Missed Warning Signals May Spare Moussaoui

The Associated Press
Friday, November 11, 2005; 7:51 PM

WASHINGTON -- The fact that the U.S. government overlooked numerous warning signs in the run-up to the Sept. 11 attacks is an old story that is being used in a new way in the Zacarias Moussaoui case. It could save his life.

With the admitted al-Qaida conspirator facing a death penalty trial early next year, the judge framed a key question in a recent closed-door hearing: Even if Moussaoui had told the FBI everything that he knew, would that have enabled the government to avert the 2001 terrorist strikes? The question by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema was released this week in a transcript from a hearing that occurred Oct. 12.

Federal prosecutors say Moussaoui's failure to tell the FBI what he knew resulted in 3,000 deaths.

When he was in custody before the attacks, Moussaoui denied being a member of a terrorist organization and denied that he was taking pilot training to kill Americans. Moussaoui told the FBI he was training as a pilot purely for his personal enjoyment and that after completing his training, he intended to visit New York City and Washington, D.C., as a tourist.

In April, Moussaoui pleaded guilty to conspiring with the Sept. 11 hijackers to kill Americans and declared that Osama bin Laden had personally chosen him to fly a plane into the White House in a later attack.

The upcoming penalty phase has Moussaoui's lawyers poring through material from past investigations for evidence of what the government knew before Sept. 11.

For example, the month before the terrorist strikes, CIA Director George Tenet was briefed about Moussaoui's arrest in Minnesota.

"Your honor ... he was given a slide show," attorney Edward MacMahon said of Tenet. "In August of 2001, Tenet was given a presentation called 'Islamic Extremist' or 'Islamic Fundamentalist Learns to Fly.'"

According to the newly released transcript of the Oct. 12 hearing, MacMahon also told the judge that inside the U.S. government before Sept. 11, "we know that there were other requests for information ... to people outside of the normal chain ... about Moussaoui" and two suspected terrorist operatives who later were among the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers _ Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi.

The CIA failed to put al-Mihdar and al-Hazmi on government watch lists or to let the FBI know that the future Sept. 11 hijackers had entered the United States in early 2000.

"We need to know almost frozen in time what was known by the government before the planes hit the World Trade Center," MacMahon told the judge.

© 2005 The Associated Press