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Monday, April 03, 2006

How the FBI Let 9/11 Happen questions

Reason magazine, which seems to be a center-right-libertarian publication, gave good skeptical coverage of the FBI's obstruction/incompetence in the lead up to 9/11/01 vis-a-vis the Mousaoui case in this article
"How the FBI Let 9/11 Happen:
Since I couldn't find a bulletin board on their site, I respond to its writer here.

Mr. Taylor,

First of all, the official 9/11/01 story is a consipiracy theory. Whenever you get different people banding together to cause something to happen, that is a conspiracy. I'm sorry, but I don't see how your good recent article in Reason debunks the 9/11/01 'conspiracy freaks.' I also don't see how everything is clear now about what happened to our country (now 'homeland' security state) during the summer and autumn of 2001.

Considering how much we don't know about 9/11/01 and how many aberrant things happened leading up to that date and following, the commonly accepted narrative is also actually a freaky theory. The FBI's incompetence that your article highlights is indeed remarkable, but it coincided with simultaneous incompetences across the Federal Government, including the Air Force, the FAA, the CIA, the DoD, the Secret Service, the National Security Council, and the White House.

This was juxtaposed with strange competencies, like allowing the Bin Laden famiily to efficiently leave the country, when most everyone else couldn't charter a flight to hop across the country. The FBI was great at getting the private video tapes of the Pentagon attack, the black boxes, keeping those flight recorders under wraps, and getting the student records of the Florida flight school attackers shortly after the attacks.

Some of the black boxes were supposed to be incinerated/lost, such as the WTC flights I believe, but Atta's passport was found by an agent a few blocks away, intact. The FBI was great at finding that passport.

Before the attacks the FBI didn't stop the flight school terrorists, but within hours they were absconding with their records. Meanwhile, for the first time in its history, the respected and independent NTSB doesn't get to investigate only these plane incidents...

The Air Force couldn't stop the attacks, since for some reason they claimed that NORAD only looked 'out' but they could intercept Payne Stewart's plane in 1999. But they made up for it a few weeks later with a successful regime change in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, a few months later we didn't box Osama in at Tora Bora and he fled to Pakistan, so we have to continue the war on terror, since he's still at large.

You could say that the Federal government is diverse and that some units do better than others, and the same ones might have good days and bad days. But there seems to be a lot of failures that allowed the attacks to happen and allowed the investigations to be stymied. Maybe these incompetents are only good at doing nothing, preventing the 'blame game' when something happens, and somehow making it work to their advantage by getting re-elected, keeping ones pension or even being promoted -- all while replacing our controversial Saudi bases with Iraqi ones to fight 'terror' (even though there's a lot more terror coming from our allies in Saudi and Pakistan), and losing a major Democratic-leaning city in a Republican state, replacing most of the Democrats with golf courses.

Then there's that Anthrax terrorism the following month, targetting Democrats in Congress. I remember two strange news items from that era. The strain was from the US weapons labs, and some of the Florida-based terrorists were hospitalized for what seemed like Anthrax. But before that there was the reputed link to Saddam's labs, and this helped the Patriot Act to sail through Congress. It is strangely efficient again how the Department of Justice can have such a comprehensive set of laws drafted so quickly, but they still haven't had the time after all these years to propose any changes to the hobbling FISA laws. They must be busy with all their post-9/11 prosecutions of Moussaoui and the Dirty Bomber.

Is it true that weeks before 9/11/01 AG Ashcroft stopped flying on commercial flights? What was that about?

The higher ups' obstruction of the Special Agents' good counter-terrorism investigative/prevention work across the nation could indicate that a rogue element of the US government, including the folks in charge of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit and the OBL unit, went beyond 'Let It Happen' to 'Let It Happen On Purpose (LIHOP).'

If there were to be rogues in government allowing or aiding the attacks on the country, for say, an enhanced security and military state apparatus searching for a new Cold War, wouldn't at least some of them esconce themselves in counter-terrorism?

