- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2002

The FBI and CIA mishandled key intelligence and investigative leads that could have led to unraveling the September 11 terrorist plot before it was carried out, a congressional investigator disclosed yesterday.

An FBI agent in Phoenix warned three months before the attack that Islamic radicals who were linked to Osama bin Laden and were taking flight training in the United States should be investigated, but his warning was ignored, the staff director of the joint House-Senate inquiry testified.

Also, FBI headquarters officials were against investigating Arabs at flight schools because of fears that it would raise ethnic "profiling issues," the testimony revealed.

Eleanor Hill, the staff director, stated in a report to the committee that the Phoenix agent's memorandum also was not put in the context of increased CIA warnings of a major terrorist attack and the arrest of one of the would-be September 11 terrorists in Minneapolis.

The lapse was a major intelligence failure, she said.

Mrs. Hill also disclosed that one of the September 11 hijackers was linked to a suspected terrorist named in the Phoenix memorandum who was not investigated before the attacks. That contradicted earlier statements by FBI officials that the hijackers were not connected to known terrorists or their supporters.

"No one will ever know whether a greater focus on the connection between these events would have led to the unraveling of the September 11 plot," Mrs. Hill said.

"But clearly it might have drawn greater attention to the possibility of a terrorist attack in the United States, generated a heightened state of alert regarding such attacks, and prompted more aggressive investigation and intelligence gathering regarding the information our government did possess prior to September 11."

The hearing yesterday was the latest in the inquiry into intelligence failures by the CIA, FBI and other agencies in the days and months before September 11.

Earlier, Mrs. Hill revealed that 12 intelligence reports indicated terrorists planned to attack the United States using airliners as weapons. She also said the FBI and CIA failed to track two terrorists, Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al-Hazmi, who were on the aircraft that hit the Pentagon.

In testimony yesterday, Mrs. Hill revealed that an FBI supervisor in Minneapolis was frustrated when FBI headquarters said there was not enough evidence to begin an investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested on immigration charges a month before the attacks.

The supervisor, who was not identified by name, wrote to headquarters urging that Moussaoui be investigated to ensure he "did not take control of a plane and fly it into the World Trade Center."

The comment prompted a headquarters official to respond: "That's not going to happen. We don't know he's a terrorist. You don't have enough to show he's a terrorist."

The Minneapolis agent told the joint inquiry staff that he did not know Moussaoui was planning an attack on the World Trade Center towers and that he had made the comment only to "get headquarters' attention."

Earlier, Mrs. Hill recounted the story of FBI Agent Kenneth Williams, who sent the so-called Phoenix memorandum to FBI headquarters on July 10, 2001.

According to U.S. officials who have seen the memo, Mr. Williams stated that "Phoenix believes that the FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities/colleges around the country."

One of the men mentioned in the memo was found by the congressional inquiry staff to be linked to Hani Hanjour, one of the five hijackers aboard the American Airlines jetliner that hit the Pentagon, the testimony states.

The connection contradicts earlier statements from FBI officials who said there appeared to be no connection between the terrorists and anyone in the United States who was "of investigative interest" and who might have led the FBI to the terrorists.

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III stated in a speech in April that the hijackers sought to "stay below our radar" by avoiding contact with known terrorists or sympathizers.

The agency failed to open an investigation into the man mentioned in the Phoenix memo and thus missed an opportunity to connect him to Hanjour, Mrs. Hill stated.

The connection reveals that the September 11 terrorists "may have been less isolated and more integrated into their communities than was previously thought," she said.

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