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The FBI’s Minneapolis field office tells the CIA that Zacarias Moussaoui will be arrested the next day (see August 16, 2001). The information is communicated to a CIA field office, which then informs the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters. The CTC searches for information on Moussaoui, but does not find anything. The CIA has information on Moussaoui at this point, but the information is related to one of Moussaoui’s aliases and the CIA apparently does not understand that the alias is used by Moussaoui (see April 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 200-201)
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office becomes very concerned that he may be part of a larger operation involving hijacked aircraft and that he represents a real threat to US national security. One of the agents, Harry Samit, will later say that he and his colleagues are “obsessed” with Moussaoui. Samit sends over 70 communications warning about Moussaoui to the following:
The Hezbollah, bin Laden, and Radical Fundamentalist Units at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001);
Another FBI field office (see August 23, 2001);
The CIA (see August 24, 2001);
The FBI’s offices in Paris and London;
The Secret Service;
The Immigration and Naturalization Service; and
Another intelligence agency (possibly the National Security Agency).
While some of these bodies are responsive (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001), Samit and his colleagues in Minnesota are forced to engage in a running battle with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, which obstructs their attempts to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings. Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” to deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 101-221 ; Johnson 3/9/2006; Markon and Dwyer 3/21/2006)
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; Gordon 6/4/2006) Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).
After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, he consents to be interviewed on the day of the arrest and the next day by FBI agent Harry Samit. However, the interviews only alarm the FBI more, as Moussaoui makes a number of suspicious statements and his answers are extremely evasive: (Hirschkorn 9/28/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
Moussaoui says he does not want the French consul to be informed of his arrest, which makes the FBI think he is a criminal or an Islamic militant;
Although Moussaoui says he works for a British company called NOP, he cannot remember what the letters stand for, neither can he recall his salary, job description, or any details of the business; (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
He says he works as a “marketing consultant” for Infocus Tech, a Southeast Asian technology company, but also fails to provide information about that company; (MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
When asked about his $32,000 bank balance, he initially says it is his savings, but then admits it was given to him by friends and associates, most of whose names he cannot remember (see August 17, 2001);
Moussaoui’s passport, which indicates he spent two months in Pakistan shortly before arriving in the US, is new and he tells the FBI his old one was destroyed in the washing machine, which the agents know is a common lie for international criminals.
When Samit asks Moussaoui about his trips to Pakistan and tells Moussaoui his story does not add up and they are suspicious, Moussaoui requests an attorney and the interview ends. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas is also interviewed around this time and makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be linked with a militant group (see August 16, 2001).
Towards the end of an interview with the FBI (see August 16-17, 2001), Zacarias Moussaoui discloses the name of one of his associates, Atif Ahmed. Moussaoui tells the FBI that Ahmed provided him with some money and that he associated with Ahmed’s brother in Pakistan. However, he cannot remember any details, such as Ahmed’s address or employment. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office immediately sends a lead to its legal attaché in London, asking him to follow up. However, information about Ahmed does not arrive in the US until “months later,” possibly November 2001, when Ahmed is arrested in Britain (see Mid-November 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Moussaoui will later say that Ahmed is a spy working for the British, but the FBI and British authorities will deny this (see July 25, 2002).
