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The government said Wednesday that a vigorous investigation of Zacarias Moussaoui’s computer activity turned up no sign of an e-mail account the accused Sept. 11 conspirator said he used. In response to a judge’s questions, prosecutors and an FBI computer expert said “xdesertmanhotmail.com” was not found because Microsoft’s free Hotmail service does not verify an account user’s identity. The Hotmail service also is unable to provide the account of a particular user on a particular computer at a specific date and time, according to the government’s written motion. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, of the Eastern District of Virginia, last week ordered the FBI to explain how it examined the computers Moussaoui said he used prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, and tell her why it could not find the account. Some computer experts disagreed with the government’s conclusions, saying indications of Hotmail usage would automatically show up in a number of locations on a user’s computer. “Speaking generally, if a computer is used to access Hotmail, it’s generally very easy to prove,” said Kevin Mandia, a former Air Force computer investigator who now trains FBI agents as a consultant for Foundstone Inc. Mandia said, however, that a user could take deliberate steps to remove evidence that a Hotmail account was used. Matthew Yarborough, a former U.S. prosecutor in Dallas who specialized in computer crimes, added, “If he was using his laptop to access that account, it should have telltale signs.” Moussaoui, charged with conspiring with the 19 hijackers to commit terrorism, had asked the judge to force prosecutors to turn over any information they uncovered about the account. “The FBI conducted an aggressive and responsible investigation into Moussaoui’s computer and e-mail activity, particularly given the great demands placed on the FBI’s computer investigation capabilities in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks,” the government said. The pleading contended: � It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find Hotmail account names from a computer unless the user downloaded account information to the computer or to an electronic storage system. The United States found no evidence Moussaoui did so. � The FBI learned after Sept. 11 that Moussaoui had used a computer at Kinko’s in Eagan, Minn., to connect to the Internet, but was informed by employees that data from the relevant time period had been erased in accordance with company policy. Earlier court papers indicated Moussaoui was carrying a Kinko’s receipt from Aug. 12, 2001, four days before he was arrested on immigration charges. � The account did not turn up in searches of two computers; one from the apartment Moussaoui shared with another man, Mukkarum Ali, in Norman, Okla., and a second owned by the University of Oklahoma. The FBI executed a search warrant Sept. 11 for Moussaoui’s laptop computer and a floppy diskette, and discovered he used an e-mail account — pilotz123hotmail.com — to communicate with flight schools. Information from that account will be used at trial, the pleading said. Copyright 2002 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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