History Commons Groups

October 29, 2009

Reaction to Coleen Rowley on Real News Network: Where’s Wilshire?

The Real News Network recently carried an interview of former FBI lawyer Coleen Rowley by Paul Jay (part 1, part 2 and part 3), dealing with what it called the “unanswered questions about the lead up to 9/11.” Rowley was stationed at the bureau’s Minneapolis office during the Zacarias Moussaoui case in August and September 2001, but later became a whistleblower and left the organisation.

While many aspects of the interview are good and interesting, it leaves out what is probably the most important known fact about the Moussaoui case: the identity of the most senior FBI headquarters official involved fully involved in the case.

The official, a CIA officer named Tom Wilshire who was on loan to the bureau, is ubiquitous in the intelligence failures before 9/11. He was involved not just in the Moussaoui case, but also in the deliberate withholding from the FBI of visa information about one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, in January 2000, the failure to notify the FBI of Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s entry into the US after he reviewed the Malaysia cables in May 2001, the preparations for the 11 June 2001 “shouting match” meeting between CIA officers and the bureau’s Cole investigators, and the failed hunt for Almihdhar in the weeks before the attacks.

By late August 2001, Wilshire knew al-Qaeda was about to attack US interests, knew Almihdhar was likely to be involved and knew Almihdhar was in the US. However, despite being on loan to the FBI at that time, Wilshire told none of the agents searching for Almihdhar that he was likely to be part of a near-term attack. The bureau only sought Almihdhar as a witness to the Cole bombing, and the search was assigned to a single rookie agent who had other stuff to do. The agent failed to find him in bizarre circumstances that have never been fully explained. Had Wilshire mentioned that, by the way, this guy is about to blow something up, maybe the bureau would have devoted more resources to looking for him.

Wilshire’s involvement in the Moussaoui case was conclusively revealed in July 2006, when his substitution for testimony at the case was posted to the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Attached to the testimony is an e-mail, sent on 24 August 2001 to the three officials in the bureau’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit handling the case. It reads:

Dave, Please advise when you get a chance this AM where we are re the Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd. Has the tasking gone out to try and obtain more bio info on the guys, (redacted). Do we have photos yet? Can the agency get the photos so they can get them on the wire to assets?

This may be only one e-mail, but in it he is asking for an update, which means he must have previously been aware of the case. It is also eminently possible that this was not his last involvement. In addition, the use of the phrase “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd” (apparently a reference to the disaster movie parodies, of which only two were made) indicates both familiarity with the case and a certain, shall we say, dismissive attitude.

The Congressional Inquiry (presumably), Justice Department Inspector General and 9/11 Commission all knew of Wilshire’s involvement in the case, but both the inquiry and the commission declined to make any mention of it. The inquiry even had Wilshire testify publicly before it (albeit from behind a screen), but failed to ask him a single solitary question about the case. The writer of the Justice Department Inspector General’s report spends one hundred and twenty pages discussing Moussaoui (more in the classified version), but never once does she trouble herself to actually name the top guy fully involved in the case at FBI HQ (although he is the “consultant” who e-mails Dave Frasca on page 151). This despite him rating 80+ mentions (under the alias “John”) in the report in connection with his participation in the Almihdhar affair.

One of the major failures in the Moussaoui case was the failure to pass notice of the case on up the FBI chain of command. Famously, CIA Director George Tenet and other agency managers were repeatedly briefed on the case, whereas the bureau’s senior management had never heard of him before the attacks. This, together with the failure to find Amihdhar–also overseen by Wilshire–made the bureau a laughing stock after the attacks. Who should we blame for this failure to pass information on to senior management? Somebody in Minneapolis? Rita Flack, a lowly intelligence operations specialist at FBI HQ? Or the most senior official fully involved in the case at HQ–Wilshire?

At this point in time there is no evidence that conclusively proves intentional wrongdoing by Wilshire—or any of the other FBI officials at headquarters—in the Moussaoui matter. However, Wilshire clearly did deliberately withhold information about Almihdhar from the bureau for a period of more than twenty months. We need to ask the question whether his poor performance in the Moussaoui case was genuine–perhaps caused by the excessive time demands covering up for Almihdhar placed on him ;-)–or deliberate. And we won’t know that for sure until we get more information.


