Thanks to www.cooperativeresearch.org
By Kevin Fenton
Michael Maltbie is one of the agents at the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) that blocked warrants for searches of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings. Although he is less well-known than unit chief Dave Frasca, to whom the Phoenix memo was also addressed, Maltbie is the person who mostly handled the case at FBI headquarters. Together with another RFU agent called Rita Flack, he took care of most of the day-to-day dealings with the Minneapolis field office, which had arrested Moussaoui and wanted to search his belongings, as well as discussions with FBI lawyers.
What Maltbie Did Wrong
Although, as the Justice Department’s inspector general found, the Minneapolis field office had obtained enough evidence to obtain a FISA warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings, Maltbie, working with Frasca and Flack, constantly through up obstructions. They eventually managed to kill the warrant application before it even reached the Justice Department unit that submitted such warrant applications to the FISA court. The barriers he threw up include:
After French authorities told the FBI Moussaoui was known to them as an Islamist extremist, Maltbie claimed the French might be talking about a completely different Zacarias Moussaoui and tried to get the FBI’s assistant legal attache in Paris to search every phone book in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaoui lived there; He blocked a notification about the case to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Had the notification been sent, it may well have led to a criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings; He failed to provide the relevant documentation to Sherry Sabol, one of the attorneys consulted about Moussaoui’s case; In an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager on loan to the FBI, he claimed there was “no indication” Moussaoui and his partner had plans for “nefarious activity,” although he knew Minneapolis already suspected Moussaoui wanted to hijack an airliner; He claimed getting a search warrant would “take a few months,” although such warrants could be issued at short notice; He edited a draft warrant application prepared by Minneapolis, taking out a key section connecting Moussaoui to a foreign power; In a key meeting with a top FBI lawyer about the warrant request, Maltbie and Flack were “adamant” the warrant application should not be submitted.
In addition, Maltbie and others delayed a warning to the FAA about Moussaoui for two weeks, and then, when Minneapolis submitted a draft, Maltbie rewrote it, taking out the threat assessment. Incidentally, Moussaoui’s belongings contained information linking him to eleven of the 9/11 hijackers, and Maltbie was later promoted to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Cleveland.
Why Did He Do It?
The obvious question is: what possessed him to do all this? One thing that emerges when reading through the Moussaoui documentation is that the three agents dealing with the case at FBI headquarters, Frasca, Maltbie and Flack, thought, or at least later claimed to think, that Minneapolis was overreacting to the case and there was no immediate threat. Given that Minneapolis was actually right – Moussaoui did plan to hijack an airliner – and that their attitude was shared by others at FBI headquarters and the CIA, one must wonder where the three RFU agents got this idea from.
Some light may be shed on this by a document first released at Moussaoui’s 2006 trial. It is an e-mail sent by Wilshire to Frasca and Maltbie on August 24, at the time Minneapolis and the RFU were arguing about the warrant application. In it Wilshire asks for an update on the Moussaoui situation. It is the only known communication from Wilshire about the case, although, seeing as he was asking for an update, there must have been at least one discussion before it, and it is also likely that he was kept abreast of developments afterwards.
In the e-mail Wilshire refers to the FBI’s Minneapolis field office as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” This appears to be a derogatory reference linking the Minneapolis agents to the disaster movie parodies Airplane and Airplane II, starring, for example, Leslie Nielsen. This indicates that the three RFU agents’ bad attitude towards Minneapolis was shared by Wilshire, who was not their direct superior, but, as a hot-shot CIA manager and consultant to Frasca’s boss, was higher up than they were at the bureau.
Simple question: did the bad attitude stem from the three RFU agents or did it originate with Wilshire? We don’t know, because, although Wilshire and the agents have been interviewed numerous times about what happened, nobody has thought to ask them, or, if they have, the answer has not been published.
