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FBI: Maybe more terror clues missed

Mueller details the changes he will make in the FBI.
Mueller details the changes he will make in the FBI.  

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Counterterrorism officials may have missed additional warning signs that Middle Eastern men were trying to acquire aviation skills prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller said Wednesday.

In one case, the FBI's chief pilot in Oklahoma City observed that Middle Eastern men were taking flight training in the state, which the pilot speculated "may be related to planned terrorist activity," according to an FBI memo dated May 18, 1998 -- more than three years before the attacks.

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The agent described the training as "a recent phenomenon." He also speculated "that light planes would be an ideal means of spreading chemical or biological agents," the memo said.

The memo was titled "Weapons of Mass Destruction," but its importance was labeled "routine."

In addition to that memo, another federal agency had been provided a document that said operatives for another government had unsuccessfully attempted to purchase a flight simulator in the United States.

The nation involved was identified only as a Middle Eastern country. Another FBI official said it was a "restricted country."

Although the attempted purchase appeared to have no obvious connection to terrorism, the official said the FBI is attempting to get the necessary clearances to release documents related to the simulator, as well as information related to the Oklahoma City memo.

"Right now, if it has anything to do with aviation, we want to release it," the official said.

Wednesday's revelations follow previous disclosures that FBI agents in Phoenix and Minneapolis had expressed similar concerns about Middle Eastern men taking flight training that were not acted upon or passed along to other agencies.

Meeting with reporters Wednesday, Mueller expressed more uncertainty than he had previously displayed on whether the September 11 attacks could possibly have been prevented.

He repeated his previous assertion that no single piece of intelligence available to the FBI would have revealed the plot. But he appeared to back away from his stance that such "red flags" as the information from Phoenix or Minneapolis, if taken together, might have made a difference.

"Putting all the pieces together over a period of time, who is to say?" he said.

Pressed further, the director said, "I can't say for sure that there wasn't a possibility that we would have come across some leads that would have led us to the hijackers."




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