U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Office of the Spokesman
Press Briefing on Board Plane En Route Washington, DC
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
September 11, 2001
SECRETARY POWELL: I know that we all feel a deep sense of loss, a deep sense of sadness and outrage at what happened in the United States today, and my heart goes out to all those who lost their lives and to their families. And, you can be sure that the United States Government will do everything to find the perpetrators of this cowardly attack against innocent people and bring them to justice. As you know, I got word of this while I was meeting with President Toledo at about 8:35*. It was an initial report, it was not accurate, but it was serious enough to give me a sense that something terrible had happened. I briefed the President and his colleagues and a few moments later an updated message came in that started to give a better understanding of how serious this was. We finished the meeting. By then it was clear that a major disaster was unfolding back home. So I immediately made a decision to return home. But it would take a little while to get the airplane ready, and it also gave me the opportunity to go to the beginning of the conference where I was surrounded by colleague after colleague, foreign minister after foreign minister expressing regrets and extending their condolences to the United States and to the families of those who lost their lives. I think you saw what happened on the remote screens out in the conference room, the expressions of sadness and the resolution of support from the OAS. They gave me an opportunity to say a few words and make the point that at a meeting where we are celebrating democracy, let there be no doubt that buildings can be destroyed and precious lives can be lost but our society cannot be destroyed and our democracy cannot be destroyed. Our spirit as a nation cannot be destroyed. They then at their suggestion immediately brought forward the declaration that we were there to consider, and I think you saw the nations accept it by acclamation, standing in support of this acclamation of democracy, but I think also standing and applauding in solidarity with the American people. With respect to the events of the day, as you know when we took off, both towers of the World Trade Center had fallen, serious fire at the Pentagon which is still raging and has not been brought under control yet. Other planes crashed elsewhere in the United States, one crashed near Camp David and the other crashed out in western Pennsylvania**. To the best of my knowledge that's all that happened. No damage to the best of my knowledge was done from those. So it was obviously a well-coordinated, extensive assault against the United States. You may have gotten an earlier report that there was a car bomb outside the State Department, but that is not the case. The President spoke to the nation not too long ago and is in a secure facility. The Vice President is in the secure facilities in Washington. The National Security team is intact and everything is being done to restore communications and to restore all the things that have been disrupted in the course of this morning. I've spoken to Deputy Secretary Armitage twice. He is of course in constant touch with the White House and I've also spoken to Dr. Rice, and the President and I, he tried to connect with me, but then we were moving and we were unable to connect. I don't want to get into speculation as to who, what, where, why. There's been no reputable claim of responsibility yet. World leaders have been calling in to express their concern and extend condolences. I will get back to Washington immediately to contact leaders around the world and get plugged into what's been going on. Because of this, we're in communications with the Department but we're going to keep that minimized due to the overload of communications all over the country at this time. I think that's really all I have for you and I'll take one or two questions if it flushes out what I've said, but not to get into speculation.
QUESTION: Secretary Powell, as you know there have been a number of worldwide cautions that your Department has issued, do you think, and I recognize that it's very early, but do you think that this is something that could have originated from the people that were planning this trying to throw the U.S. off their scent, obviously not thinking that this attack would happen on U.S. soil?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't know, I don't want to speculate on who, what or whether the warnings are connected to this. I don't know the answers to any of the questions you might pose to me with respect to responsibility or what triggered it. I just don't know.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, anything on the casualties, also on the types of aircraft that were used.
SECRETARY POWELL: Obviously, I don't know the casualty numbers and they will be very large. The information I have on airplanes was a 767 coming out of Logan that went into the World Trade Center bound for Los Angeles. I don't have enough details on the others to comment.
QUESTION: Will you be able to work out of the State Department? Is the State Department operational?
SECRETARY POWELL: The State Department is functioning. I will be working out of lots of places.
QUESTION: Have you heard yet whether anybody has been able to identify, at least by name, the people who hijacked the planes?
SECRETARY POWELL: No. I'm sure the FBI is on that and other agencies are on it. I don't have any information.
QUESTION: Those two aircraft that crashed, do you have any sense of where they were headed to?
SECRETARY POWELL: One was going from Logan to LA --
QUESTION: No. The Camp David and Pennsylvania.
SECRETARY POWELL: No, I know nothing about them, all I heard were the reports and I don't know if they are big airplanes or little airplanes or what. There was concern that there might be other airplanes and so, I mean we have AWACS up flying a CAP. All the airports are closed.
QUESTION: Did the State Department receive any kind of warning or did any U.S. agency get any warning that you're aware of?
SECRETARY POWELL: Specific warning about this specific incident, nothing I'm aware of. Of course we have sent advisories and warnings out to embassies and requests for any information they might have.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary is there anything now that you are prepared to ask other countries to do to respond to this, are there any diplomatic initiatives that are likely?
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't have anything to give you at this time, I'm sure that there are many things that we'll be talking about in the days ahead, but I don't have anything to give you now.
QUESTION: What's the status of U.S. missions elsewhere in the world now?
SECRETARY POWELL: We have sent out advisories and cables to all of our U.S. missions for them to take added security cautions, for them to be vigilant, to be in touch with their host governments for not only security but also for any assistance with respect to information concerning this that might be of use to us.
* Actual time was 8:10.
**Correction: No plane crashed near Camp David.