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FBI Agents Take Stand in Moussaoui Trial

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FBI Agents Take Stand in Moussaoui Trial

Law

FBI Agents Take Stand in Moussaoui Trial

FBI Agents Take Stand in Moussaoui Trial

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In the sentencing phase of the Zacarias Moussaoui terrorism trial, the FBI has to walk a fine line between proving the importance of Moussaoui's information about the attacks and not making itself look inept.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The FBI is under scrutiny for the way it scrutinized a terror suspect. Prosecutors are laying out evidence that Zacarias Moussaoui was involved in the 9/11 attacks, but the bureau will be under as much of a microscope as Moussaoui.

NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.

LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:

The FBI has found itself in a precarious position so far in this trial. On the one hand, prosecutors are seeking to portray the bureau as an agile, adept agency that could have easily prevented September 11 if Moussaoui had told them he was a member of al-Qaida and here on a terrorist mission. But, at the same time, prosecutors are also arguing that there is no way the FBI could have figured that out on its own, without Moussaoui telling them so.

The two FBI agents on the stand yesterday seemed to wrestle with this problem, seeming almost defensive at times, as they testified that the Bureau knew a lot about al-Qaida before the attacks--that they knew the group had looked into using box cutters, training at flight schools, and even flying planes into buildings.

But at the same time, that wasn't enough to discover the 9/11 plot. When pressed by the defense, Agent James Fitzpatrick acknowledged that the Bureau was unable to find two of the hijackers who spent the year and a half before the attacks getting drivers licenses, buying cars, opening bank accounts, and listing themselves in the Los Angeles phone book--all under their real names, and all while the FBI was apparently trying to find them.

The defense suggested yesterday that even if Moussaoui had told the Bureau he was a member of al-Qaida and part of a possible plot, the Bureau would have done no more with this information than it did when it learned about the two hijackers.

The prosecution read for the jury the dramatic last words of the flight attendants aboard the two doomed planes that slammed into the Twin Towers. One cried out, "We are flying way too low. Oh my God, we are way too low!" As Moussaoui sat at his little table in the corner of the courtroom, he smiled, and, ever so slightly, pumped his fist.

Laura Sullivan, NPR News.

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