FBI Agent Slams Bosses at Moussaoui Trial
FBI Agent Slams Bosses at Moussaoui Trial
Mar 20 7:27 PM US/Eastern
By MICHAEL J. SNIFFEN
Associated Press Writer
The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in
August 2001 testified Monday he spent almost four
weeks trying to warn U.S. officials about the radical
Islamic student pilot but "criminal negligence" by
superiors in Washington thwarted a chance to stop the
FBI agent Harry Samit of Minneapolis originally
testified as a government witness, on March 9, but his
daylong cross examination by defense attorney Edward
MacMahon was the strongest moment so far for the
court-appointed lawyers defending Moussaoui. The
37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent is the only
person charged in this country in connection with
al-Qaida's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade
Center and the Pentagon.
MacMahon displayed a communication addressed to Samit
and FBI headquarters agent Mike Maltbie from a bureau
agent in Paris relaying word from French intelligence
that Moussaoui was "very dangerous," had been
indoctrinated in radical Islamic Fundamentalism at
London's Finnsbury Park mosque, was "completely
devoted" to a variety of radical fundamentalism that
Osama bin Laden espoused, and had been to Afghanistan.
Based on what he already knew, Samit suspected that
meant Moussaoui had been to training camps there,
although the communication did not say that.
The communication arrived Aug. 30, 2001. The Sept. 11
Commission reported that British intelligence told
U.S. officials on Sept 13, that Moussaoui had attended
an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan. "Had this
information been available in late August 2001, the
Moussaoui case would almost certainly have received
intense, high- level attention," the commission
But Samit told MacMahon he couldn't persuade FBI
headquarters or the Justice Department to take his
fears seriously. No one from Washington called Samit
to say this intelligence altered the picture the agent
had been painting since Aug. 18 in a running battle
with Maltbie and Maltbie's boss, David Frasca, chief
of the radical fundamentalist unit at headquarters.
They fought over Samit's desire for a warrant to
search Moussaoui's computer and belongings. Maltbie
and Frasca said Samit had not established a link
between Moussaoui and terrorists.
Samit testified that on Aug. 22 he had learned from
the French that Moussaoui had recruited someone to go
to Chechnya in 2000 to fight with Islamic radicals
under Emir Ibn al-Khattab. He said a CIA official told
him on Aug. 22 or 23 that al-Khattab had fought
alongside bin Laden in the past. This, too, failed to
sway Maltbie or Frasca.
Under questioning from MacMahon, Samit acknowledged
that he had told the Justice Department inspector
general that "obstructionism, criminal negligence and
careerism" on the part of FBI headquarters officials
had prevented him from getting a warrant that would
have revealed more about Moussaoui's associates. He
said that opposition blocked "a serious opportunity to
stop the 9/11 attacks."
The FBI's actions between Moussaoui's arrest, in
Minnesota on immigration violations on Aug. 16, 2001,
and Sept. 11, 2001, are crucial to his trial because
prosecutors allege that Moussaoui's lies prevented the
FBI from discovering the identities of 9/11 hijackers
and the Federal Aviation Administration from taking
airport security steps.
But MacMahon made clear the Moussaoui's lies never
fooled Samit. The agent sent a memo to FBI
headquarters on Aug. 18 accusing Moussaoui of plotting
international terrorism and air piracy over the United
States, two of the six crimes he pleaded guilty to in
To obtain a death penalty, prosecutors must prove that
Moussaoui's actions led directly to the death of at
least one person on 9/11.
Moussaoui pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with
al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. But he
says he had nothing to do with 9/11 and was training
to fly a 747 jetliner into the White House as part of
a possible later attack.
Samit's complaints echoed those raised in 2002 by
Coleen Rowley, the bureau's agent-lawyer in the
Minneapolis office, who tried to help get a warrant.
Rowley went public with her frustrations, was named a
Time magazine person of the year for whistleblowing
and is now running for Congress.
Samit revealed far more than Rowley of the details of
MacMahon walked Samit through e-mails and letters the
agent sent seeking help from the FBI's London, Paris
and Oklahoma City offices, FBI headquarters files, the
CIA's counterterrorism center, the Secret Service, the
Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal
Aviation Administration, an intelligence agency not
identified publicly by name in court (possibly the
National Security Agency), and the FBI's Iran, Osama
bin Laden, radical fundamentalist, and national
security law units at headquarters.
Samit described useful information from French
intelligence and the CIA before 9/11 but said he was
not told that CIA Director George Tenet was briefed on
the Moussaoui threat on Aug. 23 and never saw until
after 9/11 a memo from an FBI agent in Phoenix about
radical Islamists taking flight training there.
For each nugget of information, MacMahon asked Samit
if Washington officials called to assess the
implications. Time after time, Samit said no.
MacMahon introduced an Aug. 31 letter Samit drafted
"to advise the FAA of a potential threat to security
of commercial aircraft" from whomever Moussaoui was
But Maltbie barred him from sending it to FAA
headquarters, saying he would handle that, Samit
testified. The agent added that he did tell FAA
officials in Minneapolis of his suspicions.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Barakat contributed to