Wilshire’s involvement in the Moussaoui case is intriguing because Wilshire was involved in just about every single one of the numerous intelligence failures regarding the hijackers prior to 9/11. For example, at the same time as he was badmouthing the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, he was ensuring the bureau’s New York field office was not able to use the necessary resources to locate Pentagon hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. It is also worth noting that during his involvement in the failures Wilshire often operated through a proxy, leaving no fingerprints directly on the failings; for example, when he wanted a cable notifying the FBI about Almihdhar to be blocked in January 2000, he did not send a message blocking the cable himself, but merely verbally instructed a subordinate to block it.
It is hard to imagine that Maltbie, even in co-operation with Frasca and Flack, would take it upon himself to sabotage the Moussaoui investigation for a reason that has not been explained. It is even harder to look at Wilshire’s involvement in the case and the roadblocks thrown up by people underneath him at the bureau and not want to put two and two together. Let us hope that more documents about the case will be released in the not-too-distant future.
1999: FBI Headquarters Delays Check on Terrorist Trainer for 9 Months, Tries to Block Warning for National Guard
FBI Minneapolis agent Harry Samit learns that an unnamed man plans to travel from the US to Afghanistan to train militants there, and that one of his relatives has applied to join the Minnesota National Guard. Samit wants to run a check on him and notify the National Guard, as he is worried because guardsmen have access to local airports. However, he is blocked for several months by Michael Maltbie, an agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, who becomes “extremely agitated” and says this is “just the sort of thing that would get the FBI into trouble.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/21/2006; Knight Ridder, 3/21/2006; Hearst Newspapers, 3/21/2006] Samit and Maltbie will later have another running disagreement over the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 20-September 11, 2001, August 27, 2001, and August 28, 2001).
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]Between August 20-September 10, 2001: FBI Headquarters Agent Apparently Worried Moussaoui Case Will Damage His Career
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit, who has arrested Zacarias Moussaoui and wants to search his belongings, that getting an intelligence warrant can be bad for an agent’s career if it gets fouled up. Maltbie comments that he wants to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential.” The Minneapolis field office is in dispute with the RFU over whether a warrant should be granted to search Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). At a key meeting with an attorney about whether to go forward with the warrant request, Maltbie is adamant that the warrant should not be granted (see August 28, 2001). [Newsday, 3/21/2006]
(August 20, 2001 or after): Radical Fundamentalist Unit Delays Advising FAA of Moussaoui Case
At a meeting attended by Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), RFU chief Dave Frasca, FBI agent Rita Flack, and an FAA representative who is familiar with the Moussaoui case, a decision is made not to advise the FAA about the Moussaoui investigation at this point because Moussaoui and Al-Attas are presumably in custody. (Al-Attas is bailed out of custody on August 20) [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 149-150 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file] Al-Attas is suspected of involvement in terrorism at this point and investigators believe he and Moussaoui may be involved in a plot against the US that involves the hijacking of an airplane (see August 17, 2001 and August 24, 2001). The FBI will eventually warn the FAA, but it will fail to mention that its Minneapolis office believes Moussaoui intends to hijack an airliner (see September 4, 2001).
August 22, 2001: French Connect Moussaoui to Chechen Rebels, FBI Headquarters Still Refuses Search Warrant
After arresting Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office asks French authorities if they have any information on him. The French then provide the US with intelligence indicating that Moussaoui is associated with a radical militant who died fighting for the Chechen rebels in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). The French interviewed one of this militant’s associates who said he had been recruited by Moussaoui to fight in Chechnya and described Moussaoui as “the dangerous one.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 140-1 pdf file] French authorities attempt to gather additional information by talking to Moussaoui’s mother. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s lead investigating magistrate in charge of counterterrorism affairs, also provides information. “Let’s just say that Zacarias Moussaoui was well-known by the French security service…,” Bruguiere later recalls in a 2004 interview with CBC. “When the names come from abroad, we usually have a file, and it was the same with him. He was a well-known personality. He lived in France and then left here to go to England.” Bruguiere will also say that the French provided US authorities with information on Moussaoui’s activities in both France and England (see 1999 and August 21, 2001-September 13, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004] Upon reviewing this information, Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters will inform Minneapolis that it is not enough for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, because, even though the French sent information about Moussaoui, Maltbie objects that the Moussaoui the French are talking about may not be the same one Minneapolis has in custody. The result of this is that FBI staff are sent on what Minneapolis agent Harry Samit will later call a “wild goose chase”—they are asked to spend days poring through French phone books to make sure they have the right Moussaoui. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/27/2001 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/28/2001 pdf file; Newsday, 3/21/2006; Los Angeles Times, 3/21/2006] For a search warrant to be granted there must be probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. Maltbie claims that the Chechen rebels, who have never been treated as a foreign power before for a FISA warrant, cannot be treated as such, because they are not a “recognized” foreign power, only dissidents engaged in a civil war, and are not hostile to the US. In fact, the FBI has already received information indicating a close relationships between Chechen rebels and bin Laden (see, e.g., 1986-March 20, 2002 , August 24, 2001, and (October 1993-November 2001)) and that the two groups are working together on a strike against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Maltbie says that even if the Chechen rebels are a foreign power, then it will take some time to develop this information to the point where a FISA application can be submitted. Previous to this, Maltbie had only once advised a field office it was not going to get a FISA warrant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 141-4 pdf file] The French provide more information on Moussaoui a few days later (see August 30, 2001).