Here are some other interesting open questions or issues:

1. Of those obstructionist FBI leaders who failed, they failed laterally or upward. Not one of these failures got fired! Meanwhile, the 9/11/01 whistleblowers at the FBI are gagged by unprecedented uses of the State Secrets Act, or they are threatened, investigated, or fired.

From your article: "Samit also testified that he was told pressing too hard to obtain a warrant on Moussaoui would hurt his career."

Not a single person in the CIA or the FBI has been documented to be disciplined, demoted, or fired for pre-9/11/01 counter-terrorism incompetence.

George Tenet got a Medal of Freedom! Frasca and Maltbie are still at the FBI.

I don't know how working for the Federal Government works, but I suppose that being fired for gross incompetence might endanger one's pension, much less pay. It might even make them less healthy if they make their agency full of people who carry guns or deal with crooks look bad.

At least the Stasi would have shot or Gulaged these guys if they failed so miserably! But maybe Frasca and Maltbie didn't 'fail...' Maybe they did 'a heck of a job...'

I believe that the Air Force commander who wasn't there during the hijackings to scramble fighters to protect the Pentagon (!) and the WTC (which was already a known and previously attacked terror target), which were both in no-fly zones was promoted!

In forty years of Cold War with the Soviets, thirty years of which involved fast-moving (faster than commercial aircraft) intercontinental ballistic missiles, it seems strange that the Pentagon doesn't have any defenses to protect the building from missiles or aircraft. If it does, then why didn't they work?

We've spent TRILLIONS of dollars on 'Defense' for decades. Not defending our capitol and its military headquarters from a commercial plane hours after multiple hijackings were happening across the east coast is an utter failure.

Think of the guff we gave Carter for those copters unsuccessfully rescuing the Tehran Embassy hostages because of a sandstorm! At least Carter tried to do something. I don't think a single missile or bullet was fired to defend the Pentagon in 2001. We still have Rumsfeld, the guy who put the Vietnam era to 'rest' so ignominously, in charge there.

But within hours of the Pentagon explosion, all the footage of the occurance is efficiently confiscated by the FBI, never to be publicly shown again.

What about that General who put sticky-notes over Mohammed Atta's face in the 2000 Able Danger investigation? Why was Atta off limits to the Able Danger investigators when all the dots connected to him? I think that this was General Schoomaker was pulled out of retirement to run NorthCom, which is the new DoD unit in charge of domestic operations, like defending the 'homeland' from invasions, civil unrest, diseases, disasters, maybe martial law.

2. Al-Qu'aida was a late-1970s (Carter-Brezhinsky era) US/Pakistan/Saudi invention. The name comes from the 'database' of jihadis trained to fight the Soviets. Bin Laden was 'our' guy.

Brezhinsky, a few years just before the attacks, opined that the US needed another Pearl Harbor to get us behind the military again so that we can secure our access to Eurasian energy resources. This same theme was picked up by the neo-cons' Project for a New American Century report.

Closer to the attacks, the head of the Pakistani Intelligence Service wired Atta $100,000. Wasn't this Pakistani fellow meeting senior Washington D.C. officials, perhaps the US Presiident, in September 2001?

Funny how when the President was running for office, the world leader's name he didn't know was Mushareff. Yet, even though the Clinton administration chilled relations with that country, there we were, before 'War on Terra' broke out, meeting with our old cold warrior buddies, the ISI, who were actively involved with Bin Laden and the (Saudi backed) Taliban. Didn't Bush also meet with senior Saudis around then, too?

Didn't Atta have links to US military training?

Didn't least two of the Saudi hijackers stay in San Diego with the FBI's main counter-terrorism informant there? Why did he neglect to inform us about these fellows? Or maybe he did... Weren't the the ones on watch lists?

Were these the same Saudi hijackers who came into San Diego who received funding from the Saudi royal family?

