- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2005

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee wants an investigation to determine whether the FBI “mishandled” a criminal probe into a suspected terrorist because of ongoing turf battles with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The safety of the American people has got to be at the top of every law-enforcement agency’s list,” said Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican. “Plain and simple, the turf battles have got to stop to ensure national security.”

Mr. Grassley has questioned the effectiveness of a memorandum of agreement signed by the FBI and ICE, saying it resulted in the government’s failure to intercept communications between the subject of a criminal investigation and a designated terrorist for more than four months because “the FBI took over and then mishandled the case.”

He wants the inspector general offices at the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security to investigate the matter.

“Some turf wars may be inevitable given human nature, but as leaders of your departments, you have a duty to ensure that interagency disputes do not harm national security,” he said in letters to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “Unfortunately, the committee is aware of at least one case where national security may have been the casualty of bureaucratic infighting.”

Mr. Grassley said Senior ICE Agent Joe Webber outlined for the Finance Committee a questionable FBI delay in applying for a wiretap in the case. FBI officials have admitted the delay should not have occurred, but blamed a field office for failing to transfer the investigation to the bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) when instructed to do so.

Law-enforcement authorities have said FBI headquarters raised issues that slowed the approval process, none of which was related to the case’s transfer to the JTTF.

Mr. Grassley said questions need to be answered through an independent inquiry into the May 13, 2003, agreement between the Justice Department and Homeland Security that “creates a strong disincentive for anyone outside the FBI to investigate suspected terrorist-financing activity.”

Under the 2003 agreement, ICE shut down its successful “Operation Green Quest” program that had yielded 38 arrests, 26 indictments and nearly $7 million in seized terrorist assets during the first nine months of its existence — handing over jurisdiction in terrorist cases to the FBI.

Mr. Grassley said that since the agreement was signed, 11 terrorist financing cases — including the one outlined by Mr. Webber — have been transferred from ICE to the FBI with what he described as “a devastating effect on morale within ICE.”

In the letters, he also asked that the 10 other cases transferred under the agreement be investigated to determine whether any were “negatively impacted” by delays or other problems associated with “insufficient interagency cooperation.”

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