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Context of 'August 28, 2001: Edits to Moussaoui Warrant Request ‘Set It Up for Failure’'

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FBI Minneapolis agent Harry Samit learns that an unnamed man plans to travel from the US to Afghanistan to train militants there, and that one of his relatives has applied to join the Minnesota National Guard. Samit wants to run a check on him and notify the National Guard, as he is worried because guardsmen have access to local airports. However, he is blocked for several months by Michael Maltbie, an agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, who becomes “extremely agitated” and says this is “just the sort of thing that would get the FBI into trouble.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/21/2006; Knight Ridder, 3/21/2006; Hearst Newspapers, 3/21/2006] Samit and Maltbie will later have another running disagreement over the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 20-September 11, 2001, August 27, 2001, and August 28, 2001).

Entity Tags: Radical Fundamentalist Unit, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Michael Maltbie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/2001 pdf file] Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. [Associated Press, 3/21/2006] These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Michael Rolince, Dale Watson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ibn Khattab

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI Minneapolis field office wishes to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which will later be found to contain enough information to potentially stop 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). To do so it must get the approval of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. However, the RFU throws obstacles in the warrant request’s path:
bullet RFU chief Dave Frasca stops the Minneapolis office from pursuing a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001);
bullet When French authorities say that Moussaoui is connected to the Chechen rebels, RFU agent Mike Maltbie insists that the FBI representative in Paris go through all telephone directories in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaouis live there (see August 22, 2001);
bullet Maltbie stops Minneapolis from informing the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case (see August 22, 2001);
bullet When RFU agent Rita Flack, who is working on the Moussaoui case, reads the Phoenix memo suggesting that bin Laden is sending pilots to the US for training, she apparently does not tell her colleagues about it, even though it was addressed to several of them, including Frasca (see July 10, 2001 and August 22, 2001);
bullet The RFU does not provide the relevant documentation to attorneys consulted about the request. In particular, Flack does not tell them about the Phoenix Memo, even though one of the attorneys will later say she asked Flack if anyone is sending radical Islamists to the US to learn to fly (see August 22-28, 2001);
bullet When Minneapolis learns Moussaoui apparently wants to go on jihad, Frasca is not concerned and says jihad does not necessarily mean holy war. However, a top Justice Department attorney will later say “he would have tied bells and whistles” to this comment in a request for a search warrant had he known this (see August 17, 2001 and August 29, 2001);
bullet Maltbie tells the Minneapolis office that getting a warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). He also tells Minneapolis, “We know what’s going on. You will not question us.” (see August 27, 2001);
bullet Maltbie weakens the warrant request by editing it and removing a statement by a CIA officer that Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab was closely connected to Osama bin Laden, despite there being intelligence linking that leader to bin Laden (see August 28, 2001);
bullet In a key meeting with an attorney about the request, Maltbie and Flack, who are submitting the warrant, are adamant that it is not sufficiently supported (see August 28, 2001);
bullet Frasca opposes a plan to put an undercover officer in the jail cell with Moussaoui to find out more information about his connections to Islamic militants (August 29, 2001 and Shortly After);
bullet The RFU does not want a Minneapolis agent to accompany Moussaoui when he is deported (see (August 30-September 10, 2001));
bullet The RFU does not re-consider getting a criminal search warrant after a decision is taken not to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see After August 28, 2001);
bullet Frasca and Maltbie are said to oppose a search warrant after 9/11 (see September 11, 2001).
It is unclear why the RFU opposes the warrant so strongly. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize the RFU staff, but will conclude that they did not intentionally sabotage the warrant application. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-222 pdf file] A 2004 book by independent researcher Mike Ruppert will speculate that Frasca is actually a CIA agent. Ruppert suggests that the CIA placed Frasca in the FBI to prevent CIA operations from being compromised by FBI investigations. But he does not provide any direct evidence of ties between Frasca and the CIA (see October 1, 2004). The Minneapolis agents will offer a different interpretation of RFU actions. Coleen Rowley will say, “I feel that certain facts… have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons.” She asks, “Why would an FBI agent deliberately sabotage a case? The superiors acted so strangely that some agents in the Minneapolis office openly joked that these higher-ups ‘had to be spies or moles… working for Osama bin Laden.’… Our best real guess, however, is that, in most cases avoidance of all ‘unnecessary’ actions/decisions by FBI [headquarters] managers… has, in recent years, been seen as the safest FBI career course. Numerous high-ranking FBI officials who have made decisions or have taken actions which, in hindsight, turned out to be mistaken or just turned out badly… have seen their careers plummet and end. This has in turn resulted in a climate of fear which has chilled aggressive FBI law enforcement action/decisions.” [Time, 5/21/2002] Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit will agree with explanation, telling the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that the RFU is guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism.” [Associated Press, 3/20/2006] Samit will also say that Maltbie even told him he was acting this way to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential” in the FBI. [Newsday, 3/21/2006]

