Skip to comments.How the FBI Let 9/11 Happen - Never mind Moussaoui, the smoldering gun was right there all the time
Posted on 03/30/2006 6:37:53 PM PST by neverdem
Anyone paying attention to the Zacarias Moussaoui trial gets it now. All the 9/11 blanks are filled in, and the picture is complete. Sorry, conspiracy freaks and blind partisan hacks. Dull, common, gross incompetence is again at the heart of a deadly government cluster-hump.
Do not linger on Moussaoui's bizarre suicide-by-testimony or the literal cheerleading for his executionHe knew. He lied. And 2,749 people died.
Neither of these is the real story of this case. Rather, the story is the definitive proof Moussaoui's case provides that the U.S. government—pre-PATRIOT Act, pre-NSA wiretaps and all—had and missed clear opportunities to stop 9/11. The FBI uniquely and repeatedly punted carefully gathered evidence of an attack in favor of adherence to bureaucratic hierarchies and power trips.
The testimony of FBI agent Harry Samit forever buries the quaint notion that 9/11 was unforeseen and unpreventable. Beginning with Moussaoui's August 16, 2001 arrest Samit mounted a global and indefatigable investigation of the man and concluded that an attack involving hijacked airplanes was imminent.
The flipside of Samit is Michael Rolince, former head of the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Section. Rolince is the man who previously deflected questions about the FBI's pursuit, or lack thereof, of pre-9/11 terror suspects with the line, "Would CNN have really aired their photos if we'd asked them?"
Rolince smugly insisted at trial that Samit's "suppositions, hunches and suspicions were one thing and what we knew" was another. Yet Rolince, in service of the government's desire to link Moussaoui to 9/11 and trigger the death penalty, also tried to argue that, had Moussaoui spilled his guts, everything would have changed. 9/11 might have been prevented. In short, Samit's investigation and leads were not enough; Moussaoui had to speak up for the FBI brass to hear anything.
When defense lawyer Edward MacMahon cross-examined Rolince, possibly the first and only time a government security official has been so challenged on 9/11, the disconnect between the official story and reality was plain. Rolince knew nothing of the August 18, 2001 memo Samit had sent to his office warning of terror links. In that memo, Samit warned that Moussaoui wanted to hijack a plane and had the weapons to do it. Samit also warned that Moussaoui "believes it is acceptable to kill civilians" and that he approved of martyrdom. Rolince testified he never read the memo.
On August 17 Samit sent an e-mail to his direct superiors at FBI headquarters recounting Moussaoui's training on 747 simulators. "His excuse is weak, he just wants to learn how to do it... That's pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan," Samit wrote.
Rebuffed by his superiors and ignored by Rolince, Samit still sought out more info worldwide and from sources as diverse as the FBI's London, Paris, and Oklahoma City offices, FBI headquarters files, the CIA's counterterrorism center, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, probably the National Security Agency, and the FBI's Iran and OBL offices.
He was sufficiently alarmed by what he heard that Samit sent an August 21 e-mail requesting that the Secret Service be informed about Moussaoui's intentions to see the White House and that he was interested in flight training.
Samit testified that on August 22 he had learned from the Frenchthe French!that Moussaoui had recruited a fighter to go to Chechnya in 2000 to fight with Islamic radicals with previous links, so the CIA told Samit, to Osama bin Laden. The FBI brass remained unmoved.
Defense attorney MacMahon then displayed an August 30, 2001 communication addressed to Samit and FBI headquarters agent Mike Maltbie from a Bureau agent in Paris. It passed along that French intelligence thought Moussaoui was "very dangerous" and had soaked up radical views at London's infamous Finnsbury Park mosque. The French also said Moussaoui was "completely devoted" to bin Laden-style jihadism and, significantly, had traveled to Afghanistan.
Yet on August 31 Maltbie stopped Samit from sending a letter to FAA headquarters in Washington advising them of "a potential threat to security of commercial aircraft" based on the Moussaoui case. Maltbie said he would handle that, but it is not clear if he ever did.
"Minneapolis believes Moussaoui, [Moussaoui's roommate Hussein] Al Attas and others not yet known were...engaged in preparing to seize 747s," the aborted warning said.
Samit did directly tell FAA officials in Minneapolis of his concerns on September 5.
In total, the information Samit pulled together dovetailed with his belief that, based on interviews with the suspect, Moussaoui had been to Afghan terror training camps. Because he did not have proof of the suspected terror camp connection, however, Samit never passed this hunch on to the FBI headquarters. Maltbie and Maltbie's boss, David Frasca, chief of the radical fundamentalist unit at headquarters, were clearly pressing Samit for facts only, as Rolince's disdain for "suppositions" from far-off Minneapolis confirms.
So? The 9/11 Commission investigation detailed that British intelligence directly told U.S. officials on September 13, 2001, that Moussaoui had attended a training camp in Afghanistan. "Had this information been available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case would almost certainly have received intense, high-level attention," the commission concluded. As it turns out, Samit had that info in late August 2001 and nobody cared. CIA Director George Tenet was briefed on the Moussaoui threat on August 23. The case received intense, high-level attention. Nobody cared.
Back in 2004, Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, said he was troubled that Moussaoui's arrest never made it up to the top of the FBI hierarchy.
"If it had maybe there would have been some action taken and things could have been different," Kean was quoted by The New York Times.
Yet now it is clear that senior FBI officials Maltbie and Frasca did know about Moussaoui's arrest. In fact, they knew the case so well that they denied Samit's request for a warrant to search Moussaoui's computer and belongings. Samit also testified that he was told pressing too hard to obtain a warrant on Moussaoui would hurt his career.
