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Context of 'April 19, 2002: FBI Director Improbably Claims Hijacker Computer Use Offered No Evidence'

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When Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), he has a receipt on him for a Kinko’s store where he used a computer on August 12. The FBI does not go to this Kinko’s store to collect information about Moussaoui immediately after the arrest, but only on September 19, after the rest of Moussaoui’s belongings have been searched (see September 11, 2001). The FBI is told that the computers have been wiped and no information about Moussaoui’s use can be obtained. Due to the frequency with which Kinko’s computers are wiped, if the FBI visited the Kinko’s store immediately after the arrest, it is possible information about Moussaoui could have been recovered. Although the FBI is initially aware of some of Moussaoui’s e-mail addresses, in summer 2002 Moussaoui will reveal additional addresses he used and say he used them from this Kinko’s outlet. Although the Kinko’s computers have been wiped by 9/11, Microsoft, which operates the Hotmail service Moussaoui uses, can recover information up to 90 days after an account is last used, so the FBI could get the information it seeks from Microsoft until Mid-November 2001 (see (Late July-Early August, 2002)). However, the FBI does not know about the additional accounts at this point, partly because it was prevented from interviewing Moussaoui after 9/11 (see September 11-12, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 1/1/2003]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Minnesota field office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s Minneapolis office asks for permission to interview Zacarias Moussaoui a few hours after the end of the 9/11 attacks, but permission is denied, apparently on the grounds that there is no emergency. On 9/11, the office’s counsel, Coleen Rowley, seeks permission from the Acting US Attorney to question Moussaoui about whether al-Qaeda has any further plans to hijack airliners or otherwise attack the US. The next day she asks again; this time the request is sent to the Justice Department. Such questioning would not usually be permitted, but Rowley argues that it should be allowed under a public safety exception. However, permission is denied and Rowley is told that the emergency is over so the public safety exception does not apply. Rowley will later comment: “We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI’s ‘Penttbom’ case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007] Some sources will suggest that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks (see September 5, 2002). He is also an associate of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow up an airliner later this year (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000 and December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: FBI Minnesota field office, Coleen Rowley, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 2001: FBI Recovers Hijacker E-Mails

Reports this month indicate that many hijacker e-mails have been recovered. USA Today reports many unencrypted e-mails coordinating the 9/11 plans written by the hijackers in Internet cafes have been recovered by investigators. [USA Today, 10/1/2001] FBI sources say, “[H]undreds of e-mails linked to the hijackers in English, Arabic and Urdu” have been recovered, with some messages including “operational details” of the attack. [Washington Post, 10/4/2001] “A senior FBI official says investigators have obtained hundreds of e-mails in English and Arabic, reflecting discussions of the planned September 11 hijackings.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001] However, in April 2002, FBI Director Mueller says no documentation of the 9/11 plot has been found. By September 2002, the Chicago Tribune reports, “Of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of e-mails sent and received by the hijackers from public Internet terminals, none is known to have been recovered.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] The texts of some e-mails sent by Mohamed Atta from Germany are published a few months later. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Robert S. Mueller III, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Director Mueller states: “In our investigation, we have not uncovered a single piece of paper either here in the United States or in the treasure trove of information that has turned up in Afghanistan and elsewhere that mentioned any aspect of the September 11 plot.” He also claims that the attackers used “extraordinary secrecy” and “investigators have found no computers, laptops, hard drives or other storage media that may have been used by the hijackers, who hid their communications by using hundreds of pay phones and cell phones, coupled with hard-to-trace prepaid calling cards.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/19/2002; Los Angeles Times, 4/22/2002] However, before 9/11, CIA Director Tenet told the Senate that al-Qaeda is “embracing the opportunities offered by recent leaps in information technology” [US Congress, 3/21/2000] ; the FBI broke the al-Qaeda computer encryption before February 2001 [United Press International, 2/13/2001] ; witnesses report seeing the hijackers use computers for e-mail at public libraries in Florida and Maine [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/16/2001; Boston Herald, 10/5/2001] ; in October 2001 there were many reports that hundreds of e-mails discussing the 9/11 plot had been found (see October 2001); Moussaoui’s laptop was found to contain important information (see (Late July-Early August, 2002)), and so on.

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Robert S. Mueller III, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui indicates that he is willing to disclose information to the US authorities, but his overtures are rejected by the FBI and the Justice Department. After learning of Moussaoui’s offer, Minneapolis FBI counsel Coleen Rowley contacts assistants to FBI director Robert Mueller and to Justice Department manager Michael Chertoff. She says she is worried about Moussaoui’s research into cropdusting and wind patterns, and that the information he could provide may prove useful averting a second strike by al-Qaeda. Rowley will later comment: “But by that time Moussaoui had been charged with the death penalty and I deduced that [attorney general John] Ashcroft would not allow any potential for bargaining leverage to be injected into the case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Coleen Rowley, FBI Minnesota field office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Ashcroft, Zacarias Moussaoui, Robert S. Mueller III, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Although US authorities are aware that Zacarias Moussaoui has one e-mail account and recover e-mails from it, he now says that he has another two, but the FBI is unable to find any trace of them (see August 17-November 11, 2001 and After). E-mails sent from the first address, pilotz123@hotmail.com, have been recovered and will be produced at his trial. However, the other two addresses, xdesertman@hotmail.com and olimahammed@hotmail.com, were not uncovered by the FBI’s post-9/11 investigation and US authorities only learn of them from a statement made at this time by Moussaoui, who says the e-mails could provide him with an alibi and that he accessed the accounts from various computers, including his laptop, one at a Kinko’s outlet, and one at the University of Oklahoma. However, Microsoft, which operates Hotmail, says it is unable to locate any records of the accounts and that they do not exist. As the accounts have been inactive for over a year and all data for a hotmail account is deleted after 90 days of inactivity, no e-mails can be retrieved. Had the FBI asked Microsoft about the addresses within the 90-day period, they may have found information about the e-mails, but they did not do so because they did not know about them—the FBI decided not to interview Moussaoui after 9/11 (see September 11-12, 2001 and Early July 2002). The hard drives at the Kinko’s outlet had been wiped by the time the FBI arrived in September 2001 and no record of Moussaoui’s computer use there is found. Moussaoui had a receipt for the Kinko’s outlet with him when he was arrested, so the FBI might have been able to examine the Kinko’s computers before the hard drives were wiped if they had acted more promptly (see August 17-November 11, 2001 and After). [Wired News, 8/30/2002; internetnews (.com), 8/30/2002; CNN, 9/4/2002; CNN, 12/31/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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