This morning I appeared on NBC's "Today" program to discuss the claims by Zacarias Moussaoui yesterday that he was supposed to hijack a fifth jetliner with Richard Reid and fly it into the White House as part of the September 11, 2001 attacks. You can see a clip of my appearance as posted on The Investigative Project on Terrorism website, and here is the full transcript:
LESTER HOLT: Steve Emerson is an MSNBC News terrorism analyst. Steve, good morning to you.
STEVEN EMERSON: Good morning, Lester.
HOLT: Let's talk about the credibility of this claim and if it is true, why didn't authorities know about this earlier?
EMERSON: The question really comes down to whether in fact he is credible. He has given many different stories before this. Obviously, as you pointed out, he had referred to the fact earlier on in his confession that he was going to be in a follow up plot. Now he is alleging that he was actually going to be part of the fifth set of hijackers carrying out an attack on the White House. There is no evidence, Lester, to suggest that there were co-conspirators in the United States at the time he was arrested that have not yet been found, and there is no evidence that Richard Reid, whom he alleged was a co-conspirator, was actually going to be in the United States at the time of the 9/11 plot.
HOLT: Let's back up a second, Steve. We all remember the jitters we had in the days after 9/11 and theories that maybe other planes had been targeted but they were grounded before they could carry out the attacks. Just that part of his claim that there was a fifth plane with a target that day, do you totally discount that?
EMERSON: I don't totally discount it, because in the end, he may go to his grave or to his gallows without ever confessing the final details in the same way that Richard Reid may never have fully disclosed all that he knew about the shoe bomb plot for which he was convicted in the December 2001 conspiracy. The fact of the matter is that most of the evidence suggests, Lester, that the U.S. government has not found anyone else who would have participated in this fifth set of hijackers as he has alleged.
HOLT: Let us talk about the target. He claims the White House was the target. Was it ever firmly established that Flight 93, the plane that was downed in Pennsylvania, was heading to the Capitol or the White House?
EMERSON: Well, it was certainly heading back to Washington. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, in a quite interesting revelation yesterday, revealed in his deposition that in fact the Congress or the Capitol was being targeted by that fourth plane. So it is still unclear as to whether in fact the White House was a target on 9/11. Certainly after 9/11, the second wave of attacks that were being planned, the White House was considered a primary target.
HOLT: Moussaoui has claimed a relationship with Mohamed Atta; that he had some inkling that the plan was to be carried out at the end of summer. How much do we know about that relationship?
EMERSON: We know that he knew some of the 9/11 hijackers from a previous stay in Afghanistan. But when it came down to actual email and telephonic contact, there is no evidence that Moussaoui had any telephone contact or email communications with Mohamed Atta. The only person he had contact with was Ramzi Bin Alshibh or the financial mastermind, [Ahmed al-] Hawsawi, who was also paying Mohamed Atta at the same time; but, again, no direct ties to the other 9/11 hijackers.
HOLT: We are just about out of time, but do you care to venture to guess why Moussaoui would make these claims and why he would make them now?
EMERSON: Lester, I can't get inside his head. He is very theatrical. He wants to go to his grave. He believes in martyrdom. He hates the United States and he wants to make a big splash. He even joked about it yesterday. He is a man who is really given to histrionics and maybe that explains what happened yesterday.
HOLT: Steve Emerson, good talking to you. Thanks for coming on this morning.
Cross-posted at Counterterrorism Blog.