Moussaoui’s Guilt: Less Profound Than Airline’s Own Incompetence?


WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Moussaoui trial controversy has almost nothing to do about the would-be hijacker’s guilt or innocence and everything to do with the airline industry covering up their negligence in handling airport security. The trial resumes today.

Carla Martin, a Transportation Security Administration attorney, coached aviation witnesses with court testimony in such a way as to bolster the government’s argument that, had they known about Zacarias Moussaoui’s Al Qaeda connections and the reasons for his flight training in August 2001, when federal agents first arrested and questioned him, then they would have taken precautions and launched investigations that might have averted the attack.

On finding out what Martin had done, Judge Leonie Brinkema halted the trial, reprimanded the lawyer, and reportedly considered throwing out the case. A hearing last week revealed Martin had shown scheduled witnesses testimony from the first day of the trial and coached them on how to answer questions. Federal rules of evidence bar witnesses from seeing trial testimony because they might change what they say after reading it.

Later in the week, the judge and prosecutors reached a compromise. The prosecutors proposed to bring on substitute witnesses and new documents that Martin had no connection with.

In fact, the airlines had long known their air security systems did not work but made scant effort to improve them. And, according to the 9-11 commission’s own staff study, prepared in August 2004 but not released until after the election in February 2005, the intelligence community had warned the FAA, which was supposed to pass the information on to the airlines, repeatedly to expect an attack before 9-11. These warnings appear to have had no discernible effect on the airlines.

“The FAA had indeed considered the possibility that terrorists would hijack a plane and use it as a weapon. In the spring of 2001, FAA intelligence distributed an unclassified CD-ROM presentation to air carriers and airports, including Logan, Newark, and Dulles, the three sources of the hijacked planes. The presentation cited the possibility that terrorists might conduct suicide hijackings but stated, “fortunately we have no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction.” In the six months prior to 9-11, FAA senior officials received 52 intelligence briefings regarding Al Qaeda threats, according to the staff study.

The principal use of testimony by the aviation witnesses in the Moussaoui trial’s death phase doubtless is part of an effort to mitigate airline responsibility on 9-11 in pending suits by victim’s families.

Moussaoui, who pled guilty, is the only person tried in connection with the 9-11 attacks.