Jewish World Review May 31, 2002 / 20 Sivan, 5762
Debra J. Saunders
FBI, investigate thyself
The FBI can use its powers to investigate potential
terrorist threats in America, or it can cover up its
shortcomings -- but it can't do both well.
Note: Lives are at stake.
So when FBI Director Robert Mueller classified a
critical memo written by Special Agent Coleen
Rowley as, a spokesman explained, "not for public
dissemination," that sent a signal: Mueller may be
more concerned with looking good than doing good.
Rowley's chilling memo outlines how FBI
headquarters "inexplicably (threw) up roadblocks"
and undermined the efforts of Minneapolis agents to
obtain a search warrant for the laptop computer of the
now-reputed "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui --
even after French intelligence sources provided
information that gave agents every reason to fear
Moussaoui was embroiled in an anti-American
In addition, Rowley says FBI Headquarters "actually
chastised" Minneapolis agents for asking the CIA for
any information it had on Moussaoui. An FBI
supervisory special agent "deliberately" refused to
pass on the French intelligence information, she
wrote. The same agent stated on Sept. 11 that any
connection between Moussaoui and the infamous
attacks that day were probably a "coincidence" and
directed Minneapolis agents to do nothing lest they
"screw up" other investigations. Later that agent
"actually received a promotion."
According to her memo, which was printed on Time
Magazines's Web site time. com, Rowley believes
that if the right FBI agents saw a Phoenix agent's
July memo warning that al Quaeda terrorists might
be training at U.S. flight schools, there is "some
chance that discovery of other terrorist pilots prior to
Sept. 11 may have limited the Sept. 11 attacks and
resulting loss of life."
I doubt it.
As an intelligence official warned me during the
height of the "Bush knew" feeding frenzy, "If you take
a sentence in isolation and don't look at the broader
picture, you're going to mislead yourself." It's easy to
take a few bits of information now and say that it
should have been clear where the trail led. It's easy
because newspapers don't report the hundreds of
dead ends -- for example, Moussaoui's laptop held
information on crop dusting -- and there are no
headlines for the many pieces of contrary information
that passed over agents' desks before the world
Rowley blames intelligence lapses on "careerism" in
the FBI; she sees a culture of officials so risk averse
they won't go out on a limb -- even to catch a bad
guy. Their higher-ups would rather shield
incompetence than lay themselves open to blame.
Mueller has to show that he wasn't sent to
Washington to perpetuate a cycle of flubbing and
covering up. His calls for restructuring the FBI would
get a better audience if the public believed there were
consequences -- not promotions -- for poor
investigative work. (FBI spokesman Steve Berry
wouldn't comment on whether the special agent was
promoted, as Rowley asserted.)
Field agents probably would like to hear that poor
investigative work doesn't lead to promotions, too.
Retired FBI supervisor Dennis Joyce of Folsom
related to Rowley's many references to savvy field
agents fighting clueless headquarter bureaucrats.
Joyce noted, "Your chances of promotion were
measured many times by the car pool you rode in,
as much as any ability you had."
Mueller should see the Rowley memo not just as an
embarrassment, but as an opportunity to put an end
to car-pool promotions as he restructures the bureau.
That change for the better would boost field morale.
More important, a no- nonsense appreciation for good
investigative work combined with a short fuse for
bureaucratic muddling could save
Comment JWR contributor Debra J. Saunders's column by clicking here.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate