- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 21, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The headquarters supervisor of the FBI’s international terrorism operations section testified yesterday that he had never read an Aug. 18, 2001, memo in which an agent proposed a full criminal investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui as a potential terrorist airplane hijacker.

The now-retired supervisor, Michael Rolince, was questioned by defense attorney Edward MacMahon during Moussaoui’s sentencing trial. He was asked whether he had heard that Harry Samit, the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui while he was taking pilot lessons in Minnesota, concluded that the Frenchman of Moroccan descent was a terrorist planning to hijack a commercial jetliner.

“No,” Mr. Rolince said.

Had he heard other conclusions by Mr. Samit about Moussaoui?

“No. What document are you reading?” Mr. Rolince asked.

Mr. Samit’s Aug. 18 report that was “sent to your office,” Mr. MacMahon said.

Called as a government witness, Mr. Rolince, a 31-year FBI veteran who retired in October, proved to be more valuable for attorneys defending Moussaoui, 37, the only man charged in this country in connection with the September 11 attacks.

Defense objections and rulings by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema barred Mr. Rolince from giving what prosecutors wanted most: a listing of steps that the FBI could have taken if Moussaoui had admitted when he was arrested Aug. 16, 2001, everything to which he confessed when pleading guilty last April.

Instead, Mr. MacMahon was able to extract from Mr. Rolince revelations about the FBI’s handling of intelligence before September 11.

This was important because, to get a death penalty at this sentencing trial, the government must show that Moussaoui’s lies upon arrest prevented the FBI from identifying September 11 hijackers and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from altering airport security enough to have saved at least one of the nearly 3,000 people who died that day.

The defense contends that the government knew more than Moussaoui about September 11 beforehand and that the FBI was so inept at fighting terrorism that nothing Moussaoui could have told them would have mattered. Moussaoui has admitted to conspiring with al Qaeda to fly planes into U.S. buildings, but says he was not part of the September 11 attacks and was training as a pilot to fly a 747 into the White House as part of a plot to attack later.

When prosecutor David Raskin began reading Moussaoui’s confession statement and asking Mr. Rolince how the FBI could have responded to it in August 2001, Mr. Rolince started to describe what the FBI “would have” done. Mr. MacMahon protested.

He said this was the second time that prosecutors had tried to read Moussaoui’s confession to the jury and imply that he had some obligation to admit these things to Mr. Samit. The defense argued that the Fifth Amendment protected Moussaoui from being required to incriminate himself upon arrest.

After a private bench conference with attorneys and more testimony, Judge Brinkema advised the jury: “Juries cannot decide cases on speculation. … Nobody knows what would have happened.”

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