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Interview With George Pataki

Aired November 12, 2001 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Horror, disbelief and after an American Airlines jet crashes into New York, hundreds are dead. We will hear dramatic stories from eyewitnesses, plus the latest on the investigation into what happened.

From New York, Governor George Pataki; in Washington, ranking member of the Aviation Subcommittee and co-author of the Senate aviation bill, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison; the senior senator from New York, Charles Schumer; from Columbus, Ohio, aviation safety expert Mary Schiavo.

There's also dramatic developments in Afghanistan where anti- Taliban forces are gaining ground. What's next in the war against terrorism? In New York, an exclusive interview with the secretary of the Army, Thomas White; and in Islamabad -- he just interviewed Osama bin Laden -- Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir.

All next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. We will start with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, the ranking member of the Aviation Subcommittee, joining us from Washington, the senator from Texas.

Any thoughts on today's events, Senator?

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON (R-TX), AVIATION SUBCOMMITTEE: Well, Larry, of course, I also was a member of the National Transportation Safety Board. So every time something like this happens, I just -- I know exactly what they are doing, exactly what they are going through. And my heart goes out to them and to the families.

But let me just say this: I know that everybody in America is tense and that they have been tense about flying. But we just must wait to see what the cause of this accident was. And it is not clear at all yet whether it was just an accident, a failure of the engine, or something more. But all of the early indicators are that it is an accident, that it was caused by something with that engine.

KING: Senator Schumer, you were on the site today, were you not?


KING: Any -- are they coming to preliminary conclusions? Are we saying it's an accident? SCHUMER: As Kay said, the preliminary indications look more like an accident than a terrorist incident, but it is too early to draw a conclusion.

The one thing that is good news is this: They have more information than they usually have after a disaster like this. They have the black box. It is already on its way to Washington. You go to the site and you saw piles and piles of parts of the airplane, some fairly large. They pulled a whole wing out of Jamaica Bay. So I think within a few days, we will know fairly conclusively. And signs, at this point, point to accident, but it is not conclusive yet.

KING: The senators are going to remain with us through the early portions of the show. And we will be talking to eyewitnesses and also relatives of victims as well on this major addition of LARRY KING LIVE here tonight.

One quick question though for Senator Hutchison. Senator Lott told us last week that that aviation security bill is definitely going to pass this week with cooperation between the Senate and the House. Is it?

HUTCHISON: Absolutely. We must, Larry. We have to have that bill out this week. The American public wants to know that we are putting a process in place that is going to increase the security at our airports.

KING: Well said.

HUTCHISON: It would be unthinkable not to do that.

KING: Now we are going to meet some of the people who viewed all of this today.

Joining us is Paul Maracina. Paul lives just two blocks from the crash site, saw the engine fall from the plane as a pilot for U.S. Airways.

Cynthia Peithman -- Cynthia saw the plane falling and crashing into homes. She lives just around the corner.

Phyllis Paul is right here in New York. She lives just five houses away from the crash site, saw a large piece of metal fall.

We will start with Paul Maracina in New York. Tell us what you saw, where you were, Paul.

PAUL MARACINA, FLIGHT 587 CRASH WITNESS: Good evening, Larry. I was just about two blocks away from where the aircraft went down.

What I saw was an aircraft that was apparently suffering a catastrophic engine failure of some sort. I saw a portion of the engine and the wing separate from the main body of the aircraft. I then saw the fuselage of the aircraft dive into several homes, just a couple blocks away from where I live. Then it erupted into a -- yes, I'm sorry. KING: Now, I mean, you're a pilot. What -- from just looking at it, what did it say to you?

MARACINA: It said to me that this was an aircraft that was in stress, suffering mechanical damage. It looked to me that the crew of that aircraft was following standard procedure by getting that aircraft airborne again and then attempting to return back to JFK for a landing.

KING: And people are reporting seeing the engine come off the wing, did you see that?

MARACINA: Yes, I saw what looked like the engine separate from the wing of the aircraft and fall to the ground.

KING: Have you ever heard of that in your aviation career?

MARACINA: Something as far as an engine separating from airplane, no, I haven't heard of anything. Engine failures and fires, yes, but something that severe, no, not to this point.

KING: So do you have any preliminary thoughts on this, what everyone is conjecturing, action versus cause -- accident versus cause?

MARACINA: Yes, just from my standpoint as a pilot, I can say that, like I said, it appeared that the engine had gone on fire and that the crew made the decision to get the aircraft airborne and bring up to a safe altitude to attempt to return for landing. It appeared to me, from what I saw, that that is the procedure they were following which would be basically an industry standard procedure.

KING: Thank you very much. When you do fly again, Paul?

MARACINA: Most likely, next week I'll be back up.

KING: Not nervous?

MARACINA: Well, I was a little nervous as far as flying after September 11, as far as what are we going to do to increase security and to make air travel safer. That is definitely a concern.

It's unfortunate this was an accident, but if there is a bright side to this, we don't think it was a terrorist attack. And as far as I can see, and what the speculation out there leads to, it wasn't.