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)
Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit contacts Charles Frahm, an FBI agent who is working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit as a deputy chief, to discuss the Moussaoui case. Frahm passes on information to other CIA officers. Frahm will also be contacted by FBI headquarters about the case (see (August 20, 2001)) and will provide information linking the Chechen rebels, to which Moussaoui is connected, to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 201)
Hussein al-Attas, an associate of Zacarias Moussaoui, is released from an immigration detention center on bail. Al-Attas was questioned and detained shortly after Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). His bail is paid by Mujahid Abdulqadir Menepta (a.k.a. Melvin Lattimore), who was investigated by the FBI over terrorism suspicions. When agents from the Minneapolis field office investigate Menepta, they find that he knows Moussaoui and attended the same mosque as him in Norman, Oklahoma. They also discover that he has an extensive criminal history and was the subject of a New York criminal-terrorism related investigation. Minneapolis agent Harry Samit writes in a memo to FBI headquarters that he thinks Menepta may be involved in whatever Moussaoui is plotting. Samit explains that he told immigration officers that he traveled to Pakistan in 1989 as part of a missionary effort. Samit says the international Islamic organization that sponsored the trip has been linked by the FBI to the recruitment of militants. Samit also reports that Menepta wasn’t entirely truthful with the INS. Samit says Pakistan apparently issued him a visa in April 1990, something he failed to disclose to the INS. Additionally, Menepta told immigration officers that he is al-Attas’ roommate, but al-Attas has been living with Moussaoui and another man for one month at an address different than the one indicated by Menepta. Samit says that the the explanation that he flew to Minneapolis to post al-Attas’ bond so that al-Attas can return to teach children at the Oklahoma mosque seems “farfetched.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 135-6 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit, who has arrested Zacarias Moussaoui and wants to search his belongings, that getting an intelligence warrant can be bad for an agent’s career if it gets fouled up. Maltbie comments that he wants to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential.” The Minneapolis field office is in dispute with the RFU over whether a warrant should be granted to search Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). At a key meeting with an attorney about whether to go forward with the warrant request, Maltbie is adamant that the warrant should not be granted (see August 28, 2001). (Riley 3/21/2006)
The Minnesota FBI office e-mails FBI headquarters on this day, saying it is “imperative” that the Secret Service be warned of the danger that a plot involving Zacarias Moussaoui might pose to the president’s safety. However, no such warning is ever sent. (US Congress 10/17/2002; Shenon 10/18/2002)
Dave Frasca of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) denies a request from the Minneapolis FBI field office to seek a criminal warrant to search the belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested on August 15 as part of an intelligence investigation (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Minneapolis agents believe they had uncovered sufficient evidence that Moussaoui is involved in a criminal conspiracy, and want to obtain a criminal search warrant instead of a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But because they originally opened an intelligence investigation, they cannot go directly to the local US attorney’s office for the warrant. In order to begin a parallel criminal investigation, they must first obtain permission from the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) so they can pass the information over the “wall.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Harry Samit, a Minneapolis FBI agent on the Moussaoui case, calls Dave Frasca, the head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, to discuss the request. Samit tells Frasca that they have already completed the paperwork for a criminal investigation, but, according to Samit, Frasca says, “You will not open it, you will not open a criminal case.” Frasca says that argument for probable cause in seeking a criminal warrant is “shaky” and notes that if they fail to obtain a criminal warrant, they will be unable to obtain a warrant under FISA. Samit, who has only been with the FBI since 1999, defers to his superior, and writes on the paperwork, “Not opened per instructions of Dave Frasca.” Samit then tells his Chief Division Counsel, Coleen Rowley, about the conversation, and she also advises him that it would be better to apply for a warrant under FISA. When the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) interviews Frasca after 9/11, he will claim he never spoke to Samit about this matter, and that the conversation was with Chris Briese, one of Samit’s superiors. However, Briese will deny this and the OIG will conclude that the conversation was between Samit and Frasca. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 128-132 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 ) To get a FISA search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings the FBI must now show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) A criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings will be granted only after the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001).
After arresting Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office asks French authorities if they have any information on him. The French then provide the US with intelligence indicating that Moussaoui is associated with a radical militant who died fighting for the Chechen rebels in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). The French interviewed one of this militant’s associates who said he had been recruited by Moussaoui to fight in Chechnya and described Moussaoui as “the dangerous one.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 140-1 ) French authorities attempt to gather additional information by talking to Moussaoui’s mother. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s lead investigating magistrate in charge of counterterrorism affairs, also provides information. “Let’s just say that Zacarias Moussaoui was well-known by the French security service…,” Bruguiere later recalls in a 2004 interview with CBC. “When the names come from abroad, we usually have a file, and it was the same with him. He was a well-known personality. He lived in France and then left here to go to England.” Bruguiere will also say that the French provided US authorities with information on Moussaoui’s activities in both France and England (see 1999 and August 21, 2001-September 13, 2001). (McKenna 3/16/2004) Upon reviewing this information, Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters will inform Minneapolis that it is not enough for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, because, even though the French sent information about Moussaoui, Maltbie objects that the Moussaoui the French are talking about may not be the same one Minneapolis has in custody. The result of this is that FBI staff are sent on what Minneapolis agent Harry Samit will later call a “wild goose chase”—they are asked to spend days poring through French phone books to make sure they have the right Moussaoui. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 8/27/2001 ; Federal Bureau of Investigation 8/28/2001 ; Riley 3/21/2006; Serrano 3/21/2006) For a search warrant to be granted there must be probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. Maltbie claims that the Chechen rebels, who have never been treated as a foreign power before for a FISA warrant, cannot be treated as such, because they are not a “recognized” foreign power, only dissidents engaged in a civil war, and are not hostile to the US. In fact, the FBI has already received information indicating a close relationships between Chechen rebels and bin Laden (see, e.g., 1986-March 19, 2002 , August 24, 2001, and (October 1993-November 2001)) and that the two groups are working together on a strike against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Maltbie says that even if the Chechen rebels are a foreign power, then it will take some time to develop this information to the point where a FISA application can be submitted. Previous to this, Maltbie had only once advised a field office it was not going to get a FISA warrant. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 141-4 ) The French provide more information on Moussaoui a few days later (see August 30, 2001).
