By MAUREEN DOWD
Three little words:
Still employed there.
Of all the through-the-looking-glass moments in the last few days, the strangest is this: The F.B.I officer who arrested and questioned Zacarias Moussaoui told a jury that he had alerted his superiors about 70 times that Mr. Moussaoui was a radical Islamic fundamentalist who hated America and might be plotting to hijack an airplane.
Seventy? That makes one time for every virgin waiting for Mr. Moussaoui in heaven. Judging by how disastrously the prosecution is doing, the virgins will have to wait.
We could have cracked the 9/11 plot if the F.B.I. wasn't run by dunces. Mr. Moussaoui's lawyers got a break because according to the testimony of the officer, Harry Samit, a better-run bureau could have broken the case even without the terrorist's confession — maybe F.B.I. officers should have shot him with some paintballs.
On Sept. 10, 2001, Mr. Samit confided to a colleague that he was "desperate to get into Moussaoui's computer." He never heard back from the F.B.I.'s bin Laden unit before 9/11 — what did the unit have to do that was more pressing than catching bin Laden? And he was obstructed by officials in F.B.I. headquarters here, whom he labeled "criminally negligent."
He named two of the officials who did not want to endanger their careers with any excess aggression toward radical fundamentalists: David Frasca and Michael Maltbie, then working on the Radical Fundamentalist Unit.
Even though Condi Rice told the 9/11 commission that "no one could have imagined" terrorists' slamming a plane into the World Trade Center, an F.B.I. officer did. Officer Samit testified that a colleague, Greg Jones, tried to light a fire under Mr. Maltbie by urging him to "prevent Zacarias Moussaoui from flying a plane into the World Trade Center."
Later, Mr. Jones told Mr. Samit that it had just been "a lucky guess."
Kenneth Williams, a Phoenix agent, also sent a warning memo to the phlegmatic Mr. Frasca in July 2001, after sniffing out a scheme by Osama to dispatch Middle East extremists to America to get flight training.
Neil Lewis wrote in The Times yesterday that "William Carter, an F.B.I. spokesman, said that neither the bureau nor Mr. Maltbie nor Mr. Frasca, who are still employed there, would have any comment."
Still employed there? How can Mr. Maltbie and Mr. Frasca still be employed at the F.B.I.? How can Michael Chertoff still be employed at Homeland Security? How can Donald Rumsfeld still be employed at the Pentagon?
Missing 9/11, missing Katrina, mangling Iraq, racking up a $9 trillion debt — those things don't cause officials to lose their jobs. Only saying something honest — as prescient Gen. Eric Shinseki did — can get you a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
Rummy told reporters last week that the military was preparing for a civil war in Iraq, but he did not consider it a civil war yet — even though he acknowledged it was hard to tell exactly when chaos tipped into civil war.
"I don't think it'll look like the United States' Civil War," he added sanguinely. Yeah. At Fort Sumter, Lincoln let the enemy fire first. So the defense secretary believes if the body count stays below the Civil War era's 600,000, Iraq will achieve a healthy blue-state, red-state democracy?
One administration official says that Rummy does not hold the same sway in meetings anymore, that he's treated as an eccentric old uncle who pops off and is ignored. But why can't W. just quit him? Instead, the president praised him for doing "a fine job" on two wars and transforming the military, when Rummy actually bullied the military to go along with his foolish schemes in Iraq and has sapped the once-feared fighting machine.
At his impromptu press conference yesterday, the president presented himself as a nice guy doing a difficult job, relentlessly joshing with reporters. He chided the press for playing into terrorists' goals by showing bad news from Iraq — "they're capable of blowing up innocent life so it ends up on your TV show" — even as reports surfaced about insurgents outside Baghdad storming a jail, slaughtering 18 police officers and letting the prisoners out, following fast upon an insurgent raid on Iraqi Army headquarters in Kirkuk. Does the president think TV will instead report on an increase in melon sales at the market?
When the Bushies harp on training Iraqi security forces so America can hand the country over to them, it has a hollow ring. Back in 2003, the U.S. de-Baathified Iraq and put its faith in its friends, the Shiites. Now, given the suspected Shiite death squads and militias, the U.S. wants to bring the Sunnis back into the system. So whom do we trust? And for how long?
Asked if he could envision a day when there would be no more U.S. forces in Iraq, the president said, "That, of course, is an objective." But he added that it would be decided by future Iraqi governments and future American presidents.
Once W. is not still employed there.