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August 20-September 11, 2001: FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit Unhelpful with Moussaoui Search Warrant
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 discover 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);
  • 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 Department of Justice 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);
  • 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 their 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));
  • 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 Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize the RFU staff, but will conclude that their errors were not that significant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-222 pdf file] A 2004 book by independent researcher Mike Ruppert (see October 1, 2004) 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. 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 Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General that the RFU is guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism.” [Associated Press, 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. [Newsday, 3/21/2006]

August 21, 2001: FBI Headquarters Blocks Criminal Investigation into Moussaoui
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 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file] 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).

August 23-27, 2001: Minnesota FBI Agents ‘Absolutely Convinced’ Moussaoui Plans to Hijack Plane; They Are Undermined by FBI Headquarters
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.” [Newsweek, 5/20/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 153 pdf file] 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; Time, 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 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file] 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; Time, 5/27/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 161 pdf file]

August 29, 2001 and shortly after: FBI Headquarters Rejects Plan to Place Undercover Officer in Moussaoui’s Cell
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 pdf file]

September 11, 2001: FBI Agents Obtain Warrant for Moussaoui Too Late
Within an hour of the attacks of 9/11, the Minnesota FBI uses a memo written to FBI headquarters shortly after Moussaoui’s arrest to ask permission from a judge for the search warrant they have been desperately seeking. After the WTC is hit for the first time, Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters calls the Minneapolis field office and talks to 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 says 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 an FBI attorney, 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 says that he consents immediately. [Time, 5/21/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 178-9 pdf file] Briese later tells Samit that Frasca also initially claims it was just “a coincidence.” [Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] A federal judge approves a criminal search warrant that afternoon. [New Yorker, 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). Minnesota FBI Agent Coleen Rowley notes 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, the belongings are then rushed to an evidence response team, which discovers documents linking Moussaoui to eleven 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.” [Time, 5/27/2002]

September 11-12, 2001: FBI Agents Denied Permission to Interview Moussaoui, Due to Lack of Emergency
The FBI’s Minneapolis office asks for permission to interview Zacarias Moussaoui a few hours after the end of the 9/11 attacks, but permission is denied, apparently on the grounds that there is no emergency. On 9/11, the office’s counsel, Coleen Rowley, seeks permission from the Acting US Attorney to question Moussaoui about whether al-Qaeda has any further plans to hijack airliners or otherwise attack the US. The next day she asks again; this time the request is sent to the Justice Department. Such questioning would not usually be permitted, but Rowley argues that it should be allowed under a public safety exception. However, permission is denied and Rowley is told that the emergency is over so the public safety exception does not apply. Rowley will later comment: “We were so flabbergasted about the fact we were told no public safety emergency existed just hours after the attacks that my boss advised me to document it in a memo which became the first document in the legal subfile of the FBI’s ‘Penttbom’ case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007] Some sources will suggest that Moussaoui was to be part of a second wave of attacks (see September 5, 2002). He is also an associate of shoe bomber Richard Reid, who will attempt to blow up an airliner later this year (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000 and December 22, 2001).

May 21, 2002: FBI Whistleblower Reveals Slip-Ups in Moussaoui Arrest Before 9/11
Minnesota FBI Agent Coleen Rowley, upset with what she considers lying from FBI Director Mueller and others in the FBI about the handling of the Zacarias Moussaoui case, releases a long memo she wrote about the case two weeks before 9/11. [Time, 5/21/2002] She also applies for whistleblower protection. Time magazine calls the memo a “colossal indictment of our chief law-enforcement agency’s neglect” and says it “raises serious doubts about whether the FBI is capable of protecting the public—and whether it still deserves the public’s trust.” [Time, 5/27/2002] Three days after 9/11, Mueller made statements such as “There were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.” Coleen Rowley and other Minnesota FBI agents “immediately sought to reach [Mueller’s] office through an assortment of higher-level FBI [headquarters] contacts, in order to quickly make [him] aware of the background of the Moussaoui investigation and forewarn [him] so that [his] public statements could be accordingly modified.” Yet Mueller continued to make similar comments, including in a Senate hearing on May 8, 2002. [Time, 5/21/2002; New York Times, 5/31/2002] Finally, after Rowley’s memo becomes public, Mueller states, “I cannot say for sure that there wasn’t a possibility we could have come across some lead that would have led us to the hijackers.” He also admits: “I have made mistakes occasionally in my public comments based on information or a lack of information that I subsequently got.” [New York Times, 5/31/2002] Time magazine later names Rowley one of three “Persons of the Year” for 2002, along with fellow whistleblowers Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom and Sherron Watkins of Enron. [Time, 12/22/2002; Time, 12/22/2002]