Entity Tags: Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Michael Maltbie, David Frasca, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Rita Flack, Coleen Rowley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui’™s laptop, not opened until after 9/11.Zacarias Moussaoui’™s laptop, not opened until after 9/11. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the French intelligence report (see August 22, 2001) on Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI agents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are “in a frenzy” and “absolutely convinced he [is] planning to do something with a plane.” Agent Greg Jones tells FBI headquarters that Moussaoui might “fly something into the World Trade Center.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 153 pdf file] Minneapolis FBI agents become “desperate to search the computer lap top” and “conduct a more thorough search of his personal effects,” especially since Moussaoui acted as if he was hiding something important in the laptop when arrested. [Time, 5/21/2002; Time, 5/27/2002] As the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters has already blocked an application for a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office must apply for one under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Minneapolis agent Harry Samit completes an application for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings on August 25. To obtain the warrant, he has to show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The memo states that Moussaoui recruited a fighter for a particular Chechen rebel group connected to al-Qaeda, so he is connected to al-Qaeda through the Chechens. However, the RFU at FBI headquarters believes that the Chechen rebels should not be described as a foreign power and that the link between the Chechens and bin Laden is not strong enough. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 128-132 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file] However, earlier in 2001 the FBI had received information indicating that this Chechen group and bin Laden were planning to attack US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley later sums up how the Minneapolis agents feel at this point, when she says FBI headquarters “almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks” and undermine their efforts. Headquarters personnel bring up “almost ridiculous questions in their apparent efforts to undermine the probable cause.” One of Jones’ e-mails to FBI headquarters says they are “setting this up for failure.” That turns out to be correct. [Time, 5/21/2002; Time, 5/27/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 161 pdf file]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Zacarias Moussaoui, Harry Samit, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, FBI Headquarters, FBI Minnesota field office, Greg Jones, Coleen Rowley, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s Minneapolis field office has submitted a memorandum to the Radical Fundamental Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 23-27, 2001). Before it is submitted, RFU agent Mike Maltbie makes several alterations to the memo. In particular, he deletes a key section saying that a CIA officer had described Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab, to whom Moussaoui was connected, as an associate of bin Laden. He deletes this even though the FBI was recently warned that bin Laden and Ibn Khattab may be working together on attacks against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). However, Minneapolis FBI agent Greg Jones objects in a lengthy e-mail that “we are setting this up for failure if we don’t have the foreign power connection firmly established for the initial review.” Jones also complains about other changes made by Maltbie, including:
bullet Maltbie changes a statement about Moussaoui “preparing himself to fight” to one saying he and an associate “train together in defensive tactics.”
bullet Maltbie changes the sentence, “Moussaoui was unable to give a convincing explanation for his paying $8300 for 747-400 training,” to “Moussaoui would give an explanation for his paying $8300 in cash for 747-700 flight simulation training.”
bullet Maltbie changes a statement that Moussaoui has no convincing explanation for the large sums of money he had to “Moussaoui would not explain the large sums of money known to have been in his possession.”
Maltbie responds by saying that they will attempt to put something together for the foreign power requirement and by changing some, but not all of the sections Jones complains about. However, Minneapolis is still unhappy and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will state that after Jones’ complaints are taken into consideration the memo is only “slightly less persuasive.” The key section about Chechnya is not reinstated, but Moussaoui’s links to Chechnya are discussed at the relevant meeting with an attorney about the request (see August 28, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 161-4, 209-211 pdf file]