KING: Thank you very much. That is Paul Maracina, pilot for U.S. Air. He saw it today.

Also in New York is Cynthia Peithman. She saw the plane falling and crashing into homes. Are you there, Cynthia?


KING: What did you see and where were you? PEITHMAN: I was in my kitchen with my children. They were off from school for Veterans Day and we were making biscuits.

We heard a very loud noise. My daughter said, "Oh, it is just the Concorde." And I said I think it's kind of loud for that. And we heard a boom. And then we looked out the window, looking north. And we saw the plane come down. It looked like it was on fire. And we saw it come down on a house about three houses behind me diagonally.

KING: What was your first thought?

PEITHMAN: I was scared. I was terrified. I was freaked out. And, you know, I was waiting for the next shoe to drop.

KING: So you related it immediately to September 11?

PEITHMAN: Yes, yes.

KING: Did any of the smoke or fire get near your house?

PEITHMAN: Oh, sure, yes. It was -- it is all over, it was you know, it is right behind me, my whole neighborhood and, you know, everybody was out in the street. And, you know, the emergency crews were here right away. And we were all trying to see what we could do. We brought sheets over. And, you know, we were all affected.

KING: How did the children handle it?

PEITHMAN: My children are OK. They are scared, but they are OK.

My son is with a friend of his tonight. And I think he is going to be OK with his friend. And my daughter is going to be with me.

KING: So you saw metal fly from the sky though, right?

PEITHMAN: No, sir, I didn't. I just saw the plane come down. And then I saw all the flames and the smoke shooting up.

KING: It is Phyllis that saw the metal. Thank you so much, Cynthia. Before we talk with Phyllis...

PEITHMAN: You're welcome.

KING: Senator Schumer, what's your role in this to comfort these people, to -- what's the role of the senator?

SCHUMER: Well, I have been in the Rockaways comforting. I'm trying to make sure that all the federal resources are here. Director Joe Allbaugh of FEMA was right up here with the FEMA teams that we need, and down the road just to make sure that New York gets the kind of dollars we need. This is another strain on us, obviously. At the site this afternoon, there were 2,000 police and firemen quickly going through the scene and they have done a great job.

KING: You know that area well. SCHUMER: I do. I have represented it for eight years. I love the Rockaways. It's one of the most beautiful places, not only in New York, but on Earth.

KING: Joining us here in the studio is Phyllis Paul. She moved to the Rockaways from Brooklyn back in December, right?


KING: Why did you leave Brooklyn?

PHYLLIS PAUL, FLIGHT 587 CRASH WITNESS: Why did I leave Brooklyn? I wanted to bring my son to a nicer neighborhood, more children, and this was the Rockaways.

KING: What did you see today?

PAUL: We were having breakfast. My son just turned off cartoons and I turned on CNN and I was trying to have a little quiet time. And I heard the plane. And it was getting louder, the engines were getting louder. And I said to myself I hate that they are flying so low after what happened September 11. And I'm always listening to the planes.

And it was getting louder. My back door started to vibrate and the glass started to vibrate. And I tried to peek out the window to see where the plane was coming down. I said it's really close. And as I was looking out the window, I saw the big metal object come flying down, going towards 129th Street.

And I didn't hear a big explosion. I was waiting to hear the noise. I yelled out to my son, Phil, to come down and we went to the front. And then we heard the explosion in the front of the house.

KING: First thought -- you related it right to September 11?

PAUL: Absolutely. I didn't know if it was a come bomb coming down. I knew I heard a plane, but I didn't see a plane. I saw something -- the metal object come down. And when we went outside, all I saw was smoke and flames. And I said to my son, "Get on a pair of pants and let's go." And...

KING: How did your little boy handle it?

PAUL: He was screaming.

KING: How old is he?

PAUL: He is 10. And he said, "I will never, ever go on a plane again." We just canceled a trip. We were going to the Panama Canal in December.

KING: So you are afraid?

PAUL: Absolutely afraid.

KING: No matter what it is, whether it is equipment or...

PAUL: Absolutely, I -- because I don't know if it is a terrorist attack. We don't know. And we...

KING: Is your house OK tonight?

PAUL: My house is fine. When we left our home, I tried to get to the car in the driveway. And I was taken back by the neighbors screaming, holding themselves, throwing themselves on the floor. And I was distracted for a second and not paying attention to the flames, how close they were and how fast I had to leave the area. But, it was scary. The cars were driving out of control.

KING: Are you going to be able to get back home tonight?

PAUL: Well the bridge is closed. I understand, the Cross Bay, they will let you go on somewhat...

KING: Yes, they opened it this evening.

So you can stay in your house tonight?

PAUL: I think so. I don't know how the smell is going to be or whatever.

KING: Boy.

PAUL: But we know the neighbors from the corner home. We were swimming in the summertime in their pool and...

KING: Thank you, Phyllis.

PAUL: ... pretty sad.

KING: Joining us now also is Congressman Anthony Weiner. He has been at the crash site all day. Congressman Weiner represents the congressional district in Queens where the plane went down.

