Shenon On the Missed Moussaoui Opportunity
We are certainly getting a deluge of terrific coverage in this week leading up to the tenth anniversary. Philip Shenon, whose book on the commission I recommend, covers the blunders the FBI made in not authorizing searches of Zacharias Moussaoui's computer and personal belongings until late in the day of September 11.
Special Agent Harry Samit of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office knew he was looking into the eyes of a terrorist. It was early afternoon on Friday, Aug. 17, 2001. Across from him sat Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old French-born student arrested the day before for overstaying his visa. Moussaoui had paid more than $8,000 in cash that summer to sit in a cockpit simulator in a flight school in the suburbs of Minneapolis and learn—in a matter of days—the basics of how to fly a 747-400. Samit, a former intelligence officer at the Navy’s celebrated Top Gun flight school, felt sure the man across the desk from him was a Muslim extremist who was part of a plot to hijack a commercial jetliner filled with passengers. “The trick,” Samit wrote, in a soon-to-be-released excerpt of a book he’s written about the case, “was getting Moussaoui to admit this and reveal details and associates to allow us to stop the plot.”