FBI's 9/11 Team Still Hard at Work
All they have, for now, are theories.
On a recent visit to FBI headquarters, hand-lettered signs point the way with a wink: "Kennedy Assassination," reads one; "Hoffa Case," says another.
They lead to a poorly lit back room in the basement. Notes and newspaper clippings cover the walls; manila files and personal computers spill off the desks. Blue tubing pokes from a groaning HVAC unit in an attempt to improve the air.
The office, like the investigation itself, was set up on the fly. After the twin towers fell, Mueller announced the formation of PENTTBOM, which in the FBI's arcane nomenclature stands for "Pentagon and twin towers." "BOM" usually refers to traditional bombings such as the Oklahoma City bombing, or OKBOM. On Sept. 11, 2001, the bombs were fueled jetliners.
The FBI's effort, unprecedented in bureau history, threw experienced counterterrorism investigators together with rookies barely out of the FBI academy. They were uprooted from their homes and families and brought to Washington to work for months at a time.
The probe, first headed by then-Deputy Director Thomas J. Pickard, began with one group of investigators for each of the four hijacked planes and one agent for each of the 19 hijackers. Galligan, a longtime FBI agent with a master's degree in psychology, took over in October 2001. Her deputy, Turchiano, is a Brooklyn native who has been tracking terrorists almost since she started at the bureau in 1997.
Other members have included a former soldier and state trooper who became an expert on Atta; an Arabic-speaking Special Forces member who came to the FBI after fighting in Afghanistan; a rookie who became the team's point person on the plot's origins in Germany; and a longtime New York police detective who worked two years past retirement "to see it through to the end."
The New York field office, cradle of the FBI's al Qaeda expertise, largely ran the show in those early days. The attacks had forced agents out of their offices downtown; they worked first from a parking garage and later from the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid.
By October, Mueller, who had been on the job for a week when the hijackings occurred, made a controversial decision: PENTTBOM would be run from Washington and, for the first time in anyone's memory, an operational investigation would be based at headquarters.
The hijackers had been identified within hours, and many of their financial transactions and movements were confirmed within days.
The investigation was divided into groups focused on the flights; on elements of the plot in Germany, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates; on the use of computers; and so on. One group focused solely on Atta.
The leader of the Atta group is Jim Fitzgerald, the former soldier and Massachusetts state trooper. He was a member of the SWAT team that protected the FBI team that traveled to, and was expelled from, Yemen after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000.
Others made similar roundabout journeys to the FBI and to PENTTBOM. Matt Gutierrez, 37, a former Marine with more than six years at the FBI, was a classified information expert responsible for overseeing an estimated 130,000 files produced for discovery in the case of Moussaoui, the only person in the United States charged in connection with the terrorist attacks. Another agent, Aaron Zebley, had been transferred out of counterterrorism to work on criminal cases on Sept. 10, 2001. The transfer lasted a day.
Jackie Maguire, 30, was three months into a counterterrorism posting under Galligan when the planes hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. "I was told I was going to Washington for 30 days," Maguire recalled. She is still on the team.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company