Were you home this weekend, Congressman?


And I just returned from the site and thankfully, the fires are out and now there is a bucket brigade trying to clear whatever wreckage there is and see if we can uncover what truly happened there and also learn the whereabouts of about six or seven missing people from my district.

KING: Where were you when this happened?

WEINER: I was actually in a car heading to Manhattan to do an interview about the stimulus package. Nothing could be further from my mind right now. And I commandeered a police car from the 17th precinct, gave me a ride back to my district.

KING: What was your first thought? WEINER: Well, Larry, it's probably the same as all of our first thoughts. And not only was -- did I think it was terrorism, I thought goodness, there could not be a worse place than the Rockaways, a community that has experienced an earthquake on September 11. And I'm thinking well, now here is an aftershock two months later. We obviously still don't know the facts of it, but it seems less likely that that is the case.

KING: The rescue, the teams, the firemen were very quick, were they not?

WEINER: Well, if you want to have a first responder emergency, this is a good place to have it. Just about every second household has a firefighter or a police officer, an EMT. As a matter of fact, Peninsula Hospital, which saw about 40 people today, many of them firefighters and police officers with mostly minor cuts and bruises and burns. Very few of them were on duty at the time. They just came out of their house, put on whatever gear they had around and went to work. It is one of the gratifying things we saw today.

KING: How about the people of your area, the people of Rockaway -- how have they handled this?

WEINER: Well, they are literally holding their heads today. You know, this is a community that hasn't had a day go by without a funeral or a memorial service or a vigil and now this.

You know, we consider ourselves lucky, since there are so few victims on the ground compared to the many, many families that were -- that had victims in the airplane. But still, people are quite literally still trying to get their legs underneath them from September 11. To have this happen really has people shaken up.

And also, it's left a psychic scar on our community. You know, right down the block is PS 114, around the corner is Saint Francis DeSales School. The children who were just starting to get back to normal, if there is such a thing after September 11, are going to be awful shaken up when they get to school tomorrow.

KING: Thank you, Congressman, right on the scene. We thank the others for participating.

Senator Hutchison and Senator Schumer will remain with us. We are going to spend some moments with the governor of New York and then come back with our senators right after this. George Pataki is next. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This investigation is being led by the National Transportation Safety Board to make sure that the facts are fully known to the American people. The New York people have suffered mightily. They suffer again. But there is no doubt in my mind that the New Yorkers are resilient and strong and courageous people. And will help their neighbors overcome this recent incident that took place. (END VIDEO CLIP)


KING: We are back on LARRY KING LIVE.

This just in, from Kabul, Afghanistan: Taliban military forces appear to have deserted the capital of Kabul at dawn Tuesday after a series of stunning military victories by opposition forces over the last four days, witnesses have said. That is just in from Associated Press.

What your thoughts on that, Governor Pataki.

GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Well, Larry, obviously that is very pleasing that the efforts that we are making with our international allies are obviously having tremendous success.

KING: Where were you this morning here?

PATAKI: I was home getting ready. I was going to give a Veterans Day speech in Westchester at 11:00. And then we heard the news and you just go -- you react with just shock and say, "Can this be happening in New York again?" And it was.

KING: Was it your first thought -- terrorism?

PATAKI: That was my first thought. And then, you immediately start looking at it rationally, saying well perhaps not and hoping that it is not. And as the day has gone on, we have been in constant touch with the federal officials and people on the site. And we are still waiting their determination.

KING: Queens has really gotten racked, haven't they?

PATAKI: Queens has been hit hard. The Rockaways, you know -- I was down at the new ground zero, and there was a house that was hit with an engine that came off the plane. And the family had lost the son, Cantor Fitzgerald, in that house.

And then I went to a house where the fires were right behind it. And there was a firefighter there who was on duty. It was his house. And he had just come back from active duty. He was still in his uniform to see his backyard on fire. So the strain that, particularly our firefighters and police officers and emergency service workers have been under, is enormous. But they have, again, answered the call, rallied to the challenge and just done a magnificent job.

KING: It's almost unreal, the whole thing.

PATAKI: It is.

You know, Larry, you ask when is this going to end. And I think the answer is we don't know when it is going to end, but it doesn't matter. We have to just stay tough. We have to stand together and every day is another day where we have to show that the spirit of the people of New York is as strong as it has ever been and our commitment and resolve to make tomorrow a better day is as strong as ever. And we will.

KING: But does this mean, Governor, that almost no matter what happens -- something happens tomorrow -- God forbid -- in Kansas, they are going to say, "Terrorists were involved."


PATAKI: Well, I think that's the natural human reaction which why it is important not to jump to conclusions. Let the professionals do their job. Let them do whatever investigations they have to do to make a final determination. Speculation as to it could be this cause or that cause is a disservice. And what is a good service is to stand together, you know, with our firefighters and emergency officers.