Then there's those close friends of the Saudis and the Bushes, the 'good' Bin Ladens, many of whom were allowed to fly out of the country on special flights while the rest of America was grounded. They were not allowed to be investigated by the FBI. However, if you or I were a sibling of a murderer or a saboteur, wouldn't we probably be closely investigated and not allowed to leave the country? Is this incompetence, too?

Who was that Al Quaida official who told the CIA agents intorrogating him (disguised as Saudi agents) that they should just call Prince so-and-so and he'll straighten this whole thing out, since he is working for him. This is one of those three Princes with intelligence or arms ties that in his 40s strangely died of heart disease or of 'thirst' within weeks of each other. Dead men don't tell tales.

The powerful Pakistani ISI chief was finally retired after his wire transfer to Osama became public.

Incompetence, or Letting It Happen On Purpose?

The 8/6/01 PDB "Bin Laden Determined to Attack the US" didn't rouse the President from his vacation, certainly not as much as brain-wasted Terri Schiavo's death could.

Then there's that unusual level of put-option activity on UA, AA, Morgan Stanley (didn't they have 22 floors in the WTC?) through Alex Brown Bank the day before the attacks? Doesn't this bank have longstanding ties with the CIA? Doesn't the CIA have software that monitors unusual stock market trading patterns to tip them off? Was this not working on 9/10/01? Who placed those highly profitable trades/bets? Why hasn't the SEC revealed this publicly yet?

Is there anything strange about when the new leaseholder bought terrorism insurance for the WTC? Is there anything strange about 7 WTC collapsing the evening of 9/11/01? A 47 story tower built about 15 years prior, with the SEC and CIA offices inside, collapses perfectly straight down, even though it wasn't hit by a plane and wasn't supposed to have big fires in it. Did leaseholder Silverstein misspeak during that documentary when he said that the building had to be 'pulled'?

Is it good fortune that the Mayor had the firefighters evacuated from that building so that more of them wouldn't die? At least someone was competent that day, although I dislike the competance with which Giuliani absconded with the public records of his administration.

Another question I'd love to see investigated is the perhaps unusually high number of war-games the day of the attacks. Was it a record number of wargames? Some of these simulations involved hijacking scenarios. Did these war games affect our defenses that day? Is that why (in the 9/11 Commission report) the Air Force guy asks the FAA guy reporting the hijackings to him if this is 'real world'? Was it a good idea to have many aviation war games during a sumer in which there were many warnings about hijackings?

3. If a rogue element of the military were involved in Making or Letting It Happen, then using a classified wargame would be a good tactic to get troops to do your bidding, keeping their mouths shut, each thinking that they were only firing blanks, for example, or targeting mock blips, or controlling mock drones.

Don't they say that in every firing squad there is one rifle with blanks so each of the shooters thinks that they weren't responsible for the execution?

Meanwhile down South that horrible day, the President sat in a classroom for several minutes after hearing about the second plane attack on the WTC. In an interview about that day, he claimed to have seen the first plane hit on television. Maybe he saw the smoking building, but there was no video of the first plane hitting, and the second one hit while he was listening to the kids read. Maybe he was just addled. Or maybe he was remembering some other footage he saw around that time.

Still, considering that the President's location was public knowledge, it is strange that he stayed in that school for a half hour after the second attack, about an hour after the first planes were hijacked. Was the Secret Service incompetent, too? Or did they know that the President was safe?

One of my impressions of that day was how on-the-run Bush was for so long. It was strange that instead of showing some leadership in DC or NYC that day, he headed to Offut Air Force Base in Nebraska. Isn't that where the nuclear missiles are commanded from? He was clearly rattled that day.

Another tidbit from that era explaining or spinning why the President was on the run was a report that the Secret Service heard a code word that indicated that the President's plane was in danger. I recall it was subsequently reported that this was a mistake or a misinterpretation. But this was the explanation for whe President flew away from Washingto, D.C. to be on an unpredctable flight path. So, at first he's safe in the school, where he's publicly known to be, then he's safer flying away, then it is found out that he was safe all along.