  1. Kevin,

    Coleen by now is clearly aware of Wilshire and his involvement in sabotaging FBI Agent Steve Bongardt’s investigation of Mihdhar and Hazmi. I have already provided her with this information in an article she had on Raw Story, here is the link to that story. See the posts #60, #61, #181, #204 and her reply back to me in post #157 at http://rawstory.com/blog/2009/07/ex-fbi-agent-why-i-support-a-new-911-investigation/

    I will repost some of these posts here for completeness:

    Here is post #61:

    Who blocked FBI Agent Harry Samit’s investigation of Moussaoui and why?

    From a FBI document found on the US official web site for the Trial of Zacharias Moussaoui:


    Defense Exhibit 792,

    April 2001; The FBI HQ released a threat assessment which said:

    “Bin Laden Khattab Threat Reporting

    This note is to advise you of recent threat reporting deemed significant and urgent by the US Intelligence Community

    The US government has received information indicating that serious operational planning had been underway since late 2000 with an intended culmination in late Spring 2001. These plans are being undertaken by Suni extremists with links to Ibn al Khattab, an extremist leader in Chechnya and to Usama bin Laden.

    Multiple sources also suggest that UBL’s organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.

    The UBL unit, (with FBI Supervisor Rod Middleton and FBI IOS agent Dina Corsi), is preparing an EC for all field offices and Legats.”

    This threat reporting went to Michael Rolince, who was over the ITOS with the RFU and UBL units, and to Rod Middleton of the UBL unit, among others.

    Rolince was over the RFU’s Maltbie and Frasca. So why did Frasca and Maltbie refuse to allow FBI Agent Harry Samit even the chance to request a FISA search warrant when Samit had clearly linked Moussaoui to Khattab and this FBI threat assessment had linked Khattab to Bin Laden?

    The burden of proof for getting a FISA search warrant was to have probable cause that the target was part of a terrorist organization, which Samit had clearly done when he linked Moussaoui to Khattab.

    It is clear Rolince knew Khattab was already a Suni terrorist linked to Bin Laden and had not only received a warning of this threat but had also had his own UBL unit issue an EC to report that threat throughout the FBI in April 2001. But Maltbie and Frasca claimed that Samit just did not have enough proof that Khattab’s organization was a “recognized” terrorist organization, in spite of the April 2001 FBI threat assessment, directly linking Khattab to Bin Laden, a threat assessment, which was kept secret from Samit and his team of investigators.

    This threat assessment was released before CIA deputy chief of the Bin Laden unit at the CIA, Tom Wilshire, had been moved over to be liaison to Michael Rolince at the ITOS. It appears Wilshire had been moved to the FBI ITOS unit, the FBI unit responsible for all criminal investigations in the world, to ensure that CIA information on the Kuala Lumpur al Qaeda planning meeting was kept secret from the FBI criminal investigators on the Cole bombing. see “Prior Knowledge of 9/11”, http://www.eventson911.com

    But since Wilshire ultimately worked with FBI IOS Agent Dina Corsi to shut down FBI Agent Steve Bongardt’s investigation of Mihdhar and Hazmi, when both he and Corsi knew Mihdhar and Hazmi were found inside of the US preparing to take part in an al Qaeda attack that would kill thousands of Americans, it would appear that this had to be also part of the CIA plan when Wilshire was moved to the FBI. Not only to hide the information on the Kuala Lumpur al Qaeda planning meeting from the FBI criminal investigators on the Cole bombing, but also to shut down their investigation of Mihdhar if they somehow ever developed enough information that would have allowed them to start a FBI criminal investigation of Mihdhar.

    After August 22, 2001, when Wilshire and FBI IOS Agent Dina Corsi knew that Mihdhar and Hazmi were inside of the US in order to take part in a massive al Qaeda attack that would kill thousands of Americans and were taking part in a massive criminal conspiracy to hide this information from the FBI Cole investigators, Wilshire was in email contact with Maltbie. see “Substitution for the Testimony of John”, aka Tom Wilshire, entered into the Moussaoui trial, on March 11, 2006.

    Wilshire finds out from email communication with Maltbie, that others in the FBI were sabotaging Samit’s investigation of Moussaoui at the very same time he is sabotaging Bongardt’s investigation of Mihdhar and Hazmi. So it would appear that part of his CIA assignment when he was moved over to the FBI, was not only to insure that the CIA information on the Kuala Lumpur al Qaeda planning meeting had been kept secret, but to closely monitor any and all FBI criminal investigations of any al Qaeda terrorists found inside of the US, to make insure that none of these investigations developed to the point that would disrupt the al Qaeda attacks that were about to take place on 9/11.

