Robert Mueller, The Sept 11th Attacks & The “Mistakes” Which Made It Happen

Adam Fitzgerald
10 min readJan 24, 2020


Robert Mueller grew up in a well educated home in Princeton, New Jersey. He became a voracious reader on topics such as American history and had an interest in the medical field as well. During 9th grade his family moved to Philadelphia where he would then enroll at St. Paul’s for the remainder of his middle school and high school studies. He would then enroll in the famed Princeton University in New Jersey where he would receive Bachelor of Arts in Politics. In 1967 he would receive a Master of Arts in International Relations at NYU. He would enter the Marine Corps in 1968, his reasoning for entering the Marines was due to a close friends death in Vietnam, David Hackett, which helped set Mueller on the path to public service, he explained. Hackett and Mueller played together on Princeton’s lacrosse team.

“One would have thought that the life of a Marine, and David’s death in Vietnam, would argue strongly against following in his footsteps. But many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be,” Mueller said. “And a number of his friends, teammates, and associates joined the Marine Corps because of him, as did I. … He taught us the true meaning of leadership. One teammate can change your life. And David Hackett changed mine.”

Following his military service, Mueller earned a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1973 and served on the Law Review. he would work in litigation, working exhaustive hours until moving up in the District Attorney’s Office in 1976 where he worked for 12 years. n 1982, he moved to Boston as an Assistant United States Attorney, where he investigated and prosecuted major financial fraud, terrorist, and public corruption cases, as well as narcotics conspiracies and international money launderers.

His rapt attention to meticulous detail brought a newfound vigor in his years at the Boston office, and also the attention of many influential colleagues in Boston. In 1993, Mueller became a partner at Boston’s, Hale and Dorr where he would specialize in white collar crime cases. He returned to public service in 1995 as senior litigator in the homicide section of the District of Columbia United States Attorney’s Office. With his vast experience working criminal cases, he was named U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California in 1998.

July 5th 2001, U.S. President George W. Bush nominates Robert Mueller for the position of FBI Director. The U.S. Senate would approve of the candidacy with a resounding vote of 98–0 on the House floor. On September 4th 2001, he would officially become the FBI Director. Just one week before the 9/11 attacks. The FBI then would be frantically searching for two known Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, due to the vague intel given to them in August 21st by the CIA who did not share this information which they had for 2 years. On the morning of September 11th Robert Mueller was in his office when the first plane struck.

“I remember . . . seeing the first plane go into the towers and thinking. It’s a beautiful day. Somebody really must have gotten off course to have the plane go into the towers. ”

Immediately after the attacks, Mueller wanted to reshape the FBI from the ground up, From intelligence gathering to sharing data with other competing intelligence agencies. Mueller found himself charged with reshaping the FBI from a domestic crime-fighting force into a counterintelligence service with a key role in combating terrorism which was terribly lacking since the first WTC attack in 1993. With days from the attacks however, Mueller found himself in a sea of information which he confused the media and the public…starting with naming the suspects of 9/11.

Mueller said last week that he had “a fairly high level of confidence” that the FBI knew the real names of the hijackers, based on flight manifests and follow-up interviews. But in reality, he didn’t. On Sept 27th 2001…Mueller went live before the world stage and along with U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, both gave a list of names which would later be retracted, it was also the first time the public saw the “suspects’ photos along with their names and which flights they were on.

Days later after naming the original list of suspects, he would change these names. Twice. The names would change and would leave the stern Mueller fluxed with explaining to the media that they ultimately didn’t know who boarded the planes. But on September 14th 2001 Robert Mueller would announce 19 names who were responsible for the attacks of 9/11. During the years afterward Mark Rossini, who was an FBI agent who worked out of the Bin Laden Issue Station (Alec Station), would later remark that the CIA had with held pertinent information which could have prevented the 9/11 attacks from ever happening in the first place. Rossini was prevented by the CIA to share information with his colleagues in 2000 it was against the law to share classified data.