This decision to deny a warrant gave rise to the myth that "The Wall" between overseas intelligence and criminal investigations made the PATRIOT Act necessary. To this day this myth is cherished among right-wing radio talkers and has, just now, morphed into a clumsy justification for the White House's sidestepping the FISA court and directing its own wiretap frenzy via the NSA. This is all pure fantasy.
Instead of clueless Carter-era restrictions on domestic spying or insufficient distrust of civil liberties, Samit cited "obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism" by top FBI officials as what stopped his investigation.
There is also the curious Bureau flip-flopping on Moussaoui and his laptop. Back in November 2001 the FBI dropped Moussaoui from the 9/11 plot. In his place the Bureau put Ramsi Binalshibh, as part of the hijacking team that crashed United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania.
FBI Director Robert Mueller back then also told prosecutors that there was no information on the computer seized from Moussaoui that linked him to the September 11 attacks. At that same time, Rolince himself was not convinced that Moussaoui was tied to 9/11, saying "Whoever that fifth person was is probably still alive. Clearly we are looking into the pool of people who crossed paths with the hijackers." Only sometime later did that someone become Moussaoui and his un-searched info.
While Samit was spending a solid three weeks trying to get Washington to act on his pre-9/11 terror fears, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour was raising suspicions with his flight training in Phoenix (suspicions Samit was not told about until after 9/11). Margaret Chevrette of the Pan Am International Flight Academy reported her worries to the FAA and somehow those concerns also made their way to CIA chief Tenet and into CIA memos of August 2001, but the FBI never acted on them. Yet on September 12, FBI agents interviewed Chevrette for more information on Hanjourreflecting the fact that another local FBI agent (Arizona-based Kenneth Williams, author of the July 2001 Phoenix memo) had notified FBI headquarters of the danger posed by Middle Eastern terrorists training at U.S. flight schools.
There were also repeated attempts by the New York City FBI office to get follow-up on Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi and an August 2001 request from a New York FBI agent who warned that "someday someone will die" if New York did not win approval to launch a criminal investigation of al-Mihdhar. Al-Mihdhar was on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into
Minneapolis, Phoenix, New York. Three different Bureau offices were hot on the terror plot in the days leading up to 9/11 and all were stiffed by Washington. If that is not institutional incompetence, Stalin purge-worthy stuff, heaven help the next 3,000 martyrs to J. Edgar Hoover's über-suits.
One exchange from the Moussaoui trial makes clear what happened in the weeks running up to 9/11:
"You tried to move heaven and earth to get a search warrant to search this man's belongings and you were obstructed," MacMahon said to Samit.
"Yes sir, I was obstructed." Samit replied.
No disaster, it seems, can force reform on the Bureau. The same people are still manning the posts at the FBI and Main Justice. They are going to miss the next terror attack because they are dead-certain to stop the last one. That's what bureaucracies do: cover ass. The Bureau's poisonous Andersen Consulting–with-arrest-powers culture remains unreformed and dangerously low-tech. New York City agents do not have enough e-mail addresses to go around, for example.
Instead of an effective anti-terror agency, the Bureau is morphing into a kind of Stasi Lite, keeping tabs on domestic subversives: assorted peaceniks, communists in Texas, and the League of Women Voters in Michigan, who had the gall to invite a critic of the PATRIOT Act to a panel discussion. There is a sort of logic to such surveillance: This what the FBI is good at, so this is what it does. Kinda of like looking for your car keys under a street light because the rest of the street is dark.
Still, for all the bungling in the dark the FBI has nothing to fear, not from a complicit Bush administration, not from a prostrate Congress, not from a bamboozled public. An e-mail sent to Agent Harry Samit on September 10, 2001 from a CIA Counterterrorism Center official identified only as "Cathy" points the way: "God help us all if the next terrorist attacks involves this same type of plane."
God? Cathy, dear, the FBI is God. Just look around.
Jeff A. Taylor writes the weekly Reason Express.
It appears that there were flags going up, sirens blowing, lights flashing, and people screaming all over the place and nobody said the "T" word.
I'm firmly convinced the Oklahoma City bombing was Islamic terrorists but covered up by our government and 9/11 would have been covered up, too, if it hadn't been so blatantly in-your-face without an acceptable patsy to conveniently blame it on.
"Rebuffed by his superiors and ignored by Rolince,..."
We've known this for years. So what?
Thousands dead in an attack on our country and not one head rolls.
THAT is why the elites correctly believe that they can get away with full amnesty and what-all for illegals; because they are not held responsible for anything--ever.
i agree. the longer this goes on the less faith i have in our govt and the less i care. i'll protect my home and property and get on with living. they could F-up a one car funeral.
The obfuscating nincompoop even got a promotion!
I hadn't heard this. Refresh my memory, who are the Trenadeaus?
The FBI is totally dysfunctional, and has been since Waco, at least and probably well before. There may be a bunch of good people there, but the organization is just broken.
"The obfuscating nincompoop even got a promotion!"
So did the FBI's killers at Ruby Ridge and Waco.
The real mistake was in 1993 when the FBI treated the first WTC bombing as the work of a local group of malcontents. The 1993 bombing was a wake-up call, but America didn't wake up.
No, Tenet is gone and Porter Goss is firing traitors like CIA Agent Michael Scheuer left and right.
Negroponte is DCI now. We have an entirely new intel agency that we are transitioning CIA responsibility over to.
These things take time (don't want to be completely blind at any one point of a purge), and they are being reformed or fired or losing responsibility.
ONE WORD TO THAT CLINTON
US to test 700-tonne explosive(will send mushroom cloud over Las Vegas) 0.7 kilotons or the equivalent in weight to 10 M1 Abrams tanks of high explosive, IIRC
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"US to test 700-tonne explosive(will send mushroom cloud over Las Vegas)" ooooo! I want hifidelity vids on that!