August 22-28, 2001: Phoenix Memo Withheld from FISA Attorneys in Moussaoui Case
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office drafts an application for a FISA warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings and sends it to the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. From there, the application is sent to four attorneys at the FBI’s National Security Law Unit, as it needs to be legally cleared by them before being submitted to the FISA Court. All four attorneys are doubtful that the application contains enough evidence to secure a warrant. Although they are aware that Moussaoui is connected to Chechen rebels, they do not believe the FISA court will consider the Chechen rebels to be a foreign power. Moreover, they do not think the connection between the Chechens and bin Laden is strong enough to make Moussaoui an agent of al-Qaeda. However, the attorneys are not given the relevant documentation. For example, they are not informed that the FBI was warned in April that the Chechen rebel leader and Osama bin Laden were planning an attack against the US (see Before April 13, 2001). Nor are they provided with a copy of the Phoenix Memo, in which Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams correctly theorized that bin Laden was sending agents to the US to train in flight schools (see July 10, 2001). Attorney Sherry Sabol will later say that she asked RFU agents Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack whether there was any evidence of people being sent to the US for flight training. Flack, who read the Phoenix memo five days before (see August 22, 2001), said no. Maltbie will later say he does not recall this and Flack will deny it. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 139-160 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize Flack for failing to inform the attorneys of the memo. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 208 pdf file] Sabol and two of the other attorneys will say that they would have taken actions to support the application if they had known about the Phoenix Memo. However, they do not believe that material from the Phoenix memo would have been enough to secure the FISA warrant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 146-8, 158-160, 208 pdf file]
August 24, 2001: FBI Agent Tells CIA ‘No Indication’ Moussaoui Is Planning Nefarious Activity, Despite Knowing Evidence Otherwise
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, writes to a CIA manager stationed with the FBI as a consultant about the case of Zacarias Moussaoui and Hussein al-Attas. He tells the manager what actions the FBI has taken on the case and concludes by saying, “Please bear in mind that there is no indication that either of these two had plans for nefarious activity as was apparently indicated in an earlier communication.” The word “no” is underlined. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 pdf file] However, the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis suspects Moussaoui is part of a wider plot to hijack airliners and Maltbie is aware of their concerns (see August 15-20, 2001).