And I was just up in Washington Heights, which is a major Dominican neighborhood. Obviously they have been -- the Dominican community has been devastated by this. But still there, you see among the tears and the sadness, you see the hugs and the prayers and the belief in freedom and the belief in tomorrow. So we'll get through this.

KING: What's it going to do, this incident do you think, to New York -- travelwise, touristwise?

PATAKI: Well, I hope that people take a look and as they were doing before today, say, "New York is still a great place and a very special place."

And we were seeing people come back to the restaurants and hotels. And I hope they will continue to do that because this is still the greatest city in the world. And, you know, there are still people out on the streets. Times Square is still crowded. And it's going to get more crowded because I'm confident that the people of the country and the people of the world look at New York as a place that has pulled together and shown great spirit and has great confidence in the future.

KING: The prayer here, is it not, Governor, is that this was an accident?

PATAKI: I certainly hope that that turns out to be the case. You know, and it's kind of -- it just shows the strangeness of the times, when we're actually hoping for mechanical failure or something of that nature. But we don't know and I don't think speculating helps at this point. But we do have to make sure that we continue to do everything we can from a security standpoint, and we are doing everything we can.

KING: Did federal officials give you any hint as to which way they were thinking? They have the black box.

PATAKI: Yes, they do, and I think the fact that the NTSB is the lead agency shows that they are still treating this as an accident as opposed to a criminal investigation. But they are the ones who will make the determination. They are ones who should answer these questions. I don't think it's productive to speculate. We are I think all hoping that it turns out that this was some sort of mechanical or other failure.

KING: What's it doing to the governor?

PATAKI: Larry, you know, you've just got to...

KING: You're getting grayer, George.

PATAKI: I'm getting grayer, but you look at the firefighters who have been through so much and you look at the families, and you know you have to be strong for them and you have to be there for them. You know, when they need a shoulder to cry on, you have to be there to give them that shoulder. And you get strength. I was just up in Washington Heights, as I said, and there was a man who lost his wife and the mother of his children, and he was so strong.

KING: On the plane?

PATAKI: On the plane, and he was so strong in his resolve and talking about how we have to go forward in Spanish (UNINTELLIGIBLE), we're going to continue to go forward as a people and as a state and as a country.

And you draw strength from them, because the spirit of the people is unbroken. In fact, there is more sense of resolve and togetherness, even today, than I've seen before.

KING: We asked Senator Schumer this -- Senator Hutchison. What's the role of the governor here? What is your role? Is your role to just comfort? To lead? To what?

PATAKI: Oh, I think the governor and the mayor both have important roles to make sure we actually provide the services. That's our job, and Larry, we learned a lot from TWA 800. And one of the things we're doing together, the city and the state -- and Mayor Giuliani has again been just terrific -- is we're standing together, getting the counselors in place, putting together the family center. Tomorrow at 10 o'clock the Javits Center will be available so we can have counseling and provide information and provide support and help for all of those families who need it. We have to help obviously with the investigation to the extent that we have expertise and the federal government calls on us.

So it's really a joint effort, and we have to provide the practical support and the help and be there, but we also have to provide the moral support, particularly to the families.

KING: Thank you, Governor. Thanks for coming over.

PATAKI: Larry, thank you.

KING: Maybe next time it will be under -- every time it seems...

PATAKI: Better times. KING: Better times. The governor spoke of the Dominicans. We're going to meet three, and they'll be at it along with our two senators, who will remain. Don't go away.


MAYOR RUDY GIULIANI (R), NEW YORK: The city has to keep going forward. The people of this city are the bravest and strongest, the most determined. We're going to keep moving forward, and we're going to help the people that were injured and we're going to help the people that have had losses. And the president when I spoke to him said New York City is really being tested, and I said, that's correct, it is, and New York City will pass the test.



KING: We are back on LARRY KING LIVE. Remaining with us, from Washington, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, ranking member of the Aviation Subcommittee. In New York, Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York. He visited the crash site today.

Joining us now are the Reyes family. They are Robustiano Reyes. In the middle is Anna Reyes, and on the far right is Theresa Reyes. They are the family of the late Roberto -- or Robert Antonio Reyes, who was a passenger on Flight 587.

Robustiano, where was your brother going?

ROBUSTIANO REYES, BROTHER ON FLIGHT 587: He was going to the Dominican Republic, so on the next Sunday, the 18th, it was going to be his daughter's birthday. So he wanted to spend it over there with her.

KING: He lives here?

R. REYES: He lives here.

KING: With you? Do you all live together?

R. REYES: No, he lived with my mother. My mother couldn't make it. She was devastated today.

KING: Did you take him to the airport, Anna?

ANNA REYES, BROTHER ON FLIGHT 587: Our cousin Alberto took him, and left him, said, you know, have a good trip and good luck. And he said, yes, see you in a week. You know.

KING: And where were you, Theresa, when you heard of the crash?

THERESA REYES, BROTHER-IN-LAW ON FLIGHT 587: I was at work at New York College Community Learning Center. I work there as an administrative assistant...

KING: You knew your brother was on that plane?

T. REYES: Brother-in-law.

KING: Brother -- or your brother-in-law. Your brother, your brother-in-law.