Two agents from the Oklahoma City FBI office visit Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui’s training there earlier in the year. One of these agents had visited the same school in September 1999 to learn more about Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda agent who trained there in 1993. Apparently, this agent forgets the connection when he visits the school to look into Moussaoui. He later admits he should have connected the two cases. (Cullen and Ranalli 9/18/2001; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322) The staff director of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later states, “No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot.” (Smith 9/25/2002) The Oklahoma City office also does not connect Moussaoui to a memo that had come from its office in May 1998 warning that “large numbers of Middle Eastern males” were receiving flight training in Oklahoma and could be planning terrorist attacks (see May 15, 1998). Furthermore, Moussaoui’s Oklahoma roommate Hussein al-Attas is also under suspicion at this time (see August 16, 2001). One of the people who attempted to post bond for al-Attas, William Webb, had previously been the subject of an extensive investigation by the same Oklahoma City FBI office. Webb is a member of the extremist group the Muslim Brotherhood and is also Vice President of Overseas Operations and Recruiting for the Palestinian group Fatah. Further, Webb is connected to Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam who has frequent ties with some of the 9/11 hijackers and is suspected of involvement in the 9/11 plot (see March 2001 and After). Al-Awlaki was the subject of an FBI counterterrorism inquiry the year before (see June 1999-March 2000). These connections are also not noticed. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
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.” (Isikoff 5/20/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 153 ) 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; Ratnesar and Weisskopf 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 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 ) 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; Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 161 )
After being contacted by FBI headquarters (see (August 20, 2001)) and the local Minneapolis field office (see August 24, 2001), the CIA offers an opinion on the Moussaoui case. In response to French information linking Moussaoui to the Chechen rebels (see August 22, 2001), a CIA officer tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit that this is “highly interesting,” adding, “[I] am not sure why this is not enough to firmly link Moussaoui to a terrorist group—Ibn Al-Khattab is well known to be the leader of the Chechen mujaheddin movement and to be a close buddy with bin Laden from their earlier fighting days. From a read of the [French] info, Moussaoui is a recruiter for Khattab. I can confirm from our own info that in fact the dead guy [Masooud Al-Benin] in fact was a fighter for Khattab who perished in Chechnya in April 2000” (see Late 1999-Late 2000). In a document submitted to court, the CIA officer will state “[T]he connection between Ibn Khattab and Osama bin Laden had been known for years at the CIA… it was crystal clear that Khattab and [bin Laden] were intricately tied together and they had clearly shared funding operations and training… it was no leap of faith to connect Khattab to [bin Laden] and there was lots of information connecting the two groups… the FBI informed [me] that French information discerned that Moussaoui had recruited for Khattab, clearly establishing his connection to Khattab, and thereby his connection to [bin Laden].” However, FBI headquarters, which is aware that bin Laden and the Chechen rebel leader are plotting together against the US (see, e.g., Before April 13, 2001), will refuse to apply for a search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings, saying that the connections between Moussaoui and the Chechen rebels, and the Chechen rebels and bin Laden are not strong enough to justify one (see August 20-September 11, 2001 and August 28, 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters tells Greg Jones of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that obtaining a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings could “take a few months” because there are “hundreds of these FISA requests.” (FISA warrants can actually be obtained in a matter of hours if needed, and can even be approved retroactively) Maltbie tells Jones that the situation is not an emergency, as he believes an act of terrorism is not imminent in this case, but that Minneapolis can write a letterhead memorandum for FBI headquarters about the case. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 48, 53, 148-9 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 )
