Sun, Mar 05, 2006 - Page 17 News List

Zacarias Moussaoui fights for his life

Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person to face criminal charges in US courts in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, claims he had nothing to do with the plot, but federal prosecutors say he is guilty and should be executed

By Stewart Powell  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA

But the unanimous report by the independent bipartisan Sept. 11 inquiry unearthed at least 10 missed "operational opportunities" to detect and potentially disrupt the plot before Sept. 11, including three involving Moussaoui.

"Moussaoui can be seen as an al-Qaeda mistake and a missed opportunity," the report concluded. "Publicity about Moussaoui's arrest and a possible hijacking threat might have derailed the plot."

The commission's investigation showed that high-level officials in the Bush administration failed to link Moussaoui's arrest to the escalating threat of al-Qaeda attacks within the US during the days before the attacks. Tenet, keenly aware of the mounting al-Qaeda threat, learned about the FBI's arrest of Moussaoui in Minnesota on Aug. 23. But he testified that he did not raise the possibility with anyone that Moussaoui might have been part of an al-Qaeda operation.

The commission's chronology showed that high-level Bush administration officials were on high alert but missed the link to Moussaoui:

◆ Aug. 6, 2001: US President George W. Bush, amid a 27-day vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, receives a presidential daily brief from a CIA briefer entitled "Bin Laden determined to strike in US." The two-page classified document, marked "for the president only" and the 36th briefing on bin Laden since he took office Jan. 20, said the FBI was pursuing al-Qaeda-related investigations into "patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks."

◆ Aug. 16, 2001: Moussaoui is arrested in Eagan, Minnesota, for overstaying a US visa after employees at Pan Am International Flight Academy express concerns to local FBI agents that the student pilot and vocal Islamic fundamentalist had paid US$8,300 for seven days of ground training on a Boeing 747 flight simulator without even having a pilot's license. An FBI agent in Minneapolis subsequently expresses concerns to a higher-ranking FBI agent at headquarters in Washington, DC, saying he was pressing for an investigation over the objection of headquarters because he was "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center."

◆ Aug 17, 2001: Tenet, returning from a vacation that included the first 10 days of August, briefs Bush personally at his Texas ranch on day-to-day threats facing the US. Tenet later tells commission investigators that "the system was blinking red" that summer about possible al-Qaeda attacks.

◆ Aug. 23, 2001: Tenet receives a memo entitled "Islamic extremist learns to fly" detailing Moussaoui's arrest and joint CIA-FBI efforts to trace a possible link to overseas' terrorists. The FBI in Minneapolis hopes to establish a connection to convince the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to authorize an examination of Moussaoui's laptop computer.

◆ By Aug. 27: French intelligence relays information to the FBI documenting a link between Moussaoui and a Muslim Chechen rebel leader, but high-ranking officials at FBI headquarters resist a request from agents in Minneapolis to obtain the search warrant.

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