By Michael J. Sniffen
The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 testified Monday he spent almost four weeks trying to warn US officials about the radical Islamic student pilot but "criminal negligence" by superiors in Washington thwarted a chance to stop the 9/11 attacks.
Under questioning from MacMahon, Samit acknowledged that he had told the Justice Department inspector general that "obstructionism, criminal negligence and careerism" on the part of FBI headquarters officials had prevented him from getting a warrant that would have revealed more about Moussaoui's associates. He said that opposition blocked "a serious opportunity to stop the 9/11 attacks."
Samit's complaints echoed those raised in 2002 by Coleen Rowley, the bureau's agent-lawyer in the Minneapolis office, who tried to help get a warrant. Rowley went public with her frustrations, was named a Time magazine person of the year for whistleblowing and is now running for Congress.
Samit revealed far more than Rowley of the details of the investigation.
MacMahon walked Samit through e-mails and letters the agent sent seeking help from 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, an intelligence agency not identified publicly by name in court (possibly the National Security Agency), and the FBI's Iran, Osama bin Laden, radical fundamentalist, and national security law units at headquarters.
Samit described useful information from French intelligence and the CIA before 9/11 but said he was not told that CIA Director George Tenet was briefed on the Moussaoui threat on Aug. 23 and never saw until after 9/11 a memo from an FBI agent in Phoenix about radical Islamists taking flight training there.
For each nugget of information, MacMahon asked Samit if Washington officials called to assess the implications. Time after time, Samit said no.
MacMahon introduced an Aug. 31 letter Samit drafted "to advise the FAA of a potential threat to security of commercial aircraft" from whomever Moussaoui was conspiring with.
But Maltbie barred him from sending it to FAA headquarters, saying he would handle that, Samit testified. The agent added that he did tell FAA officials in Minneapolis of his suspicions.
Photo credit: Zacarias Moussaoui is shown in this August 2001 photo. (AP Photo/Sherburne County, Minn., Sheriff's Office, File, HO)