Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 20, 2006

DOJ IG report on the FBI and Moussaoui

Filed under: Intelligence and Info-Sharing,Investigation & Enforcement — by Christian Beckner on June 20, 2006

The DOJ inspector general has released an updated version of their report (44mb pdf) on the FBI’s handling of intelligence information related to the 9/11 attacks, now including a 120-page chapter on the FBI’s pre-9/11 investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui that had been previously withheld due to his trial. Much of the information in the narrative is well-known, but that doesn’t make it any less chilling in retrospect. For example, on page 163 of the pdf, a conversation from August 27, 2001:

According to [Minneapolis-based Special Supervisory Agent] Gary’s notes of the conversation, [Special Supervisory Agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit] Martin told them that “what you have done is couched it in such a way that people get spun up.” Gary told the OIG that after Martin made this statement, Gary said “good” and then stated that Minneapolis was trying to keep Moussaoui from crashing an airplane into the World Trade Center. Gary’s notes of the conversation indicate that Gary stated, “We want to make sure he doesn’t get control of an airplane and crash it into the [World Trade Center] or something like that.” According to Gary’s notes, Martin responded by stating that Minneapolis did not have the evidence to support that Moussaoui was a terrorist. Gary’s notes indicate that Martin also stated, “You have a guy interested in this type of aircraft. That is it.”

The report finds no evidence of “intentional misconduct” or attempts to “deliberately ‘sabotage’ the Minneapolis FBI’s request” for a FISA warrant. And it casts blame widely, as noted in the Washington Post today:

Fine concluded that senior FBI managers failed to move aggressively to gain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings before Sept. 11. But unlike previous public criticisms of the FBI’s bungling of the case — which have focused on senior FBI managers in Washington — Fine’s analysis said there was plenty of blame to go around.

The inspector general said former FBI lawyer Colleen Rowley, who gained fame as a whistle-blower when she pointed out the errors by headquarters, had failed to properly guide agents on what type of search warrant to seek.

He said agents in Minneapolis, who have been hailed for warning supervisors about Moussaoui, rushed to open an intelligence investigation before realizing that they would need a criminal search warrant. The so-called “wall” that existed at the time between intelligence and criminal investigators has been blamed for the failure to examine Moussaoui’s belongings until after Sept. 11.

The Minneapolis field office might share some of this responsibility, but I still think, after reading the narrative, that most of the responsibility lies with the FBI HQ in this case. There may have not been willful misconduct, but an over-controlling bureaucratic ethos is often just as harmful. For example, on page 164 of the PDF:

Martin also wrote, “I need to ask you guys to do me a favor. In the future, please contact and pass info to me and allow me to talk with [an FBI detailee to the CIA] and [the CIA]. Things work much better when our agencies are communicating HQ to HQ.”

It’s this type of hierarchical, bureaucratic mentality that needs to be killed off if we’re going to succeed in the war on terror.

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