key point in unraveling why the FBI failed to follow up leads on Al
Qaeda terrorism now centers on the Bureau's contemptuously brushing
aside warnings from French intelligence a few days before 9-11. In a
footnote to her May 21, 2002, letter to FBI director Robert Mueller,
Coleen Rowley, the director of the FBI's Minneapolis office, cryptically
alluded to the FBI supervising agent in Washington being given info on
the so-called 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui, by the French last
summer, but choosing not to act on it.
French officials were long known to have been frustrated with
Washington's neglect. Shortly after the attack, Le Monde reported on a
meeting between French and U.S. intelligence: "The first lapse has to
do with the processing of intelligence items that come out of Europe.
According to our information, French and American officials did in fact
hold important meetings in Paris from the 5th to the 6th of September,
that is, a few days prior to the attacks. Those sessions brought
representatives of the American Special Services together with officers
of the DST (Directorate of Territorial Security) and military personnel
from the DGSE (General Overseas Security Administration).
"Their discussion turned to some of the serious threats made against
American interests in Europe, specifically one targeting the U.S.
Embassy in Paris," Le Monde continued. "During these talks, the DST
directed the American visitors' attention to a Moroccan-born Frenchman
who had been detained in the United States since August 17 and who was
considered to be a key high-level Islamic fundamentalist. But the
American delegation, preoccupied above all with questions of
administrative procedure, paid no attention to this 'first alarm,'
basically concluding that they were going to take no one's advice, and
that an attack on American soil was inconceivable. It took September 11
for the FBI to show any real interest in this man, who we now know
attended two aviation training schools, as did at least seven of the
In her report, Rowley presents a picture of an agency asleep at the
wheel. "For example, at one point, the Supervisory Special Agent at FBI
HQ posited that the French information could be worthless because it
only identified Zacarias Moussaoui by name and he, the SSA, didn't know
how many people by that name existed in France. A Minneapolis agent
attempted to surmount that problem by quickly phoning the FBI's legal
attache in Paris, France, so that a check could be made of the French
telephone directories. Although the attache did not have access to all
of the French telephone directories, he was able to quickly ascertain
that there was only one listed in the Paris directory. It is not known
if this sufficiently answered the question, for the SSA continued to
find new reasons to stall."
Translation by Arlette Lurie
The Village Voice's ongoing coverage of terrorism in the U.S.