T. REYES: In-law, yeah. I really did not know. I called my husband, and he said, "My brother was on that plane."

KING: How did you hear it, Robustiano?

R. REYES: I work in K-Mart, and by metropolitan, and I see, you know, somebody told me the plane was on fire. So I looked out the back and see a whole lot of fire and stuff. And when I went up there and I seen it, I said, "What is going on?" And then he said -- and then (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I call everybody. I started saying, "My brother was on the plane." He says American Airlines. Was he going someplace or was he coming? And then they didn't know. So I really -- I was just shocked. Then when I called my sister again, my sisters told me it was his flight. So then we all started scrambling toward the hotel, Ramada Inn, so...

KING: How did you know it was his flight, Anna?

A. REYES: I was in school, LaGuardia Community College, and the professor came, and he said: This is what's happening. There was a flight that crashed (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Rockaway by the beaches, and then she said, go on -- on the Internet. Go into CNN and see what's going on.

That is how I found out, and one other girl said, it was coming. No, it's going, it was going to the Dominican Republic. And then I (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I said: "That's my brother. That's my brother." And I said I have to call my mother.

KING: He served in Vietnam?

R. REYES: Yes.

KING: How old was he?

R. REYES: He was 17 and he wanted to get out of the house, so my father signed the paper (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to go.

KING: How old is he today?

A. REYES: He was 44.

R. REYES: 44.

A. REYES: Two months shy of 45.

KING: Were you close to your brother-in-law?

T. REYES: Yes, he's the godfather of my first-born.

KING: He's got a wonderful face. What kind of guy, what was he like? Was he afraid of flying?


A. REYES: He wasn't afraid of anything, and he loved to dance, you know. He was happy. He was a happy person. Grumpy at sometimes, but he was a nice person.

KING: Have you spoken to people in the Dominican Republic who were expecting him?

A. REYES: My father.

R. REYES: Our father.

KING: How is he taking it?

R. REYES: He is by himself over there, because my father's retired, and...

KING: Your mother is gone?

R. REYES: No, my mother is here. She's -- my father was over there, but my father...

KING: They're separated?

A. REYES: Yes.

R. REYES: Yes, so he's by himself. So now he don't...

KING: Is he going to fly up here?

R. REYES: That's what we are planning to do. When we find out what is, you know, where the body, if we have a body, if we don't have a body. It don't make no sense if you don't have a body or nothing.

A. REYES: He said he's coming one way or the other. He wants to come, because he -- he wants to be next to his other kids.

KING: You -- I would say you're still in shock, right?


KING: Did you go out to the Ramada?

R. REYES: Yes.

A. REYES: We were all there, the whole...

KING: Did they help you today?

A. REYES: Yes, they were very helpful. They were.

KING: Did you go too?

T. REYES: Yes. KING: Were the American Airlines people good?

T. REYES: Yes. Everyone treated us...

R. REYES: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to our table and prayed with us and everything. And that was kind of nice, I thought.

KING: Very nice of you to come over here under these circumstances.

A. REYES: Thank you.

KING: I don't know what -- what -- what can you say?

SCHUMER: We're just thinking of you.

KING: Thank you, the Reyes family.


When we come back, our senators will remain, and Mary Schiavo, our aviation safety export, will join us. Still to come is the secretary of the Army, and then later the Pakistani journalist, the Pakistani journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden. Tomorrow night, among other guests, Nelson Mandela. We'll be right back.


KING: Welcome back. Again, if you joined us late, the Associated Press is telling us that Taliban military forces appeared to have deserted the capital of Kabul at dawn Tuesday after a series of stunning military victories by opposition forces over the past four days.

Joining us now with Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in Washington, Senator Charles Schumer here in New York. From Columbus, Ohio is Mary Schiavo, the aviation safety expert and aviation disaster attorney, former federal official.

Do you have any immediate thoughts, Mary, then and our senators will get in on this, on what happened today?

MARY SCHIAVO, AVIATION SAFETY EXPERT: Well, sure. What I always like to look at are previous accidents that look similar or any outstanding warnings or problems known about this engine or this plane or in particular the engine mounts. And I think what springs to mind on October 30, just a couple of weeks ago, the FAA announced that it would start looking into whether an air worthiness directive was needed on this engine for potential problems with the rotors for uncontained engine failure. So, that would probably be a starting point for me to look at, for the warnings already possible that may be forthcoming on this particular engine and also the previous crash of American Airlines in Chicago in 1979 from an engine coming off the wing of that plane. Granted, it was a long time ago, but the Airbus basically borrowed or bought the same kind of engine mounting structure that was used on a DC-10. So you have a couple of similarities right there and really a starting point to look at the analysis.

KING: Does this tell us, Senator Hutchison, that somewhere along the line we're lacking?

HUTCHISON: Well, Larry, I think that we have a process, and I do not know that the directive had come out where they were beginning to look at that engine. But I think it's a start, but you wouldn't want to leap to conclusions.