Frustrated with the lack of response from FBI headquarters about Zacarias Moussaoui, the Minnesota FBI contacts an FBI agent working with the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and asks for help. (US Congress 10/17/2002) On this day, the CIA sends a cable to stations and bases overseas requesting information about Moussaoui. The cable is titled, “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training.” The cable says that the FBI is investigating Moussaoui for possible involvement in the planning of a terrorist attack and mentions his efforts to obtain flight training. It also suggests he might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US.” (US Congress 9/18/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 540) It calls him a “suspect 747 airline attacker” and a “suspect airline suicide hijacker”—showing that the form of the 9/11 attack is not a surprise, at least to the CIA. (US Congress 10/17/2002) FBI headquarters responds by chastising the Minnesota FBI for notifying the CIA without approval. (Time 5/21/2002)
Harry Samit and Greg Jones, agents at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office investigating Zacarias Moussaoui, are having some problems with Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent at FBI headquarters’ Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) (see August 20-September 11, 2001). They ask their boss to call RFU head Dave Frasca to “find out what [Maltbie]‘s problem [is].” Jones and his boss place the call. According to Jones, when the call starts, Frasca is “immediately defensive” and asks Maltbie to join the call. Jones’ notes indicate that he asks what is going to happen if “they won’t let us go criminal” and there is not enough information for a warrant under FISA. Jones asks what will happen if Moussaoui cannot be connected to a known group. The answer recorded in his notes is “That isn’t something for you to worry about.” However, Frasca will state he never said this. Maltbie’s performance—the original reason for the call—is apparently not discussed. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 155-8 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 )
FBI agents at the bureau’s Minneapolis field office have been arguing with the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) over whether there is sufficient evidence to secure a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 20-September 11, 2001). The tensions surface in a call between Minneapolis agent Greg Jones and Supervisory Special Agent Mike Maltbie. This is a partial reconstruction of the conversation based on Jones’ notes: Maltbie: “What you have done is couched [the request] in such a way that people get spun up.” Jones: “Good. We want to make sure he doesn’t get control of an airplane and crash it into the [World Trade Center] or something like that.” Maltbie: “[T]hat’ not going to happen. We don’t know he’s a terrorist. You don’t have enough to show he is a terrorist. You have a guy interested in this type of aircraft—that is it.” Jones also asks whether the warrant request has been shown to Section Chief Michael Rolince yet, and Maltbie replies it has not. (US Congress 10/17/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 153-5 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 ) Another Minneapolis agent, Harry Samit, also contacts Maltbie and expresses his frustration with RFU’s position that they do not have enough evidence. In an interview with the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General he recalls telling Maltbie: “… if you’re not going to advance this the FISA route, or if you don’t believe we have enough for a FISA, I shudder to think—and that’s all I got out. And [Maltbie] cut me off and said, ‘You will not question the unit chief and you will not question me. We’ve been through a lot. We know what’s going on. You will not question us.’ And that could be the mantra for FBI supervisors.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 155 )
Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalism Unit (RFU), and Michael Rolince, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS), have at least two brief conversations about the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Moussaoui, suspected of having ties to Islamic militants, was arrested in mid-August (see August 16, 2001). Though it is not known what Frasca and Rolince talk about, it is possible their discussions concern complaints from the Minneapolis field office about how RFU is handling the case (see August 27, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, there is no evidence that this discussion ever reaches Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson or Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard. If this is true, the FBI’s handling of the case is remarkably different than the approach taken in the CIA, where Director George Tenet is briefed repeatedly on the matter (see August 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275; Sniffen 3/21/2006) A warning that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab were planning a joint operation against the US was sent to Rolince earlier in the year (see Before April 13, 2001) and the FBI is aware that Moussaoui had recruited for the Chechen rebels (see August 22, 2001). Rolince will be involved in preparations for Moussaoui’s deportation to France shortly before 9/11 (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)).
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:
Maltbie changes a statement about Moussaoui “preparing himself to fight” to one saying he and an associate “train together in defensive tactics.”
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.”