August 24, 2001: FBI Headquarters Tells Minneapolis Moussaoui Warrant Will ‘Take a Few Months’
Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters tells Greg Jones of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that obtaining a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings could “take a few months” because there are “hundreds of these FISA requests.” (FISA warrants can actually be obtained in a matter of hours if needed, and can even be approved retroactively) Maltbie tells Jones that the situation is not an emergency, as he believes an act of terrorism is not imminent in this case, but that Minneapolis can write a letterhead memorandum for FBI headquarters about the case. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 48, 53, 148-9 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file]
August 27, 2001: Minneapolis Chief Calls FBI Headquarters to Discuss Moussaoui
Harry Samit and Greg Jones, agents at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office investigating Zacarias Moussaoui, are having some problems with Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent at FBI headquarters’ Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) (see August 20-September 11, 2001). They ask their boss to call RFU head Dave Frasca to “find out what [Maltbie]‘s problem [is].” Jones and his boss place the call. According to Jones, when the call starts, Frasca is “immediately defensive” and asks Maltbie to join the call. Jones’ notes indicate that he asks what is going to happen if “they won’t let us go criminal” and there is not enough information for a warrant under FISA. Jones asks what will happen if Moussaoui cannot be connected to a known group. The answer recorded in his notes is “That isn’t something for you to worry about.” However, Frasca will state he never said this. Maltbie’s performance—the original reason for the call—is apparently not discussed. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 155-8 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file]
August 27, 2001: Conflict between Minneapolis and FBI Headquarters Comes into the Open
FBI agents at the bureau’s Minneapolis field office have been arguing with the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) over whether there is sufficient evidence to secure a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 20-September 11, 2001). The tensions surface in a call between Minneapolis agent Greg Jones and Supervisory Special Agent Mike Maltbie. This is a partial reconstruction of the conversation based on Jones’ notes: Maltbie: “What you have done is couched [the request] in such a way that people get spun up.” Jones: “Good. We want to make sure he doesn’t get control of an airplane and crash it into the [World Trade Center] or something like that.” Maltbie: “[T]hat’ not going to happen. We don’t know he’s a terrorist. You don’t have enough to show he is a terrorist. You have a guy interested in this type of aircraft—that is it.” Jones also asks whether the warrant request has been shown to Section Chief Michael Rolince yet, and Maltbie replies it has not. [US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 153-5 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file] Another Minneapolis agent, Harry Samit, also contacts Maltbie and expresses his frustration with RFU’s position that they do not have enough evidence. In an interview with the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General he recalls telling Maltbie: “… if you’re not going to advance this the FISA route, or if you don’t believe we have enough for a FISA, I shudder to think—and that’s all I got out. And [Maltbie] cut me off and said, ‘You will not question the unit chief and you will not question me. We’ve been through a lot. We know what’s going on. You will not question us.’ And that could be the mantra for FBI supervisors.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 155 pdf file]
August 28, 2001: Edits to Moussaoui Warrant Request ‘Set It Up for Failure’
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office has submitted a memorandum to the Radical Fundamental Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 23-27, 2001). Before it is submitted, RFU agent Mike Maltbie makes several alterations to the memo. In particular, he deletes a key section saying that a CIA officer had described Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab, to whom Moussaoui was connected, as an associate of bin Laden. He deletes this even though the FBI was recently warned that bin Laden and Ibn Khattab may be working together on attacks against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). However, Minneapolis FBI agent Greg Jones objects in a lengthy e-mail that “we are setting this up for failure if we don’t have the foreign power connection firmly established for the initial review.” Jones also complains about other changes made by Maltbie, including:
- Maltbie changes a statement about Moussaoui “preparing himself to fight” to one saying he and an associate “train together in defensive tactics.”
- Maltbie changes the sentence, “Moussaoui was unable to give a convincing explanation for his paying $8300 for 747-400 training,” to “Moussaoui would give an explanation for his paying $8300 in cash for 747-700 flight simulation training.”
- Maltbie changes a statement that Moussaoui has no convincing explanation for the large sums of money he had to “Moussaoui would not explain the large sums of money known to have been in his possession.”