    The email between Wilshire and Maltbie was on August 24, 2001, so at this point in time Wilshire not only knows that both Mihdhar and Hazmi are inside of the US in order to take part in a horrific al Qaeda attack, but also knows Moussaoui had been arrested after the FBI in Minneapolis thought he was an terrorist trying to learn how to fly a 747 in order to hijack a large airliner and fly it into the WTC Towers.

    He has all of the information needed to stop the attacks on 9/11 on August 24, 2001, but for some unexplained reason just somehow fails to alert anyone at the FBI criminal investigating units or even in the US government to the threat of these horrific al Qaeda attacks. When FBI Agent Gillespie, who was working at the CIA Bin Laden unit, and is the agent that had found Mihdhar and Hazmi inside of the US, has the Bin Laden unit issue a worldwide alert for Mihdhar and Hazmi of August 23, 2001, the entire CIA management was also aware of the same information Wilshire had.

    Could this explain CIA Director George Tenet’s urgent trip to Crawford for a 6 hour meeting with the President on August 24, 2001, and explain why he clearly lied at the April 14, 2004 9/11 Public hearings when he said he had not talked to the President in August 2001?

    And these actions by Wilshire just somehow have been never explained by either the FBI HQ, the CIA or even the 9/11 Commission.

    Samit was not able to even get a search warrant request approved from Maltbie or Frasca until after the attack on the Pentagon. When he asked Frasca after the attack of the World Trade Center Towers, he was told the fact they had arrested Moussaoui and the attacks on the WTC towers were nothing more than just a simple coincidence, and this could not be used as evidence to get a search warrant for Moussaoui’s possessions.

    After the Pentagon was attacked and Samit got a search warrant he immediately found the receipt from Ramzi Bin al-Sheibh for $14,000 sent to Moussaoui, traced this back to Hamburg, Germany, and the fact Bin al Sheibh had been room-mates with Mohammed Atta, Mawin al-Shiehi, and Ziad Jarrah, three of the 9/11 pilots. He also quickly found the phone number for the al Qaeda pay-master in the UAE from al-Sheibh’s phone records and traced calls from this phone number in the UAE in a few days to almost all of the terrorists who took part in the attacks on 9/11.

    Yet the DOJ IG report says the fact that Maltbie and Frasca did not allow Samit to even request a search warrant was really not all that significant because there was no information in Moussaoui’s duffel bag that could have unraveled the plot, a fact disputed by Samit and Zebley at Moussaoui’s trial.

    At the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui Samit called Maltbie and Frasca out and out criminals, for blocking his investigation that could have prevented the al Qaeda terrorists from murdering 3000 people on 9/11. But after the trial, the FBI said Michael Maltbie and David Frasca would have no comment on this. The FBI said that the FBI itself would have no comment on this.

    Just what are the American people expected to think about this?

    It is impossible to believe that when Maltbie and Frasca shut down Samit’s investigation of Moussaoui, when both knew a huge al Qaeda attack was in the works because of the FBI treat sent to Rolince in April 2001, that they did not also know that thousands of Americans were going to perish in these attacks as a direct result of their actions to block Samit’s investigation of Zacharias Moussaoui?

    Her reply was post #157:

    Coleen Rowley

    Robert Schopmeyer, your analysis is, to a great extent, in sync with what I know or have read.

    You can add all the new information coming out about former FBI Director Louis Freeh’s huge mistakes in the investigation of the Khobar Bombing (which preceded the Cole bombing). Freeh absolutely micro-managed the Khobar Towers case and Gareth Porter has just documented a lot of problems-mistakes-possibly leading to wrong conclusions in that earlier terrorism investigation.
    One of the dynamics in play after 9-11 which few people seem to sufficiently grasp, is that the key agency directors who could be found to have messed up, but that info is not widely or publicly known, then become susceptible–almost like putty–in the hands of their political masters. The high level officials are then more likely to do what they’re told for fear, as I mentioned in my statement above (as well as my March 2003 statement warning that the Iraq War was not justified) of being exposed and publicly embarrassed. If you recall, the 9-11 Commission investigation was only a few months underway when the Bush Administration made its final rushed push to war on Iraq. People don’t understand why CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller were not able to correct the false intelligence about WMD and ties to Al Qaeda but they had big incentives to go along with Bush-Cheney’s plans back then due to all the embarrassing info that could be revealed and then used against their agencies. In fact the Bush Administration was threatening to sever the FBI in half at the time of the push to war on Iraq.

