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Context of '(Late July-Early August, 2002): Moussaoui E-mails May Have Vanished'

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Richard Reid.Richard Reid. [Source: Plymouth County Jail]MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, has Zacarias Moussaoui under surveillance. The French government had asked MI5 to monitor him in 1999 (see 1999), but it has not been confirmed if this is in response to that request. It is not clear when the surveillance begins, but the Observer reports that it lasts for “months” and ends when Moussaoui leaves Britain on December 9, 2000, to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. The extent of Moussaoui’s surveillance is not publicly known; the only reported detail is that some phone calls between Moussaoui and Richard Reid are intercepted. Reid will later be convicted for attempting to blow up a passenger airliner with a bomb in his shoe (see December 22, 2001). MI5 records the conversations between them made inside Britain. Opposition politicians in Britain will later criticize MI5 for not realizing Reid’s al-Qaeda ties between 9/11 and Reid’s shoe bomb plot over two months later. [Observer, 12/30/2001; Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001] Moussaoui appears to be in contact with other al-Qaeda figures during this time. For instance, he travels to Yazid Sufaat’s house in Malaysia in September 2000 and again in October 2000 (see September-October 2000), and Ramzi bin al-Shibh stays in London for a week in early December 2000 and meets with Moussaoui (see October 2000-February 2001). [Independent, 12/11/2001] However, it is not known if such contacts are monitored as well.

Entity Tags: Yazid Sufaat, United Kingdom, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Richard C. Reid, UK Security Service (MI5)

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

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

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

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

Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb. [Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel McGrory, Sean O’Neill, Richard C. Reid

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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

Based on the recent interrogations of al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui’s al-Qaeda associates, including his alleged handler, French intelligence believes Moussaoui was not part of the 9/11 attacks, but was being readied for a second wave of attacks. Says one French official: “Moussaoui was going to be a foot soldier in a second wave of attacks that was supposed to culminate in early 2002 with simultaneous bombings against US embassies in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, as well as several hijackings in the United States.” However, the US has charged him with being the “20th hijacker” who planned to be on Flight 77 in the 9/11 attack. [ABC News, 9/5/2002]

Entity Tags: France, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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