The NTSB is going to know pretty soon, though, particularly from the flight data recorder, exactly what happened. And I am encouraging the NTSB, unlike their normal procedures, to go ahead and make an announcement as soon as possible if they even know that the cause is the engine.

Normally, they like to be totally sure before they make any pronouncements, but I think it's important that people, if it is an engine failure, that people be relieved that it's not kind of terrorist act. This is just a different time.

KING: Well said. Mary, before I ask the senator, Mary, would you agree with that, that they speed up this process?

SCHIAVO: I would, and I know enough folks at the NTSB to know that they, you know, they didn't want to leave America hanging on TWA 800 either. They have a new spokesperson that I have worked with before, and I think literally the willingness to say they've already gotten one of the black boxes, I think they probably will release a transcript of what's on there just as soon as is humanly possible, because I know that the NTSB is very sensitive about not leaving questions unanswered.

KING: Senator Schumer?

SCHUMER: Well, it makes sense. Just as so many other things have change since September 11, so has this. And people's worry that this might be terrorism, you would be amazed at the number of people who came over to me both in the Rockaways and up in the church up in WASHINGTON HEIGHTS there, the Dominican church, who said, oh, I'm sure it's terrorism and people aren't going to tell us that because they don't want us to be afraid. And the only antidote to that, Larry, is full and quick disclosure, and I think they are right to do it quickly.

KING: Mary, this Airbus is a very, very safe airplane. It hasn't been flying a long time. In fact, it's the most-ordered plane in the world now, I think, isn't it? More airlines order this than any other plane.

SCHIAVO: Well, a combination of Airbus models. But yes, Airbus, the problems that it did have weren't really related to this. But again, the plane, the actual structure isn't the only equation here. Again, we'll be looking at the engines, looking at the engine mounts. But Airbus has had a very, very good record. The few criticisms that have come have often come in the fly-by-wire operations, et cetera, and it has had terrorist attacks against it. But there is no correlation here for that. So yes, it's had a good record.

KING: Senator Hutchison, do you think this tragedy will speed up that aviation bill?

HUTCHISON: It must. I just think people are too nervous. They are canceling their flights. We must get people back into the air by assuring them that there is going to be a long-term security solution.

If we don't pass a bill out of conference committee this week, I think it will be a huge failure.

KING: Do you think people, Senator Schumer, might now -- we know people have been self-profiling -- they've looked at people an airplanes, they get nervous. Do you think they're now going to start flying equipment? Do you think, start saying, is this an A-300?

SCHUMER: Well, they may. I mean, that happened a little bit previously. But given the heightened level of fear, the fact that flights are still so empty even two months after September 11th, I think people are going to be looking at everything. And Kay Bailey is right. It sure behooves the airline industry, the federal government and everybody else not only to make things as safe as possible -- and we have a ways to go; we could do that better -- but to assure people that all these kinds of partisan bickering and differences are being laid aside.

That's sort of a metaphor for the whole country. If you can't fix it, if you can't come together on aviation safety, how are you going to do the rest?

KING: Thank you all very much. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Senator Charles Schumer and Mary Schiavo.

When we come back, an exclusive interview with the secretary of the Army, Thomas White, and we've got that big news coming out of -- wow, I tell you -- Kabul today. It's almost -- it's incredible how news keeps occurring back and forth. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE the secretary of the Army, Thomas White, West Point graduate, 23-year veteran of the Army, named secretary just this year, employed as vice president for Enron Energy Services before that. What do you make of this breaking story about the Taliban military forces fleeing Kabul?

THOMAS WHITE, ARMY SECRETARY: Larry, I think it's great news. It means the initial phase of the campaign is going well. But we should remember that the strategic objective is the destruction of bin Laden, the network of bin Laden in the country, and the Taliban government that supported him. So if he's headed west, that's where we're headed as well.

KING: So there's nothing bad about this?

WHITE: No, absolutely not.

KING: But there was some concern on the part of the administration about the Northern Alliance taking Kabul.

WHITE: Well, Secretary Powell has been in town all week, including today, putting together the diplomatic side of this so that the government that follows the Taliban is representative of the Afghan people. And I think that's the diplomatic challenge.

KING: So what got them, do you think? What produced this, at least, current victory?

WHITE: Well, I would think the combination of well-targeted air power, along with movement on the ground by the Northern Alliance forces and we put pressure on them now for well over 30 days. And you can expect them to start moving which is exactly what we have been looking for.

KING: You were in Vietnam twice, right?

WHITE: Yes, I was.

KING: Flew helicopters?


KING: So you have some aviation experience?

WHITE: I do.

KING: Do you have any thoughts on this morning?

WHITE: I think we ought to wait until the National Transportation Safety Board renders an opinion. They are the world experts on aviation crashes. And because we have recovered both of the boxes, I don't think we will have that long to wait.

KING: Why did you take this job?

WHITE: Two reasons: First, to give something back to the institution that has been so important to my life and done so many things for me. And second, to be a part of leading the Army into the 21st century and transforming it to what we need for our future security challenges.

