As WikiLeaks prepares to release 400,000 Iraq war documents, two former government security officials argue that WikiLeaks could have prevented 9/11, if the website had been around in 2001.
The two ought to know: Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis FBI agent who tried to sound the alarm a month before 9/11, and Bogdan Dzakovic, a special agent for the FAA’s security division, who was a leader of the agency’s “Red Team” that was warning officials about vulnerabilities in airport security just before 9/11.
“Things might have been different if there had been a quick, confidential way to get information out,” the two write—and WikiLeaks could have provided exactly that, according to their op-ed in the LA Times on Friday.
The information they wanted to get out was about Zacarias Moussaoui, the French Moroccan attending flight school in Minnesota who was interested in learning how to fly a commercial jet, but was not interested in learning how to land one. Rowley was one of those trying to sound the alarm about him. And a foreign intelligence service had reported that Moussaoui had connections with a foreign terrorist group.
Less than a month before 9/11, an FBI supervisor sent a warning to officials in Washington. He pleaded that he was “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.”
It doesn’t get much more specific than that. But FBI officials in Washington refused to act, or make any public statement about Moussaoui.
“WikiLeaks might have provided a pressure valve for those agents who were terribly worried about what might happen and frustrated by their superiors’ seeming indifference,” Rowley and Dzakovic argue. “Their bosses issued continual warnings against ‘talking to the media’ and frowned on whistle-blowing, yet the agents felt a strong need to protect the public.”
The 9/11 Commission concluded that the 9/11 hijackers probably would have postponed their action if information about Moussaoui’s secret arrest had become public. And if WikiLeaks had existed, it could have made the information public.
“Official channels for whistle-blower protections have long proved illusory,” Rowley and Dzakovic write. Worried and frustrated FBI agents could go to the media, “but that can’t be done fully anonymously, and it also puts reporters at risk of being sent to jail for refusing to reveal their sources.”
Therefore, they conclude, “WikiLeaks provides a crucial safety valve”—one that could have prevented 9/11.