Terrorism Prevention priority.(COMMENTARY)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 10, 2002 | Go to article overview

Terrorism Prevention priority.(COMMENTARY)


Byline: Donald Lambro, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the midst of the war on terrorism, the biggest questions in Congress are what did the Feds know, when did they know it and why didn't they act on that information to prevent the September 11, 2001, attacks.

Bear in mind, the very first order of business in war is finding and eliminating the enemy. That means providing our military and intelligence forces with the arms, funding and other legal tools necessary to safeguard the country from another attack.

Thus, it is more than a little troubling to see Congress devoting so many resources to the investigative hearings when no legislative action is scheduled in the Senate on the defense authorization bill, the homeland defense bill, the intelligence funding bills and the other legislation critical to preventing the next terrorist act from killing thousands of Americans.

But having said this, it is clear that some lower-level officials in our intelligence apparatus knew a lot about the terrorists in our midst, and that their memos were not taken seriously and were never acted upon. Specifically, people in higher positions of authority at the FBI here in Washington prevented recommendations for further investigation from going forward.

There was the prescient memo from a watchful, conscientious FBI agent in Phoenix last July who noticed that a number of suspicious Middle Eastern men were taking flight-training courses at local airline schools. He suggested that the FBI monitor all flight schools because he suspected terrorists might be planning some hijackings.

There were the memoranda and other warnings from the FBI's Minneapolis office seeking a secret court warrant to search the computer and other materials belonging to Zacarias Moussaoui, a new student at the Pan Am Flight Academy in Eagen, Minn.

The school's manager tipped off the FBI's Minneapolis office, saying he suspected that Moussaoui might be planning a hijacking. His tip came on Aug. 15, nearly a month before the September 11 terrorist hits on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Throughout the fateful month of August, the Minneapolis office - pressed by its chief legal counsel, Coleen Rowley - sought warrant authority from headquarters to conduct its search under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Moussaoui had been arrested for violating his visa stay (he has since been indicted as a conspirator in the attacks), but FBI officials here in Washington told frustrated Minneapolis agents they "did not think there was sufficient evidence of Moussaoui's connection to a foreign power" to request a FISA warrant.

Even after the September 11 attacks, an official at FBI headquarters told the Minneapolis office that the attacks may be unconnected to Moussaoui and the two cases might be a "coincidence." Unbelievably, Mrs. …

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