For the second time in a week, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court denied the FBI a warrant to search the laptop computer of Zacarias Moussaoui. But in fact, the FBI never petitioned the court for a warrant after bureau attorneys determined they did not have sufficient evidence.
For the second time in a week, nationally syndicated radio host Rush Limbaugh falsely claimed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (established by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA) denied the FBI a warrant to search the laptop computer of Zacarias Moussaoui -- the alleged "20th hijacker" in the September 11, 2001 terrorist plot -- shortly before the attacks. In a conversation with a caller during the January 9 broadcast of his radio show, Limbaugh said the FBI "[c]ouldn't get a warrant to do it [search the computer] from the FISA court. They didn't like the way procedures had been followed. Bammo! 9-11 happened." But in fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, the FBI never submitted a search request to the FISA court; the bureau's attorneys determined that they did not have sufficient evidence to petition the court. A bipartisan Senate Judiciary Committee report later found that the investigators did have sufficient evidence but that FBI attorneys had applied a too-stringent standard for establishing probable cause. The report, compiled by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Arlen Specter (R-PA), concluded that the standard set by the FBI attorneys exceeded that of FISA.
Limbaugh's comments echoed those made during his January 4 broadcast, when he joined a caller in denouncing the "federal judge" who allegedly barred the FBI from accessing Moussaoui's computer. Two days later, those erroneous remarks earned Limbaugh the "Worst Person in the World" award on MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann.
From the January 9 broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show:
CALLER: Well, my point -- my point being, I feel that as a rule, you tend to present sort of a half-truth and leave out certain bits of information such as there are apparatus in place to monitor calls within the United States. And, you know --
LIMBAUGH: Right, have you heard of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui?
CALLER: I have.
LIMBAUGH: Yeah, well, that's a case where we didn't get to find out what was on his computer, and we found out he was the 20th hijacker.
LIMBAUGH: And we missed finding out what was going on beforehand. The FBI wanted to know what was on his computer. Couldn't get a warrant to do it from the FISA court. They didn't like the way the procedures had been followed. Bammo! 9-11 happened.