Monday, December 24, 2007

Phoenix, Part 5

We continue from Part 4 reviewing exhibits for the defense at the Moussaoui trial, many of which were classified papers from the FBI and elsewhere in the US Government that had been declassified for the trial. These exhibits can be found in the court archives for the U.S.D.C. Eastern District of Virginia.

Defendant's Exhibit 739 is a memo written by Special Agent Harry Samit, dated Monday, August 20, 2001, 10:48 AM, requesting help from the US Embassy in Paris to seek information from the French Government about Moussaoui.

Enclosed please find the opening EC and LHM for the 747 matter we discussed. Anything you can get from the French on the subject or associates will be greatly appreciated.

There was also an issue regarding what kind of search warrant would be applicable. As we saw in Part 4, the agents working on the case felt they had enough evidence to get a criminal warrant, but were considering going for a FISA warrant instead, because it was easier to get, so they were more sure they would get it.

Defendant's Exhibit 741 is a memo from SA Samit, dated Sunday, August 19, 2001, 6:17 PM:

We naturally want to get search warrants/subpoenas on the 265 rather than FISAs/NSLs on the 199 since it's easier to send info gleaned from a criminal investigation to the intel case than vice-versa.

The reason to opt for a criminal warrant over a FISA warrant was that information from a criminal case could be more widely disseminated than information from an intelligence collection effort -- which is what FISA was. (In upcoming posts we will look at that issue in a little more depth.)

Defendant's Exhibit 695 is a memo from SA Samit dated Monday, August 20, 2001, 11:23 AM.

Attached is the opening EC and an LHM for OPIR signed out by our SAC. We need you to secure permission from OIPR for Minneapolis to contact the U.S. Attorney's Office as soon as possible for search warrants. Al-Attas is being bailed out as we speak and may be heading back to OKC to destroy incriminating evidence in their apartment.

A sense of urgency existed, since there was concern that Moussaoui's associate Al-Attas was about to be freed, and could then proceed "to destroy incriminating evidence".

Something else was peculiar about Moussaoui's inclinations:

Defendant's Exhibit 692 is a document describing the investigation, which had been classified SECRET. It is worth reading in its entirety; on page 2 it stated:

The instructor stated that for his upcoming high-fidelity simulator sessions, Moussaoui stated that he would "love" to fly a simulated flight from Heathrow Airport in England, to John F. Kennedy airport in New York, to include all navigation and communications.

This prompted something that is quite signficant early in the second half of August, 2001 -- an urgent need to warn the Secret Service.

Defendant's Exhibit 738 is a memo from SA Harry Samit to "G JONES, JOSEPH RIVERS, Michael Maltbie" dated "Tue, Aug 21, 2001, 2:03 PM" with the subject "Secret Service Notification":

It's imperative that the USSS be apprised of this threat potential indicated by the evidence contained in the EC. If he seizes an aircraft flying from Heathrow to NYC, it will have the fuel on board to reach DC.

On the afternoon of August 21st, Special Agent Samit urged the notification of the United States Secret Service.


The Secret Service provides protection to certain US officials, including to the President and the Vice President.

Why would the Secret Service need to be notified of a hijacking plan that was developing and that the FBI was in the process of foiling?

"It's imperative that the USSS be apprised of this threat potential indicated by the evidence contained in the EC. If he seizes an aircraft flying from Heathrow to NYC, it will have the fuel on board to reach DC."

As we recall, Condoleeza Rice indicated that it hadn't occurred to anyone that someone might turn a hijacked airliner into a kamikaze, but we saw that of course it had. In fact, here we see that it occurred to someone in connection with the investigation of the Moussaoui case.

A hijacked airliner with the range to reach New York from the United Kingdom means nothing special in the context of holding the passengers as hostages -- the plane could land anywhere, from Maine to Pennsylvania. But mentioning Washington, DC, and the Secret Service implies a threat to high-value assets that the Secret Service protects. How important is it for protection of the President and other high-value political figures if a hijacked plane full of hostages lands near DC? Indeed, but it is important if the hijacked plane gets turned into a missile and flown into the DC area.

Implicit in SA Samit's urgent call for notification of the Secret Service is the understanding that the people which the Secret Service protects -- including the President -- might be targets of a suicidal attack with a flying bomb.

On August 21st this alarm was sounded by the FBI Minneapolis Field Office.