- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

It is essential that senior FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who will testify today before the Senate Judiciary Committee on the bureau's mishandling of the case of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, be protected against reprisals. Committee members must make it clear to Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller that Congress will not tolerate any effort to penalize her for her May 21 letter to Mr. Mueller, which demonstrated the deplorable bungling of the investigation.

Mrs. Rowley, who worked in the FBI's Minneapolis field office, sent a 13-page missive to Mr. Mueller critiquing the investigation of Mr. Moussaoui, who has since been indicted by Mr. Ashcroft's own department on conspiracy charges in connection with the September 11 attacks. Her letter describes in devastating detail how bureaucratic incompetence prevented a serious investigation last August which might have linked Mr. Moussaoui to the terrorists who were preparing to carry out the September 11 attacks.

Mrs. Rowley suggests that officials at FBI headquarters in Washington worked to undermine requests from agents in Minnesota for a warrant to wiretap and search Mr. Moussaoui's computer hard drive and other belongings after he was detained in mid-August on immigration charges. She says that the FBI made serious mistakes by failing to see a possible connection between the investigation of Mr. Moussaoui and a July memo sent by Phoenix agent Kenneth Williams suggesting that al Qaeda operatives were attending American flight schools, and by failing to disclose the existence of the Phoenix memo to the Minnesota agents. Both memos were supposed to have landed on the desk of David Frasca, the head of the bureau's Radical Fundamentalist Unit. It remains unclear whether any of this information reached him before September 11.

"It's at least possible we could have gotten lucky and uncovered one or two of the terrorists in flight training prior to September 11," Mrs. Rowley wrote. "There is at least some chance that … may have limited the Sept. 11 attacks and the resulting loss of life." Mr. Mueller, who previously sought to play down suggestions that the FBI might have been able to thwart the attacks, acknowledged last week for the first time that it might have been possible to uncover parts of the plot if the bureau had put together all of the clues in the possession of various federal agencies.

The most important imperative now is to ensure that Mrs. Rowley receives whistleblower protection. Mr. Ashcroft said Sunday that she won't be fired for going public with her concerns. That's not good enough: There are innumerable ways to make life so miserable for a whistleblower that he can no longer do his job (or, in this case, her job). It would be a disgrace if the Justice Department or the FBI permitted this to happen to Coleen Rowley.

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