- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 22, 2006


A former top security official at the Federal Aviation Administration testified in Alexandria federal court yesterday that numerous security measures could have been implemented to protect against hijackings if officials had learned of Zacarias Moussaoui’s terrorist plans.

Robert Cammaroto said the FAA could have redeployed federal air marshals, tightened security checkpoints and directed flight crews to resist hijackers if they had known that al Qaeda terrorists were training pilots to take over planes and fly them into buildings.

Mr. Cammaroto was responsible for issuing security directives to carriers in 2001 when officials became aware of various threats. He was designated by prosecutors as a substitute witness to replace two other government aviation witnesses barred from the trial after they reportedly were improperly coached on their testimony by government lawyer Carla J. Martin.

Prosecutors wanted to show that the government might have been able to thwart or at least minimize the September 11 attacks if Moussaoui had not lied about his terrorist plans after being arrested in August 2001 on immigration violations. Moussaoui, who has confessed to being an al Qaeda conspirator, is the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the September 11 attacks.

Mr. Cammaroto testified at Moussaoui’s death-penalty trial that security directives can be implemented almost immediately if the FAA learns of a threat and that they can be kept in place indefinitely.

Earlier, a manager at an Arizona flight school that trained one of the September 11 pilot-hijackers testified she called the FAA with concerns about Moussaoui’s qualifications for a pilot license, but her concerns were dismissed by an agency official.

Prosecutors in Moussaoui’s trial were presenting testimony about the September 11 pilot-hijackers’ training in an apparent effort to show parallels between Moussaoui’s flight training and that of other hijackers.

Two other pilot-hijackers from the September 11 attacks abandoned a small airplane on a taxiway of Miami International Airport during their flight training, but their actions didn’t attract serious scrutiny from federal officials, another witness said.

Daniel Pursell, a flight instructor at the school where hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi received commercial pilot training, said the tower chief at the airport called the Florida school to berate officials after the plane was left on the runway. The FAA never questioned Atta and al-Shehhi, Mr. Pursell said.

Prosecutors say that if Moussaoui had revealed his plans for a terrorist attack, the FBI could have thwarted or at least minimized the attacks.

The defense argues that nothing Moussaoui said after his arrest would have made any difference to the FBI because its bureaucratic intransigence rendered it incapable of reacting swiftly to Moussaoui’s arrest under any circumstances.

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