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Scrutiny intensified after tactical missteps
Despite information that suspected al Qaeda terrorists were involved in flight training in two states, the warrant request - coming a month before the Sept. 11 attacks during the Freeh regime - was rejected by FBI officials in Washington for a lack of probable cause.
That decision, according to government sources, so infuriated the Minneapolis agents that they joked among themselves that Osama bin Laden, whose al Qaeda network planned and carried out the Sept. 11 attacks, must have planted a mole inside the FBI.
The Minneapolis agents had arrested Moussaoui in August 2001 after questions surfaced about his flight training. The French-Moroccan has since been convicted in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that killed at least 3,000 people.
The Phoenix memo, by FBI Agent Kenneth Williams, alerted bureau executives in Washington in July 2001 that followers of Osama bin Laden were training at an Arizona flight school. He said eight suspected terrorists were training, but senior FBI officials did not follow up on the information.
The decision to reject the Moussaoui warrant was criticized in a 13-page letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III from Minneapolis agent Coleen Rowley, who said senior FBI officials created a “roadblock” to derail the probe. She said the agents were so frustrated by the lack of response by senior officials that they sought to bypass the chain of command and directly notify the CIA - but were reprimanded.
In June 2005, the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General questioned in a 371-page report the handling by FBI supervisors of the Phoenix e-mail and the memo from FBI agents in Minneapolis.
The IG’s report said Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, two of the hijackers who crashed jetliners into the World Trade Center, traveled to San Diego after arriving in the United States in January 2000 and met with Omar al-Bayoumi, a Saudi who had been under investigation by the FBI for two years.
The report said the two men rented a room from an FBI informant whose “handler” was an agent in San Diego and who remained as an FBI “asset” until the agent retired in 2002. The unidentified informant declined to be interviewed for the report.
According to the report, the FBI did not discover that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were in the United States until “shortly before the September 11 attacks,” but a follow-up investigation was done “without much urgency or priority.”
It said that although FBI agents in New York wanted to pursue information they received in August 2001 that al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were in the city, they were “specifically prohibited from doing so” by supervisors concerned about keeping criminal and intelligence investigations separate - which the report described as “the wall.”
In November 2002, the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General reported that senior FBI executives received cash bonuses and promotions while under investigation for suspected misconduct during an internal bureau review of the August 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, that claimed three lives.
The Inspector General’s Office said the bonuses and promotions went to former FBI Deputy Director Larry A. Potts, who later was demoted and suspended for improper oversight of the deadly siege, and E. Michael Kahoe, a senior FBI executive sentenced to prison for destroying a critical Ruby Ridge document.
Other cash awards and promotions went to Danny O. Coulson, former deputy assistant director who worked for Mr. Potts; and three senior FBI executives - Charles Mathews, Robert E. Walsh and Van A. Harp - accused of not conducting proper after-the-fact investigations to determine what happened at Ruby Ridge.
In the Ruby Ridge case, Vicki Weaver was killed Aug. 22, 1992, by FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi acting on shoot-on-sight orders, although it has never been determined who authorized a change in the bureau’s rules of engagement that allowed the shooting.
About the Author
Jerry Seper is the investigative editor for The Washington Times.
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