Heroes to Scapegoats
May 30, 2002
By Richard Prasad
Last week the question concerning 9/11 seemed to be what
did the President know and when did he know it. This week,
the questions seemed to center on what did the FBI know, pre-September
11th, and why did reports of possible terrorist action never
make it to President Bush?
The reports in question seem to be two memos written by local
FBI agents, that if FBI director Robert Mueller is to be believed,
never made it to his desk, and therefore never made it to
George W. Bush's desk. Is Mueller credible? Or is he covering
up facts to make himself and his agency less culpable?
One of the local FBI reports is known as "the Phoenix memo,"
and the other was written about Zacarious Moussoui, months
before 9/11 occurred. The Phoenix memo was written by Phoenix
FBI agent Kenneth Williams and suggested that 8 Arab men enrolled
in Phoenix flight schools could have ties to terrorism and
should be watched. According to an article in the Washington
Post on May 22, 2002, the FBI has released only one paragraph
of the memo which among other things says, "the FBI should
accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities/colleges
around the country" and "should discuss this matter with other
elements of the U.S. intelligence community."
Phoenix FBI agent Williams felt that the men might be a threat
and asked for an analysis of people coming into the US for
aviation training and wanted to request help from both the
State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
No help was forthcoming. The FBI called Williams' report speculative,
stated they didn't have the manpower to do what the Williams
memo asked and quietly marked the memo and the issue closed.
This information runs counter to what the FBI said a few
weeks ago when the Phoenix memo was released. At that time,
the FBI was saying they were seriously considering a plan
to pursue Williams suggestions at the time of the attacks.
Now even the FBI concedes there was no such plan of action.
How is the FBI countering such criticism from the Williams
or Phoenix memo? One way is by saying Agent Williams didn't
see 9/11 coming either so how could they, the FBI, envision
September 11th? It is true, according to a May 23, 2002, article
by the Washington Post that Williams never envisioned the
exact September 11 scenario, and he testified as such to Congress.
And it is also true that he marked his memo routine, and such
memos usually take 60 days to pass through the FBI hierarchy.
But according to Senator Dick Durban in the same Post article,
"I will tell you, though...that although he did not come up
with the exact September 11 scenario, what he presented in
that memo was so close to the fact pattern that emerged on
September 11 that, as you read it, it just takes your breath
If the pattern was so close to the actual chain of events
that happened on September 11th, why did the FBI close this
case, and why did they not look into these facts and others
and connect the dots? It's clear now that the FBI is in CYA
territory, big time.
They first tried to blame Williams for not getting the exact
scenario right and then the FBI did something far more interesting,
they went after Williams himself. A story was leaked to the
Washington Post on May 24th 2002 that agent Williams
mishandled a Chinese spy case and mishandled an opportunity
to get information on Palestinian terrorist groups. I'm not
saying that the higher ups in the FBI leaked this anti-Williams
story, but what easier way to deflect interest in what upper
level FBI agents did or did not do, than to totally discredit
the agent who gave the FBI the warning?
The character assassination is going on hot and heavy at
FBI headquarters, but Kenneth Williams seems exactly the wrong
person to blame. He is a former SWAT team leader and according
to Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, Williams'
only mistake seems to be that he wrote this memo in July -
and that makes FBI Director Mueller look foolish, for not
getting the information in timely manner before September
If the Phoenix memo was the only memo that warned of September
11th, then it would be easy to see how that one memo could
fall through the cracks, but there is another memo released
by a local FBI agent that never made it to the upper levels
of the FBI. The memo was written by FBI agent Colleen Rowley
based in Minneapolis, and her memo warned about the dangers
of so called 20th hijacker Zacarius Moussoui.
According to a May 24th New York Times story, the FBI altered
a report Rowley wrote concerning Moussoui, that made it impossible
for the FBI to obtain further evidence against Moussoui. Rowley
wrote a 13 page letter to Congressional investigators looking
into the Minneapolis memo, accusing the FBI supervisor of
downplaying the importance of intelligence Rowley received
from the French. The supervisor is not named in the letter,
but altering the report is another way of saying that the
supervisor lied about their prior knowledge about how dangerous
Rowley maintained that there was enough information in the
French intelligence report to label Moussoui a dangerous Islamic
militant, and charge Moussoui on federal terrorism statutes
before 9/11. But just like the Phoenix memo, facts
were downplayed and undervalued by the higher ups in the FBI.
Rowley got so frustrated that she called the FBI's legal attache
in Paris to get more information on Moussoui from the French.
Rowley and other FBI agents also went around FBI headquaters
and talked directly to the CIA about Moussoui. Such initiative
is frowned upon in the FBI, because Rowley and others in the
Minneapolis FBI were reprimanded for going behind the back
of FBI headquarters.
Rowley's letter was especially critical of current FBI director
Robert Mueller, who she said made 'misleading' statements
about the FBI's handling of Moussoui's case both before and
after 9/11. In other words, Mueller lied and made the FBI
look less culpable than they were. And again, just like Kenneth
Williams, the FBI seems more interested in scolding Rowley
for not following procedure, and for trying to warn her superiors
that a really bad terrorist attack was coming.
But Rowley is characterized as a "scrupulous person, a crackerjack
who has sound well thought out judgements", according to another
May 24th New York Times article. Not an easy person
to scapegoat, but the FBI has tried. So much so that Rowley
applied for Federal whistleblower status, for which she was
denied because FBI agents are denied such protection by law.
And now, a May 27th article on CNN.com states that both the
Rowley memo and the Kenneth Williams Phoenix memo made it
to the Radical Fundamentalist Unit of the FBI. So let me get
this straight, a special unit of the FBI that sounds like
it is involved in counterterrorism had both of these memos
and did nothing? That is astounding. In fact they did worse
than nothing, they altered reports to take the heat off of
terrorists like Moussoui.
At the center of all this controversy stands Robert Mueller,
President Bush's FBI director. He undoubtedly lied about the
FBI's knowledge of Zaccarious Moussoui. The FBI definitely
knew more about Moussoui than they let on, thanks to the French.
And yet Mueller and his cronies at the FBI mischaracterized
the Moussoui memo and the Phoenix memo as general and not
specific warnings. Mueller sought only to destroy the reputations
of hardworking dedicated people like agents Williams and Rowley
and therefore protecting his own reputation.
The mind reels with questions, if Mueller is willing to lie
about the importance and scope of the local memos, what else
is Mueller willing to lie about? His own personal knowledge
of these memos prior to September 11th, maybe? And if Mueller
knew about the Phoenix memo who else did? Ashcroft? Bush?
It isn't so much of a leap of faith anymore to say that high
level officials of the Bush administation and perhaps Bush
himself had plenty of warning that something like 9/11 was
in the works. If only they had listened.
Stay tuned. The steady drip drip drip of information about
what the FBI knew just keeps on coming. Agents like Williams
and Rowley should be treated as heroes, just as much as the
people who brought down the plane over Pennsylvania instead
of Washington DC. Instead they are being reprimanded and their
reputations are being trashed. For that kind of scapegoating,
FBI Director Mueller deserves to be fired.