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From 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 away."

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 11th.

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 Moussoui was.

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.

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