- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 4, 2002

Two months before the suicide hijackings, an FBI agent in Arizona alerted Washington headquarters that several Middle Easterners were training at a U.S. aviation school and recommended contacting other schools nationwide where Arabs might be studying.
"FBIHQ should discuss this matter with other elements of the U.S. intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix's suspicions," the agent recommended in the memo obtained by the Associated Press.
The FBI sent the intelligence to its terrorism specialists in Washington and New York for analysis and had begun discussing conducting a nationwide canvass of flight schools when the September 11 attacks occurred, officials told AP.
At least one leader of the 19 hijackers, Hani Hanjour, received flight training in Arizona in 2001 but his name had not surfaced in the FBI intelligence from Arizona, the officials said.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer declined to comment on the memo, saying he did not have "independent confirmation" from within the White House of its existence.
None of the Middle Eastern men identified by the Arizona counterterrorism agents or any information contained in their July 2001 memo pointed to the suicide plot that leveled the World Trade Center and killed thousands in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, officials said.
"None of the people identified by Phoenix are connected to the September 11 attacks," FBI Assistant Director John Collingwood said Thursday night.
"The Phoenix communication went to appropriate operational agents and analysts but it did not lead to uncovering the impending attacks," Mr. Collingwood said.
Nonetheless, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican and a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the incident raised "more questions" on what the FBI knew of terrorist plans before September 11 and how it handled the information.
"No one can say whether following up on this warning or other information could have stopped the attacks of September 11," he said. "But we can't expect terrorists to advertise their nefarious plots against the United States.
"The FBI has to do a better job of connecting the dots when it comes to intelligence about terrorists," he said, adding that it was "troubling" the bureau had only discussed how to respond to the information rather than aggressively pursuing it.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also said he was "troubled" by the information and that it was "imperative" that the panel learn "exactly what information was contained in the FBI report."
Mr. Leahy said the committee will question FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III on the report during hearings scheduled for Wednesday.
Officials said FBI counterterrorism agents in Phoenix were suspicious of why several Arab men were seeking airport operations, security information and pilot training. The agents recommended that the FBI begin alerting local offices when Middle Easterners sought visas for training at local aeronautical schools.
"FBIHQ should consider seeking the necessary authority to obtain visa information from the USDOS [State Department] on individuals obtaining visas to attend these types of schools and notify the appropriate FBI field office when these individuals are scheduled to arrive in their area of responsibility," the memo said.
FBI officials said a supervisory agent in Arizona wrote a several-page memo to FBI headquarters in July 2001 laying out information his counterterrorism team had developed in an unrelated investigation. A portion of the memo dealt with an Arizona flight school, officials said.
The memo indicated agents were suspicious about why several nonresident Arab men were seeking training at a commercial aeronautical school in Prescott, Ariz.
Mr. Collingwood said the men "were enrolled in various aspects of civil aviation engineering, airport operations and pilot training." The agents were particularly concerned that some were attempting to learn about airport security operations, officials said.
Jerry Seper contributed to this report.

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