Then there are the reports of Warren Buffet also being in Offut that day with several CEOs, some of which were from corporations affected by the attacks, but I have no idea if that is true. Was the billionaire Wizard of Omaha scheduled to be out there that day? Do VIPs get to visit bases for meetings? If not, does he get special military protection during emergencies?

Still, it is strange to think that Al Quaida would be feared or thought to know the military/secret service code for Air Force One... The only people who should know that code word would be the Secret Service and parts of the military. Al Quaida would have to have been quite well-infiltrated into our system to accomplish that. It was all they could do to bomb American buildings that have been in the same place for decades.

If I had my money on it, I'd think it more likely that we could have Al Quaida infiltrated better than they us, considering that a Marin teenager improbably named Johnnie Walker could personally meet Osama just by showing up to his camp... And also considering that we co-founded Al Quaida.

Who in the government might want to keep Bush on the run by threatening Air Force One with a Code Word? Or who in government would threaten the President? Who could benefit from showing the President that they mean business? Did someone bluff the President to Offut?

Is someone in the military calling the real shots and letting Bush be the public face for the decisions? Did the President think that he had to go to Offut to personally oversee 'the button?' There were a lot of misunderstandings that day, so Bush might have averted a worse disaster that day by heading west and keeping an eye on things as the Commander In Chief, making sure no one had an itchy button finger after hearing some code word from a voice that sounded like the President's but wasn't...

I don't know. The thing is we don't know. Everyone said that 'everything is going to change' since 9/11, but we don't even know what happened that day on 'our' side. There are a lot of basic questions being asked, and a lot of evidence that is still being blocked, and meanwhile the President and the Vice President only answered questions once about that important day, together, without any recordings whatsoever, and no public disclosures. If that day changed everything, then it is because we the people let it change everything, and if so, we deserve to know who, what, how, and why it happened.

Maybe it was a lot of incompetent indicidents... An improbably high number. Even if so, it is high time to stop the butt-covering and start figuring out where we've been going wrong, because Americans are dying in our cities, on our coasts, and in wars because of these 'incompetancies' or because of some sort of soft coup. We need to find out, and journalists and bloggers seem to be one of last refuges and hopes for our democracy.

How the FBI Let 9/11 Happen
Never mind Moussaoui, the smoldering gun was right there all the time

Anyone paying attention to the Zacarias Moussaoui trial gets it now. All the 9/11 blanks are filled in, and the picture is complete. Sorry, conspiracy freaks and blind partisan hacks. Dull, common, gross incompetence is again at the heart of a deadly government cluster-hump.

Do not linger on Moussaoui's bizarre suicide-by-testimony or the literal cheerleading for his executionHe knew. He lied. And 2,749 people died.

Neither of these is the real story of this case. Rather, the story is the definitive proof Moussaoui's case provides that the U.S. government—pre-PATRIOT Act, pre-NSA wiretaps and all—had and missed clear opportunities to stop 9/11. The FBI uniquely and repeatedly punted carefully gathered evidence of an attack in favor of adherence to bureaucratic hierarchies and power trips.

The testimony of FBI agent Harry Samit forever buries the quaint notion that 9/11 was unforeseen and unpreventable. Beginning with Moussaoui's August 16, 2001 arrest Samit mounted a global and indefatigable investigation of the man and concluded that an attack involving hijacked airplanes was imminent.

The flipside of Samit is Michael Rolince, former head of the FBI's International Terrorism Operations Section. Rolince is the man who previously deflected questions about the FBI's pursuit, or lack thereof, of pre-9/11 terror suspects with the line, "Would CNN have really aired their photos if we'd asked them?"

Rolince smugly insisted at trial that Samit's "suppositions, hunches and suspicions were one thing and what we knew" was another. Yet Rolince, in service of the government's desire to link Moussaoui to 9/11 and trigger the death penalty, also tried to argue that, had Moussaoui spilled his guts, everything would have changed. 9/11 might have been prevented. In short, Samit's investigation and leads were not enough; Moussaoui had to speak up for the FBI brass to hear anything.