Maltbie responds by saying that they will attempt to put something together for the foreign power requirement and by changing some, but not all of the sections Jones complains about. However, Minneapolis is still unhappy and the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General will state that after Jones’ complaints are taken into consideration the memo is only “slightly less persuasive.” The key section about Chechnya is not reinstated, but Moussaoui’s links to Chechnya are discussed at the relevant meeting with an attorney about the request (see August 28, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 161-4, 209-211 pdf file]August 28, 2001: Attorney Kills Moussaoui Warrant Request
Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) forward a request for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001) to National Security Law Unit chief Spike Bowman. The request was submitted by the Minneapolis field office (see August 22-28, 2001), which has been trying to obtain a warrant for some time. Earlier in the day, Maltbie edited the request, removing information connecting Moussaoui to al-Qaeda through a rebel group in Chechnya (see August 28, 2001). RFU chief Dave Frasca was to attend the meeting, but is called away at the last minute. According to Bowman, who is already very familiar with the facts in this case, Maltbie is adamant that there is not enough evidence to issue the warrant. Bowman agrees, saying that the evidence fails to implicate Moussaoui as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI thus abandons the effort to obtain a FISA warrant and begins planning his deportation (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 164-6, 168 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file]
August 29-September 4, 2001: Minneapolis Memo to FAA Warning of Moussaoui Is Blocked by FBI Headquarters
Harry Samit, an agent at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, drafts a memo to the FAA summarizing the facts of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. In it, he writes, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui, [his roommate Hussein] al-Attas, and others not yet known were engaged in preparing to seize a Boeing 747-400 in commission of a terrorist act. As Moussaoui denied requests for consent to search his belongings and was arrested before sufficient evidence of criminal activity was revealed, it is not known how far advanced were his plans to do so.” He also mentions Moussaoui’s physical and marital arts training and expresses concern that France, where Moussaoui will soon be deported, may not be able to hold him or his property for long. But Mike Maltbie of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) instructs the Minneapolis field office not to send the memo because he is also drafting a memo on the Moussaoui case that will be sent to the FAA and other agencies. However Maltbie’s memo lacks a threat assessment and does not mention Minneapolis’ suspicions that Moussaoui might be planning a terrorist act involving a hijacked airplane. The memo does not result in any FAA action. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 174-7 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2006] A meeting between Samit and a Minneapolis FAA officer will also fail to produce any FAA action (see September 4, 2001).
(August 30-September 10, 2001): FBI Plans to Deport Moussaoui So Belongings Can Be Searched in France
Following the collapse of the FBI’s attempts to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 28, 2001), the FBI begins working on a plan to deport him to France so his belongings can be searched there. The French ask that a law enforcement officer from the US accompany Moussaoui. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office and the FBI’s assistant legal attache in Paris ask that Minneapolis agent Harry Samit and an INS agent go to France with Moussaoui to brief the French and await the results of the search of his belongings. Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) chief Dave Frasca opposes this plan. Michael Rolince, head of the bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section, opposes it as well, later claiming that he thought Samit might try to obtain information from Moussaoui on the journey. For several days, Frasca and one of his subordinates, Mike Maltbie, continue to haggle with Minneapolis over whether Samit can accompany Moussaoui. But when the French and the assistant legal attache insist, they drop their objections. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 171-3 pdf file] Minneapolis is highly unsatisfied with this solution and would have preferred to obtain a warrant to search his belongings. Samit writes before 9/11 that deporting Moussaoui “was a distant third in my list of desired outcomes, but at this point I am so desperate to get into his computer I’ll take anything.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/10/2001 pdf file] Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” and deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. [Washington Post, 3/21/2006] The 9/11 attacks occur before the deportation can take place (see September 11, 2001).
