Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Thwarting the 9/11 Plot Thwarters

I just want to scream in frustration and then cry in sadness when I read yet another confirmation that FBI agents were convinced that there was a plot afoot to hijack airliners and fly them into high-profile targets prior to 9/11, but couldn't get the attention of the people in Washington who could have acted on their explosive information -- let alone try to prevent the attacks.

Yes, the incompetence of the FBI's senior bureaucracy in the pre- and post-9/11 eras is now the stuff of legend, but I still was taken aback by the testimony of Harry Samit, the agent who arrested and interrogated Zacarias Moussaoui on August 18, 2001, three weeks before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Samit testified yesterday at Moussaoui's sentencing trial that he tried repeatedly to get his superiors in Washington to help confirm his certainty that Moussaoui was involved in an imminent airline hijacking plot. But Samit said he was repeatedly thwarted by obstructionist senior bureau officials whom, he later told Justice Department investigators, were "criminally negligent" and much more interested in protecting their careers.

Samit is a prosecution witness and as such was a "hostile" witness on cross examination by Edward B. McMahon Jr., Moussaoui's chief court-appointed lawyer.

Nevertheless, he provided new evidence that further confirmed that the FBI's failure to take seriously the plot was because of senior officials, and his testimony paralleled the complaints of whistle-blowing Coleen Rowley, an agent in the FBI's Minneapolis office, who bitterly criticized the same senior officials for their handling of the Moussaoui case.

The Washington Post has more here.


Meanwhile, CNN reports that the FBI is so broke that some of its agents don't have secure internal email accounts and must use their own non-secure accounts to communicate. That may have something to do with the FBI's continuing and outrageously expensive computer follies.

Just last week a nonpartisan congressional audit found that the FBI and its contractors spent more than $17 million on first-class airfare, inflated labor rates, equipment that went missing and other questionable payments during a botched attempt to upgrade the bureau's outdated case file management computer system, which is a most necessary tool in the War on Terror.

The revamped system, called Trilogy, costs more than $535 million, but has failed to produce usable results. FBI announced this week that it would spend an additional $425 million in an attempt to finish the job. The Houston Chronicle has more here.


The London subway bomb attacks notwithstanding, the Brits have been somewhat more adept -- or just plain lucky -- at stopping terrorist plots.

Seven Britons of Middle Eastern extraction have gone on trial at Old Bailey on charges they they planned to start a major bombing campaign until their stash of bomb-making materials was found in a London storage depot in 2004.

The Guardian has the story.

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