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 )
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 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 )
After the FBI decides not to seek a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (see August 28, 2001), it fails to reconsider the possibility of applying for a criminal warrant. A criminal warrant was not sought initially, partially because if the warrant application were unsuccessful, it would adversely affect the chances of getting a FISA warrant (see August 21, 2001). Now that a FISA warrant is not to be sought, this potential consequence is irrelevant. Dave Frasca, head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, will later say that he does not know why he, his subordinate Mike Maltbie, and the FBI’s Minneapolis field office do not bring this possibility up at this time, but will suggest that everybody probably forgot to raise the matter. Maltbie will say he does not think there is enough evidence for a warrant. Minneapolis personnel will say they do not bring the issue up because they do not think of it, are not in charge of the case, and the RFU has previously blocked this route. The Justice Department’s inspector general will say that the failure to reconsider obtaining a criminal search warrant is “puzzling” and “even more troubling” than the previous errors in the case’s handling, adding that it “also shows a troubling lack of initiative and acceptance of responsibility by FBI headquarters.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 168-9, 191-2 )
Harry Samit, an agent at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, drafts a memo to the FAA summarizing the facts of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. In it, he writes, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui, [his roommate Hussein] al-Attas, and others not yet known were engaged in preparing to seize a Boeing 747-400 in commission of a terrorist act. As Moussaoui denied requests for consent to search his belongings and was arrested before sufficient evidence of criminal activity was revealed, it is not known how far advanced were his plans to do so.” He also mentions Moussaoui’s physical and marital arts training and expresses concern that France, where Moussaoui will soon be deported, may not be able to hold him or his property for long. But Mike Maltbie of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) instructs the Minneapolis field office not to send the memo because he is also drafting a memo on the Moussaoui case that will be sent to the FAA and other agencies. However Maltbie’s memo lacks a threat assessment and does not mention Minneapolis’ suspicions that Moussaoui might be planning a terrorist act involving a hijacked airplane. The memo does not result in any FAA action. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 174-7 ; Serrano 3/20/2006) A meeting between Samit and a Minneapolis FAA officer will also fail to produce any FAA action (see September 4, 2001).
The FBI’s Oklahoma City field office again fails to provide help with the Moussaoui investigation. They had been asked by colleagues in Minneapolis to investigate El Hadj Ndiaye, an associate of Moussaoui who knew Moussaoui wanted to go on jihad (see August 17, 2001). However, instead of interviewing the list of people Minneapolis wanted them to talk to, they just speak to one person. On September 6, Minneapolis agent Harry Samit notes that the interviewee seems to be close to Ndaiye and that he would “be willing to throw the Bureau off the trail” because of this closeness. The same field office had previously failed to make connections related to another lead in the investigation (see August 23, 2001). Samit also expresses his disappointment at their performance: “Oklahoma City continues to fall short of expectations… Anyway, we know for future reference how weak they are.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
After failing to obtain a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 28, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office considers inserting an Arabic speaking undercover officer into Moussaoui’s cell “in an attempt to learn the name or description of the recognized foreign power with whom Moussaoui is aligned.” Minneapolis sees no problem with the idea and contacts the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters about it. RFU chief Dave Frasca replies, “Let us look into this asap. Do NOT go forward with the [undercover officer] until we weigh in…” Frasca then discusses the idea with an expert at the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section, who says the proposal is “ridiculous” and should not be implemented. Frasca also tells Minneapolis the idea is problematic because in the event of criminal proceedings the undercover officer will not be in a position to testify. The plan is abandoned and the FBI continues with preparations to deport Moussaoui (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 166-7 )
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 ) Briese later tells Samit that Frasca also initially claims it is just “a coincidence.” (Gordon 6/4/2006) A federal judge approves a criminal search warrant this afternoon. (Hersh 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.” (Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002)
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.” (Rowley 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).
Minnesota FBI agent Coleen Rowley, upset with what she considers lying from FBI Director Robert Mueller and others in the FBI about the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case, releases a long memo she wrote about the case two weeks before 9/11. (Time 5/21/2002) Rowley also applies for whistleblower protection. Time magazine calls the memo a “colossal indictment of our chief law enforcement agency’s neglect,” and says it “raises serious doubts about whether the FBI is capable of protecting the public—and whether it still deserves the public’s trust.” (Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002) Three days after 9/11, Mueller made statements such as, “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” Rowley and other Minnesota FBI agents had “immediately sought to reach [Mueller’s] office through an assortment of higher-level FBI [headquarters] contacts, in order to quickly make [him] aware of the background of the Moussaoui investigation and forewarn [him] so that [his] public statements could be accordingly modified.” Yet Mueller continued to make similar comments, including in a Senate hearing on May 8, 2002. (Time 5/21/2002; Shenon 5/31/2002) Finally, after Rowley’s memo becomes public, Mueller states, “I cannot say for sure that there wasn’t a possibility we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers.” He also admits, “I have made mistakes occasionally in my public comments based on information or a lack of information that I subsequently got.” (Shenon 5/31/2002) Time magazine will later name Rowley as one of three “Persons of the Year” for 2002, along with fellow whistleblowers Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom and Sherron Watkins of Enron. (Ripley and Sieger 12/22/2002; Ripley and Sieger 12/22/2002)
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.” (Rowley 5/2/2007)
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