Attorneys for Zacarias Moussaoui are objecting to a government request to make public a secret report detailing why the FBI did not piece together the plot that led to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The report, by the Justice Department inspector general's office, examines how the FBI missed potential leads that might have uncovered the terror plot. Sources familiar with the report said part of it focuses on Moussaoui, who was arrested more than three weeks before the attacks when his behavior aroused suspicion at a flight school.
Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested before the 2001 attacks.
Moussaoui is the only person charged in an American courtroom with conspiring in the attacks. In a recent filing in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, the inspector general's office asked the judge overseeing Moussaoui's case for permission to release a declassified version of the report.
But attorneys for Moussaoui filed a motion last week objecting to the proposed release, arguing that it could bias potential jurors and impair Moussaoui's ability to get a fair trial, sources said. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because the legal filings are under court seal.
Edward B. MacMahon Jr., an attorney for Moussaoui, said that he could not comment on sealed legal proceedings but that "we've been concerned all along about the release of information that could prejudice our client's right to a fair trial before a trial is even held."
The judge, Leonie M. Brinkema, will decide whether to make the declassified version of the report public. The debate was first reported yesterday on the New York Times Web site.
The FBI's missteps in its handling of Moussaoui have been chronicled at length by the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Moussaoui, an admitted al Qaeda sympathizer, was arrested on immigration charges in August 2001. His actions were considered suspicious enough that the then-director of the CIA, George J. Tenet, was briefed.
Yet senior FBI managers never received word of the case, and headquarters officials wrongly believed that they could not gain a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings. The commission concluded that Moussaoui probably was being prepared as a replacement Sept. 11 pilot and that the hijackers probably would have postponed their strike if the U.S. government had announced his arrest.
Moussaoui, a French citizen, has pleaded not guilty in the attacks. His trial in Alexandria has been delayed numerous times.