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By the beginning of August, the President had made his request for a briefing on domestic threats. One of them was about to be uncovered. And therein lay the fourth mistake. On Aug. 16, Moussaoui was arrested in Minnesota for an immigration violation, just a day after the staff at the flight school where he was training told the FBI of their suspicions about him. The Minnesotans weren't alone; when American officials checked with their French counterparts, they discovered that Moussaoui had long been suspected of mixing in extremist circles. (The Zelig of modern terrorism, Moussaoui has been associated with al-Qaeda networks everywhere from London to Malaysia.) The FBI started urgently investigating Moussaoui's past; agents in Minneapolis sought a national-security warrant to search his computer files but were turned down by lawyers at FBI headquarters who said they didn't have sufficient evidence that he belonged to a terrorist group. Immediately after Moussaoui's arrest, agents twice visited the Airman Flight School in Norman, Okla., where he had studied before heading to Minnesota; two of the Sept. 11 hijackers had visited Norman in July 2000. The FBI did inform the CIA of Moussaoui's arrest, and the CIA ran checks on him while asking foreign intelligence services for information. But neither the FBI nor the CIA ever informed the counterterrorism group in the White House. "Do you think," says a White House antiterrorism official, "that if Dick Clarke had known that the FBI had in custody a foreigner who couldn't speak English, who was trying to fly a plane in midair, he wouldn't have done something?"
Since at least two of the four failures--those involving Moussaoui and the Phoenix memo--can be laid at the door of the FBI, the bureau is feeling the heat. "The FBI has a long pattern of not sharing information with others," says a former Clinton Administration official. "Now it's not even sharing the information with itself." Mueller, who knew about the Phoenix memo shortly after Sept. 11, plainly did not anticipate the criticism it would engender. Since it became public, officials have defensively pointed out that if the bureau had tried to track down all Muslim flight-school attendees, it would have been accused of racial profiling. White House officials defend Mueller; he is "tenacious about changing things," says one, who admits, "You can't change a culture that's 60 years in the making overnight." But on Capitol Hill the bureau is running out of friends. "I have no doubt that the FBI needs reform," said Senate Republican leader Trent Lott last week.
Yet when the blame gets assigned, as it will now that a joint congressional investigation into Sept. 11 is getting down to work, the FBI won't monopolize it. The ugly truth is that nine months after huge weaknesses in the national security system were revealed, they remain unaddressed. In Washington, says a senior Clinton Administration official, "information just moves through stovepipes," never getting pooled by different agencies until it is too late. The intelligence services were built to fight the cold war, not an enemy that flits from Afghan caves to apartments in London. The division between domestic and international security made sense when the former was concerned with what criminals did and the latter with foreign countries. But some criminals are now as powerful as countries, and some countries are run by criminals.