Newsweek’s recent in-depth look at what went wrong at FBI’s headquarters prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks drew heavily on the perspective of Minneapolis agent Harry Samit. The FBI is now taking issue with at least one fact reported in the article: Special Agent Samit has not written a tell-all book about the Zacarias Moussaoui case, according to a bureau spokesman.
Samit arrested the now-convicted 9/11 conspirator on Aug. 16, 2001. Samit has been barred from granting interviews to the media — or at least to me, over the past couple of years.
Imagine our surprise when Newsweek cited what it described as an “excerpt of a book he’s written about the case.” An account of Samit’s arrest and interview of Moussaoui was published in the William Mitchell Law Review.
But FBI spokesman Kyle Loven in Minneapolis emailed me to say there’s no book — at least not yet:
Apparently, the Newsweek article is incorrect. SA Samit has not written a book on the Moussaoui matter. Will he write a book in the future – perhaps. However, SA Samit’s article was written exclusively for the William Mitchell College of Law – Law Journal. It was not an excerpt from any book which he has already written.
Whatever it is, the account is a worthwhile read for anyone who followed the twists and turns of the Moussaoui case, or for anyone curious about FBI interrogations. Samit grew suspicious of Moussaoui, an inexperienced pilot who took commercial flying lessons in Eagan. The agent was convinced Moussaoui was a Muslim extremist plotting to carry out an attack in the United States using airplanes.
Samit’s account does not criticize FBI brass, but focuses solely on the two days that Samit and fellow agent John Wess conducted exclusive interviews with Moussaoui after arresting him on an immigration violation.
Moussaoui told the agents he wanted to “follow his dream” of flying a big airplane and was incensed that he could not resume his training. But once the agents began to accuse him of lying, Moussaoui’s reaction was not consistent with the anger typically displayed by someone who is telling the truth, Samit wrote:
“Despite the histrionics and gestures, Moussaoui was in full control of himself — his muscles were not tense, his jaw was not clenched, and his eyes were alert and continually searching ours to see whether we were being persuaded. In short, he was not really mad — he was lying.”
Samit’s recounting, which reads like a cross between a standard FBI memo and a novel, offers details into how the agents tried to get the French national to admit the hijacking plot and cough up information that could help authorities thwart an attack.
The agents did not succeed.
But Moussaoui eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring with the 9/11 hijackers. He is serving a life sentence in prison.