September 4, 2001: FBI Dispatches Vague Message to US Intelligence Community About Moussaoui Investigation
FBI headquarters dispatches a memo to the entire US intelligence community summarizing what has been learned about Zacarias Moussaoui. The memo, written by Mike Maltbie, an agent in the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), reports that the FBI has become suspicious of Moussaoui because he took flight simulation training for a 747 jet, a course normally taken by airline pilots. Moussaoui, who has no flying experience, paid cash for the training, the memo also notes. It also says that Moussaoui has radical Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and has been linked to Chechen militants. However, the memo does not include a threat assessment or indicate that some FBI investigators believe Moussaoui is part of a yet unknown plot to hijack an airplane and use it in a terrorist attack. As a later congressional inquiry will report, the memo fails to “recommend that the addressees take any action or look for any additional indicators of a terrorist attack, nor [does] it provide any analysis of a possible hijacking threat or provide any specific warnings.” [US Congress, 9/24/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 175-6 pdf file] Several days earlier, Maltbie blocked the release of a memo from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that was addressed to the FAA and did contain a threat assessment (see August 29-September 4, 2001). When the FAA receives the FBI memo, it decides not to issue a security alert to the nation’s airports in response. An FAA representative later explains to the New York Post, “[Moussaoui] was in jail and there was no evidence he was connected to other people.” [New York Post, 5/21/2002] The FBI memo contrasts sharply with an internal CIA warning sent out on August 24. That memo, which was based on less information, warned that Moussaoui might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US” (see August 24, 2001). [US Congress, 9/18/2002] It turns out that prior to this time, al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam had started cooperating with investigators. He had trained with Moussaoui in Afghanistan and will willingly share this information after 9/11. The FBI dispatch, with its notable lack of urgency and details, fails to prompt the agents in Seattle holding Ressam to question him about Moussaoui. Had the connection between these two men been learned before 9/11, presumably the search warrant for Moussaoui would have been approved and the 9/11 plot might have unraveled (see Late August-Early September 2001). [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002]
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]
January 10, 2003: Government Employees Responsible for 9/11 Failures Are Promoted
FBI Director Mueller personally awards Marion (Spike) Bowman with a presidential citation and cash bonus of approximately 25 percent of his salary. [Salon, 3/3/2003] Bowman, head of the FBI’s National Security Law Unit and the person who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before the 9/11 attacks, is among nine recipients of bureau awards for “exceptional performance.” The award comes shortly after a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report saying Bowman’s unit gave Minneapolis FBI agents “inexcusably confused and inaccurate information” that was “patently false.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/22/2002] Bowman’s unit also blocked an urgent request by FBI agents to begin searching for Khalid Almihdhar after his name was put on a watch list. In early 2000, the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance Bowman’s unit conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, including agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations. [Associated Press, 1/10/2003] As Senator Charles Grassley (R) and others have pointed out, not only has no one in government been fired or punished for 9/11, but several others have been promoted:
- Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief in New York City before 9/11, is promoted to the bureau’s top counterterrorism post. [Time, 12/30/2002]
- FBI Supervisory special agent Michael Maltbie, who removed information from the Minnesota FBI’s application to get the search warrant for Moussaoui, is promoted to field supervisor and goes on to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s Cleveland office. [Salon, 3/3/2003; Newsday, 3/21/2006]
- David Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is “still at headquarters,” Grassley notes. [Salon, 3/3/2003] The Phoenix memo, which was addressed to Frasca, was received by his unit and warned that al-Qaeda terrorists could be using flight schools inside the US (see July 10, 2001 and July 27, 2001 and after). Two weeks later Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested while training to fly a 747, but Frasca’s unit was unhelpful when local FBI agents wanted to search his belongings—a step that could have prevented 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). “The Phoenix memo was buried; the Moussaoui warrant request was denied.” [Time, 5/27/2002] Even after 9/11, Frasca continued to “[throw] up roadblocks” in the Moussaoui case. [New York Times, 5/27/2002]
bullet President Bush later names Barbara Bodine the director of Central Iraq shortly after the US conquest of Iraq. Many in government are upset about the appointment because of her blocking of the USS Cole investigation, which some say could have uncovered the 9/11 plot. She failed to admit she was wrong or apologize. [Washington Times, 4/10/2003] However, she is fired after about a month, apparently for doing a poor job.
- An FBI official who tolerates penetration of the translation department by Turkish spies and encourages slow translations just after 9/11 is promoted (see March 22, 2002). [CBS News, 10/25/2002] The CIA has promoted two unnamed top leaders of its unit responsible for tracking al-Qaeda in 2000 even though the unit mistakenly failed to put the two suspected terrorists on the watch list (see August 23, 2001). “The leaders were promoted even though some people in the intelligence community and in Congress say the counterterrorism unit they ran bore some responsibility for waiting until August 2001 to put the suspect pair on the interagency watch list.” CIA Director Tenet has failed to fulfill a promise given to Congress in late 2002 that he would name the CIA officials responsible for 9/11 failures. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
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]