Entity Tags: FBI Minnesota field office, FBI Headquarters, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Greg Jones, Michael Maltbie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) forward a request for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001) to National Security Law Unit chief Spike Bowman. The request was submitted by the Minneapolis field office (see August 22-28, 2001), which has been trying to obtain a warrant for some time. Earlier in the day, Maltbie edited the request, removing information connecting Moussaoui to al-Qaeda through a rebel group in Chechnya (see August 28, 2001). RFU chief Dave Frasca was to attend the meeting, but is called away at the last minute. According to Bowman, who is already very familiar with the facts in this case, Maltbie is adamant that there is not enough evidence to issue the warrant. Bowman agrees, saying that the evidence fails to implicate Moussaoui as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI thus abandons the effort to obtain a FISA warrant and begins planning his deportation (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 164-6, 168 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Rita Flack, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, FBI Headquarters, FBI Minnesota field office, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Michael Maltbie, National Security Law Unit

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two pages from Moussaoui’s notebooks mentioning Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias), plus phone number and mention of his residence in Germany.Two pages from Moussaoui’s notebooks mentioning Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias), plus phone number and mention of his residence in Germany. [Source: FBI]Within an hour of the 9/11 attacks, the Minnesota FBI uses a memo written to FBI headquarters shortly after Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest to ask permission from a judge for the search warrant they have been desperately seeking. After the World Trade Center is hit for the first time at 8:46 a.m., Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters calls the Minneapolis field office and talks to FBI agent Coleen Rowley. When Rowley says it is essential they get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings, Maltbie instructs her to take no action, because it could have an impact on matters of which she is not aware. Rowley replies that it would have to be the “hugest coincidence” if Moussaoui were not related to the attack. She will recall that Maltbie replies that coincidence is the right word. Maltbie will later say he does not recall using the word “coincidence” in the conversation. Maltbie then consults Tom Ainora, an attorney at the FBI’s national security law unit, who says Minneapolis should seek the warrant. While Rowley is waiting for Maltbie to call back, one of her colleagues, Chris Briese, talks to RFU chief Dave Frasca. According to Briese, Frasca initially says there is not enough evidence for a criminal warrant, but when they find out the Pentagon has been hit Frasca consents. Frasca will say that he consents immediately. [Time, 5/21/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 178-9 pdf file] Briese later tells Samit that Frasca also initially claims it is just “a coincidence.” [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] A federal judge approves a criminal search warrant this afternoon. [New Yorker, 9/30/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006] The Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters had previously blocked requests for criminal and intelligence search warrants (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). Rowley will note that this very memo was previously deemed insufficient by FBI headquarters to get a search warrant, and the fact that they are immediately granted one when finally allowed to ask shows “the missing piece of probable cause was only the [FBI headquarters’] failure to appreciate that such an event could occur.” [Time, 5/21/2002] After the warrant is granted, Moussaoui’s belongings are then rushed to an evidence response team, which discovers documents linking Moussaoui to 11 of the hijackers (see August 16, 2001). Rowley later suggests that if they had received the search warrant sooner, “There is at least some chance that… may have limited the September 11th attacks and resulting loss of life.” [Time, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Michael Maltbie, Tom Ainora, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Zacarias Moussaoui, Harry Samit, FBI Minnesota field office, National Security Law Unit, David Frasca, Chris Briese, FBI Headquarters, Coleen Rowley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Attorney General John Ashcroft before the 9/11 Commission.Attorney General John Ashcroft before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Associated Press]Attorney General John Ashcroft testifies publicly before the 9/11 Commission. Due to information leaked to the public about Ashcroft’s apparently poor performance and lack of interest in terrorism before the attacks (see Spring 2001, July 12, 2001, and September 10, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, “Everybody expect[s] it to be a difficult day for Ashcroft—maybe the day that mark[s] the end of his tenure as George Bush’s attorney general.” Executing a strategy designed in advance by the Justice Department’s leadership, instead of defending his record, Ashcroft goes on the offensive against the Commission. First, Ashcroft withholds from the Commission a copy of his written statement, although all other witnesses provide this. Then, when his testimony starts, he blames the problems dealing with terrorist threats on information-sharing regulations set up by former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, now a 9/11 commissioner. