- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

A senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday described as a "slap in the face" an FBI decision to give an award to a senior FBI official who refused requests by agents in Minneapolis for a warrant to search the computer of terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui.
"This award is a slap in the face to the all the FBI agents who tried to investigate suspected terrorists but were shut down by bureaucrats at headquarters," said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. "The FBI has to end the pattern of rewarding mistakes and wrongdoing.
"Unfortunately, this award continues a bad tradition," he said. "If the FBI is ever to reform, there must be accountability."
Mr. Grassley said he intends to include in a pending FBI oversight investigation a decision by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to include Marion "Spike" Bowman, head of the FBI's national security law unit, among the nine recipients named for the bureau's "exceptional performance" award.
The Iowa Republican said the inquiry, to begin after Congress returns in January, also will focus on FBI mistakes before the September 11 terrorist attacks. Moussaoui has been identified as a co-conspirator in the suicide strikes that killed more than 3,000 people.
FBI agents in Minneapolis, advised that Moussaoui was seeking flight lessons, had sought a secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to search his computer, but FBI officials in Washington refused, saying there was insufficient probable cause.
The agents had gathered information, including intelligence from officials overseas, that Moussaoui was tied to terrorism suspects. The 33-year-old French Moroccan was detained a month before the September 11 attacks after officials at a Minneapolis-area flight school called authorities when he offered to pay cash to learn how to fly a Boeing jetliner.
A senior FBI agent in Minneapolis later complained in a letter to Mr. Mueller that bureau executives in Washington had blocked the Moussaoui investigation because they did not understand the significance of his arrest.
Agent Coleen Rowley, chief principal legal assistant, said Minneapolis agents faced a "roadblock" when they sought the Moussaoui search warrant, and that the agents became so frustrated at the lack of response they sought to bypass the chain of command and notify the CIA directly but were reprimanded.
Mrs. Rowley said the agents, although "closest to the action and in the best position to gauge the situation locally," were not allowed to proceed, despite an earlier FBI alert about terrorists seeking flight training in Arizona.
Mr. Mueller told reporters that lawyers at FBI headquarters found insufficient probable cause and denied the request. He has since referred the matter to the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General for review.
Moussaoui was indicted in December by a federal grand jury in Alexandria on six counts of conspiracy. Four of the counts could result in the death penalty.
The award was given to Mr. Bowman during a ceremony Dec. 4 in Des Moines, Iowa, which recognized "exceptional performance" by nine senior managers. In a statement, Mr. Mueller said those honored "are strongly linked to our counterterrorism efforts," citing investigations into the bombings of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, two U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole, the arrest of an Algerian in a millennium plot aimed at Los Angeles International Airport and the September 11 attacks.
The awards, first reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, include cash bonuses of between 20 percent or 35 percent of each recipient's base salary and a framed certificate signed by the president.
A week after the awards ceremony, a joint House and Senate intelligence committee criticized "massive failures" by federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, in the weeks before the September 11 attacks, saying they might have been prevented if investigative leads had been properly assembled in time.
The report said key information developed through intelligence sources might have led to the identification of the September 11 hijackers who could have been arrested or detained before the attacks.
"No one will ever know what might have happened had more connections been drawn between these disparate pieces of information," the report said.

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