Moussaoui’s Guilt: Less Profound Than the FBI’s Own Negligence?


WASHINGTON, D.C.—FBI Special Agent Harry Samit’s testimony yesterday at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial adds just one more piece of evidence to a growing list of incidents showing what Samit himself labeled “criminal negligence.”

Samit warned FBI headquarters on August 21, 2001, that Moussaoui wanted to hijack a plane “for the purpose of seizing control of the aircraft.” Shortly thereafter he learned from French intelligence that Moussaoui had been a recruiter for a Chechyna group with ties to Osama bin Laden.

Higher ups in the FBI blocked his efforts to get a search warrant, and edited out of his reports any reference to the French.

Samit’s testimony is but one of a growing list of incidents involving FBI’s failure to take action on information it had received warning of an attack, while at the same time deliberately downplaying the possibilities of an attack.

From the onset of his tenure, Attorney General John Ashcroft had at first received, but later rejected briefings on the Al Qaeda threat. Ashcroft killed an August 2001 plea for an additional $58 million to combat Al Qaeda. In May that year, Ashcroft put out a memo outlining strategic goals of the Justice Department. It made no mention of counterterrorism. Subsequently, in testimony before the 9-11 Commission, Ashcroft blamed the Clinton administration for terrorism failures and said he thought any attack would come from abroad.

According to press reports at the time, the Justice Department leaned on the 9-11 Commission to tone down sections of a staff report on Ashcroft, and the final commission report devoted little more than one page to Ashcroft. It makes no mention of the fact that Ashcroft had decided in the summer of 2001 to begin traveling exclusively by government jet, rather than on commercial airliners.

According to Bureau translators, agents learned in April that bin Laden was planning an attack involving hijacked airliners. Why this didn’t sound the alarm, nobody knows. The matter disappeared into the bureaucracy.

The role of the Bureau in muzzling Sibel Edmonds, the interpreter who tried to blow the whistle on the Bureau’s translation operations pertaining to 9-11, is well known. The FBI and Justice Department fought to prevent Edmonds from giving public testimony and so far the courts have backed them up.

The most startling occurrence involves the FBI’s inability to detect the presence of the two hijackers who flew into Los Angles in 2000, and lived openly in San Diego. They socialized around town and even rented an apartment from the FBI’s key informant in the Muslim community there. The informant either didn’t tell his handlers at the Bureau about the men or the Bureau didn’t act on his information. When the staff of the Congressional Joint Inquiry—the investigation that preceded formation of the 9-11 Commission—discovered what had happened in San Diego, the FBI tried to cover it up, refusing subpoenas to produce the informant for congressional testimony.

In its report, the Joint Inquiry said that five of the hijackers may have had contact with 14 people who had come to the FBI’s attention during terrorism investigations. Four of the 14 were the focus of Bureau investigations during the time the hijackers were in the U.S.