FBI botched pre-9/11 Moussaoui investigation at all levels: DOJ report

[JURIST] The Federal Bureau of Investigation encountered "numerous systemic problems" during its investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui [JURIST news archive] prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks [JURIST news archive], "ranging from poor individual performance to more substantial systemic deficiencies that undermined the FBI's efforts to detect and prevent terrorism," according to a report [PDF text] first written in 2004 but released publicly Monday by US Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine [official website]. Moussaoui had been briefly detained in August 2001 on immigration law violations after he sought flight training in Oklahoma and Minnesota, but the Minnesota investigators failed to properly support their terrorism case against Moussaoui. Investigators learned from French authorities that Moussaoui was connected to an Algerian terrorist group and sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) [text] warrant to search Moussaoui's computer, but attorneys at the FBI headquarters denied the request for lack of probable cause.

Fine's report praised and criticized former FBI agent Colleen Rowley [campaign website; Wikipedia profile], the agent who brought national attention to Moussaoui in 2002 when she sent a letter to FBI director Robert Mueller alleging that senior FBI investigators blocked the investigation [TIME report] into Moussaoui because they did not understand the significance of Moussaoui's connection to terrorism. Though Fine praised Rowley, who is currently running for Congress, for heading up the Minneapolis investigation, he criticized her for seeking a FISA warrant instead of a criminal warrant because a FISA warrant requires connecting the suspect to a "recognized foreign power."

Moussaoui pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in April 2005 to conspiracy charges [indictment] in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to destroy aircraft and conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction. He received a life sentence [JURIST report] last month after one juror refused to agree to the death penalty [JURIST report]. Parts of the 2004 report, which is a broad review of the FBI's handling of Sept. 11 intelligence, have previously been released, but portions of the report covering the Moussaoui investigation were suppressed until the conclusion of court proceedings. Jerry Markon and Dan Eggen of the Washington Post have more.

 

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