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Friday, March 31, 2006

"God help us all if the next terrorist attacks involves this same type of plane"

That's from an email sent to FBI Special Agent Harry Samit by a CIA Counterterrorism Center official on September 10, 2001. The "same type of plane" is a reference to Samit's numerous unheeded warnings to his superiors regarding a possible terror attack involving 747s, warnings based on Zacarias Moussaoui's training on those aircraft.

Over at Reason Online, Jeff Taylor has a fascinating -- and frightening -- article that shows, based on information gleaned from Moussaoui's trial, just how badly the FBI screwed the pooch and how the claims that "nobody could have forseen" the 9/11 attacks are simply false. As Taylor says, "Beginning with Moussaoui's August 16, 2001 arrest Samit mounted a global and indefatigable investigation of the man and concluded that an attack involving hijacked airplanes was imminent."

According to Taylor, then-head of the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Section Michael Rolince testified at Moussaoui's trial that Agent Samit's "suppositions, hunches and suspicions were one thing and what we knew" was another. How do you spell "bureaucrat?" Wouldn't want those pesky field agents to actually trust their hunches and suspicions, would we? Much better to draw up a memo prioritizing your action items and integrating your known knowns and unknown knowns matrices, I guess.

When defense lawyer Edward MacMahon cross-examined Rolince, possibly the first and only time a government security official has been so challenged on 9/11, the disconnect between the official story and reality was plain. Rolince knew nothing of the August 18, 2001 memo Samit had sent to his office warning of terror links. In that memo, Samit warned that Moussaoui wanted to hijack a plane and had the weapons to do it. Samit also warned that Moussaoui "believes it is acceptable to kill civilians" and that he approved of martyrdom. Rolince testified he never read the memo.

On August 17 Samit sent an e-mail to his direct superiors at FBI headquarters recounting Moussaoui's training on 747 simulators. "His excuse is weak, he just wants to learn how to do it... That's pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan," Samit wrote.

Rebuffed by his superiors and ignored by Rolince, Samit still sought out more info worldwide and from sources as diverse as the FBI's London, Paris, and Oklahoma City offices, FBI headquarters files, the CIA's counterterrorism center, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, probably the National Security Agency, and the FBI's Iran and OBL offices.

He was sufficiently alarmed by what he heard that Samit sent an August 21 e-mail requesting that the Secret Service be informed about Moussaoui's intentions to see the White House and that he was interested in flight training.

Not sold on Samit's hunches yet? Well, hold on. If you order by credit card within the next 15 minutes, we'll throw in, absolutely free:

Samit testified that on August 22 he had learned from the French—the French!—that Moussaoui had recruited a fighter to go to Chechnya in 2000 to fight with Islamic radicals with previous links, so the CIA told Samit, to Osama bin Laden. The FBI brass remained unmoved.

Defense attorney MacMahon then displayed an August 30, 2001 communication addressed to Samit and FBI headquarters agent Mike Maltbie from a Bureau agent in Paris. It passed along that French intelligence thought Moussaoui was "very dangerous" and had soaked up radical views at London's infamous Finnsbury Park mosque. The French also said Moussaoui was "completely devoted" to bin Laden-style jihadism and, significantly, had traveled to Afghanistan.

Yet on August 31 Maltbie stopped Samit from sending a letter to FAA headquarters in Washington advising them of "a potential threat to security of commercial aircraft" based on the Moussaoui case. Maltbie said he would handle that, but it is not clear if he ever did.

"Minneapolis believes Moussaoui, [Moussaoui's roommate Hussein] Al Attas and others not yet known were...engaged in preparing to seize 747s," the aborted warning said.

Taylor details warnings from other FBI Bureaus that were similarly ignored. Yet, as he says,

Minneapolis, Phoenix, New York. Three different Bureau offices were hot on the terror plot in the days leading up to 9/11 and all were stiffed by Washington. If that is not institutional incompetence, Stalin purge-worthy stuff, heaven help the next 3,000 martyrs to J. Edgar Hoover's über-suits.

One exchange from the Moussaoui trial makes clear what happened in the weeks running up to 9/11:

"You tried to move heaven and earth to get a search warrant to search this man's belongings and you were obstructed," MacMahon said to Samit.

"Yes sir, I was obstructed." Samit replied.

The rest of the article is chock full of more things that make you feel real good about your DC boys. Taylor's only flaw lies in overlooking the good news that you take away from all this: after reading this article, I have no doubt whatsoever that if Muslim men of Arab descent, some of whom trained in terror camps and are "completely devoted" to jihadism, ever again sign up for flight training and show a curious disregard for learning how to take-off or land, the FBI will be all over them.

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