're doing in those circumstances.


    Newshost:

    We've had a number of e-mails raising the issue of Iraq which clearly is the hot political issue, both here in the United States and in the United Kingdom. From your sources, how strong is the evidence linking Saddam Hussein with the possible production of nuclear weapons?


    John Hillen:

    I think the evidence is stronger linking Saddam Hussein with his quest to gain nuclear weapons and his weapons of mass destruction programmes in general than it is linking him with al-Qaeda and terrorism - although I think people are trying to make the links on both fronts.

    Right now a very good report was put out yesterday by the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on Saddam's weapons of mass destructions programme and it really does seem as if he is bent on it and with a little extra help, he could probably get there. So I think the international community is starting to realise that there might be a sense of urgency to this and the debate is really going to revolve around what's the best way to handle it, whether it's a forceful coalition, led by America with a few partners or whether it's something that goes through the offices of the UN or other international organisations.


    Newshost:

    And in terms of the options. What are your sources saying about what might happen if the United States puts together another coalition or indeed if it has to go it alone.


    John Hillen:

    Operationally the US can do it alone with just a few allies on the ground. I think the cooperation of Kuwait and perhaps Turkey would be enough locally and then the US and Britain who increasingly are the only allies that can fight together on a very sophisticated level with the use of precision munitions, long-range strikes, special operations forces - those sorts of things. That could happen.

    But I think politically and diplomatically, the President would be well served by getting as much of an international coalition, an international blanket of authority, over whatever operation he might undertake. So I think that might be the effort over the next few months is to bring more of the international community on board for what he thinks is a pretty potent threat.


    Newshost:

    Finally, if I can turn to you Frank, are we going to see more evidence coming out of London about the threat possibly in justification for action?


    Frank Gardner:

    Well Tony Blair has promised this. The speculation that I'm hearing from intelligence sources is that actually there isn't an awful lot new to reveal - it's all based on what defectors have said and what the inspectors themselves said. So I wouldn't hold your breath for anything massively new. They're going to basically say that what's already there is compelling enough to deal with Saddam once and for all.


    Newshost:

    We've just about run out of time. Can I thank Frank Gardner and John Hillen from ABC News and our previous guest, Larry Kobilinsky, the forensic expert.

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