May 30, 2002: Wright Claims FBI Obstructed Efforts to Stop Terrorist Money Flows
FBI agent Robert Wright holds a press conference. He makes a statement that has been preapproved by the FBI. As one account puts it, “Robert Wright’s story is difficult to piece together because he is on government orders to remain silent.… [T]his is in distinct contrast to the free speech and whistle-blower protections offered to Colleen Rowley, general counsel in the FBI Minneapolis office, who got her story out before the agency could silence her. Wright, a 12-year bureau veteran, has followed proper channels” but has been frustrated by limitations on what he is allowed to say (see September 11, 2001-October 2001). “The best he could do [is a] press conference in Washington, D.C., where he [tells] curious reporters that he [has] a whopper of a tale to tell, if only he could.” Wright says that FBI bureaucrats “intentionally and repeatedly thwarted [his] attempts to launch a more comprehensive investigation to identify and neutralize terrorists.” He also claims, “FBI management failed to take seriously the threat of terrorism in the US.” [Fox News, 5/30/2002; Federal News Service, 5/30/2002; LA Weekly, 8/2/2002] Larry Klayman, a lawyer representing Wright, says at the conference that he believes one reason Wright’s investigations were blocked “is because these monies were going through some very powerful US banks with some very powerful interests in the United States. These banks knew or had reason to know that these monies were laundered by terrorists. And there are very significant potential conflicts of interests in both the Clinton and Bush Administrations—with the country primarily responsible for funding these charities, mainly Saudi Arabia. We have both Clinton and Bush, and in particular this Bush Administration, who is as tight with Saudi Arabia as you can get.” He also says, “Corruption is knowing when something is not being done, knowing when the American people are being left unprotected and when you make a decision not to do something to protect the American people… And you effectively allow 9/11 to occur. That is the ultimate form of government corruption—dereliction of duty. That’s subject in the military to prosecution, to court martial…. Frankly, if not treason.” [Federal News Service, 5/30/2002]

June 10, 2002: Arrest of Supposed Al-Qaeda Plotter Jose Padilla Announced
Attorney General Ashcroft announces the arrest of Abdullah al-Mujahir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla. He claims that Padilla was part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city, and supposedly Padilla was scouting bomb targets when arrested. Padilla, a US citizen, is being held as an “enemy combatant,” allowing him to be held indefinitely. [Guardian, 6/11/2002; PBS, 6/11/2002] But almost immediately, doubts grow about this story. The London Times says that it is “beyond dispute” that the timing of the announcement of his arrest was “politically inspired.” Padilla was actually arrested a month earlier, on May 8. [London Times, 6/13/2002] It is widely believed that Ashcroft made the arrest announcement “only to divert attention from Intelligence Committee inquiries into the FBI and CIA handling of 9/11.” [Village Voice, 6/12/2002; Independent, 6/12/2002; BBC, 6/13/2002; Washington Post, 6/13/2003] Four days earlier, Coleen Rowley testified before Congress. The FBI whistleblower stated her belief that the attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the FBI flight-school warnings been made available to the agents investigating Zacharias Moussaoui. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Bush soon privately chastises Ashcroft for overstating claims about Padilla. [Guardian, 8/15/2002] The government attorneys apparently could not get an indictment out of a New York grand jury and, rather than let him go, made Padilla an enemy combatant. [Village Voice, 6/12/2002] It later comes out that the FBI found no evidence that he was preparing a dirty bomb attack and little evidence to suggest he had any support from al-Qaeda, or any ties to al-Qaeda cells in the US. Yet the Justice Department maintains that its view of Padilla “remains unchanged,” and that he is a “serious and continuing threat.” [Guardian, 8/15/2002] Because Padilla is a US citizen, he cannot be tried in a military court. So apparently he will simply be held indefinitely. It is pointed out that any American could be declared an enemy combatant and never tried or have that status questioned. [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/11/2002; Washington Post, 6/11/2002] The Washington Post says, “If that’s the case, nobody’s constitutional rights are safe.” [Washington Post, 6/11/2002] Despite the evidence that Padilla’s case is grossly overstated, the government won’t allow him access to a lawyer (see December 4, 2002; March 11, 2003).

Early July 2002: Moussaoui Expresses Willingness to Talk, Offer Is Rejected by Justice Department
Zacarias Moussaoui indicates that he is willing to disclose information to the US authorities, but his overtures are rejected by the FBI and the Justice Department. After learning of Moussaoui’s offer, Minneapolis FBI counsel Coleen Rowley contacts assistants to FBI director Robert Mueller and to Justice Department manager Michael Chertoff. She says she is worried about Moussaoui’s research into cropdusting and wind patterns, and that the information he could provide may prove useful averting a second strike by al-Qaeda. Rowley will later comment: “But by that time Moussaoui had been charged with the death penalty and I deduced that [attorney general John] Ashcroft would not allow any potential for bargaining leverage to be injected into the case.” [Huffington Post, 5/2/2007]

February 26, 2003: Whistleblower Believes FBI Not Prepared for New Terrorist Threats
Coleen Rowley, the FBI whistleblower who was proclaimed Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2002, sends another public letter to FBI Director Mueller. She believes the FBI is not prepared for new terrorist attacks likely to result from the upcoming Iraq war. She also says counterterrorism cases are being mishandled. She claims the FBI and the Justice Department have not questioned captured al-Qaeda suspects Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid about their al-Qaeda contacts, choosing instead to focus entirely on prosecution. She writes, “Lack of follow-through with regard to Moussaoui and Reid gives a hollow ring to our ‘top priority’ —i.e., preventing another terrorist attack. Moussaoui almost certainly would know of other al-Qaeda contacts, possibly in the US, and would also be able to alert us to the motive behind his and Mohamed Atta’s interest in crop-dusting.” Moussaoui’s lawyer also says the government has not attempted to talk to Moussaoui since 9/11. [New York Times, 3/5/2003; New York Times, 3/6/2003]

March 9 and 20, 2006: FBI Agent Testifying at Moussaoui Trial Blames FBI ‘Criminal Negligence’ for Not Stopping 9/11 Plot
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 will 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 that the investigation was thwarted by FBI headquarters, and the Radical Fundamentalist Unit in particular. He admits that he told the Department of Justice 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.” [Associated Press, 3/20/2006] 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.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2006]

September 2006: Moussaoui Agent Prevented from Speaking at Forum and Reassigned, then Moved Back
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. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 9/23/2006; Associated Press, 1/10/2007]