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Context of 'August 24, 2001: FBI Agent Claims ‘No Indication’ Moussaoui Is Planning Nefarious Activity, Despite Knowing Evidence Otherwise'

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Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is detailed to the FBI to help with its counterterrorism work. Wilshire was involved in the failure to watchlist 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar during the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), and will also be involved in the failed search for them in the summer of 2001 (see May 15, 2001, Late May, 2001, and July 13, 2001), as well as the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001). He acts as the CIA’s chief intelligence representative to Michael Rolince, head of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section. His primary role is apparently to help the FBI exploit information for intelligence purposes. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282-348 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Rolince, Tom Wilshire, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, International Terrorism Operations Section, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 4/4/2006] Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 pdf file] In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 120-2 pdf file; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

August 16, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui Arrested

Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest.Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).

Entity Tags: John Weess, Zacarias Moussaoui, Steve Nordmann, Joe Manarang, Harry Samit, David Rapp, FBI Minnesota field office, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager detailed to the FBI (see May 2001), writes to Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s radical fundamentalist unit, to obtain information about the progress of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, which Wilshire refers to as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” Presumably, this is a reference to the films Airplane and Airplane II, which were parodies of disaster and sci-fi movies. He asks whether leads have been sent out to obtain additional biographical information and whether the FBI has photographs it can provide the CIA. He receives a reply from one of Frasca’s subordinates telling him there are no indications Moussaoui has plans for nefarious activity (see August 24, 2001). [BBC, 3/13/2001; BBC, 3/13/2001; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Frasca, Zacarias Moussaoui, Central Intelligence Agency, Tom Wilshire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, writes to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager stationed with the FBI, about the case of Zacarias Moussaoui and Hussein al-Attas (see August 24, 2001). He tells Wilshire what actions the FBI has taken on the case and concludes by saying, “Please bear in mind that there is no indication that either of these two had plans for nefarious activity as was apparently indicated in an earlier communication.” The word “no” is underlined. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 pdf file] However, the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis suspects Moussaoui is part of a wider plot to hijack airliners and Maltbie is aware of their concerns (see August 15-20, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Michael Maltbie, Central Intelligence Agency, FBI Headquarters, Tom Wilshire, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A CIA officer involved in the Moussaoui case contacts a fellow CIA officer assigned to the FBI and complains about the FBI’s inability to obtain a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The officer writes: “Please excuse my obvious frustration in this case. I am highly concerned that this is not paid the amount of attention it deserves. I do not want to be responsible when [Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas] surface again as members of a suicide terrorist op… I want an answer from a named FBI group chief [note: presumably Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit] for the record on these questions… several of which I have been asking since a week and a half ago. It is critical that the paper trail is established and clear. If this guy is let go, two years from now he will be talking to a control tower while aiming a 747 at the White House.” One of these two CIA officers may be Tom Wilshire, who is involved in the Moussaoui case (see August 24, 2001). CIA director George Tenet will write, “This comment was particularly prescient because we later learned after 9/11 that Moussaoui had in fact asked Osama bin Laden for permission to be able to attack the White House.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 203] Greg Jones, an FBI agent involved in the case, makes a similar prediction, but guesses that the target will be the World Trade Center, not the White House (see August 27, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Tom Wilshire, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism holds a hearing on the global reach of al-Qaeda and hears testimony from several intelligence community officers. One of them is Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI who was involved in several pre-9/11 failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001). Wilshire is described as the deputy chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section. In his opening remarks, Wilshire describes the “worldwide jihad movement,” which is “considered to be legitimate by many of our allies in terms of defense of Islam,” as a “multibillion effort” active in, for example, Chechnya, Bosnia, and the Philippines. Although some of the “tributaries” to the movement are “somehow legitimate,” al-Qaeda is “one of the most significant off-shoots,” and views the US as “the stabilising mechanism that allows the regimes that [Osama] bin Laden views to be corrupt [such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia] and to stay in power.” Wilshire also says that one of bin Laden’s goals was to provoke a “land war in Afghanistan,” although he perhaps did not anticipate it taking its current form. He discusses how al-Qaeda has changed over the years, the bayat oath of loyalty to bin Laden, and numbers of operatives: he puts the organization’s “elite” in the hundreds, but says it also has “small thousands” fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as “thousands” more around the world, although perhaps “their skill level is not as high.” He also discusses a recently released videotape in which a man thought to be bin Laden said the “muscle” hijackers did not know they were on a suicide mission until the last minute (see Mid-November 2001), and calls bin Laden “very charismatic.” Wilshire adds that radical Islamists have looked at the possibility of setting up training camps in the US, but that it is easier for them to have introductory training in Europe, which was the case of a group of British citizens arrested in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). Finally, he says that al-Qaeda is linked to Abu Sayyaf, which is not just a local Filipino group and falls under “outside influence.” [US Congress. Senate. Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, 12/18/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, International Terrorism Operations Section, Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, Tom Wilshire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Barbara Grewe.Barbara Grewe. [Source: Barbara Grewe]Barbara Grewe, a key investigator on the Justice Department inspector general’s investigation of the FBI’s failures before 9/11, moves to the 9/11 Commission. [University of Michigan Law School, 3/7/2005] She was recommended to the Commission by a former colleague who worked at the office of inspector general at the Justice Department. [University Record Online, 3/14/2005] As special investigative counsel at the Justice Department’s office of the inspector general between July and December 2002 she had investigated and reported on the FBI’s handling of intelligence prior to 9/11, and directed part of the investigation into information sharing between the FBI and CIA, missed opportunities to locate the hijackers before 9/11, and earlier warnings about terrorists using airplanes as weapons. This is similar to the work she does on the 9/11 Commission. According to a press release for a lecture she will give in 2005, Grewe also “drafted and edited” the “relevant sections” of the Justice Department’s final report. [University of Michigan Law School, 3/7/2005; Center for American Progress Action Fund, 4/16/2008] However, it is unclear how she could have done this, as she left the Justice Department’s investigation in 2003. Although December 2002 is early on in the Justice Department inspector general’s probe, the following important interviews have been conducted by this time:
bullet Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer later detailed to the FBI who was involved in many pre-9/11 intelligence failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, March 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, July 23, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
bullet “Michael,” a female CIA officer who had blocked notification to the FBI saying that one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, had a US visa (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
bullet Dina Corsi, an FBI official who withheld intelligence information from criminal investigators in the summer of 2001 (see June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, and August 28-29, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 474]
bullet Clark Shannon, a CIA officer who withheld information about Almihdhar from the FBI (see June 11, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537]
bullet Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the FBI involved in information sharing problems (see (Late May-Early June) and August 21-22, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538]
bullet Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who searched for Almihdhar in the US just before the 9/11 attacks, but failed to find him (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539]
bullet Russell Fincher and Steve Bongardt, FBI agents from whom the CIA withheld information (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, and August 29, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537]
bullet Sherry Sabol, an attorney involved in errors in the Moussaoui and Almihdhar cases (see August 22-28, 2001 and August 28-29, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538]
bullet An FBI official who handled an al-Qaeda informer in Pakistan (see January 4, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537]
bullet Harry Samit (see August 15-20, 2001), Greg Jones (see August 27, 2001), John Weess (see August 16, 2001), and Coleen Rowley (see May 21, 2002), FBI officials who worked on the Moussaoui case; [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 531, 540]
bullet Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see July 27, 2001 and after); and [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538]
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an FBI official involved in the Phoenix memo and President Bush’s August 6 presidential daily briefing (see July 10, 2001, July 27, 2001 and after, and (August 4-5, 2001)). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 536]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, US Department of Justice, Barbara Grewe, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 273] The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
bullet Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
bullet Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
bullet Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Clark Shannon, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Michael Scheuer, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed watchlisting of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and May 15, 2001) and the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. He tells them that nobody in the US intelligence community looked at the bigger picture and no analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud [i.e. increased reporting that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent] to the ground [i.e. the cases that turned out to be connected to 9/11 such as the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Phoenix memo]. The 9/11 Commission will agree with this and write in its final report: “Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become national priorities.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277] However, Wilshire was receiving such threat reporting. For example, he received a report that al-Qaeda was planning an Hiroshima-like attack (see Summer 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 340] Wilshire also repeatedly suggested that Khalid Almihdhar may well be involved in the next big attack by al-Qaeda (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). For example, on July 23, 2001 he wrote: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden] hardcore cadre, [al-Qaeda commander] Khallad [bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Tom Wilshire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.
Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: Sherburne County Sheriffs Office]In an unexpected move, Zacarias Moussaoui pleads guilty to all six terrorism conspiracy charges against him. Moussaoui had been arrested weeks before 9/11, and was formally charged in December 2001 for his role in the 9/11 plot. He says it is “absolutely correct” that he is guilty of the charges: conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries; to commit aircraft piracy; to destroy aircraft; to use weapons of mass destruction; to murder US government employees; and to destroy US government property. However, he says, “I was not part of 9/11,” but rather claims he was part of a “broader conspiracy” aimed at post-9/11 attacks. He says he was personally directed by bin Laden to pilot a 747 and “strike the White House” with it, but as part of a “different conspiracy than 9/11.” His plea means there will be no trial to determine guilt, but there will still be a trial to determine his sentencing, which could be as severe as the death penalty. He promises to fight in the sentencing phase, stating he doesn’t deserve death because he was not directly connected to the 9/11 plot. [CNN, 4/23/2005; Washington Post, 4/23/2005] A CNN legal analyst notes that Moussaoui’s guilty plea “makes little sense.” Moussaoui may have actually had a chance to be proven not guilty because of the many thorny legal issues his case raises (two suspected members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell have been found not guilty in German courts because they have not been allowed access to testimony from al-Qaeda prisoners who might exonerate them, and Moussaoui so far has been denied access to those same prisoners (see March 22, 2005)). It is pointed out that Moussaoui gave a guilty plea without “any promise of leniency in exchange for his plea,” and that he is unlikely to gain any sympathetic advantage from it in the death penalty trial. CNN’s analyst notes that the statements in his plea “suggest that Moussaoui [mistakenly] thought he had tricked the prosecution.” Doubts still remain whether Moussaoui is fully mentally sound and capable of legally defending himself. [CNN, 4/28/2005] A counterterrorism expert for RAND Corporation says of Moussaoui’s rather confusing statements, “If we thought by the end of the day we would find the holy grail as to exactly what the genesis of 9/11 was and what Moussaoui’s role in it was, we have been sorely disappointed. This contradiction in his behavior raises more questions than it answers.” The Washington Post notes that, “It remains uncertain” whether the death penalty trial “will divulge much new information about the plot.” [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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