Phoenix Memo

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The Phoenix memo is a letter sent to FBI headquarters on July 10, 2001 by FBI special agent Kenneth Williams recommending the assembling of a worldwide listing of civil aviation schools.[1] Williams, then stationed in Phoenix, Arizona, was at the time investigating students at some of these schools for possible terrorist links.


According to Williams, the purpose of the memo was to

advise the Bureau and New York of the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama Bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation universities and colleges. Phoenix has observed an inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest who are attending or who have attended civil aviation universities and colleges in the State of Arizona.

The recommendations outlined by Williams were ignored or put aside because of other concerns. The memo was seen by at least a dozen FBI officials, including John P. O'Neill, but it was never passed to acting director Thomas J. Pickard, his successor Robert Mueller, or the Central Intelligence Agency.[2] In addition, the existence of the memo was not made known to President George W. Bush and his senior national security staff until May 2002. Mueller told Congress in a 2002 hearing that failure to act on the memo was due to deficits in the Bureau's analytical capabilities.[3]

Coleen Rowley (2002)[edit]

The memo became the subject of another communiqué in 2002 when FBI agent Coleen Rowley took advantage of the federal Whistleblower Protection Act provisions to inform FBI Director Robert Mueller that his public statements about lack of "advance knowledge" by the Bureau have no basis in facts. In her memo, Rowley wrote about the alleged suppression of the investigation concerning Zacarias Moussaoui.[4]


Bill Gertz of The Washington Times suggests that the lack of attention to the memo is one of several intelligence failures leading to the September 11, 2001 attacks.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Phoenix Memo Archived March 28, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Behar, Richard (May 22, 2002). "FBI's 'Phoenix' memo unmasked". Fortune. CNN. Archived from the original on November 25, 2011. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  3. ^ Johnston, David; Don van Natta, Jr. (May 21, 2002). "Traces of Terror: The F.B.I. Memo; Ashcroft Learned of Agency's Alert Just After 9/11". New York Times. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  4. ^ Rowley, Coleen (2002-05-21). "Coleen Rowley's Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller: An edited version of the agent's 13-page letter". Time. Archived from the original on June 2, 2002. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)

Further reading[edit]