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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.” (Gordon 3/21/2006; Gordon 3/21/2006; Powell 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).
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)
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.” (Linsk 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 ) 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 ; Gordon 6/4/2006)
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).
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 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:
RFU chief Dave Frasca stops the Minneapolis office from pursuing a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001);
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);
Maltbie stops Minneapolis from informing the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case (see August 22, 2001);
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);
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);
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);
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);
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);
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);
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);
The RFU does not want a Minneapolis agent to accompany Moussaoui when he is deported (see (August 30-September 10, 2001));
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);
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 ) 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.” (Sniffen 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. (Riley 3/21/2006)
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).
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 )
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 )
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 )
Following the collapse of the FBI’s attempts to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 28, 2001), the FBI begins working on a plan to deport him to France so his belongings can be searched there. The French ask that a law enforcement officer from the US accompany Moussaoui. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office and the FBI’s assistant legal attache in Paris ask that Minneapolis agent Harry Samit and an INS agent go to France with Moussaoui to brief the French and await the results of the search of his belongings. Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) chief Dave Frasca opposes this plan. Michael Rolince, head of the bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section, opposes it as well, later claiming that he thought Samit might try to obtain information from Moussaoui on the journey. For several days, Frasca and one of his subordinates, Mike Maltbie, continue to haggle with Minneapolis over whether Samit can accompany Moussaoui. But when the French and the assistant legal attache insist, they drop their objections. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 171-3 ) Minneapolis is highly unsatisfied with this solution and would have preferred to obtain a warrant to search his belongings. Samit writes before 9/11 that deporting Moussaoui “was a distant third in my list of desired outcomes, but at this point I am so desperate to get into his computer I’ll take anything.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/10/2001 ) Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” and deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. (Markon and Dwyer 3/21/2006) The 9/11 attacks occur before the deportation can take place (see September 11, 2001).
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)
Zacarias Moussaoui claims that one of his associates, Atif Ahmed, was an informer for British intelligence and had foreknowledge of 9/11. In court Moussaoui says Ahmed “is a British agent who has taken a very important part of this,” adding, “My aim in pleading guilty was to expose the information I have.” Ahmed, the only associate named by Moussaoui during his initial questioning (see August 17, 2001), was arrested and released in November 2001 (see Mid-November 2001). Although Moussaoui was monitored by British authorities (see 1999, Mid-2000-December 9, 2000, and August 21, 2001-September 13, 2001), the security services say that Ahmed was not one of their agents. Moussaoui attempts to get British lawyer Sadiq Khan to investigate Ahmed, but the results of his inquiries, if any, are not known. (Levich 7/16/2002; Rennie 7/26/2002; Adetunji and Burns 9/19/2002; Levich 9/25/2002) Ahmed’s name will be mentioned at Moussaoui’s trial in 2006, but both the prosecutor and FBI agent Harry Samit will indicate he was not deeply involved in 9/11. (United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant 3/6/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) It is unclear why Moussaoui thinks Ahmed is an informer. Moussaoui does not say whether he suspected Ahmed was an informer before he gave his name to the FBI, or whether he surmised this because the British did little with the information, and then let him go soon after arresting him.
FBI agent Harry Samit testifies at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see March 6-May 4, 2006). Samit was one of the main agents involved in Moussaoui’s arrest and bombarded his superiors with messages about the danger Moussaoui posed (see August 21, 2001 and August 21, 2001). Under direct examination he relates what happened in August 2001 (see August 22, 2001). The prosecutor asks Samit several times what he would have done if Moussaoui had told the truth, and Samit is usually allowed by the judge to say how it would have helped the investigation and made 9/11 less likely. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) However, under cross examination Samit says he was not fooled by Moussaoui’s lies and that he immediately suspected him of preparing to hijack an airplane, but the investigation was thwarted by FBI headquarters, and the Radical Fundamentalist Unit in particular. He admits that he told the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that FBI headquarters was guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism,” and that its opposition blocked “a serious opportunity to stop the 9/11 attacks.” (Sniffen 3/20/2006) Samit says he warned his supervisors more than 70 times that Moussaoui was an al-Qaeda operative who might be plotting to hijack an airplane and fly it into a building, and that he was regularly thwarted by two superiors, David Frasca and Michael Maltbie. Reporting Samit’s testimony, the London Times will conclude that “the FBI bungled the Moussaoui investigation.” (Reid 4/25/2006) Similar charges were made by one of Samit’s colleagues, Coleen Rowley, after 9/11 (see May 21, 2002). The Los Angeles Times will comment, “His testimony appeared to undermine the prosecution’s case for the death penalty.” (Serrano 3/20/2006)
Michael Tabman, the Minneapolis FBI field office’s special agent in charge, prevents Harry Samit from speaking at a national security forum about the Moussaoui case and removes him from counterterrorism investigations. Samit was an important figure in the Zacarias Moussaoui investigation just before 9/11 (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). Unlike his former colleague Coleen Rowley (see May 21, 2002 and February 26, 2003), Samit has never gone public with his criticism of the FBI’s handling of the case. Tabman has been working at the Minneapolis office only since 2005. After Samit files a complaint, FBI headquarters will reassign him to counterterrorism and send Tabman back to headquarters. (Gordon and Chanen 9/23/2006; Karnowski 1/10/2007)
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