    Comment by Robert Schopmeyer — October 29, 2009 @ 7:45 pm | Reply

    • Bob, thanks.

      Comment by kevinfenton — October 30, 2009 @ 1:09 am | Reply

  2. And you know–this is either in the 9-11 Commission Report or the IG Report–that Rolince was also briefed on the Moussaoui case too. I don’t think this was something Rollince immediately owned up to but when he did have to answer the question, he described it as a quick verbal briefing in the hallway, but he was told enough to be expecting a call from someone in the Minneapolis Office. The Minneapolis Special Agent in Charge had retired in early August and the “Acting Special Agent in Charge” did not end up calling Rollince but only Frasca. But Rolince was briefed, at least a little about the case.

    Comment by Coleen Rowley — October 29, 2009 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

    • Coleen, I see I missed out a word in the post. Usually, I describe Wilshire as the most senior official at FBI headquarters that is *fully* involved in the case. However, in one case in this post I describe him as the most senior official involved in the case, whereas in the other two mentions of this I remembered to put the “fully” in. I have now corrected this oversight.

      I don’t think Rolince’s involvement in the Moussaoui case (which is mentioned in both the 9/11 CR–page 275–and the DoJ IG report–page 158) is that significant. The case was basically decided by 28 August, when it was determined the second warrant application was not to be submitted. The commission report describes this notification to Rolince from RFU unit chief Dave Frasca as “two passing hallway conversations,” whereas the DoJ IG report describes it as one conversation that “lasted approximately 20 seconds.” The timing of these conversation(s) is unclear, but it would appear to be after the 27 August conference call between Minneapolis and the RFU, when the conflict came into the open. Rolince was more significantly involved in the preparations for Moussaoui’s deportation in September, but by then the outcome had been settled.

      Therefore, I would not describe Rolince as “fully involved” in the case (at least not during the decisive period). How much could he have learned in the one or two brief hallway conversations? In my opinion, this is too little time for him to receive information sufficient for him to make an informed judgement on whether to brief the case to more senior managers. Frasca learned of the case no later than 20 August (when it was transferred to the RFU) and Wilshire learned of it no later than 23 August (the 24 August e-mail was sent in the early morning, so presumably he had heard of it the preivous day). Both of them knew the details and could have and should have fully briefed Rolince immediately, but didn’t.

      One of the things that is most striking about the case is that FBI HQ thought Minneapolis was trying to get them “spun up” over nothing and was overhyping the case. One of Flack’s comments to the IG even indicated she thought the Minneapolis agents were maniacs. The 24 August e-mail indicates that Wilshire shared this attitude, see his reference to the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd,” which is clearly meant to be disparaging. This attitude by the RFU is bizarre. The seriousness of the case should have been appreciated at the time. It certainly was appreciated by Minneapolis, by people like Charles Frahm at the CIA and the by official on loan to the FBI who wrote the e-mail predicting Moussaoui would try to ram a plane into the White House. You have to wonder: where did this attitude come from? Wilshire was certainly the most senior official to share it.

      Like I said, there’s no smoking gun proving intentional wrongdoing by anybody at FBI HQ in this case, but, given that the information on Almihdhar was deliberately withheld, I have to wonder what was really going on here.

      Comment by kevinfenton — October 30, 2009 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  3. DINA CORSI, FBI SUPERVISORY INTELL. ANALYST: On 9/11 no one here lost a husband. They didn’t lose a daughter or a wife. They lost 3,000. And we all take that responsibility very personally. And it is not something we’re ever going to forget.


    When will Corsi (or anyone at the UBLU) explain what happened? Why would an FBI agent go out of their way to obstruct an al Qaeda investigation? Why hasn’t the media interviewed Wilshire, Middleton, Corsi, etc.?

    Comment by Mike — October 30, 2009 @ 3:09 am | Reply

  4. Mike, good find. Corsi was an IOS on 9/11, whereas the transcript gives her position as a supervisory intelligence analyst. Another one who failed and was promoted.

    Comment by kevinfenton — October 30, 2009 @ 3:18 am | Reply

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