Who Is Michael Maltbie? With Introduction By Kevin Fenton

Thanks to www.cooperativeresearch.org

By Kevin Fenton

Michael Maltbie is one of the agents at the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) that blocked warrants for searches of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings. Although he is less well-known than unit chief Dave Frasca, to whom the Phoenix memo was also addressed, Maltbie is the person who mostly handled the case at FBI headquarters. Together with another RFU agent called Rita Flack, he took care of most of the day-to-day dealings with the Minneapolis field office, which had arrested Moussaoui and wanted to search his belongings, as well as discussions with FBI lawyers.

What Maltbie Did Wrong
Although, as the Justice Department’s inspector general found, the Minneapolis field office had obtained enough evidence to obtain a FISA warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings, Maltbie, working with Frasca and Flack, constantly through up obstructions. They eventually managed to kill the warrant application before it even reached the Justice Department unit that submitted such warrant applications to the FISA court. The barriers he threw up include:

After French authorities told the FBI Moussaoui was known to them as an Islamist extremist, Maltbie claimed the French might be talking about a completely different Zacarias Moussaoui and tried to get the FBI’s assistant legal attache in Paris to search every phone book in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaoui lived there; He blocked a notification about the case to the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. Had the notification been sent, it may well have led to a criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings; He failed to provide the relevant documentation to Sherry Sabol, one of the attorneys consulted about Moussaoui's case; In an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager on loan to the FBI, he claimed there was “no indication” Moussaoui and his partner had plans for “nefarious activity,” although he knew Minneapolis already suspected Moussaoui wanted to hijack an airliner; He claimed getting a search warrant would “take a few months,” although such warrants could be issued at short notice; He edited a draft warrant application prepared by Minneapolis, taking out a key section connecting Moussaoui to a foreign power; In a key meeting with a top FBI lawyer about the warrant request, Maltbie and Flack were “adamant” the warrant application should not be submitted.

In addition, Maltbie and others delayed a warning to the FAA about Moussaoui for two weeks, and then, when Minneapolis submitted a draft, Maltbie rewrote it, taking out the threat assessment. Incidentally, Moussaoui’s belongings contained information linking him to eleven of the 9/11 hijackers, and Maltbie was later promoted to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Cleveland.

Why Did He Do It?
The obvious question is: what possessed him to do all this? One thing that emerges when reading through the Moussaoui documentation is that the three agents dealing with the case at FBI headquarters, Frasca, Maltbie and Flack, thought, or at least later claimed to think, that Minneapolis was overreacting to the case and there was no immediate threat. Given that Minneapolis was actually right – Moussaoui did plan to hijack an airliner – and that their attitude was shared by others at FBI headquarters and the CIA, one must wonder where the three RFU agents got this idea from.

Some light may be shed on this by a document first released at Moussaoui’s 2006 trial. It is an e-mail sent by Wilshire to Frasca and Maltbie on August 24, at the time Minneapolis and the RFU were arguing about the warrant application. In it Wilshire asks for an update on the Moussaoui situation. It is the only known communication from Wilshire about the case, although, seeing as he was asking for an update, there must have been at least one discussion before it, and it is also likely that he was kept abreast of developments afterwards.

In the e-mail Wilshire refers to the FBI’s Minneapolis field office as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” This appears to be a derogatory reference linking the Minneapolis agents to the disaster movie parodies Airplane and Airplane II, starring, for example, Leslie Nielsen. This indicates that the three RFU agents' bad attitude towards Minneapolis was shared by Wilshire, who was not their direct superior, but, as a hot-shot CIA manager and consultant to Frasca’s boss, was higher up than they were at the bureau.

Cherchez Wilshire
Simple question: did the bad attitude stem from the three RFU agents or did it originate with Wilshire? We don’t know, because, although Wilshire and the agents have been interviewed numerous times about what happened, nobody has thought to ask them, or, if they have, the answer has not been published.

Wilshire's involvement in the Moussaoui case is intriguing because Wilshire was involved in just about every single one of the numerous intelligence failures regarding the hijackers prior to 9/11. For example, at the same time as he was badmouthing the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, he was ensuring the bureau’s New York field office was not able to use the necessary resources to locate Pentagon hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. It is also worth noting that during his involvement in the failures Wilshire often operated through a proxy, leaving no fingerprints directly on the failings; for example, when he wanted a cable notifying the FBI about Almihdhar to be blocked in January 2000, he did not send a message blocking the cable himself, but merely verbally instructed a subordinate to block it.

It is hard to imagine that Maltbie, even in co-operation with Frasca and Flack, would take it upon himself to sabotage the Moussaoui investigation for a reason that has not been explained. It is even harder to look at Wilshire’s involvement in the case and the roadblocks thrown up by people underneath him at the bureau and not want to put two and two together. Let us hope that more documents about the case will be released in the not-too-distant future.