As the months passed, Mueller would later be overwhelmed in a sea of information regarding his agencies data collecting of certain Al Qaeda operatives living inside the United States. Mainly Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. On October 12th 2002 Robert Mueller would testify before the The Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001. He would give testimony about how the data collected was incomplete and that the FBI were not privy to sensitive information, unlike the CIA & NSA in having an active wiretap of the Al Qaeda hub, Ahmed al-Hada home in Yemen, this information was never shared with the FBI.

However this would turn out to be not entirely true as the FBI would have an informant who would live amongst two Al Qaeda operatives in San Diego (al-Mihdhar & al-Hazmi), his name wouldn’t be known until years later…his name was Abdussattar Shaikh. Shaikh’s handler was FBI SAC Steven Butler, a long time employee of the SD office. It was Butler who was informed by Shaikh about two Saudi’s, whose entire names he never mentioned to Butler, were living in his rented flat. Butler had kept inquiring about the two men, but they had left and the inquiry was lost.

With the CIA Alec Station contractors not being forthcoming with the FBI about al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, the two Al Qaeda suspects were travelling freely with expired visas, al-Hazmi had renewed his in 2000. By the time the FBI were privy to the information regarding who the men were and where they came from, which was just hours after the attacks, it was far too late. This would later also be recounted in the Joint Inquiry, when Inquiry member Carl Levin, had asked CIA Director George Tenet about why the information gathered by agents at Alec Station with at least 3 FBI agents stationed at Alec Station.

At first Tenet acknowledges that information regarding al-Hazmi’s US visa was not read, due to it being labeled “information only”. Levin continued to push and then asked why this cable was not read, Tenet replies that “he knew nobody read that cable due to it being an information only cable”. Years later thru Lawrence Wright’s book, The Looming Tower, 53 agents had read that cable.

Levin continued to vigorously inquire about a meeting between CIA analysts held on June 11th 2001. Steve Bonghardt, FBI agent Clark Shannon and FBI agent Dina Corsi at the NY field office regarding who was in the photos which Bonghardt produces. Levin reads the Joint staff report back to Tenet about how the meeting went down.

Levin: That he had seen the information regarding Khalid al-Mihdhar’s U.S Visa and al-Hazmi travels, but he stated he would not share this information to anyone outside the CIA unless he had authority to do so. That’s what he told our staff. Do you disagree with that?”|

Tenet: I talked with him as well…

Levin: “Do you disagree with that?”

Tenet: “Well no i don’t disagree he said that to your sta…

Levin: “Did he tell you something different?”

Tenet: Yeah, he gave me a different perspective…”

Levin: Okay, he told you (pointing at Tenet) and he told us something different.”

Tenet: “I..I…But i think it’s important sir…”

Levin: “My time is limited and i will continue on…..Mister Mueller…Director Mueller, At the June 11th meeting did the FBI know that Midhar and Hazmi were at the January 2000 of Al Qaeda operatives in Malaysia.”

Mueller: “I don’t believe they did.”

Levin: Okay. So we still don’t know at the June 2001 meeting what the CIA knew for 16 months.”

To add insult to injury, the FBI were definitely not held to a “higher standard” due to their lack of information being held back by the CIA and the NSA. In August 2001, FBI agent from the Minneapolis field office lead an investigation into a Moroccan named Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui had inquired about flying at a local Minneapolis school Pan Am International, in which the manager, Clarence Prevost, told FBI agents that he had a student there who was acting suspiciously in which he became alarmed. FBI agent Harry Samit knocked on the door of Moussaoui’s home, the report stated this was due to his U.S visa becoming expired. However the contents found in his apartment was even more alarming. Materials itemized when he was arrested included a laptop computer, two knives, flight manuals pertaining to Boeing’s 747 aircraft, a flight simulator computer program, fighting gloves and shin guards, and a computer disk with information about crop dusting.

