In the U.S. government’s pursuit of the death penalty for Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI officials have inadvertently revealed how an even mildly competent George W. Bush could have prevented the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people — and set the country on a dangerous course for revenge.
FBI agent Harry Samit, who interrogated Moussaoui weeks before the Sept. 11 attacks, sent 70 warnings to his superiors about suspicions that the al-Qaeda operative had been taking flight training in Minnesota because he was planning to hijack a plane for a terrorist operation.
But FBI officials in Washington showed “criminal negligence” in blocking requests for a search warrant on Moussaoui’s computer or taking other preventive action, Samit testified at Moussaoui’s death penalty hearing on March 20.
Samit’s futile warnings matched the frustrations of other federal agents in Minnesota and Arizona who had gotten wind of al-Qaeda’s audacious scheme to train pilots for operations in the United States. But the agents couldn’t get their warnings addressed by senior officials at FBI headquarters.
Another big part of the problem was the lack of urgency at the top. Bush, who had been President for half a year, was taking a month-long vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and shrugged off the growing alarm within the U.S. intelligence community.