"Killers can destroy innocent life" -- but what are we doing about it?

Nearly five years after 9/11, many FBI agents still don't have e-mail accounts.

Published March 21, 2006 3:36PM (EST)

During his press conference this morning, George W. Bush returned to the "everything changed on 9/11" theme. "We realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life," the president said.

If the Bush administration really didn't understand that before the planes hit on that beautiful September morning, maybe it goes a long way to explain the way the government reacted -- or didn't -- to warnings about a terrorist attack. Bush was warned on Aug. 6, 2001, that Osama bin Laden intended to attack the United States. He went fishing. FBI agents in Minnesota repeatedly asked their superiors for permission to delve further into why Zacarias Moussaoui was taking flying lessons and whether he was part of plans for a major attack. FBI superiors rejected the requests, a response the agent characterized Monday as "criminal negligence" that "cost us the opportunity to stop the attacks."

But the Bush administration gets the threat now, right? Well, you'd think. In a story that's got to be read to be believed -- and even then, you still may not believe it -- the Associated Press is reporting today that budget constraints are forcing some FBI agents to work without tools as basic as e-mail accounts. "As ridiculous as this might sound," says the FBI's top official in New York, we have real money issues right now, and the government is reluctant to give all agents and analysts dot-gov accounts."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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