When defense lawyer Edward MacMahon cross-examined Rolince, possibly the first and only time a government security official has been so challenged on 9/11, the disconnect between the official story and reality was plain. Rolince knew nothing of the August 18, 2001 memo Samit had sent to his office warning of terror links. In that memo, Samit warned that Moussaoui wanted to hijack a plane and had the weapons to do it. Samit also warned that Moussaoui "believes it is acceptable to kill civilians" and that he approved of martyrdom. Rolince testified he never read the memo.

On August 17 Samit sent an e-mail to his direct superiors at FBI headquarters recounting Moussaoui's training on 747 simulators. "His excuse is weak, he just wants to learn how to do it... That's pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan," Samit wrote.

Rebuffed by his superiors and ignored by Rolince, Samit still sought out more info worldwide and from sources as diverse as the FBI's London, Paris, and Oklahoma City offices, FBI headquarters files, the CIA's counterterrorism center, the Secret Service, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, probably the National Security Agency, and the FBI's Iran and OBL offices.

He was sufficiently alarmed by what he heard that Samit sent an August 21 e-mail requesting that the Secret Service be informed about Moussaoui's intentions to see the White House and that he was interested in flight training.

Samit testified that on August 22 he had learned from the French—the French!—that Moussaoui had recruited a fighter to go to Chechnya in 2000 to fight with Islamic radicals with previous links, so the CIA told Samit, to Osama bin Laden. The FBI brass remained unmoved.

Defense attorney MacMahon then displayed an August 30, 2001 communication addressed to Samit and FBI headquarters agent Mike Maltbie from a Bureau agent in Paris. It passed along that French intelligence thought Moussaoui was "very dangerous" and had soaked up radical views at London's infamous Finnsbury Park mosque. The French also said Moussaoui was "completely devoted" to bin Laden-style jihadism and, significantly, had traveled to Afghanistan.

Yet on August 31 Maltbie stopped Samit from sending a letter to FAA headquarters in Washington advising them of "a potential threat to security of commercial aircraft" based on the Moussaoui case. Maltbie said he would handle that, but it is not clear if he ever did.

"Minneapolis believes Moussaoui, [Moussaoui's roommate Hussein] Al Attas and others not yet known were...engaged in preparing to seize 747s," the aborted warning said.

Samit did directly tell FAA officials in Minneapolis of his concerns on September 5.

In total, the information Samit pulled together dovetailed with his belief that, based on interviews with the suspect, Moussaoui had been to Afghan terror training camps. Because he did not have proof of the suspected terror camp connection, however, Samit never passed this hunch on to the FBI headquarters. Maltbie and Maltbie's boss, David Frasca, chief of the radical fundamentalist unit at headquarters, were clearly pressing Samit for facts only, as Rolince's disdain for "suppositions" from far-off Minneapolis confirms.

So? The 9/11 Commission investigation detailed that British intelligence directly told U.S. officials on September 13, 2001, that Moussaoui had attended a training camp in Afghanistan. "Had this information been available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case would almost certainly have received intense, high-level attention," the commission concluded. As it turns out, Samit had that info in late August 2001 and nobody cared. CIA Director George Tenet was briefed on the Moussaoui threat on August 23. The case received intense, high-level attention. Nobody cared.

Back in 2004, Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, said he was troubled that Moussaoui's arrest never made it up to the top of the FBI hierarchy.

"If it had maybe there would have been some action taken and things could have been different," Kean was quoted by The New York Times.

Yet now it is clear that senior FBI officials Maltbie and Frasca did know about Moussaoui's arrest. In fact, they knew the case so well that they denied Samit's request for a warrant to search Moussaoui's computer and belongings. Samit also testified that he was told pressing too hard to obtain a warrant on Moussaoui would hurt his career.

