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FBI Tracks Down Attack Plotters - 2001-09-15

Four thousand agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or FBI, are now gathering evidence on Tuesday's terrorist attacks. They are trying to determine how the plot was carried out and hoping to track down anyone still alive who may have been involved in the crime. One former FBI agent is confident that this largest-ever U.S. investigation will soon produce results.

Former FBI agent James Norman has had direct experience with this kind of investigation. He was the lead agent in the investigation of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and, while that incident did not involve as much destruction and loss of life, the methods of investigation are the same.

As was the case in Oklahoma, Mr. Norman says, the FBI will be looking for anyone who might have had knowledge of the conspiracy. One man arrested in New York as a so-called material witness may provide that kind of information, although Mr. Norman says it is too early to know.

"It may turn out that he does not have the information they are looking for and he may be released," he says. " On the other hand, it may turn out that he has a lot of information which may result in him being charged as a co-conspirator."

Mr. Norman says some of the most important information in this case may come from Arabic people living in the United States who are appalled by what the terrorists did and anxious to help bring them to justice.

"No doubt, I think, there are going to be some people who are Arabic and Islamic who will volunteer their services and who will come forward with information," he says. " I would not be surprised if the FBI is not being deluged with information from that segment of the community who are trying to provide information in an effort to assist with the investigation."

Mr. Norman says Arab Americans may also be useful to the FBI as translators and interpreters. He says investigators appreciate this help and realize that the culprits in this case are not representative of the Arabic or Muslim people, the vast majority of which are law-abiding, peaceful people.

The former FBI agent says much of the evidence in this investigation, as was the case in Oklahoma, will come from security cameras and from bits and pieces of material found at the disaster sites. He says cameras in the airports from which the doomed flights took off will be especially helpful. He says the physical evidence will be sifted and labeled on the scene and then sent to FBI headquarters here in Washington for analysis.

"All this material would be sent back to the FBI laboratory or perhaps other laboratories, due to the size of this event, that they would begin using. Then using computers they will track all this various evidence as it goes to the various labs within the laboratory for different types of analysis," he says.

Mr. Norman says the investigation will take place slowly but surely as the evidence is categorized and fit together as if it were a giant jigsaw puzzle. Eventually, he says, both the physical evidence and the information provided by witnesses will allow investigators to develop a picture of how this crime was planned and carried out and who was responsible.