- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

The FBI mishandled the investigation of al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, who was detained and released before the September 11 attacks, with a “disjointed” review of a search warrant request at its Washington headquarters, says a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general.

The report, released yesterday, said supervisors in the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, which had picked up Moussaoui, did not properly support its case agents pursuing a warrant to search his computers.

“We did not conclude that any FBI employee committed intentional misconduct, or that anyone attempted to deliberately sabotage the Minneapolis FBI’s request for a FISA warrant, as one FBI employee had charged,” said Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

The Minneapolis agents detained Moussaoui in August 2001, a month before the attacks, on immigration law charges after he sought training at flight schools in Oklahoma and Minnesota.

After learning from French intelligence officials that Moussaoui was associated with an Algerian terrorist group, the FBI agents sought a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant to search his computer. But lawyers at FBI headquarters said there was insufficient probable cause and denied the request.

Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, pleaded guilty to September 11 conspiracy charges and was sentenced to life in prison without parole earlier this year.

The findings are included in a previously unreleased 118-page chapter of a classified 2004 Office of the Inspector General investigation of the FBI’s handling of intelligence information related to the September 11 attacks. It was held pending completion of the Moussaoui trial.

The report both praised and criticized former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who gained national attention in 2002 when she sent a letter to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III saying senior bureau officials blocked the Moussaoui investigation because they did not understand the significance of his arrest.

Now a congressional candidate in Minnesota, she said the Minneapolis agents faced a “roadblock” at headquarters when they sought the warrant.

“The Minneapolis agents deserve praise for their relentless efforts and their accurate instincts in assessing Moussaoui’s actions,” Mr. Fine said.

But, Mr. Fine said, investigators did not find all of Mrs. Rowley’s “allegations about the FBI or FBI employees to be meritorious,” noting that her performance in the Moussaoui investigation “itself was lacking in several regards.”

Mr. Fine said Mrs. Rowley, a lawyer responsible for guiding the Minneapolis agents through the complicated relationship between a criminal probe and an intelligence investigation, advised pursuing a FISA warrant instead of a criminal one “without fully understanding the requirements of FISA and the difficulty of connecting Moussaoui to a recognized foreign power.”

Mrs. Rowley told the Associated Press yesterday that she advised the agents that a FISA warrant was a better option. She disagreed with the report’s conclusion that FBI officials in Washington had a reasonable basis to question the search warrant.

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