Begin Timeline

1999: FBI Headquarters Delays Check on Terrorist Trainer for 9 Months, Tries to Block Warning for National Guard
FBI Minneapolis agent Harry Samit learns that an unnamed man plans to travel from the US to Afghanistan to train militants there, and that one of his relatives has applied to join the Minnesota National Guard. Samit wants to run a check on him and notify the National Guard, as he is worried because guardsmen have access to local airports. However, he is blocked for several months by Michael Maltbie, an agent in the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, who becomes “extremely agitated” and says this is “just the sort of thing that would get the FBI into trouble.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/21/2006; Knight Ridder, 3/21/2006; Hearst Newspapers, 3/21/2006] Samit and Maltbie will later have another running disagreement over the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 20-September 11, 2001, August 27, 2001, and August 28, 2001).

August 20-September 11, 2001: FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit Unhelpful with Moussaoui Search Warrant
The FBI Minneapolis field office wishes to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which will later be found to contain enough information to potentially stop 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). To do so it must get the approval of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. However, the RFU throws obstacles in the warrant request’s path:

  • RFU chief Dave Frasca stops the Minneapolis office from pursuing a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001);
  • When French authorities discover that Moussaoui is connected to the Chechen rebels, RFU agent Mike Maltbie insists that the FBI representative in Paris go through all telephone directories in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaouis live there (see August 22, 2001);
  • When RFU agent Rita Flack, who is working on the Moussaoui case, reads the Phoenix memo suggesting that bin Laden is sending pilots to the US for training, she apparently does not tell her colleagues about it, even though it was addressed to several of them including Frasca (see July 10, 2001 and August 22, 2001);
  • The RFU does not provide the relevant documentation to attorneys consulted about the request. In particular, Flack does not tell them about the Phoenix memo, even though one of the attorneys will later say she asked Flack if anyone is sending radical Islamists to the US to learn to fly (see August 22-28, 2001);
  • When Minneapolis learns Moussaoui apparently wants to go on jihad, Frasca is not concerned and says jihad does not necessarily mean holy war. However, a top Department of Justice attorney will later say “he would have tied bells and whistles” to this comment in a request for a search warrant had he known this (see August 17, 2001);
  • Maltbie tells the Minneapolis office that getting a warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). He also tells Minneapolis, “We know what’s going on. You will not question us.” (see August 27, 2001);
  • Maltbie weakens the warrant request by editing it and removing a statement by a CIA officer that Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab was closely connected to Osama bin Laden, despite their being intelligence linking that leader to bin Laden (see August 28, 2001);
  • In a key meeting with an attorney about the request, Maltbie and Flack, who are submitting the warrant, are adamant that it is not sufficiently supported (see August 28, 2001);
  • Frasca opposes a plan to put an undercover officer in the jail cell with Moussaoui to find out more information about his connections to Islamic militants (August 29, 2001 and shortly after);
  • The RFU does not want a Minneapolis agent to accompany Moussaoui when he is deported (see (August 30-September 10, 2001));
  • Frasca and Maltbie are said to oppose a search warrant after 9/11 (see September 11, 2001).
It is unclear why the RFU opposes the warrant so strongly. The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize the RFU staff, but will conclude that their errors were not that significant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 101-222 pdf file] A 2004 book by independent researcher Mike Ruppert (see October 1, 2004) will speculate that Frasca is actually a CIA agent. Ruppert suggests that the CIA placed Frasca in the FBI to prevent CIA operations from being compromised by FBI investigations. But he does not provide any direct evidence of ties between Frasca and the CIA. The Minneapolis agents will offer a different interpretation of RFU actions. Coleen Rowley will say, “I feel that certain facts… have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons.” She asks, “Why would an FBI agent deliberately sabotage a case? The superiors acted so strangely that some agents in the Minneapolis office openly joked that these higher-ups ‘had to be spies or moles… working for Osama bin Laden.’… Our best real guess, however, is that, in most cases avoidance of all ‘unnecessary’ actions/decisions by FBI [headquarters] managers… has, in recent years, been seen as the safest FBI career course. Numerous high-ranking FBI officials who have made decisions or have taken actions which, in hindsight, turned out to be mistaken or just turned out badly… have seen their careers plummet and end. This has in turn resulted in a climate of fear which has chilled aggressive FBI law enforcement action/decisions.” [Time, 5/21/2002] Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit will agree with explanation, telling the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General that the RFU is guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism.” [Associated Press, 3/20/2006] Samit will also say that Maltbie even told him he was acting this way to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential” in the FBI. [Newsday, 3/21/2006]

Between August 20-September 10, 2001: FBI Headquarters Agent Apparently Worried Moussaoui Case Will Damage His Career
Mike Maltbie, a supervisory agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, tells Minneapolis agent Harry Samit, who has arrested Zacarias Moussaoui and wants to search his belongings, that getting an intelligence warrant can be bad for an agent’s career if it gets fouled up. Maltbie comments that he wants to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential.” The Minneapolis field office is in dispute with the RFU over whether a warrant should be granted to search Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). At a key meeting with an attorney about whether to go forward with the warrant request, Maltbie is adamant that the warrant should not be granted (see August 28, 2001). [Newsday, 3/21/2006]