KING: Now, you have work a lot with Governor Ridge, don't you?

WHITE: I do.

KING: Isn't the Army going to be used a lot in this homeland story?

WHITE: We always have been. Armies are on homeland security is as old as the National Guard, goes back to the Plymouth Bay colony. So it's an old mission for us. It's refocused, obviously, with Governor Ridge moving in as a special assistant to the president. And we work hard on it every day.

KING: Does it take away from other things?

WHITE: Well, it's an activity that we have to accomplish concurrently. We have to provide for homeland security. At the same time, obviously, we are accomplishing or global commitments. So it's a concurrent activity, but we have to resource both.

KING: Was it Don Rumsfeld that called you?

WHITE: Yes, it was. And I will tell you he's an exciting man to work for -- energy level and intensity and he's a great wartime secretary.

KING: And what is the job like? I mean, you come into this job in 2001 and look what happens on September 11.

WHITE: Well, I think we have two principal challenges. We've got to win the war that we are a part of right now, play our role in winning that war. And, secondly, we have got to transform the Army for the new security environment that we find ourselves in, obviously, post-11th, September.

KING: Back to Afghanistan: Are ground troops going to have to go in now in greater numbers, do you think, or is this news, maybe not?

WHITE: Well, I don't know, that's up to the CINC on the ground, General Franks, in coordination with Secretary Rumsfeld and the president to see how the campaign unfolds.

KING: Are you are happy with the Army leadership team in this?

WHITE: Yes, very much so. We have got a great team. I think they are proving that land power is fundamental to conduct the of the campaign in Afghanistan. And I think the Army is ready and delivering.

KING: Why did you choose -- the Army is now 480,000 strong. Are you recruiting now? Do you want more? What's that -- that pin is the Army of one kind of thing.

WHITE: This is Army of one concept. And I'll tell you, we had a great year before the 11th of September last year. We're off to a great start this year. And we are filling the ranks 100 percent, both in quantity and quality.

KING: Mr. Secretary, honestly, how prepared is the Army to fight a war unlike any other cave war?

WHITE: Well, I'll tell you, we are very fortunate to have a balanced force structure. We have got great special operating forces, light fighters and heavy forces. So we can bring whatever it takes to win this war and that's exactly what we intend to do.

KING: The Rangers are Army folk? WHITE: Yes, and special operating forces. And they are obviously engaged.

KING: Any major worries on your part in this war?

WHITE: Well...

KING: What's your leading worry?

WHITE: I think being able to sustain broadly the operational tempo associated with the homeland security piece as well as all of our foreign deployment requirements, in addition to fighting the war, which principally now, is in the central command.

KING: Morale high?

WHITE: Morale's great. The Army's in the business of war fighting and we've got a war to fight.

KING: So, do you get to visit the troops a lot?

WHITE: Yes, I do. And, I'll tell you, it's an inspiration every time you go. And so I try to get out as often as I can.

KING: Are you going overseas, too?


Since I took over, I have been in Kosovo, in Bosnia, all over Europe. And every place you go, you see soldiers doing a great job. You know, our tag line with the Army of one campaign is "Every generation has its heroes" and this one is no different. And I see that every place I go.

KING: Honor meeting you, look forward to many visits.

WHITE: Thank you, sir.

KING: The secretary of the Army, the honorable Thomas White, West Point graduate, twice Vietnam, 23-year veteran of the Army.

When come we back, Hamid Mir, the Pakistani journalist who, last week, interviewed Osama bin Laden. He is next from Islamabad. Don't go away.


KING: Joining us now from Islamabad is Hamid Mir, the Pakistani journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden last week. He's the editor of "Ausaf", a Pakistani newspaper. The interview was also published in "Dawn", an English-speaking newspaper. He's interviewed bin Laden twice previously and has written a soon to be published book, "The Story of Osama." He joins us from Islamabad.

Hamid, how do you get this interview? HAMID MIR, EDITOR, "AUSAF": Actually, I entered in Afghanistan on 6th of November. I was planning just to see some destruction in Jalalabad by the American bombing.

When I reached Jalalabad, I met some Taliban commanders who are very close to Osama bin Laden because bin Laden came to Afghanistan in May 1996 directly from Khartoum to Jalalabad. And those commanders were his first hosts, so still they have very good relationship with him.

So, accidentally, I met them and I put a request to them that I would like to meet him. So initially, they were reluctant to entertain me, but then they sent me to Kabul on 7th of November. They handed me over to some Arabs in Kabul.

And there, those Arabs investigated me for the whole day. And in the late night of 7th of November, they picked me up from Kabul. They drove me outside of Kabul. They changed their car. And then, I was blindfolded. They bundled me in a blanket and put me on the back seat of the Jeep. And then the Jeep was driving for more than five hours on a bumpy road. And in -- early in the morning of 8th of November, I reached to a hide out where I interviewed bin Laden.

KING: So you don't know where you were? Could you hear any sounds? Did you hear any guns going off or fighting of any kind?

