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FBI Agent Alleges Moussaoui Roadblocks
Friday May 24, 2002 1:40 AM
WASHINGTON (AP) - An FBI agent has accused Washington headquarters of mounting a ``roadblock'' to the pre-Sept. 11 investigation of terrorism defendant Zacarias Moussaoui. The rare letter immediately prompted an internal investigation.
Agent Coleen Rowley, a lawyer in the Minnesota office that arrested Moussaoui last August, divulged in her letter that local agents became so frustrated with FBI headquarters that they sought to break from their chain of command and notify the CIA.
The local agents were reprimanded for trying, she alleged.
``When, in a desperate 11th-hour measure to bypass the FBI HQ roadblock, the Minneapolis division undertook to directly notify the CIA's counterterrorist center, FBI HQ personnel chastised the Minneapolis agents for making the direct notification without their approval,'' she wrote in the 13-page letter, excerpts of which were obtained by The Associated Press.
Government officials familiar with her letter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the agent alleged FBI headquarters did not fully appreciate the terrorist threat Moussaoui posed and hindered local agent's efforts to get warrants to gather more evidence.
``The agents in Minneapolis who were closest to the action, and in the best position to gauge the situation locally, did fully appreciate the terrorist risk/danger posed by Moussaoui and the possible co-conspirators even prior to Sept. 11,'' Rowley wrote at one point.
Rowley sent her letter Tuesday to FBI Director Robert Mueller and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, divulging internal discord within the FBI that is rarely aired in public.
Mueller referred the matter for investigation by the Justice Department inspector general, which independently investigates allegations of internal wrongdoing. The Senate committee also was reviewing the agent's claims.
``I immediately referred this matter out of the FBI to the inspector general for investigation,'' Mueller said in a statement. ``I respect that process and all the independence and protections it affords.''
Mueller spent part of Thursday explaining the matter and other terrorism issues to senators in a closed-door session. His statement declined to discuss the agent's allegations but said, ``I am convinced that a different approach is required.''
``New strategies, new technologies, new analytical capacities and a different culture makes us an agency that is changing post-Sept. 11,'' the director said. ``There is no room after the attacks for the types of problems and attitudes that could inhibit our efforts.''
Senators reacted with disbelief about the latest controversy to strike the FBI, which also failed last summer to heed another agent's warning in Pheonix that Arab students were training at U.S. aviation schools and schools nationwide needed to be checked.
``While I'm shocked at the seriousness of these allegations, this kind of problem from headquarters is no surprise,'' Sen. Charles Grassley, a frequent FBI critic, said. ``The FBI for too long has discouraged agents from using anything besides outdated tactics from the era of chasing Bonnie and Clyde.''
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. co-sponsor of legislation for an independent investigation, said the letter is one more reason for the outside probe.
A spokesman for Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said a House-Senate committee investigating intelligence failures has begun a formal investigation of Rowley's allegations. Paul Anderson, the spokesman, said Graham has read the letter.
A Senate source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said congressional investigators interviewed Rowley on Wednesday. Her letter was sent Tuesday.
Officials familiar with Rowley's allegations said the agent alleged the bureau made a series of mistakes last summer when agents became suspicious of Moussaoui and arrested him after he sought flight training at a Minnesota flight school.
The officials, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said some of the allegations involve how the bureau handled efforts to get a special national security warrant and a regular search warrant to gather evidence against Moussaoui.
Those warrants were not granted before Sept. 11, but afterward FBI agents found evidence allegedly linking Moussaoui to the suicide hijackings.
Moussaoui, a French citizen or Moroccan descent, has become the only person charged as an accomplice with Osama bin Laden and the 19 hijackers in the suicide hijackings.
As the chief principal legal assistant in the Minnesota FBI office, Rowley would have been central to the discussions around the warrants, the officials said.
Law enforcement officials have said previously that information that came into law enforcement before Sept. 11 - including intelligence from France suggesting Moussaoui had terrorist ties - was insufficient to show he was an agent of a foreign power and eligible to be monitored under a national security warrant.
After Sept. 11, FBI agents found evidence on Moussaoui's computer and elsewhere that linked him to the hijacking plot, according to court documents.
Rowley opened her letter to Mueller with explanation why she was airing the allegations.
``I feel at this point I have to put my concerns in writing concerning the important topic of the FBI's response to evidence of terrorist activity in the United States prior to Sept. 11,'' her letter said.
Rowley's letter was also delivered on Tuesday to Senate Intelligence Committee members Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., according to congressional officials.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002
-- Cherri (email@example.com), May 24, 2002