- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

A new anti-terrorism team proposed by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III will centralize the global war against terrorists and minimize intelligence gaffes that surfaced after the September 11 attacks on America, authorities said yesterday.
The team, to be headquartered in Washington, will oversee terrorism investigations worldwide to ensure that intelligence data is properly evaluated, the authorities said. Mr. Mueller is expected to meet shortly with agents in charge of FBI field offices to finalize the proposal.
The team is aimed, in part, at preventing the kind of intelligence flaws that allowed separate memos last year sent to FBI headquarters in Washington from the bureau's Arizona and Minnesota field offices to go unheeded although they both noted that suspicious Arabs were seeking pilot training.
The New York Times reported yesterday that the Phoenix memo, written in June, contained a reference to Osama bin Laden and that it suggested, but offered no specific evidence, that his al Qaeda terrorist network and other groups could have been involved in organizing flight training in this country.
In August, FBI agents in Minneapolis had described the suspicious activities of Zacarias Moussaoui, a French-Moroccan who raised concerns by seeking flight training at a Minnesota school while expressing disinterest in learning to take off and land.
Moussaoui has since been charged as a conspirator with bin Laden and the 19 hijackers in the September 11 attacks.
Mr. Mueller has said the FBI did not act aggressively in addressing the Phoenix and Minneapolis memos, but that the bureau had no evidence before September 11 pointing to the subsequent attacks that killed more than 3,000 people.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, yesterday asked Mr. Mueller to make the Phoenix memo public in an effort to "demonstrate that the FBI has nothing to hide and that from this point forward candor and straight talk will be the FBI's mode of operation."
The Iowa Republican also asked the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General for a "full accounting of what happened to the June 2001 memo from the moment it left Phoenix through today."
He said the public had a right to know why the memo did not receive adequate attention "given the alarming contents and the specific reference to Osama bin Laden."
The new anti-terrorism team is part of a reorganization ordered in December by Mr. Mueller. It calls for a massive overhaul of the bureau's priorities and missions. The plan will increase the emphasis on counterterrorism, counterintelligence, cyber-crimes and relations with state and local law enforcement.
It also provides for an enhanced information technology upgrade, expands training for the FBI work force at all levels, improves security, and upgrades capabilities for FBI investigators, analysts, forensic examiners and other specialists.
Named in December to head the FBI's Office of Counterterrorism/Counterintelligence was Dale L. Watson, a 24-year veteran who served as assistant director for the FBI's counterterrorism division.
Sen. Bob Graham, Florida Democrat and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said through a spokesman yesterday that the Phoenix memo was an important discovery in Congress' inquiry into why the FBI, CIA and other agencies failed to learn of the September 11 attacks.
"It represents a failure to connect the dots," said Graham spokesman Paul Anderson. "This was dismissed rather lightly at FBI headquarters."
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, praised the proposed anti-terrorism team, saying having a "superunit" in Washington to evaluate information from across the country "makes sense to me."


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