MIR: Actually, that place where I interviewed him was much colder than Kabul. And I was hearing anti-aircraft gunfire. And I think this place was in the north of Afghanistan because the north is much colder than Kabul. And that place was much closer to the war front.

But I think -- this is my feeling -- that this place was not actually his permanent hideout because maybe he chose that place intentionally and he is actually hiding out somewhere else.

KING: All right.

One of the things that came from that interview was his claim that he has nuclear and chemical weapons and is prepared to use them. Do you believe him?

MIR: You see, actually, I put this question to him three years back in Kandahar where I interviewed him in May 1998. At that time, he avoided my question.

But this time, I repeated my question and this time he said that, "If United States of America is going to use these kind of weapons against us, then we reserve the right to respond back the same way." And he used the word "nuclear (UNINTELLIGIBLE)". And he said we will not use these weapons first, but we will retaliate.

And after that, I tried my best to get more information that -- from where you get these kind of weapons. But he was not willing to speak more in this issue. But when my interview was finished and we were just having tea, I engaged him again on this issue and I was trying to get information that from where you got these kind of weapons. So they gave me some indication that you can -- if you have $10 million dollars, $20 million dollars, you can get these kind of weapons from the underworld mafia of the central Asian states and some disgruntled Russian scientists. And they also gave me a reference of some Western media reports that more than 70 nuclear weapons were stolen from Russia.

KING: Wow. Did he -- what comment did he make about September 11?

MIR: Yes, actually I started my interview with some questions related to the September 11 incident. First of all, he denied his involvement and he said that all those people who has been declared as the prime suspects by the U.S. government, actually they were the passengers. They were not the hijackers.

And then, I put my question that you praised the terrorist attacks in a videotape statement on 7th of October. Then, he tried to justify but there was a big change this time in his views. This time he was saying that he is not against all the American people. He is against only the American policies.

KING: I understand, also, that this program was mentioned and that he -- is it true that he criticized you for remarks you made about him on this show?

MIR: No, actually, he didn't criticize me.

First of all, his deputy, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, he mentioned that we saw you on some TV shows and you was talking about the 11th -- September 11 incident.

And then they said that you was on the Larry King show some days back. And you was raising some critical questions and they were of the view that if some American or Western journalist criticized us or raised some critical questions about us, it's not a problem for us. But if a person like you belong to Pakistan or a Muslim countries, you raise some critical questions, then it is important for us, and then we think that we must explain our position to you. That was their point of view. And they told me that they monitor all the important international TV channels. And I think they definitely watch this Larry King show also.

KING: Have government -- have American officials or any other officials of the West questioned you about trying to find out his whereabouts?

MIR: Some of the officials belongs to the Western world, they just contacted me that they want to hear the cassette of -- audio- cassette of that interview and that's all.

But here in Pakistan, some low-level intelligence operatives -- they created some problems for me. But later on, I came to know that the high-government officials were not behind those low-level intelligence operatives.

KING: Hamid, does he fear for his own safety?

MIR: You see, he told me that, "I am a person who love death." And the Americans, they love life. And is this a big difference.

And he was telling me, again and again, that maybe this place is bombed and you will be killed with me, but he said, "I'm not scared of death." And he mentioned that maybe we leave Kabul, maybe some big cities of Afghanistan goes to the opposition alliances. But he was telling me that their war will be continued, their Jihad will be continued.

And he said that we are waiting for the Americans and British to come inside Afghanistan and then the real war will be started. So I think that this -- let us retreat from some northern cities and now from Kabul, if this report is correct, I think this is their strategy, this is a trap. And some people are very happy on these reports and I have some doubt about the victory of Northern Alliance. I think this is a trap. And we will see some big war inside Kabul in coming days.

KING: Hamid, has he changed much since the last time you interviewed him?

MIR: Yes, he changed much.

Last time when I met him, he was very slim. This time I think he put some weight, he was very healthy. He was much confident and he was very relaxed. Last time, he was ready to answer all questions. He was ready to face all kind of questions. He gave me more than six hours.

But this time, he was very selective. He avoided many questions. He was behaving like a diplomat. He was not asking those questions which can create diplomatic problems or political problems for Taliban. And definitely, one thing which was very surprising for me, that last time he was saying that he is against all the Americans. But this time, he mentioned about those Americans who think they are good.

He said there was an American ambassador in Egypt in the time of President Jimmy Carter and he resigned against the policies of President Jimmy Carter. And he said, "I admit, there are some good Americans." And he also admitted that in some of the Western countries like Germany, Italy and England and even in America, people are coming on the roads against the American bombing in Afghanistan and he said, "I admit there are good people in the West."

KING: Thank you. Hamid Mir, Pakistani journalist who interviewed Osama bin Laden.

We are not doing a musical close tonight because of the events earlier today, but we will turn back to that uplifting again tomorrow.

I'm Larry King in New York.


KING: We're out of time.

Nelson Mandela, among others, tomorrow night. It's good to be in New York and it's good to see him again.

The host of "NEWSNIGHT," we'll take it right over to -- right over there to Aaron Brown.




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