When they tried to get a court order to extract information from Moussaoui’s laptop, the requests were declined due to FISA warrants not being able to be met with any reasonable formalities. Chief Division Counsel from the Minneapolis office, Colleen Rowley had even wrote a lengthy letter to the Director, Robert Mueller. In the summary letter to Mueller she stated that FBI Minneapolis Manager, Robert Bowman had denied numerous inquiries to allow Moussaoui’s laptop to be searched, they believed that the evidence collected out the home told the agents that it seemed a large scale terrorist attack was about to take place, they didn't know where or when.

Later, after the events of September 11th 2001, she would go on and testify before the Senate Select Committee and the 9/11 Commission, that key information which could have prevented the 9/11 attacks were not met due to the bureau's inability to comply with contradicting evidence which Minneapolis agents collected from Moussaoui’’s home. In the latter she wrote to Mueller:

It is obvious, from my firsthand knowledge of the events and the detailed documentation that exists, that the agents in Minneapolis who were closest to the action and in the best position to gauge the situation locally, did fully appreciate the terrorist risk/danger posed by (Zaccarias) Moussaoui and his possible co-conspirators even prior to September 11th. I think it’s very hard for the FBI to offer the ‘20–20 hindsight’ justification for its failure to act!”

Even after the attacks had begun, the (supervisory special agent in Washington) in question was still attempting to block the search of Moussaoui’s computer, characterizing the World Trade Center attacks as a mere coincidence with (Minneapolis’) prior suspicions about Moussaoui.

The fact is that key FBI (headquarters) personnel whose jobs it was to assist and coordinate with field division agents on terrorism investigations and the obtaining and use of (classified search warrants) continued to almost inexplicably throw up roadblocks and undermine Minneapolis’ by-now desperate efforts.

When, in a desperate 11th-hour measure to bypass the FBI (headquarters) roadblock, the Minneapolis division (notified) the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, FBI (headquarters) personnel actually chastised the Minneapolis agents for making the direct notification without their approval!

Although I agree that it’s very doubtful that the full scope of the (Sept. 11) tragedy could have been prevented, it’s at least possible we could have gotten lucky and uncovered one or two more of the terrorists in flight training prior to Sept. 11, just as Moussaoui was discovered, after making contact with his flight instructors.”

Mueller would continue to deny that the FBI had acted “irresponsibly” and that they, as an internal agency, should have been met with the pertinent data the CIA, external agency, and the NSA had. Numerous Congressional and Senate meetings would take place from 2002–2004 in which it was all agreed that the nation's interests were being threatened and that it was now or never to have all agencies acting in accordance with one another in terms of sharing data regarding terrorism. Another area was national; security from the NSA’s standpoint, it was about data collection and surveillance.

In 2004 U.S Attorney General John Ashcroft would be lying in a Washington D.C. hospital bed weak from gallbladder surgery. Embroiled over the nations lack of surveillance, White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card would pressure aggressively Ashcroft to give the needed authorization for reinventing harsher surveillance inside the United States. Mueller would help assist in trying to ward off the WH officials by visiting the hospital. But it was too late, the White House without the consent of it’s own Attorney General, the warrant-less wiretapping of the American citizenry would be passed. Years later Robert Mueller would try and head as director of the FBI but would be rebuffed for the position by U.S. President Donald Trump. Today he serves as Special Council for the United States department of Justice.

Mueller would still stand tall, as he was in physique and in his work profile within the nation’s oldest and most entrusted…the FBI. His acknowledgements however are met with scrutiny, not just from the public at large, who are now somewhat acknowledging the Sept 11 mishaps within the Intelligence Community…but also from the suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. Moussaoui himself would later declare that it was the Saudi-U.S ambassador, Bandar bin Sultan, Prince Turki Bin Faisal Al Saud, and Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal who funded payments to Al Qaeda and , who directed payments to numerous entities involved in the Sept 11th attacks, all under the watchful eye of the FBI.



Adam Fitzgerald

Geo-political scientist/researcher into the events of September 11th 2001.