- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 11, 2003

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has been asked by a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee to justify an award he gave to an FBI official who refused requests by Minneapolis agents for a warrant to search the computer of terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, described as "shocking" Mr. Mueller's decision to give the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Service award to Marion "Spike" Bowman, head of the FBI's national security law unit.

"By granting this award and a monetary bonus, you are sending the wrong signal to those agents who fought sometimes against senior FBI bureaucrats at headquarters to prevent the [September 11] attacks," Mr. Grassley said in a letter Thursday to Mr. Mueller.

FBI agents in Minneapolis, advised that Moussaoui, 33, a French Moroccan, 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. He was detained a month before the September 11 attacks after officials at a Minneapolis 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 the agents faced a "roadblock" when they sought the Moussaoui search warrant, and they became so frustrated at the lack of response that they sought to bypass the chain of command and notify the CIA directly but were reprimanded.

Mr. Mueller has 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 on 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 two U.S. embassies in Africa and the USS Cole, as well as the September 11 attacks.

The awards included cash bonuses of between 20 percent or 35 percent of each recipient's base salary.

The Judiciary Committee has been investigating FISA problems at the FBI, including holding closed hearings where Mr. Bowman and others were questioned about the Moussaoui case.

Mr. Grassley said a 26-page electronic communication from the Minneapolis agents contained information that "a reasonable person would have concluded" was sufficient to obtain a FISA warrant.

He said the application should have gone forward to the Justice Department and the FISA court.

Instead, he said, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Maltbie concluded there was not enough information and that Mr. Bowman agreed, although he was aware Mr. Maltbie had "removed certain information before making a presentation of questionable accuracy and length to the national security law unit."

Mr. Grassley said if the application had gone forward and a warrant issued, the agents would have found information in Moussaoui's belongings linking him both to a major financier of the hijacking plot and to an al Qaeda boss who met with at least two other hijackers while under surveillance by intelligence officials.

"You have given an award and extra money to a bureaucrat at headquarters who is seen by many as having stymied the work of field agents," he said.

In the letter, Mr. Grassley asked for information on how and why Mr. Bowman was selected for the award and how much money he received because of it. Mr. Grassley gave the director until Jan. 27 to respond.

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