- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006


The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 testified yesterday that he spent nearly a month trying to warn U.S. officials about the radical Islamic student pilot, but that “criminal negligence” by superiors in Washington thwarted a chance to stop the September 11 attacks.

Nearly two weeks ago, FBI agent Harry Samit of Minneapolis originally testified as a government witness, but his daylong cross-examination by defense attorney Edward MacMahon was the strongest moment to date 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 Qaeda’s attacks on the U.S. in 2001.

Mr. MacMahon displayed a communication addressed to Mr. 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 Islam at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, was “completely devoted” to a variety of fundamentalism that Osama bin Laden espoused and had been to Afghanistan.

Based on what he already knew, Mr. Samit suspected that meant Moussaoui had been to training camps in Afghanistan, although the communication did not say that.

The communication arrived Aug. 30, 2001. The September 11 commission reported that British intelligence told U.S. officials on Sept. 13, 2001, that Moussaoui had attended an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. “Had this information been available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case almost certainly would have received intense, high-level attention,” the commission concluded.

But Mr. Samit said yesterday that he couldn’t persuade FBI headquarters or the Justice Department to take his fears seriously. No one from Washington called Mr. Samit to say that this intelligence altered the picture the agent had been painting since Aug. 18 in a running battle with Mr. Maltbie and Mr. Maltbie’s boss, David Frasca, chief of the radical fundamentalist unit at FBI headquarters.

They fought over Mr. Samit’s desire for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer and belongings. Mr. Maltbie and Mr. Frasca said Mr. Samit had not established a link between Moussaoui and terrorists.

Under questioning from Mr. MacMahon, Mr. 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-law violations on Aug. 16, 2001, and September 11 are crucial to his trial because prosecutors say Moussaoui’s lies prevented the FBI from discovering the identities of the September 11 hijackers and the Federal Aviation Administration from taking airport security steps.

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