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 325-327]
Ashcroft Exaggerates Effect of Gorelick Memo - He comments: “The single greatest structural cause for September 11 was the ‘wall’ that segregated criminal investigators and intelligence agents. Government erected this ‘wall.’ Government buttressed this ‘wall.’ And before September 11, government was blinded by this ‘wall.’” The wall was a set of procedures that regulated the passage of information from FBI intelligence agents to FBI criminal agents and prosecutors to ensure that information obtained using warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) would not be thrown out from criminal cases (see July 19, 1995). Ashcroft says that the wall impeded the investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui and that a “warrant was rejected because FBI officials feared breaching the ‘wall.’” (Note: two applications to search Moussaoui’s belongings were prepared. The first was not submitted because it was thought to be “shaky” (see August 21, 2001). The second warrant application was prepared as a part of an intelligence investigation under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so it was not affected by the “wall” (see August 28, 2001)). According to Ashcroft, the wall also impeded the search for hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi because criminal investigators were not allowed to join in. However, the 9/11 Commission will find that they could legally have helped, but were prevented from doing so by FBI headquarters (see August 29, 2001). Ashcroft asserts that 9/11 commissioner Jamie Gorelick was responsible for the wall. He cites a document he just declassified that had been written by Gorelick to deal with the two 1993 World Trade Center bombing cases (see March 4, 1995). That document becomes known as the “wall memo.” However, this memo only governed the two WTC cases; all other cases were governed by a different, but similar memo written by Attorney General Janet Reno a few months later (see July 19, 1995). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Commission's Response - 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will say that the “attorney general’s claim was overstated,” and that the two 1995 memos only codified a set of procedures that already existed (see Early 1980s). During questioning, Republican 9/11 commissioner Slade Gorton points out that Ashcroft’s deputy reaffirmed the procedures in an August 2001 memo that stated, “The 1995 procedures remain in effect today” (see August 6, 2001). [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 194-6] Ashcroft’s accusation against Gorelick produces an immediate public response. Commissioner Bob Kerrey (D-NE) will say: “Ashcroft was still speaking, and the e-mails were already coming in. The e-mails said things like, ‘You traitor, you should be ashamed of yourself for having somebody like Gorelick on the 9/11 Commission.’ I could see that this was a setup.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 329]
Falsely Claims No Clinton Program to Kill Bin Laden - Ashcroft also claims there was no program to kill Osama bin Laden before 9/11, saying, “Let me be clear: my thorough review revealed no covert action program to kill bin Laden.” However, the 9/11 Commission has already found a memorandum of notification signed by President Clinton in 1998 after the African embassy bombings that allowed CIA assets to kill bin Laden, and two commissioners, Fred Fielding and Richard Ben-Veniste, point this out to Ashcroft. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485]
Attack Brings Commission Together - Paradoxically, the effect of Ashcroft’s attack is to bring the Commission—made up of five Democrats and five Republicans—together. Shenon will comment, “The Republicans were just as angry as the Democrats over what Ashcroft had done, maybe angrier.” Commissioner Slade Gorton (R-WA) will add, “There was universal outrage on the part of all 10 people.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 332]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Zacarias Moussaoui, Slade Gorton, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, Khalid Almihdhar, 9/11 Commission, Bob Kerrey, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Fred F. Fielding, John Ashcroft, Nawaf Alhazmi, Richard Ben-Veniste

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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