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The FBI's Missed Messages: Why the Government Didn't Know What It Knew

StoryMay 30, 2002
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F.B.I. director Robert Mueller III acknowledged Wednesday for the first time the September 11 attacks might have been preventable if officials in his agency had responded differently to all the pieces of information that were available.

As recently as May 8, Mueller told a Senate hearing there was nothing the agency could have done to prevent the attacks.

Mueller said as a result of the FBI failures he is overhauling the FBI to aim more resources toward its new primary mission: the prevention of new terrorist operations.

The FBI will more than double the bureau’s anti-terror forces, and permanently devote nearly a quarter of the bureau’s workforce to counterterrorism units. The bureau will also hire 900 linguists, computer experts, engineers and scientists over the next few months. Dozens of CIA employees will be placed in FBI field offices around the country.

The overhaul is in response to increasing revelations over what the FBI knew before September 11. Last week, Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley wrote a caustic, 13-page letter to Mueller accusing FBI headquarters of hampering the investigation into alleged 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui. She says officials at FBI headquarters resisted seeking search warrants and admonished agents who sought help from the CIA.

In the other well-known example, FBI agent Kenneth Williams wrote a memo on July 10, 2001 in which he expressed his concerns about a number of Arab flight students he was monitoring in Phoenix, Arizona. He did not specify the students had any links to al-Qa’ida, but he raised the prospect that the terror network could use American flight schools to train its members to launch attacks on US targets.

Democracy Now! contacted FBI headquarters yesterday to request an interview, but our calls and faxes were not returned.


  • Robert Mueller, head of the FBI, at a press conference held Wednesday.


  • Seymour Hersh, Pulitzer-prize winning investigative reporter, and author of an article in the current New Yorker magazine, "Missed Messages: why the government didn’t know what it knew."


  • Jailer–Gregory Issacs

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