FBI headquarters supervisor says he was largely unaware of Moussaoui case before 9/11
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The headquarters supervisor of the FBI’s international terrorism operations section testified Tuesday he had never read an Aug. 18, 2001, memo in which an agent proposed a full criminal investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui as a possible terrorist airplane hijacker.The now retired supervisor, Michael Rolince, was questioned by defense attorney Edward MacMahon during Moussaoui’s sentencing trial. He was asked whether he had ever heard that Harry Samit, the FBI agent who arrested Moussaoui while he was taking pilot lessons in Minnesota, concluded the 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent was a terrorist planning to hijack a commercial jetliner.”No,” Rolince snapped.Had he heard other conclusions by Samit about Moussaoui?”No. What document are you reading?” Rolince demanded.Samit’s Aug. 18 report “sent to your office,” MacMahon replied.Called as a government witness, Rolince, a 31-year FBI veteran who retired last October, proved to be more valuable for attorneys defending the only man charged in this country in connection with al-Qaida’s Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.Defense objections and rulings by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema barred Rolince from giving what prosecutors wanted most: a long listing of investigative steps the FBI could have taken if Moussaoui had admitted when he was arrested Aug. 16, 2001, all the facts he confessed to when pleading guilty last April.Instead, defense attorney MacMahon was able to extract from Rolince more embarrassing revelations about FBI handling of terrorism intelligence before 9/11.This was important because, to get a death penalty at this sentencing trial, the government must show that Moussaoui’s lies upon arrest prevented the FBI from identifying 9/11 hijackers and the Federal Aviation Administration from altering airport security enough to have saved at least one of the nearly 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11.The defense contends the government knew more than Moussaoui about 9/11 beforehand and the FBI was so inept at fighting terrorism that nothing Moussaoui could have told them would have mattered. Moussaoui has admitted conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. But he says he was not part of 9/11 and was training as a pilot to fly a 747 into the White House as part of a possible later attack.When prosecutor David Raskin began reading Moussaoui’s confession statement and asking Rolince how the FBI could have responded to it in August 2001, Rolince started to describe what the FBI “would have” done. MacMahon protested.MacMahon said this was the second time prosecutors had tried to read Moussaoui’s confession to the jury and imply he had some obligation to admit these things to agent Samit. The defense argues the Fifth Amendment protected Moussaoui from being required to incriminate himself upon arrest.After a private bench conference with attorneys and more testimony, Brinkema broke in and advised the jury: “Juries cannot decide cases on speculation. … Nobody knows what would have happened.”Rolince was able to say only that Moussaoui’s confession statements were more specific about al-Qaida’s targets and methods than other terrorist threat reports the government had before 9/11 and that the FBI could have – not necessarily would have – used all 11,300 agents to track leads and Moussaoui’s financing.Rolince testified he had only two hallway conversations, lasting 20 seconds, about Moussaoui before 9/11. Those were with a subordinate, David Frasca, and dealt primarily with a dispute over whether to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer and notebook.But MacMahon got Rolince to concede that he also later discussed a plan to have a foreign intelligence service search Moussaoui’s computer once the United States deported him to that service’s country.Rolince also conceded he had never seen an April 2001 intelligence briefing paper sent to FBI Director Louis Freeh, with Rolince and others marked in, that said Osama bin Laden was plotting with Ibn al-Khattab, the leader of Chechen Islamic rebels, to mount a terror attack in Spring 2001. The threat was described as “significant and urgent.”The document was significant to this case because FBI headquarters told Samit that he hadn’t established enough connection between Moussaoui and terrorists for a search warrant even after French intelligence reported that Moussaoui had recruited a man in 2000 to go to Chechnya to fight under al-Khattab.Rolince said he got 400 pages of material a day and couldn’t read it all.MacMahon then introduced an April 13, 2001, FBI electronic communication drawn from the April 2001 intelligence briefing paper. It advised all FBI field offices on countering bin Laden’s threats in this country, without mentioning al-Khattab.Rolince said he hadn’t approved the communication, but MacMahon said the paper said he did.Brinkema broke in: “Is it possible for a document to say you approved it if you have not approved it?””Absolutely,” Rolince replied, provoking an outburst of laughter around the normally quiet courtroom.He explained he might have been out of the country and a subordinate signed on his behalf.Earlier, the jury saw videotaped testimony in which Hussein al-Attas said Moussaoui talked about holy war every day for the month and a half they roomed together in 2001 in Oklahoma and Minnesota.Vail, Colorado
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