(August 20, 2001 or after): Radical Fundamentalist Unit Delays Advising FAA of Moussaoui Case
At a meeting attended by Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), RFU chief Dave Frasca, FBI agent Rita Flack, and an FAA representative who is familiar with the Moussaoui case, a decision is made not to advise the FAA about the Moussaoui investigation at this point because Moussaoui and Al-Attas are presumably in custody. (Al-Attas is bailed out of custody on August 20) [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 134, 149-150 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file] Al-Attas is suspected of involvement in terrorism at this point and investigators believe he and Moussaoui may be involved in a plot against the US that involves the hijacking of an airplane (see August 17, 2001 and August 24, 2001). The FBI will eventually warn the FAA, but it will fail to mention that its Minneapolis office believes Moussaoui intends to hijack an airliner (see September 4, 2001).

August 22, 2001: French Connect Moussaoui to Chechen Rebels, FBI Headquarters Still Refuses Search Warrant
After arresting Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI’s Minneapolis field office asks French authorities if they have any information on him. The French then provide the US with intelligence indicating that Moussaoui is associated with a radical militant who died fighting for the Chechen rebels in 2000 (see Late 1999-Late 2000). The French interviewed one of this militant’s associates who said he had been recruited by Moussaoui to fight in Chechnya and described Moussaoui as “the dangerous one.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 140-1 pdf file] French authorities attempt to gather additional information by talking to Moussaoui’s mother. Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere, France’s lead investigating magistrate in charge of counterterrorism affairs, also provides information. “Let’s just say that Zacarias Moussaoui was well-known by the French security service…,” Bruguiere later recalls in a 2004 interview with CBC. “When the names come from abroad, we usually have a file, and it was the same with him. He was a well-known personality. He lived in France and then left here to go to England.” Bruguiere will also say that the French provided US authorities with information on Moussaoui’s activities in both France and England (see 1999 and August 21, 2001-September 13, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/16/2004] Upon reviewing this information, Mike Maltbie of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters will inform Minneapolis that it is not enough for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, because, even though the French sent information about Moussaoui, Maltbie objects that the Moussaoui the French are talking about may not be the same one Minneapolis has in custody. The result of this is that FBI staff are sent on what Minneapolis agent Harry Samit will later call a “wild goose chase”—they are asked to spend days poring through French phone books to make sure they have the right Moussaoui. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/27/2001 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/28/2001 pdf file; Newsday, 3/21/2006; Los Angeles Times, 3/21/2006] For a search warrant to be granted there must be probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. Maltbie claims that the Chechen rebels, who have never been treated as a foreign power before for a FISA warrant, cannot be treated as such, because they are not a “recognized” foreign power, only dissidents engaged in a civil war, and are not hostile to the US. In fact, the FBI has already received information indicating a close relationships between Chechen rebels and bin Laden (see, e.g., 1986-March 20, 2002 , August 24, 2001, and (October 1993-November 2001)) and that the two groups are working together on a strike against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Maltbie says that even if the Chechen rebels are a foreign power, then it will take some time to develop this information to the point where a FISA application can be submitted. Previous to this, Maltbie had only once advised a field office it was not going to get a FISA warrant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 141-4 pdf file] The French provide more information on Moussaoui a few days later (see August 30, 2001).

August 22-28, 2001: Phoenix Memo Withheld from FISA Attorneys in Moussaoui Case
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office drafts an application for a FISA warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings and sends it to the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. From there, the application is sent to four attorneys at the FBI’s National Security Law Unit, as it needs to be legally cleared by them before being submitted to the FISA Court. All four attorneys are doubtful that the application contains enough evidence to secure a warrant. Although they are aware that Moussaoui is connected to Chechen rebels, they do not believe the FISA court will consider the Chechen rebels to be a foreign power. Moreover, they do not think the connection between the Chechens and bin Laden is strong enough to make Moussaoui an agent of al-Qaeda. However, the attorneys are not given the relevant documentation. For example, they are not informed that the FBI was warned in April that the Chechen rebel leader and Osama bin Laden were planning an attack against the US (see Before April 13, 2001). Nor are they provided with a copy of the Phoenix Memo, in which Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams correctly theorized that bin Laden was sending agents to the US to train in flight schools (see July 10, 2001). Attorney Sherry Sabol will later say that she asked RFU agents Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack whether there was any evidence of people being sent to the US for flight training. Flack, who read the Phoenix memo five days before (see August 22, 2001), said no. Maltbie will later say he does not recall this and Flack will deny it. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 139-160 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 3/1/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize Flack for failing to inform the attorneys of the memo. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 208 pdf file] Sabol and two of the other attorneys will say that they would have taken actions to support the application if they had known about the Phoenix Memo. However, they do not believe that material from the Phoenix memo would have been enough to secure the FISA warrant. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 146-8, 158-160, 208 pdf file]

End Part I