March 21, 2006, - 5:15 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Last week, we wrote about our new hero, FBI Special Agent Harry Samit. We wish all federal agents were like him.
Two weeks ago, Samit testified in detail at the death penalty phase of the Zaccarias Moussaoui trial. The counterterrorism agent recounted how he worked desperately to stop terrorist Moussaoui–believed to have been the designated 20th hijacker for the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Samit is the real-life version of “24”‘s Agent Jack Bauer. But real-life FBI agents have to deal with layers and layers of untalented, useless bureaucratic managers and superiors. And unlike Jack Bauer, those FBI bureaucrats usually succeed in foiling successful terrorism investigations.
Samit’s story mirrors the one we wrote about FBI Special Agent Robert Wright’s attempts to foil HAMAS and Al-Qaeda terrorists. We feel their rightful frustration.
Samit, a pilot, was sure Moussaoui was involved in a terrorism hijacking plan, but had to resort to a cockamamie scheme to transfer Moussaoui to France in order to search the terrorist’s belongings. Thank Robert Mueller and company for that. Orders from the very top stopped Agent Samit cold.
Yesterday, Special Agent Samit testified again, confirming yet again why he’s an American hero. Even if he did not succeed in stopping Moussaoui’s cohorts, it was not for lack of trying. It was for lack of FBI superiors who are worth a damn.
Here are some excerpts from the Los Angeles Times’ coverage of Agent Harry Samit’s testimony. It is frustrating to read:
The FBI agent who arrested Zacarias Moussaoui weeks before Sept. 11 told a federal jury Monday that his own superiors were guilty of “criminal negligence and obstruction” for blocking his attempts to learn whether the terrorist was part of a larger cell about to hijack planes in the United States.
During intense cross-examination, Special Agent Harry Samit – a witness for the prosecution – accused his bosses of acting only to protect their positions within the FBI. . . .
“They obstructed it,” a still-frustrated Samit told the jury, calling his superiors’ actions a calculated management decision “that cost us the opportunity to stop the attacks.” . . .
Samit said that officials at the FBI headquarters in Washington rejected a series of attempts to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s personal belongings.
Had the belongings been opened before Sept. 11, agents would have found numerous small knives, jumbo-jet pilot manuals, rosters of flight schools and other clues that might have helped them understand the Sept. 11 plot.
Samit wanted to seek a criminal search warrant, and later one from a special intelligence court. But officials at the FBI headquarters refused to let him, because they did not believe he had enough evidence to prove Moussaoui was anything but a wealthy man who had come to this country to follow his dream of becoming a pilot. . . .
He said that as Washington kept telling him there was “no urgency and no threat,” his FBI superiors sent him on “wild goose chases.”
For a while, Samit said, they did not even believe Moussaoui was the same person whom French intelligence sources had identified as a Muslim extremist. Samit said that FBI headquarters wanted him and his fellow agents to spend days poring through Paris phone books to make sure they had the right Moussaoui.
Samit said that when he asked permission to place an Arabic-speaking federal officer as a plant inside Moussaoui’s cell to find out what Moussaoui was up to, Washington said no.
And he said that when he prepared a lengthy memo about Moussaoui for Federal Aviation Administration officials, Washington deleted key sections, including a part connecting Moussaoui with Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Samit said he was so frustrated and so convinced that attacks were imminent that he bypassed FBI officials in Washington and met with an FAA officer he knew in Minneapolis. But he said FAA agents never got back to him, and never asked to see a pair of small knives, similar to box cutters, that Samit had found in Moussaoui’s pocket and in his car.
Samit further described how he took it upon himself to cable the Secret Service that the president’s safety might be in jeopardy. He recounted in the cable how Moussaoui had told him he hoped to be able to one day fly a Boeing 747 from London’s Heathrow Airport to New York, and how he also hoped to visit the White House one day.
Samit said he warned the Secret Service that those desires could spell disaster. “If he seizes an airplane from Heathrow to New York City,” Samit alerted the Secret Service, “it will have the fuel on board to reach D.C.”
Samit said he never heard back from the Secret Service either.
This whole episode is an outrage. The FBI failed America on 9/11. Harry Samit risked his career to try to save Americans’ lives, while those above him risked Americans’ lives to enhance their careers.
And look what we have to show for it. More of the status quo at the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Nothing has changed.
Special Agent Harry Samit, American Hero. FBI brass, American Buffoons.
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