This decision to deny a warrant gave rise to the myth that "The Wall" between overseas intelligence and criminal investigations made the PATRIOT Act necessary. To this day this myth is cherished among right-wing radio talkers and has, just now, morphed into a clumsy justification for the White House's sidestepping the FISA court and directing its own wiretap frenzy via the NSA. This is all pure fantasy.

Instead of clueless Carter-era restrictions on domestic spying or insufficient distrust of civil liberties, Samit cited "obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism" by top FBI officials as what stopped his investigation.

There is also the curious Bureau flip-flopping on Moussaoui and his laptop. Back in November 2001 the FBI dropped Moussaoui from the 9/11 plot. In his place the Bureau put Ramsi Binalshibh, as part of the hijacking team that crashed United Airlines Flight 93 into a field in Pennsylvania.

FBI Director Robert Mueller back then also told prosecutors that there was no information on the computer seized from Moussaoui that linked him to the September 11 attacks. At that same time, Rolince himself was not convinced that Moussaoui was tied to 9/11, saying "Whoever that fifth person was is probably still alive. Clearly we are looking into the pool of people who crossed paths with the hijackers." Only sometime later did that someone become Moussaoui and his un-searched info.

While Samit was spending a solid three weeks trying to get Washington to act on his pre-9/11 terror fears, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour was raising suspicions with his flight training in Phoenix (suspicions Samit was not told about until after 9/11). Margaret Chevrette of the Pan Am International Flight Academy reported her worries to the FAA and somehow those concerns also made their way to CIA chief Tenet and into CIA memos of August 2001, but the FBI never acted on them. Yet on September 12, FBI agents interviewed Chevrette for more information on Hanjour—reflecting the fact that another local FBI agent (Arizona-based Kenneth Williams, author of the July 2001 Phoenix memo) had notified FBI headquarters of the danger posed by Middle Eastern terrorists training at U.S. flight schools.

There were also repeated attempts by the New York City FBI office to get follow-up on Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi and an August 2001 request from a New York FBI agent who warned that "someday someone will die" if New York did not win approval to launch a criminal investigation of al-Mihdhar. Al-Mihdhar was on American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon.

Minneapolis, Phoenix, New York. Three different Bureau offices were hot on the terror plot in the days leading up to 9/11 and all were stiffed by Washington. If that is not institutional incompetence, Stalin purge-worthy stuff, heaven help the next 3,000 martyrs to J. Edgar Hoover's über-suits.

One exchange from the Moussaoui trial makes clear what happened in the weeks running up to 9/11:

"You tried to move heaven and earth to get a search warrant to search this man's belongings and you were obstructed," MacMahon said to Samit.

"Yes sir, I was obstructed." Samit replied.

No disaster, it seems, can force reform on the Bureau. The same people are still manning the posts at the FBI and Main Justice. They are going to miss the next terror attack because they are dead-certain to stop the last one. That's what bureaucracies do: cover ass. The Bureau's poisonous Andersen Consulting–with-arrest-powers culture remains unreformed and dangerously low-tech. New York City agents do not have enough e-mail addresses to go around, for example.

Instead of an effective anti-terror agency, the Bureau is morphing into a kind of Stasi Lite, keeping tabs on domestic subversives: assorted peaceniks, communists in Texas, and the League of Women Voters in Michigan, who had the gall to invite a critic of the PATRIOT Act to a panel discussion. There is a sort of logic to such surveillance: This what the FBI is good at, so this is what it does. Kinda of like looking for your car keys under a street light because the rest of the street is dark.

Still, for all the bungling in the dark the FBI has nothing to fear, not from a complicit Bush administration, not from a prostrate Congress, not from a bamboozled public. An e-mail sent to Agent Harry Samit on September 10, 2001 from a CIA Counterterrorism Center official identified only as "Cathy" points the way: "God help us all if the next terrorist attacks involves this same type of plane."

God? Cathy, dear, the FBI is God. Just look around.

Jeff A. Taylor writes the weekly Reason Express.


At 1:34 PM, Anonymous Infernal Optimist said...

Nice summary. Imagine this being broadcast on the nightly news!


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