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From: Otis Willie
Subject: Agent: FBI Couldn't Track 9/11 Clues
Organization: The American War Library
NNTP-Posting-Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 17:59:22 EDT
Date: Wed, 25 Sep 2002 21:59:22 GMT
Agent: FBI Couldn't Track 9/11 Clues
(EXCERPT) Wed Sep 25, 9:55 AM ET, by KEN GUGGENHEIM, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) - The two leads arrived at FBI ( news - web sites)
headquarters weeks apart in the summer of 2001. The first, from a
Phoenix agent, warned that Osama bin Laden ( news - web sites)'s
terrorists may be learning to fly at U.S. schools. The second
described a suspicious student pilot in Minnesota named Zacarias
But the leads weren't put together until after terrorists crashed four
hijacked airliners at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon ( news -
web sites) and a rural Pennsylvania field. At a hearing Tuesday,
lawmakers asked what would have happened if someone had linked the two
earlier. Could the attacks have been prevented?
An FBI counterterrorism supervisor told them it was unlikely those
leads ever could have been connected, given headquarters' limited
staff and poor computer systems.
"We could 'what-if' it to death," said the supervisor, his name
undisclosed and his appearance concealed by a screen. "I don't think
one individual could keep this all in his head, could not possibly be
aware of all the various threats that were out there."
The supervisor addressed the House and Senate intelligence committees,
which are conducting their second week of public hearings as part of
their inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks.
The testimony came after the inquiry's staff director, Eleanor Hill,
presented a report finding that legal restrictions, limited resources
and bureaucratic snags kept the FBI from successfully investigating
the Phoenix memo and the case of Moussaoui, who since has been charged
with conspiring in the attacks.
Hill did not suggest that better handling of the cases or any other
lead would have prevented the attacks. But she said the country could
have been better prepared if those cases had been tied together and
with other clues.
Among them were topics she discussed last week: the brief search
before the attack for two men who turned out to be hijackers, and a
rise in reports suggesting an imminent terrorist action.
"Clearly, it might have drawn greater attention to the possibility of
a terrorist attack in the United States, generated a heightened state
of alert regarding such attacks and prompted more aggressive
investigation and intelligence gathering," she said.
Moussaoui was arrested by FBI agents in Minnesota on immigration
charges in August 2001 after a flight school instructor became
suspicious of his desire to learn to fly a commercial jet. FBI
headquarters denied agents' requests to seek a warrant to search his
computer. Hill said FBI agents misunderstood the requirements for
getting the special warrant needed for foreign terrorist suspects.
When an anti-terror unit agent in Washington told him he was making
too much of a fuss over Moussaoui, a Minneapolis supervisor said "he
was trying to make sure that Moussaoui 'did not take control of a
plane and fly it into the World Trade Center,'" Hill said, citing the
supervisor's notes and a statement he gave. The supervisor said he
made the comments merely to get headquarters' attention.
"That's not going to happen," Hill said the headquarters agent
replied. "You don't have enough to show he is a terrorist. You have a
guy interested in this type of aircraft — that's it." The agent
doesn't remember the exchange, Hill said.
The July 10, 2001, Phoenix memo was prompted by agent Kenneth
Williams' concerns about 10 foreign-born Sunni Muslims studying
aviation issues. One, a member of the militant group al-Muhajiroun,
was taking aviation-related security courses at Embry Riddle
New York-based agents who reviewed the memo considered it "speculative
and not particularly significant," Hill said. She said they already
knew that Middle Eastern flight students associated with bin Laden
were training in the United States, but believed he wanted them to
transport goods and people in Afghanistan ( news - web sites).
The memo also raised concerns of racial profiling. And she said it's
not clear how many people saw it, because the FBI's communication
system doesn't ensure that everyone whose address appears on a
communication actually receives it.
None of the students Williams was investigating were involved in the
Sept. 11 hijackings. But one knew hijacker Hani Hanjour from flight
training and an Arizona religious center.
Williams and a Minnesota-based FBI agent also spoke at Tuesday's
hearings. Their identities and appearances were concealed from the
public, but Williams effectively described himself by discussing — and
denouncing — all the unwanted media attention he received after his
memo was disclosed this year.
He said he feared al-Qaida would try to kill him and blamed Congress
for not protecting his identity. He said Congress needs to protect
intelligence agents, adding "I feel in this regard, Congress has
personally failed me, as an FBI special agent and as an American."
The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Porter Goss (
news, bio, voting record), R-Fla., called the remarks "an
extraordinarily harsh indictment."
"I think it is very understandable from your position and certainly it
is something that we take to heart," he said.
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